ROME AND A VILLA, by Eleanor Clark (Michael Joseph, 21s.).
ROME and a Villa, as the dis2-‘cursive title suggests, is a dis-, cursive book-not only about Rome and Hadrian's villa at Tivoli, it has a long section about the Sicilian bandit Giuliano, about the 1950 Holy Year, and about the Roman poet G. G. Belli (17911863), It is difficult to know how to describe the book, except as a fascinating chunk of Eleanor
with flags; around them was a vast semi-circle of granite inscribed with the names of every ship and regiment in which Bretons had served; and the background was a frieze of beech and cypress, dark against the blue sky.
And through the crowds came the procession from the church, with more banners and pennants and a statue of St. Anne borne aloft, and the Papal Nuncio and the Bishops and the pilgrims, and a glorious baritone leading the singing in the traditional invocation to St. Anne..
And up the twin steps flowed a double tide of purple and gold, and High Mass began from the airy platform.
Ten thousand people at least were there altogether, in and around the enclosure. There were hymns in Breton, and the music of the Liturgy, and the urgent uprush of French voices in the Credo. And after Mass there were picnic parties in the woods and all along the little stream. and an amazing number of companies of boy scouts, who pitched their scout standards, each with their own brand of savage war cry.
But the most eldritch yell of all came from a company of girl guides under the next tree to ours. Terrifying. I wondered whether it had been invented by the nun who was shepherding this particular outfit.
AND so it went on. The crowds eddied and re-formed. The stallholders got hoarser and hoarser as their wares disappeared. Pools of shadow spread under the beech trees.
Then came Vespers and Benediction and visits to the shrines, and in the evening the fleet of buses began to fill, and a cataract of bicycles and pedestrians poured out again.
And the fishermen returned to the quays of Doelan and Concarneau and donned again their excellent blue trousers. And the peasants and farmers went back to their stone well-heads and cosy fields. And the visitors from Paris went back to the golden beaches, and St. Anne was left on her high steeple, looking down tnaternally on her Breton countryode and the seas beyond.
And that was part of the pattern of Brittany; and a reminder that human affairs are not all economics and overtime rates and central planning. Clark's writing centred round various aspects of Italy. And what writing! It is a long time since I have read such terse, to-the-point, intelligent comment, description and information.
Miss Clark is an American, and perhaps this helps to give her prose its punch and pithiness. And, what is strange in books that contain endless facts, dates and foreign names, there seems to be not one inaccuracy-or just one, that the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is dated as December 10 (but one feels it must be on that date in Italy; she couldn't possibly have made a mistake!). One IS conscious all the time that she is a scholar, though her style is so chatty.
A-ISS CLARK has celebrated a 1Y-1 kind of marriage with Rome and knows it as well as a husband knows a wife, and as critically. There is no gush here; knowledge, appreciation where it is clue, frequent exacerbation, and an over-all love in spite of
The essentially Roman chapters consist of two sections called "Roman Journal." the first taking us over classical Rome, and the second giving IlS endless information about Renaissance, medieval and early Christian Rome; and a chapter called "Fountains,'' perhaps my favourite chapter. which isn't only about Rome's repeated displays of leaping or tumbling water, hut has plenty of inter alia. Here is a typical paragraph: "There are plenty of ways of getting into that typically named place Regina Coeli [a ptison], but the murders of Rome, now that official fascist murder is over. are nearly always of passion, and usually in the family. Considering the habits of the rulers for so long it is peculiar. Perhaps it is only that serious gangsterism would he too much like working for an idea and the Romans care_too much for their skin but perhaps it is also because of the purity of the water they drink and sec everywhere around them, water being the element of miracle and ultimate innocence, so that the wickeder they are the more they are only foundering in a slate of grace. There is not even a concept of crime, and so there has never been any detective fiction: it would not make sense . . . 1 his is terrible; it makes for a terrible familiarity with holiness: you can treat it like a dog."
THE Giuliano chapter is exciting and well told, and has in a few lines an excellent summing-up of the Italian conception of mamma: "He [Giuliano] had the family, however, he would never be cut off from that; the whole huge, tight, howling, loving and hating indivisible Italian organism; brothers. sisters, cousidt, nephews, nieces, inlaws, even a father somewhere, and at the centre the ritual mamma (that is the word, madre is used only in hatred or speaking scientifically) who may be a nobody hut presides nevertheless by virtue of that national charity which gives to all mothers, whether of whores, murderers, idiots or just children, and whatever their own fault, a part or haven in the image of the mother of Christ."
This is a most quotable book but I must resist the temptation. Miss Clark is obviously, I think, not a Catholic-though she could just conceivably be one.
Her Holy Year chapter, besides containing grandiose descriptions of the events that marked the 1950 Jubilee, and linking it with the first Jubilee in 1300 and all the other famous one in between-the 1500 one for example-touches at some length on the two main proclamations of that year and how they affected the people in Italy-the canonisation of Maria Gs:Teti and the defining of the dogma of the Assumption. Her comments are detached; she is a historian. But a very personal historian who comes right down to the smallest acts of the sntallest human being.
The illustrations are shocking, to use one of her favourite terms of speech. Why have rather poor and messy pen-and-ink drawings when there is such a wealth of paintings. etchings and photographs to draw from? This is really my only criticism. BARBARA WALL,
Prizewinners. First pri.te, one guinea : lames H. Fay. of Rs de, I.O.W. Consolation prize, a book : Miss St. John Little, Newtown, Mont.