This is a story of Mr. Colville ,experiencing what we would call a mid-life crisis, and how we view the past upon reaching middle-age. Colville has left the ownership of a small Indiana newspaper after a failed run for Congress. Seventeen years earlier, his life was on path to become an artist in the spirit of Ruskin. He moves to Florence with a young man’s high hopes, and promptly falls in love. It is hinted that the love affair was not reciprocal, but instead a passing fancy for the young woman. This failed relationship wounds him dramatically.
He leaves Florence to return to the States, and takes over the ownership of a paper his brother bought in a land deal. He is ultimately very successful, beloved by the town for his fair and even-handed news reporting. In all these years, he remains a bachelor. It is only when he steps outside of being the ‘Everyman’ and voices his own opinion in his Congressional race that the townspeople rebuff him. He, in essence, is rejected again in voicing his true feelings. As a result, he sells up and decides to give Florence and art another try seventeen years later.
Within the first day of his return to Italy, he runs into a widow, a Mrs. Bowen, her small daughter Effie and her charge for the season, twenty-year-old Imogene Graham. It seems that Mrs. Bowen, seventeen years earlier, was the best friend of the girl who threw over Colville. As a wealthy widow, she spends the majority of her time in Florence, rarely returning to the States. Colville and she strike up an instant reacquaintance and friendship. Colville is doting upon her small daughter and charming at every party and ball they attend. It looks like Mrs. Bowen would be an ideal wife for Colville after his life of rejection. But as I mentioned, this is a mid-life crisis theme. The young and beautiful Imogene, with her sparkling youth, entrances Colville. He is living his own past. Mrs. Bowen is keenly aware of his path, but what can stop him?
I really enjoyed this, my first William Dean Howells book. His admiration for authors Henry James and George Eliot are seen, as he gives a vibrancy to the exchanges between characters and in the European setting, specific customs and mores. His great friendship with Mark Twain is evident in the clever humor and the retrospectives of an American abroad.
Rating: 4 stars