Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

   entry 2003

Books about Naples

I have an eclectic collection of books about Naples: archaeology, history, music —whatever strikes my fancy, really. It's not a huge collection, but it is stuffed with many of those tiny and ephemeral pamphlets that come out all the time about The Caves of  Naples, The Customs of Naples, The This & That of Naples. Maybe a few hard ones, such as The Major-Minor Shift in the Neapolitan Song as a Manifestation of the Existentialist Dichotomy in the Popular Psyche. (OK, I made that one up.) I have a few standard works such as Acton's The Last Bourbons of Naples, and I am an absolute sucker for passages about Naples in 19th century works such as Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad. (For an excerpt, click here.)

Occasionally, I get on the internet just to see what is out there in used book shops, not because I am necessarily going to buy, but I might. I have found a couple of good volumes that way about, for example, the U.S. reaction to Garibaldi's invasion of the Kingdom of Naples, and Antonio Pace's great book, Benjamin Franklin and Italy. So, just for fun, I looked a bit today. There is nothing like a used–book store, even if it's only in cyberspace. Right off the bat, I see something I want:

H.M.S. Hannibal  at Palermo & Naples, During the Italian Revolution, 1859–1861. With Notices of Garibaldi, Francis II., & Victor Emanuel, by Admiral Rodney Mundy. London: John Murray. 1st edition, 1863. 8vo.365pp. Frontispiece engraving & map. Some pencil annotation throughout. Inner hinges very slightly strained. Top & bottom of spine, edges & corners rubbed, original cloth lightly marked, else very good copy. Unfortunately, the price is US$233.35. I don't want it that bad.

Sometimes the National Library in Naples has these things in the original English. I'll check that one. Maybe I am setting my sights too high. Ah, here...$1.39! This is more like it:

Devil's Daughter, by Catherine Coulter. New York, NY, U.S.A. 1985. Mass Market Paperback. Good. Spine lines/edge rubs/clean Tight Pgs. Book Description: Golden-haired hellion Arabella goes adventuring to Naples, Italy to solve the mystery of her father's missing ships and cargoes. But soon she discovers that the man behind the thievery is an enemy from her father's past. A man she shouldn't love, but can't resist... Well, I'm sure it's a fine book, but I had to go to the OED to even find out what a "hellion" is—a troublesome or mischievous person. No. And here is John Horne Burn's classic:
The Gallery, about the seamy kaleidoscope of Neapolitan life (and his own tortured psyche) at the end of WWII played out in the famous Galleria Umberto. [
That book is from 1947 and has recently been republished. (Here is a separate entry about it.) I read it once upon a time but don't own it. For $1.95, this is a definite maybe. As a sheer curiosity piquer, here's one by the great Polish science-fiction writer, Stanislaw Lem:

The Chain of Chance. London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990. Softcover. Very Good. 5" x 7 3/4". Remainder stripe on bottom of book. ...In Italy, a number of people have died mysteriously. They tend to be foreign, male, middle-aged and to have some connection with Naples. But there the resemblances end and even Interpol have bemusedly closed their files. However, a former astronaut turned private detective agrees to duplicate the exact itinerary of one of the victims in an attempt to decipher the links in an increasingly mystifying chain of coincidence.. 179pp. Three dollars. Mark that one. That's a keeper, especially since "... foreign, male, middle-aged..." reminds me of someone I know. I don't know about the next one:

The Very Daring Duchess by Miranda Jarrett. ... formulaic romance between a conservative Naval officer and an exotic arts dealer. After winning a victory against the French army, Captain Edward Ramsden, the unwanted fourth son of the Duke of Harborough, and a fellow officer decide to explore Naples and enjoy its diversions. Their first stop is the illustrious Signora Francesca Robin's studio d'artista, an eclectic museum containing a number of bogus art pieces as well as a large display of lewd paintings... The story escalates with the promise of intrigue and sexual tension but, unfortunately, Jarrett packs her tale with maudlin dialogue and clichè commentary. Although Jarrett's sex scenes are steamy and descriptive, her characters are little more than cardboard... Three dollars and forty–two cents. Too steep—sexual tension and steam notwithstanding. Here's one that is actually intriguing:

A woman, a man, and two kingdoms: the story of Madame d'Epinay and the Abbot Galiani, by Francis Steegmuller. Madame d'Epinay was Rousseau's patron. She set him up in a gloriously free and bucolic country estate where he could feel like a noble savage. ("Garçon, a bit more curare on my spear-point, please.") The "him" in "She set him up..." is ambiguous. I think it means Rousseau. Anyway, Ferdinando Galiani (1728-1787) was one of the great minds of the Neapolitan Enlightenment and the author of some important works in economics. He was also the ambassador of the Kingdom of Naples in France in the 1760s. It is entirely possible that he and madame d'Epinay had something going. I don't want to know. Oh, no. Here is a mistake:

Marriage Italian Style, by Arnold Hano. "...Basis for spicy 1964 Sophia Loren film... whore's efforts to get longtime lover and womanizer to marry her and stay true..." That, of course, is totally wrong. The "basis for Sophia Loren's spicy 1964...etc." was the stage-play Filomena Marturano by Eduardo de Filippo. How about:

The Bay of Noon, by Shirley Hazard. NY: Picador, 2003. Trade Paperback. Near Fine/No Jacket. Reprint. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. 181 pp. A young Englishwoman working in Naples, Jenny comes to Italy fleeing a history that threatened to undo her. Binding tight, text clean...
I think I know that woman. Tight binding, clean text. What else? Here it is! This is the one I want. One of the classics in its genre:

Illustrated Excursions in Italy, by Edward Lear: London: S. & I. Bentley, Wilson & Fley for Thomas M'Lean, 1846. 2 volumes, folio. (14 1/2 x 10 5/8 inches). Half-titles, 2pp. publisher's advertisements at back of vol.II. Titles with wood-engraved vignettes, 55 fine tinted lithographic views by Lear, printed by Hullmandel & Walton, 2 lithographic maps, hand-coloured in outline, 2 leaves engraved sheet music at back of vol.I, 53 wood-engraved vignettes after Lear and R. Branston. (Some spotting). Original green cloth, blocked in gilt and blind. Modern green cloth box, green morocco lettering piece. A fine complete set of Lear's magisterial record of his travels through Italy. The first volume covers Lear's tours through the Abruzzi region, "or three Northern provinces of the kingdom of Naples" (p.1). He made three excursions between July 1843 and October 1844, recording in both words and pictures the most memorable and picturesque of the scenes he encountered. In the preface he notes that object of the work was "the illustration of a part of Italy which.. has hitherto attracted but little attention. With the exception of [two other works].. I am not aware of any published account of the Abruzzi provinces in English; and the drawings with which the following pages are illustrated are, I believe, the first hitherto given of a part of Central Italy as romantic as it is unfrequented" (preface). The second volume, with much briefer text than the first, includes views "of places in the States of the Church - most of them within easy reach of visitors to Rome; yet, with the exception of Isola Farnese, Castel Fusano, and Caprarola, ..seldom seen by Tourists" (Preface). Lear notes in both volumes that the drawings "are Lithographed by my own hand from my sketches".

And it is only $ 9,500. Here—to make that redundantly transparent—nine–thousand five–hundred dollars. I think I'll go back and check on Jenny of the tight binding and clean text.

[More on Edward Lear and his later work from 1852, Journals of a landscape painter in Southern Calabria.]

[To other items on books about Naples: (2)  (3)  (4)]

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