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Henry James in Ravenna

H. James also repeats in his emotive analysis of the city the desolation of locations, the sepulchral quiet and the perfume of transience which lead to thoughtfulness and self discovery.

“Less than a week ago Ravenna was in all its splendour as I walked along the edge of a narrow shadowy band which ran along one side of the white deserted streets […] However, I can do nothing but smile at Ravenna, with a grave smile, pensive, philosophical, I hasten to add, appropriate to a sense of historical dignity, not to mention the deathly sadness and solitude of the place […] Here and there a light peeped out from a closed window in the upper floors; my companion’s footsteps and my own were the only sound, not a soul was about.

Basically this was, at its best, the monotony of times past, this was antiquity, history, rest […]. The general appearance of the place, its graveyard tranquillity, its penetrating perfume of transience, decay, mortality ….”.

Without doubt James, like other poets, foreign or otherwise, wondered how a brilliant capricious artist such as Byron could have spent two long years in Ravenna. It was said elsewhere, also by Shelley, that the stay in Ravenna had changed the English poet for the better. Evidently Ravenna represented a positive and productive moment in the life of Byron.

About ten years before, Gregorovius had used very similar expressions but had elevated the concept of solitude and decadence, comparing our city with the more famous city of Pompei which was better known at that time.; “Ravenna is the Pompei of the Gothic and Byzantine era. The streets of Ravenna are immersed in a graveyard silence, the houses […] are affected by a kind of daydreamt abandon, a melancholy decay …”.

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Last modified date: 25/02/2014


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