A new translation describes the erotic awakening of a young Frenchman.
In 1849, Lamartine, the Romantic poet and French statesman, began publishing his memoirs, in serial form, in the newspaper La Presse. One section of those memoirs became so popular that Lamartine eventually published it as a short book. It told the story of a love affair between the 18-year-old Lamartine and an Italian fisherman’s daughter named Graziella. Almost every detail of the story has since been proven fictional. Still, the book remains a cornerstone of French Romanticism. In a new translation and with contextual notes and an introduction by MacKenzie, Lamartine’s story comes to us afresh. According to his tale, he met Graziella while on tour in Naples. He and a friend had been slumming as fishermen when they fell in with her family. He ended up staying with them for months, and, even though he and Graziella were both attractive and roughly the same age, the family suspected no foul play. Things go awry when Graziella acquires a rather unfortunate suitor (Lamartine describes him as “misshapen and limping”) who, nonetheless, would have made an excellent match. Unfortunately, the book hasn’t aged well. Lamartine’s depictions of the poor fisherman’s family come across as simultaneously idealized and condescending. Worse is the way the figure of Graziella is used to depict the young Lamartine’s erotic awakening. Once she has served her purpose, she is cast aside.
Sentimental, condescending, and dismissive, Lamartine’s fictionalized memoirs have aged badly.