Visionary and Everyday
An attractive compendium of 26 American and European 19th-century tales that was originally published in Italy in 1983, shortly before Caivino's death. Altogether, it's a curious mix, prefaced by a charmingly learned Introduction that elucidates the distinction the subtitle proclaims, and enhanced by disarmingly personal headnotes to each story. English-language readers will note overfamiliar contributions from several masters, including Scott, Hawthorne, Gogol, Stevenson, and Poe, among others. But there are also several fortuitous, little-known choices, including PhilacrÃ¢te Chasles's strange blend of folklore and surrealism, "The Eye with No Lid"; Henry James's underrated "The Friends of the Friends" (a partial precursor of his masterly "The Turn of the Screw"); and the pseudonymous Vernon Lee's magnificent tale ("A Lasting Love") about a dead beauty who reaches from beyond the grave to destroy men seduced by her painted image. Several flourishing literary traditions are un- or under-represented: For example, the sole Scandinavian choice is Hans Christian Andersen's wispy "The Shadow" (one wonders if Calvino knew the infinitely superior storytelling of Selma LagerlÃ“f and Jonas Lie). Other omissions are equally puzzling, making this an entertaining selection, though hardly a comprehensive or authoritative one.