Email this review


 Essays in intellectual and literary history explain how Venice came to be regarded as a living museum of Western culture. Rather than a guidebook, Pemble (History/Univ. of Bristol, England; The Mediterranean Passion, not reviewed) has written an academic but fairly accessible text for students and scholars who wish to learn more about Western intellectual history. Eschewing such abstractions as ``the decline of liberalism,'' the author instead offers learned anecdotes about Venice and links them to broader changes in Western history. Like many good historians, Pemble is a strong storyteller, and his tales convey much of value about such prominent intellectual and literary figures as John Ruskin, Leopold Ranke, John Addington Symonds, and Henry James. He is even better when profiling the less famous but more colorful men and women of the English-speaking expatriate community. The author chronicles the appeal Venice's mold and watery stagnation exerted for the Romantic imagination; its impact on early-19th-century British architects, who returned from the city to construct massive buildings in the Venetian-Gothic style (St. Pancras Station, etc.); and the way in which its extensive, carefully preserved historical archives became the basis for a newly scientific approach to history. A routine stopping-off point on the steamship route to India, Venice was portrayed in 19th-century literature as a half- oriental city, the site of secret vices and home to mysterious recluses. By the 20th century, it was hailed as a monument to Western culture, and Pemble ends with an account of the international conservation effort mounted by scholars, travelers, and expatriates to preserve the city, a campaign which continues today. Not always easy reading, but a nicely anecdotal introduction to Western cultural history as encapsulated in a single, magical city. (Illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-820501-5
Page count: 230pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1995


NonfictionLITERARY BROOKLYN by Evan Hughes
by Evan Hughes
NonfictionVENICE by Thomas F. Madden
by Thomas Madden