The Passion

Writing a review of The Passion seems as elusive as the emotion itself. While ostensibly it’s clear: Henri loves Napolean in his own way, before he meets Villanelle whom he truly loves; she in turn has had her heart stolen by another woman who is married. All this, in the setting of lovely Venice whose streets are as tangled as our characters’ hearts.
Favorite quotes on Venice:
This is the city of mazes. You may set off from the same place to the same place every day and never go by the same route. If you do so, it will be by mistake. Your bloodhound nose will not serve you here. Your course in compass reading will fail you. Your confident instructions to passers-by will send them to squares they have never heard of, over canals not listed in the notes.
Although wherever you are going is always in front of you, there is no such thing as straight ahead. No as the crow flies short cut will help you to reach the cafe just over the water. The short cuts are where the cats go, through the impossible gaps, round corners that seem to take you the opposite way. But here, in this mercurial city, it is required you do awake your faith.
With faith, all things are possible. (p. 49)
on passion:
When passion comes late in life for the first time, it is harder to give up. And those who meet this beast late in life are offered only devilish choices. Will they say goodbye to what they know and set sail on an unknown sea with no certainty of land again? Will they dismiss those everyday things that have made life tolerable and put aside the feelings of old friends, a lover even? In short, will they behave as if they are twenty years younger with Canaan just over the ridge?
Not usually.
And if they do, you will have to strap them to the mast as the boat pulls away because the siren calls are terrible to hear and they may go mad at the thought of what they have lost.
That is one choice.
Another is to learn to juggle; to do as we did for nine nights. This soon tires the hands if not the heart.
Two choices.
The third is to refuse the passion as one might sensibly refuse a leopard in the house, however tame it might seem at first. you might reason that you can easily feed a leopard and that your garden is big enough, but you will know in your dreams at least that no leopard is never satisfied with what it’s given. After nine nights must come ten and every desperate meeting only leaves you desperate for another. There is never enough to eat, never enough garden for your love.
So you refuse and then you discover that your house is haunted by the ghost of a leopard.
When passion comes late in life it is hard to bear. (p. 145-146)
Read this book for the thoughts on Venice, the thoughts on love, the magical realism, and the Biblical references. For that is what it’s comprised of.
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17 thoughts on “The Passion”

  1. Hi Bellezza did you know the villanelle was also a poetic form that during the Renaissance, the villanella and villancico (from the Italian villano, or peasant) were Italian and Spanish dance-songs. French poets who called their poems “villanelle” did not follow any specific schemes, rhymes, or refrains. Rather, the title implied that, like the Italian and Spanish dance-songs, their poems spoke of simple, often pastoral or rustic themes.
    While some scholars believe that the form as we know it today has been in existence since the sixteenth century, others argue that only one Renaissance poem was ever written in that manner–Jean Passerat’s “Villanelle,” or “J’ay perdu ma tourterelle”–and that it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the villanelle was defined as a fixed form by French poet Théodore de Banville.
    Regardless of its provenance, the form did not catch on in France, but it has become increasingly popular among poets writing in English. An excellent example of the form is Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night”.
    Not sure if this has any reference to the book itself, but did make me wonder, would be interested on your ideas on this as it would be another layer of appeal.

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  2. Parrish, of course I had no idea that the villanelle was a form of poetry (I rely on you to tell me these things!), but in the light of this quote from your comment: “'villanelle' did not follow any specific schemes, rhymes, or refrains. Rather, the title implied that, like the Italian and Spanish dance-songs, their poems spoke of simple, often pastoral or rustic themes.” I can see quite a connection to the character. She (Villanelle) does not follow any specific role that a female usually plays. She loves another woman, she has webbed feet because she is a boatman's daughter, and she will not be tied down to a traditional life. As to a theme, she is part of how Winterson defines passion.
    As far as it can be defined. How wonderful that you shed an insight into her through your knowledge of poetry. Thanks so much for leaving your thoughts here (as always).

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  3. Sam, this is my first foray into Winterson whom I, too, was anxious to read as I've heard so much about her. Don't be put off by my comment of some magical realism, there isn't enough to be obscure, just little hints here and there (such as Villanelle losing her heart and it ends up in a jar in a wardrobe with a white cloth wrapped around it). This is not in any way a 'typical' read, but isn't that why we explore different genres and authors? Winterson has a distinct writing style which is very interesting.

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  4. Well, Ally, I have to thank you for this book. I can't say I 'enjoyed' it, but it was certainly quite thought provoking! I think Jeanette Winterson is an unusually creative author, she has such a way with images and ideas, and I'm glad that I read this. I suspect I'll have to read it again some day to catch every nuance. I'd love to know what you love best about it.

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  5. “Read this book for the thoughts on Venice, the thoughts on love, the magical realism, and the Biblical references. For that is what it's comprised of.”
    That's wonderful endorsement for a book.

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  6. I first learned of the vilanelle this year, when composing one was a poetic challenge on another site. From what I can tell, they're really more of a challenge to compose than you would think.

    What strikes me most about your review is the first long paragraph re: passion. Applicable as it may be to human love and passion, it applies no less to any who have found a different sort of passion – painting, writing, composing, exploring, business-building.

    How ironic that I have a draft in my files titled “Sailing a Sea of Words”. The image – “strapped to the mast” just made me laugh – I saw the mast as a #2 pencil!

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  7. What I love best? The whole story, the way it is told; with every book of Jeanette's I feel as if she's talking to me and for me. I haven't felt it with any other writer… An email is on its way to you 🙂

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  8. I love the quotes in your post. I've not yet readf anything by Winterson but I see she has quite a few books to choose from. The Passion sounds so interesting and I loved your review!

    Thank you!

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