In this season’s issue of The Author, Tobia Jones shares an interesting article entitled ‘Italy: Real and Imagined’, in which he explains that ‘[a]nyone who writes about Italy has a battle on their hands to avoid “italianity”, the cult of Italian myths and clichés’. He goes on to explore in particular the representation of Italy as a bloodthirsty nation, but he also touches on another aspect that struck a chord with me, that of the Italian as ‘passionate’.
Italians are passionate. Astatement: a generalisation, a stereotype, a cliché. Those words –generalisation, stereotype, cliché – are rich with negative connotation. Writers must avoid these traps. We must. Mustn’t we?
I wonder. How can a romance writer create a romantic fictional world without being allowed to say, ‘Here’s a passionate place’; ‘Here’s a romantic people’?
I set my novel The Echoes of Love in Italy (Venice, Tuscany and Sardinia), because the setting and its people areunequivocally passionate. I know this because I explored the country; and of course I know this because Italy and Italians are popularly recognised as so. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that every Italian is passionate, but how can one deny the thread of passion running through the Italian culture? This is, after all, the country of Romeo and Juliet!
I could have set The Echoes of Lovein another country, a country that doesn’t shout ‘passion’ to me or to others. Perhaps someday I will situate a love story in a place that seems the very antithesis of a romantic setting (though I doubt it, because I so love to write of beautiful, exciting, inspirational places). But I make no apology for harnessing the inspiring background of Italy in my novel: the gondolas, the architecture, the music, the food, the countryside, the moonlight. These are the aspects of my book that reviewers frequently remark upon, enjoying the sense of having travelled to Italy through reading the novel, being swept away by romance due to the setting.
Neither of my protagonists in The Echoes of Love is Italian; both are British ex-pats who have chosen Italy as their home. That detail was important to me: the passion of Italy has infused Paolo and Venetia, changed them; they are made passionate by the country and its people.
Passion in Italy. Reality or cliché?
Reality, I cry! Reality. What kind of romantic would I be if I didn’t believe ardently that the passion of Italy is real? And if it is real, then surely concerns of cliché and stereotype fall away. ‘Write the truth based on your heart and your experiences’ is a basic principle of ‘good writing’, and it is one to which I hold firm.
What do you think? Do you seek out writing that is always pushing against any form of generalisation? Do you cliché-spot as you read? Or do you find a distinction between the cringeworthy cliché (Pierre the Frenchman is wandering about in a black-and-white-striped shirt with a string of garlic around his neck) and that which rings of truth (a man and a woman fall in love as they take in all thepassionof their Italian surroundings)? I would love to hear your thoughts.