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The Four Seasons:
A Novel of Vivaldi's Venice

The Four Seasons
by Laurel Corona

The voice of women from 18th century Venice
In the thick fog of Venice, an unknown woman abandons her two children, Chiaretta and Maddalena, on the steps of a combined foundling home and celebrated musical school, the Ospedale Della Pieta. From the very beginning, the difference of the two sisters emerges even as they cling together. Chiaretta responds to the the newness of her surroundings with curiosity and an energetic enthusiasm for the beautiful voices she hears. Maddalena is a more quiet introverted soul, responding to newness with anxiety. Although she has initial difficulties advancing in her musical career, Vivaldi, a composer hired by the Pieta, sees in her a gift that her superiors do not. With his instruction to guide her, her passion for music grows from within. As a violin virtuso and Vivaldi's muse, Maddalana must balance her feelings for the man and her devotion to music. Unlike her sister, Chiaretta craves open space. Despite her love for music, her restless nature and a scandal lead her on a different path than her sister as she marries into one of Venice's prestigious and aristocratic families, facing new challenges from the petty but ever so damaging gossip mongers to wielding power of her own.

Laurel Corona's THE FOUR SEASONS presents a portrait of the lives of two different sisters. Through their different personalities and choices, THE FOUR SEASONS makes 18th century Venice, a place where few options were available for women other than to marry or become nuns, come alive through the fictional lives of two of the city's remarkable women. Nurtured and challenged by two different men, a musician and an aristocrat, each woman makes a way for herself within the closed structures available to her though small choices and a passion for music.

Juxtaposed to her more intimate portraits of individual women, Laurel Corona creates an intriguing and sometimes chilling portrait of a society and its relationship to women. The city's celebrated musical school creates a mystique about the virginal figlie de coro, daughters of the choir, not allowing them to be seen as they perform behind a grille while at the same time hiring them out to parties. The Ospedale Della Pieta acts as both a benefactor for women with its musical school while at the same time marketing them in ways that confine and regulate them, removing individual choices. Through a look at the two separate lives and careers of two foundling women, Laurel Corona makes present to readers a city outside the Pieta, a city brimming with life and vivacity yet a city where scandal, gossip and strict stratification can damage a woman's honor and future possibilities. Through her portrait of the Pieta, Laurel Corona shows the underside of a city beneath the public face and social structures in the lives of abandoned women, and yet at the same time, her narrative presents a compelling story of women whose lives develop from within the hidden walls of the Pieta. Laurel Corona's THE FOUR SEASONS creates a powerful story of two women with a bond of sisterhood and yet individuals in their own right, two women whose voices speak out beyond and against the codified roles of women of the time.

Readers coming to Laurel Corona's THE FOUR SEASONS from a desire to repeat the reading experience of Barbara Quick's VIVALDI'S VIRGINS should not expect to find the same book. Each book embodies a different aspect of historical fiction, each wonderful in its own right. Readers of Barbara Quick's VIVALDI'S VIRGINS will take delight in revisiting the world of the Ospedale della Pieta with a familiarity other readers may not have. Barbara Quick's VIVALDI'S VIRGINS character speaks within her own voice, in a cry from the heart with a poetic language that haunts me to this day. Laurel Corona's book THE FOUR SEASONS with its third person narrative creates a narrative embodied with a sense of realism, accompanied by moving thematic parallels and intersections, that makes present two different kinds of women through their lives. In Barbara Quick's novel, the reader hears the intimate voice of a daughter crying out for her mother. In Laurel Corona's THE FOUR SEASONS, the reader feels the voice of women from a slightly more distant narrative voice, a voice distant and yet inclusive enough so that the reader sees the bond of sisterhood, the sister's uniqueness and individuality, and women who both live within a society with prescribed roles for women, women who nevertheless, create their own sense of freedom and choice. Although some readers might feel a preference for one kind of narrative voice over the other, my recommendation would be to read both books, not expecting one to be the same as the other. Together, the different voices of both books clearly show the beauty of historical fiction and its power to bring alive, through fiction, the voices of women in history.

Publisher: Voice (November 2008)

Reviewed by Merrimon, Merrimon Book Reviews
Review Courtesy of Amazon Vine
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