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Vivaldi’s Virgins, a Tour de Force Novel

Where has the Dresser been all of July and August? Out walking Oakley, Sazi, and Schnoodle, the trio of little dogs who inhabit Toad Hall of North Haverhill, New Hampshire? Chasing a lunar eclipse in her pajamas? Putting out the fire in her hair after she saw O (Eau), the primo Cirque du Soleil extravaganza in Las Vegas? Working feverishly on page numbers for a faux index in her book The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas? Reading and rereading Barbara Quick’s lyric new novel Vivaldi’s Virgins which appeared in her local bookstore in July? Let’s stop the laundry list right here so the Dresser can rhapsodize about this fabulous new work of fiction.


If you love Italy, specifically Venice; classical music, especially Baroque and the compositions of Antonio Vivaldi; prose that reads like music; and a story based on historical fact that solves a mystery, you will be ecstatic to open the cover of Vivaldi’s Virgins. This is writing that tells you what it is like to be an artist of genius. One who can play the violin and make an audience weep with pleasure.

Told through a series of letters and journal style entries, Quick seamlessly paints the portrait of a girl who was left in the orphan’s niche at the Ospedale della Pietà. By the age of eight, the child known as Anna Maria dal Violin has become one of fourteen girls selected by Maestro Vivaldi to play in his coro (an ensemble of musicians and singers who played concerts that rivaled the music of angels.)

The Dresser was so entirely taken with the lyrical writing and cinematic scenes of escapes in gondolas, an impromptu concert in the Jewish Ghetto during Simchat Torah, a visit to a hag’s hovel swarming with dirty children, a stolen kiss on a balcony of a grand palazzo, an encounter with an agent of the Grand Inquisitor, the unmasking of a upperclass girl in boy’s clothing and so forth that she said she must find the author and invite her to read in her home town. So the Dresser put out the word among the list servs where she usually lurks having not enough time to fully engage and discovered that Ms. Quick lives in the West Coast.

Bingo! She found the brilliance behind this work and learned that the author had been wringing her hands, worried about reviews. The Dresser also learned that Ms. Quick has given years of her life researching the subject, spent time in Venice, and is, of course, a practicing poet.

Don’t miss hearing Barbara Quick when she comes to your home town, she is a trained actor. So whatever reading you didn’t get to on your summer vacation will have to wait. Vivaldi’s Virgins, this is the book you will read twice before you get up from your easy chair.

There are a number of strong women in this novel like Marietta who takes Anna Maria for a walk on the wild side. Marietta decides they must sneak out of the orphanage to go to the opera but to do this, they must enlist Marietta's mother's help. The scene is awesome because Marietta's mother is a Dickens kind of character who looks like a hag and scares Anna Maria so badly, the girl nearly runs off into the night. Also Marietta knows about the world, including the Italian aristocratic practice of a married woman having a cicisbeo, a man sanctioned by her husband's family who serves as the wife's best friend and lover. The Dresser offers this excerpt from J.H. Beall's poem:


All the women I know are outrageous.
They ask me to take them to parties,
or I ask to take them to parties
and they go. Once we arrive, I do not
see them ‘til it’s time to leave. I do not
complain about this because I know
they have broken at least three hearts
in their absence from me. I consider myself

All the women I know are outrageous,
and when the sadness strikes them
like thunder peeling the sky open
or the copper blur and gaping pink mouth
of the viper, they grip my arm or hand
very tight. We are stopped, then,
by the street musician’s music that weaves
itself around us like a spell.

All the women I know are outrageous.
They will dance and dance to this music
until the sadness shucked from around them
like a cocoon.

J.H. Beall
from Hickey, the Days….

Copyright © 2007 J.H. Beall


Comments (2)

Susan Absher:

Well, I can't wait to read Vivaldi's Virgins since I love Italy, including Venice, Vivaldi's music, historical novels and mysteries. Thanks for alerting me to this book.

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