“A Venetian Night’s Entertainment” by Edith Wharton tells of Tony, who has dreamed of visiting Venice since he was a child. To him, Venice is a magical city, “midway between reality and illusion.” Finally, as a young man, he gets his chance to visit as part of his grand tour of Europe aboard his father’s merchant ship. Upon arriving, Tony has to immediately explore the city, on his own since his chaperone insists on staying on the boat until morning.
Here was the very world of the old print, only suffused with sunlight and colour, and bubbling with merry noises. What a scene it was! A square enclosed in fantastic painted buildings, and peopled with a throng as fantastic: a bawling, laughing, jostling, sweating mob, parti-coloured, parti-speeched, crackling and sputtering under the hot sun like a dish of fritters over a kitchen fire. Tony, agape, shouldered his way through the press, aware at once that, spite of the tumult, the shrillness, the gesticulation, there was no undercurrent of clownishness, no tendency to horse-play, as in such crowds on market-day at home, but a kind of facetious suavity which seemed to include everybody in the circumference of one huge joke.
Is it any surprise that Tony, a handsome young man with money in his pocket alone in a strange cit,y runs into trouble? He makes a new friend, Count Rialto, who takes him on a tour of the city. They enter a packed cathedral, and there Tony meets the beautiful Polixena who claims she is in dreadful trouble. Ah, you can see danger aiming straight at Tony, but he’s pretty clueless.
As a reader, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on until the end, although I was definitely more suspicious than Tony. Of course, he didn’t know he was in a short story. If he had, he may have been lest trusting of his new friend, and less likely to fall under the girls’ spell.
“A Venetian Night’s Entertainment” was a gem of a story. The setting was perfect, Venice is surprising, beautiful but unknowable, somehow, for a foreigner.
4 out of 5 stars
Category: Short Story
First published 1903