THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE (1950). Novella by Tennessee Williams.
Tennessee Williams' 1950 novella is a fascinating character study of an aging, self-absorbed, wealthy actress who has lost her husband and given up her career and settled in Rome, where the only thing that will fill her days, and end her feeling of “drifting,” is a handsome young Italian marchetta (or gigolo) named Paolo. The book is beautifully crafted, and Williams does a superb job of taking us into the mind and character of a not entirely admirable but all too human woman named Karen Stone. Williams is not without compassion for his main character, who has come to realize how much she, her career, and so much else depended on her now-faded beauty, but he doesn't sentimentalize her, either. The scene when her husband dies of a heart attack in the middle of a plane flight is powerful and moving. Paolo is not as well-delineated, but then it is the story of Stone, not of the young Italian. It is also probably true that Paolo doesn't have much character to delineate. Williams makes some attempts to present his point of view, but he seems to be someone who – even more than Karen Stone – has no redeeming virtues aside from his beauty. The Contessa who “introduces” Paolo to Karen and expects him to share the bounty he gets from Karen with her, is also an interesting, if less developed, character. The fourth character, although less important, is the most tiresome: Meg Bishop, an old and blunt school chum of Karen's who apparently once made a fumbling pass at her. She comes dangerously close to being an out-dated lesbian stereotype, almost an “evil dyke.” [It is an oddity that there are some gay men who can be friends with straight women but not with lesbians. Perhaps because they can relate more to a woman who also admires male beauty?] It also must be said that the novella, while a good one with many wonderful insights into human nature and elegant but accessible prose, has a certain dated quality if only because nowadays relationships between older women and younger men – while they may raise a few eyebrows – are not as scandalous as they were in 1950. The novel was filmed in 1961 and remade for cable in 2003.
Verdict: Imperfect but interesting. ***.