Can't get enough of the birthplace of the Renaissance? We figured as much. So we scoped out some great reads about or set in Florence. Read them before you go to set the tone or when nostalgia hits when you get home.
Reading Up On Florence
1. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Fifteenth-century Florence is bursting at the seams with change, turmoil, religion, the plague and threat of invasion. Teenaged Alessandra is the bright, rebellious protagonist who agrees to an arranged marriage in order to attain the freedom to paint.
Ultimately Alessandra finds this choice to be a hollow victory. And while she eventually discovers love, it comes at a price. She crosses paths with a veritable Renaissance Who's Who (Medici and Savonarola, among others) during the course of a historical novel, steeped in art, culture and the politics of the day.
2. A Tuscan Childhood by Kinta Beevor
Find out what it was like to be a posh expat living in and near Florence between the turn of the 20th century and the 1940s. Beevor's parents were bohemian British expats who inherited a villa in Fiesole (near Florence) and a castle in the Tuscan countryside—and mingled with the local famous folk of the era (notably D.H. Lawrence). Beevor's descriptions of her everyday life are unlike anything else you'll read about Italy, and her unconventional childhood makes for some fascinating background on how Italy has changed since her days in Tuscany.
3. A Room With A View by E.M. Forster
Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson meet in a pensione in Florence. Lucy is engaged to be married to prim, boring, oh-so-wrong-but-right-for-her-social-station Cecil Vyse shortly after her return to England. Charming locals and the romance of the Tuscan countryside's poppy fields conspire to make her fall for the smart, passionate, unconventional George? What ever will our heroine do? Which man will she choose? Ooooh, the romantic intrigue!
4. The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy
A bit on the heavy side, both in terms of weight (8 oz.) and snark, Mary McCarthy deftly demonstrates Florence's central place in the intersection of Italian art, culture and history. This book is an indispensable resource if you enjoy walking around Florence impressing your friends with your knowledge of the city and its art and landmarks.
5. La Vita Nuova by Dante
Less well known than Dante's Divine Comedy, La Vita Nuova is also less physically bulky and less intimidating in scope. This is the genesis of young Dante Aligheri's truly lifelong love affair (the two met for the first time when he was 9) with the lovely and enigmatic Beatrice. Though the couple exchanged maybe a dozen words over the course of their acquaintanceship, Beatrice was Dante's muse and guide through the Divine Comedy.
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