Pritchett, “Tragedy in a Greek Theatre” (1932)

The artist William Bantock in his cliffside studio in Sicily, constantly painting sketches of Mt. Etna or the Greek theater. After his death the narrator and landlord intrude on the studio. “It was as though the thoughts Old William had left there in his lifetime were still present; as though his breath were still there, vapid, thick on the amber air. I was depressed. I felt we had intruded on the scene of a suspected tragedy, the tragedy I had half sensed during his lifetime.” The narrator tells Bantock’s story. Bantock thought himself Greek. Puigi is the landlord, frustrated by Bantock, who arrived, turned his room into a pigsty and never left. Puigi sets him up in a cottage. Figures maybe he can make a mint from Bantock painting Etna for tourists. But it doesn’t work.

The story is generously overwritten—about the cliffs of Messina, the clanking of the train, the clock tower that “gestured over the hot black pauses not of time, but of eternity.” Pritchett is figuring out how to write before our eyes, his descriptions overenthused and ceaseless, “this straying, bleated eloquence“ he ascribes to Bantock. Beyond that, it just seems pointless, shallow, dull, neither character coming off the canvas.

[The image of Etna is by Marek Lenik]

The Spanish Virgin and Other Stories

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