Fidelman in Florence
In more recent twentieth-century writing, the Florentine tragedy of thwarted rebirth tends to repeat itself as burlesque. One notable exponent of this mode is the American writer Bernard Malamud, whose novel Pictures of Fidelman ( 1969) plays self-consciously, in its interconnected episodes, on the literary associations of one Italian city after another. "A Pimp's Revenge," the Florence section, uses for parodic purposes the well-worn subject of the expatriate artist's hope to be creatively born again in the cradle of the Renaissance. Malamud's protagonist, the painter Arthur Fidelman, aspires to keep faith (as his name suggests) with the loftiest ideals of art. He has selected Florence as the logical place in which to make his bid for immortality.
One has (and one is meant to have) an instant sense of déjà vu. As Christof Wegelin has pointed out, Pictures of Fidelman is "a portrait of the American specifically as artist, and the treatment of a similar theme in 'The Madonna of the Future' . . . seems to have haunted Malamud" (146). "A Pimp's Revenge" is not, however, simply James at second hand; it is James turned inside out through ironic reversals of tone and situation.
In James's story the fact of "a great tradition broken" lends pathos to the hero's effort to find creative fulfillment amid the splendid reminders of the Renaissance. But in Malamud's Florence, the artist's attempt to locate his individual talent within tradition becomes ipso facto comic. Sample though he may the special appeal of one famous Italian city after another, Fidelman has no hope of finding his true artistic home in any of them. The discoveries he does make have to do with his own problematic identity; the cities themselves act as way stations on the lengthy pilgrimage of self-location. What Fidelman must learn is to assimilate models of past greatness, while resisting the claims to final authority of any of them. Malamud's story itself constitutes an example of how this might be done. By burlesquing Jamesian paradigms, he invokes masterly precedents only to question their relevance to the problems facing American writers and artists a century later.
The Fidelman of "A Pimp's Revenge" shares with his precursor Theobald an emotional bond with Florence and a maddening frustration in pursuing his
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Publication information: Book title: Storied Cities:Literary Imaginings of Florence, Venice, and Rome. Contributors: Michael L. Ross - Author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of publication: Westport, CT. Publication year: 1994. Page number: 101.
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