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Florence, A Delicate Case (The Writer and the City) Hardcover – 6 May 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition edition (6 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747558140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747558149
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 1.6 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 307,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

David Leavitt has long been a writer of rare distinction, and Florence, a Delicate Case is a compact and highly pleasurable book that functions on many levels. Firstly, there is the enjoyment of the prose: Leavitt's pithy, poetic style is immensely evocative, always erudite and unfailingly entertaining. Then there is the detailed and atmospheric evocation of one of the world's most beguiling cities. But most of all, Leavitt's book is a brilliant panoply of some of the most remarkable characters (literary and otherwise) who made Firenze their home.

Beginning by speculating as to why Florence has always proved such a desirable destination for would-be suicides, Leavitt's asks what makes the city (in the words of Henry James) such a "delicate case" for natives and incomers alike. Smoothly negotiating past and present, Leavitt details the history of the foreign colony from the middle of the 19th century until the dark days of the Mussolini era and, later, the last gasp of the Anglo-Florentine colony marked by the passing of such luminaries as Harold Acton and John Pope-Hennessy.

There are marvellously entertaining portraits of such talented visitors to the city as EM Forster, Tchaikovsky and DH Lawrence (Florence was always a centre for the sexual taboo-breakers--Leavitt is particularly perceptive when dealing with the many gay artists and writers who strolled down the Via Tornabuoni). But the author is just as diverting when discussing the wastrels and eccentrics. Who is the book aimed at? That's not quite clear--but if you're interested in the city, or its wildly disparate cast of characters, you're sure to find several tempting nuggets in this concise volume. --Barry Forshaw


"David Leavitt weaves an enchanting account of this endlessly fascinating city." -- Traveller, October 2002

"It’s a superbly enjoyable, fascinatingly individual read." -- The Times

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 30 April 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is the third title I have read in Bloomsbury's very impressiontic 'Writer and the City' series. (The other two being John Banville on Prague and Edmund Wilson on Paris). Always short and unillustrated, the books follow the same format in pairing a famous writer with a famous city.
It is fair to say that one learns as much about the writer, as the city he (so far it always has been a he) is writing about.
To capture the reader's attention, the book starts with a cheap literary ploy: 'Florence has always been a popular destination for suicides', a claim which Leavitt manifestly fails to substantiate.

Leavitt's main interest is the large and often querulous Anglo-Florentine colony, whose origins he traces back (incorrectly) to the middle of the 19th century. It was a colony that Leavitt nominally joined when, in 1993, he and his partner came to live in the city. It was not, however, a colony in which they wanted to participate; they were in search of 'the Florence of the Florentines'. If they managed to track down this elusive and vague quarry, they failed to share the discovery with the readers.

He notes that the writers who have chosen Florence as a place to live, have always been mediocre (Ouida, Firbank), while the truly talented (James, Forster) have swiftly moved on.
The book was published in 2002, by which time, we sense, Leavitt, perhaps in the light of this observation, had, too, left the city.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Andy Dingley on 21 Jun. 2003
Format: Hardcover
This whole series is charming. I'm buying them as they come out, and planning my travels accordingly. A series of short _literate_ hardbacks, I'm not sure if they're books about cities or more about writing itself. By choosing writers who already know the city intimately (and they blessedly spare us some details that it's only too clear they're "intimate" with) these are guides that give a real flavour of the city in question.
A resident's guide to Florence's people, more than its bricks and mortar. You can either live there for years, or you can read this. Most people (those sad souls in suits and offices) might do the first, yet never scratch the surface of the latter. Read this and revel in a divine world of dissolute authors and strange antique dog-walking contessas.
Totally useless as tour guides. As irrelevant as butterflies. Quite, quite exquisite.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. Notman on 8 Dec. 2005
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoy this man as a writer, hes a very interesting human being... but this is not his best work by a longshot.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 26 reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Definitely Not a Page Turner 21 Jun. 2002
By Foster Corbin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
What a disappointment. David Leavitt has accomplished almost the impossible. He has managed to make what is in my opinion one of the most beautiful cities on earth dull. This book opens with such a great first line: "Florence has always been a popular destination for suicides." After a few interesting pages, however, I found myself in page after page of virtually unreadable prose. Leavitt even manages to make the moving of Michelangelo's famous statute of David not very interesting. I'm not quite sure what went wrong. I had read his previous book ITALIAN PLEASURES written with Mark Mitchell. While I did not find it the greatest travel book ever written, it was certainly a pleasant enough read.
I was amused to see that Leavitt describes Franco Zeffirelli's autobiographical film "Tea with Mussolini" as making "for a camp spectacle that recalls some of the graver excess committed by Zeffirelli in his career as an opera director." Would that we had a little more camp excess here. Near the end of the book Leavitt's account of the young people or "mud angels" who came to Florence to help save books and art after the flood of 1966 was interesting. If we only had more such stories.
If I didn't already love Florence, this book would not convince me to visit.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Mixed feelings 26 Jan. 2004
By saliero - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I have mixed feelings about this book. I found the chapter on homosexuality in Florence interesting, but a tiny phrase let it down. In the lesser space accorded the lesbian population, Mrs George Keppel is described as the mother of "yet another" lesbian. As if by there being four or five renowned lesbian inhabitants amongst the far more numerous gay males, they were forming a disproportionately large segment of the population! I found that quite odd.
I also found it difficult to reconcile Leavitt's bitchiness about the lack of contact the earlier generations of ex-pats had with the locals (to the point of "like many" not knowing any Italian) with the lack of presence of any contemporary Florentines in his narrative, given that he is a part-time resident himself.
I loved the chapter about the "mud angels", brief as it was, and would have enjoyed more about the relationship between locals and expats alike with the art of this wonderful city.
Having said all that, I did enjoy the book overall and it is a welcome addition to the background literature of Italy which I read voraciously.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Florence Deserves Far Better 23 May 2008
By Avid Hiker - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The Writer and the City books are supposed to be idiosyncratic, and I greatly liked Edmund White's quirky but useful volume on Paris. However, with his "Florence, A Delicate Case," David Leavitt firmly crosses the line between idiosyncrasy and self-indulgence. His third chapter--40 pages of a book of only 176 pages, including notes--is devoted to mentioning seemingly every homosexual writer who has ever visited the city in the last 200 years. This exercise COULD have been fascinating--maybe, in a separate book--but Leavitt appears so anxious to squeeze the names and titles into this pocket-sized volume that we are given very little accompanying narrative which would bring this very interesting group to life.
With a city that is a mass of artistic treasure, Leavitt, who has lived there--lucky fellow--for years, would have done the reader a much greater service had he applied some better organization to this book. I wanted to like it (Leavitt has a good sense of syntax and vocabulary, and he is clearly a fund of knowledge), but ended up feeling cheated of better structural choices and the advantages of his educated vision.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A meager effort... 3 July 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
from a very good writer. Absolutely a let-down -- nothing but a very brief untidy mish-mash of foreigners in Florence..My suggestion would be to pick up a copy of Mary McCarthy's stones of venice & florence -- it's a little outdated, but for an equally brief book is packed with fascinating information that will give you a real handle on this fantastic city...
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A unique and engaging break from a "travel" book 26 May 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This new series proves to be a very helpful and interesting one, if a bit subjectibe, and Laevitt's work on Florence is compelling indeed. My main problem with his writing is the same problem I have with the rest of his books I've read--one senses he considers himself and his experiences a bit too highly for anybody's good. But while he's not an "original" or a first-rate cultural observer or "arbiter", his learning is put forth in lucid, intelligent prose--with many nice touches.
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