Short summary - Corinne, or Italy - Germaine de Staël - Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Corinne, or Italy
Germaine de Staël - Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein

Lord Oswald Nelville plans to spend the winter in Italy and at the end of 1794 leaves Edinburgh. Handsome, with a noble appearance, he is endowed with a great mind and at the age of twenty-five he has a solid wealth. But despite his brilliant position in society, Lord Nelville is burdened with life. He is constantly tormented by the thought that his father died, and at that time he was far from his home and did not receive his parental blessing. The state of Nelville "is all the more painful because the liveliness of youth" is combined in him with "the habit of thinking inherent in a different age."
On the way to Rome, Oswald Nelwil stops in Ancona, where he witnesses the fire and panic that engulfed the inhabitants of the city. Nelville rushes to save people and deserves universal admiration for his heroism. Confused, he leaves the city under cover of night.
All the way to the Italian capital, the lord is in a state of apathy. Arriving in Rome, he witnesses the triumph of Corinna, a brilliant poetess and charming woman. Corinne's improvisation on the Capitol captures Nelville, and he "expresses his delight so vividly that he surpasses the Italians themselves."
Corinne also notices how admired the impassive Englishman standing in the crowd, and soon Nelville receives an invitation to the poet's house. Oswald discovers in the charming Italian woman an abyss of "completely new charm for him", "love for the arts and knowledge of light, subtlety of understanding and depth of feelings." He is so captivated by Corinne that he forgets his judgments that it befits a woman to keep in the shadows.
Gradually, meetings of Corinne and Nelville become frequent, they wander around Rome together, admiring its majestic ruins. Corinna secretly hopes that she will be able to win Oswald's heart, but knowing his restraint and the strictness of his rules, she dares not openly express her favor to him.
Feeling the increasing power of the charm of a beautiful Italian woman, Nelville begins to be tormented by doubts. He feels that his father would not approve of a marriage with Corinne, especially since before his death he expressed a wish that his son marry his friend's daughter, Lucille Egermont, who was then only twelve years old. Oswald does not want to violate the will of the deceased. In addition, he does not know either Corinna's real name or her past, he only knows that she is rich and leads an independent lifestyle.
Nelville decides to leave Rome. But, having gone goodbye to inspect the Colosseum in the moonlight, among the ruins he meets Corinna and realizes that he is not able to part with her.
Oswald's love for Corinna grows every day, he is jealous of her many admirers of her talent, however, being unsure of his own feelings, he does not dare to ask Corinna to tell him the secret of her origin. Nelville painfully perceives Corinna's successes in society, with the arrogance of an Englishman reproaches her for the fact that Italian women are too greedy for entertainment. With her inherent intelligence and tact, Corinna stands up to defend her beloved country and her people.
Mr. Edgermont, a relative of Lucille, arrives in Rome and asks Nelville to introduce him to the famous Corinne. The beautiful Italian woman at first refuses to accept him, which indescribably surprises Nelville, but then changes her mind and conquers her compatriot Oswald with lively conversation and deep knowledge of both Italian and English literature. When the conversation turns to Shakespeare, Corinna, prompted by Mr. Edgermon, agrees to play Juliet in English in the tragedy "Romeo and Juliet".
Corinna's play shakes Oswald, he wants to take an oath of eternal love to the girl, but she asks him not to rush, because he understands that he will do it under the influence of a momentary impression. Loving Oswald, Corinna does not dare to tell him her story, as she is afraid that he will immediately leave her.
Offended by Corinna's restraint, Nelville is about to leave for Naples. Corinna invites him to accompany him, hoping that such a strong proof of her love will calm him down.
Friends dissuade Corinna from such a step, remind her that she will ruin her reputation, but she loves Oswald too much and is ready to do anything just not to be separated from him.
In Naples, Nelville tells Corinna about himself. A loving father prepared his son for a military career, however, before joining the service, young Nelville travels to France, where he meets a charming young widow. The widow turns Nelville into her "obedient slave", he is ready to marry a French woman against the will of his father, and only difficulties arising from the turmoil reigning in France prevent him from committing this act. Nelville returns to England and learns that his father is dead. Since then, the young lord has been inconsolable.
Oswald in love gives Corinna a ring that he inherited from his father. Excited, she agrees to accept it, but promises to return it as soon as Oswald asks for it back from her. Corinna then hands him a manuscript that tells her story.
It turns out that Corinna is the daughter of Lord Egermon and the Italian, the first wife of the Lord. Corinna's mother died when the girl was ten years old. Until the age of fifteen, Corinna was brought up in Italy, and then lived with her father in England, in the county of Northumberland. By this time, Lord Edgermon is marrying a dry and prim Englishwoman who completely subjugates him.
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Corinna's talents, according to her stepmother, are not needed by anyone. The cold and "soul-draining" English province depressing a girl who grew up under the sultry sun in an atmosphere of reverence for the fine arts. The only joy for her is her little sister Lucille, whom she gives lessons in Italian and drawing.
The father wants to marry Corinne to the son of his friend, Lord Nelville, that is, to Oswald. But Oswald's father, who came to meet his future daughter-in-law, finds her "too lively" and tells his friend that his son is still young for such a marriage.
Suddenly, Corinna's father dies, and now nothing connects the girl with the house. Renouncing her name, she leaves England. The stepmother declares her dead.
Corinna settles in Rome, studies literature and arts. Having given preference to two people who are madly in love with her, she, however, is convinced that she never had real feelings for anyone but Oswald. And yet she does not want to unite with him in marriage, fearing that he will someday regret the lovely Lucille, intended by his father to be his wife. Corinna is in love with Oswald, and love is not committed.
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Oswald decides to go to England and find out why his father was against his marriage to Corinne. As soon as he set foot on his native land, the young man felt "inclinations and habits absorbed with mother's milk." Oswald meets Corinna's stepmother. He is surprised to see that the girl Lucille has turned into a real beauty, brought up as a true Englishwoman. And when he compares the two sisters, his conclusions are by no means in favor of the older one.
Oswald learns that his father thought Corinna was too active for a woman and was afraid that the young Italian woman would take her son away from England, with whose way of life she would not be able to reconcile. Thus, Oswald would have lost the honor of serving his homeland. Fulfilling the will of his father, Oswald abandons the idea of marrying Corinna.
Meanwhile, Corinna, having no news from Oswald, arrives in England and sees Oswald appearing everywhere with Lucille. Corinne realizes that Nelville has fallen in love with her sister. She returns the ring to him, attaching a note to it with the words: "You are free." Offended by such a message, Nelville asks for Lucille's hand.
Upon learning of Oswald's upcoming marriage, Corinna falls seriously ill and, having barely recovered, leaves for Italy. There she settled in the vicinity of Florence. But there is no former interest in life in it, it is slowly fading away.
By chance, Oswald learns that Corinna has visited England, saw everything and, not wanting to bother him, left, taking with her all her grief. Oswald is in despair, he leaves to fight in the New World.
A few years later, covered with glory, he returns home, where his wife and young daughter are waiting for him. Lady Edgermon, Lucille's mother, dies soon after. Under the pretext of improving his health, Oswald decides to make a trip to Italy. Lucille and her daughter accompany him.
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Arriving in Florence, Oswald seeks to see Corinna, but she refuses him a date. Seriously ill, she performs for the last time with improvisation - she says goodbye to Lord Nelville and to Italy, dear to her heart. After performing on stage, Corinna becomes ill and dies.
Lord Nelville falls into deep despair, "at first they even feared for his reason and life." Then the "sense of duty" returns him to his family, he is reputed to be an impeccable family man and a highly moral person. "But has he forgiven himself for his past transgressions?" Was he content with an ordinary fate after all that he had lost? The author does not know this, and therefore he does not want to either condemn or justify it.