The Quarreling Gondoliers



John Singer Sargent, Gondoliers’ Siesta, ca. 1904.


From a 1952 letter by the playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder, who was born on this day in 1897. “A dramatist is one who believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it,” Wilder told The Paris Review in his 1956 Art of Fiction interview. “On the stage it is always now: the personages are standing on that razor-edge, between the past and the future, which is the essential character of conscious being; the words are rising to their lips in immediate spontaneity.” Read more of Wilder’s correspondence in The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder.

Where do I go next? I don’t know … I don’t want to go to Paris. I want to go to a little hotel in St. Moritz (already under snow) and work at what only pleases me. What is there to confer about? Let them come to me. I think that Monday or Tuesday I will entrain for Milan and there at 1:25 take the autobus arriving at 6:10 in St. Moritz … Think of that drive, past Como, up up the dramatic Italian alps and then in the evening light in the square of that Swiss village. 

Oh, how badly I run my life. How I postpone from year to year the establishment of those conditions under which I can work. And I don’t mean work in the sense of producing volumes, I mean work in the sense of working on and in and with myself. I am a slow digester and a slow ruminator, altho’ I carry some of the external signs of a “bright” and a fast one. No, no,—I am a monastic and an umbratical type who long since went astray among the volatile and the worldly. This has been my complaint for many years and yet I do nothing about it: you may well say that there must be something about it that I like.

It has been raining all day. The gondoliers under my window have been quarreling with one another, loud, loud, all the time. A barnyard of angry raised voices. There is a beautiful passage in the Wings of the Dove where James describes Venice in bad weather; he does not mention this effect.

This letter shows my incoherence and ill-humor. I shall not be myself until I am settled in Switzerland. And now my ink has given out. I shall go to the Piazza San Marco to buy some ink!