1. A novel about a nun? That I've never heard of? How interesting! (To me.) I shall read it.
2. (Vol. I) Young Edith is engaging in trite dialogue with her mother about two suitors. No nuns yet.
3. Third-person omniscient narrative + chapter in epistolary format = where's the diary?
4. (I.16) Describing Edith's tender-hearted nature": "For, oh, what happiness can such dispositions hope to find in this cold world ?—what but disappointment and misery can await them? Fond hopes blighted — young high spirits broken — ardent affections chilled and trampled on! Is not this the lot of all the brightest and fairest upon earth,—of all who have a heart to waste upon its hardness?" I...I detect foreshadowing. Somehow, somewhere. Could it be that Edith will come to a bad end?
Also, still no nuns.
5. (I.18): Edith's regard for her beloved Arthur is "idolatry." The drums of foreshadowing grow ominously louder.
In case you're wondering, the two pages that have passed since the previous entry have supplied no nuns.
6. Edith's friend Gertrude is half-Italian, half-English. Besides being an obvious Corinne knock-off, this also endows her, one presumes, with an Passionate and Uncontrollable Nature. Unlike Corinne, however, Gertrude lacks star quality, although she might do well enough on American Idol.
7. (I.24): Gertrude adores "Tasso and Metastasio." Does this bode ill for her moral fiber? Am I being insensibly corrupted by the copy of Jersualem Delivered on my shelf?
Nuns continue to be conspicuous by their absence. But still, it's early yet, right?
8. (I.38): The narrator is moralizing again: "Happy, oh, happier far are they who hold on their solitary path through life, unloving and unloved! What though no bright dream of ecstasy shed a momentary halo around them?—they are not doomed to 'awake, and find the vision flown;' it is not theirs to mourn over the tomb of blighted hopes and crushed affections." Oddly enough, this is right after Arthur declares his Undying Love to our heroine, Edith. The foreshadowing continues to rumble along, like thunder after a spectacular lightning strike. Or one's stomach after too much chocolate cake with fudge icing.
9. (I.39): It's a nun! I dance a hora around the office in celebration.
But it can't be the nun, because she's a supporting character.
My heart droops.
10. (I.52): Gertrude is "disappointed" in Edith's Beloved Arthur. The shock, the horror.
Letters again. The novel's title distinctly announced a nun and a diary; we've seen only one nun, who isn't writing a diary, and nobody else seems inclined to diarize, either.
11. Four pages later, Gertrude appears to be awfully pleased whenever Arthur is in the neighborhood. Must be the dire influence of Tasso.
12. And four pages after that, Gertrude and Arthur find themselves possessed of "a wonderful congeniality of taste and disposition." Of course, Arthur's grand passion is entirely reserved for his Edith.
The cluelessness is strong in this one.
13. (I.61): It's...it's...it's a diary. I can barely restrain myself from dancing another hora around the room. Luckily, the ongoing lack of nuns helps me maintain control.
14. (I.62): For some reason, Gertrude is oddly unwilling to depart Venice. You know, where she's been hanging out with Arthur. The guy engaged her to her BFF. That guy.
Except that now she's rhapsodizing about the inferiority of BFF and other BFF (now the novel's only nun) to Arthur. Golly, I wonder what's going on. Could it be...lurrve? Luv? Or even love?
In the interest of scholarly detachment, I shall disengage sarcasm mode.
15. (I.66): Now the characters are indulging in foreshadowing. It's almost as if we're supposed to think that this is all going to turn out really, really badly.
Strangely enough, sarcasm mode has reengaged.
The number of nuns continues to be stuck at one. I contemplate suing for false advertising.
16. Gertrude begins sight-seeing. This novel might actually be useful to someone studying tourism in Victorian culture.
I, however, am not doing that.
17. Still sight-seeing. If I were interested in writing about tourism at this juncture, I might find the motivation to figure out just which travel writer(s) this novelist has decided to plagiarize.
Note the "if."
18. (I.95): Good heavens. Gertrude's sight-seeing now encompasses a "collection of human petrifactions." It is not immediately clear why human petrifactions need to appear in a Victorian novel, let alone what they have to do with nuns. Because I had expected more nuns than petrifactions by this point.
19. Amazingly, the petrifactions in question are real (warning: NSFW and/or the squeamish, due to petrified heads and other body parts). I have now learned something, although the knowledge in question is not, perhaps, altogether practical in nature.
20. (I.100): For some reason, Arthur just can't bear to tear himself away from Gertrude. It's almost as though the foreshadowing has come to pass. Or something.
Now, if only the novel's title would come to pass...
21. (I.111): Gertrude admits to herself that she has fallen in love with her BFF's fiance. The world rocks on its axis at this sudden demonstration of basic self-awareness. Not that she's going to tell Arthur about her Forbidden Passion. Or Edith! Definitely not. Absolutely not. Positively not.
Just who are we fooling here? There's still one-and-one half volumes to go.
22. In order to fill up the rest of the pages, we now break from our regularly scheduled Secret Passion to spend several pages on the manners and morals of the Italian peasantry. Why, it's as though the author felt that his/her plot was inadequate for a full-length novel! Either that, or s/he had an unpublishable travel narrative lying around the house.
23. (I.148): Gertrude trots off to visit Catalani. I hear a dull thud, as of a name being dropped into the uncharted depths of a dry well.
I do not, however, hear any nuns. I have been deprived of nuns. This novel promised me nuns, darn it.
24. (I.157): Gertrude's feelings about Edith's marriage would appear to be oddly mixed, given that Edith is her BFF and all.
25. Back to sight-seeing again. The author's inspiration is not what one would call wide-ranging.
26. Time to complain about what passes for food in Italian inns. At least Gertrude's attitude to her stomach remains thoroughly realistic.
27. (I.179): Gertrude drops in at a Catholic church, and feels "suddenly transported to some holy, happy region, far from this sorrowful, distracting world." Could this be a sign of a nun-in-waiting?
28. (I.181): And yet, when she visits BFF #2 in her convent, Gertrude bemoans the "dreary monotony of such a tedious existence." Ironic foreshadowing? Victorian anti-Catholic + anti-convent sentiment? A combination of both?
29. (I.182): Yet another name, Giuseppe Mezzofanti, thunks down amidst the pages.
30. (I.186): Apparently, nobody told the author that name-dropping is most effective when the name in question is spelled correctly. I work up sufficient energy to figure out that the mysterious "Tinerani" is actually the sculptor Pietro Tenerani.
I soldier on...
31. (I.187): ...only to stumble and fall headlong over yet another name, that of actress and poet Rosa Taddei. Please tell me that Gertrude isn't going to meet every celebrity in Italy.
32. Alas, I neglected to mention that Gertrude is apparently BFF with yet another star, the sculptor Bertel Thorvalsden. All famous people adore Gertrude, even though she's being kind of a jerk to Edith (reminder: Gertrude has alienated the affections of Edith's Darling Arthur). I detect a strange "squee!" floating through the air, as of a thousand Mary Sues glorying in the panting love of their Captain Kirks.
33. (I.201): A whole lot of snarking at papal elections going on. If Gertrude is going to magically morph into a nun, she'll have a lot of explaining to do.
34. Back to the manners and morals again, this time in high life. This is clearly a short story in search of an editor.
I would pat myself on the back for my intellectual fortitude, were it not that I continue to read this novel out of sheer stubbornness. I refuse to believe that the title, like the cake, is a lie.
35. (I.234): And now we're staring at the corpse of Napoleon's mother. Luckily for her, she's dead--she's spared having to adore Gertrude. To be fair, all this sight-seeing seems to keep Gertrude from fantasizing over her BFF's husband. Either that, or the author temporarily forgot the plot.
36. (I.258): The Inquisition! *gasp*
Some random anti-Catholicism follows.
37. (I.272): A letter from Edith! With a postscript from Arthur, comparing Edith to Gertrude! Could it be that Arthur's and Gertrude's Grand Passion has survived the marriage? Could it be that the foreshadowing has come true? Could it be that this novel is mind-blowingly predictable?
38. (I.273): But Gertrude will only love him "as a brother." As opposed to loving him as a father, uncle, or microwave oven, no doubt.
39. (I.275): Two pages later, Gertrude angsts over Arthur's chilliness. Because, presumably, he should have engaged in a Demonstration of His Grand Passion right in front of his wife, as one always does with one's Illicit Beloved. Also, exactly what sort of warmth does one expect from a brother? It's not as though we're watching the first two Star Wars films, before Luke figured out that Leia was not a romantic option.
40. (I.278): Arthur and Gertrude get lost in the woods. The symbolism, it kills me. Along with the ongoing shortage in the supply of nuns--nuns being, as you may recall, the only reason I picked this novel up in the first place.
Perhaps I'm being punished for some unknown transgression.
41. Yet more sight-seeing, complete with not-very-acute observations on contemporary art. Oh, joy.
...and that's how we end volume one, with the characters sight-seeing, the novelist achieving new heights of book inflation, and the innocent scholar rather distraught.