Any city with as rich an historical heritage as Florence is sure to have attracted the attention of writers over the years. Many writers have chosen Florence as the setting for their tales of love, power and genius, and reading some of this wonderful literature before embarking on an educational tour to the city can only enhance the experience for students.
Probably the archetypal Florentine book is The Prince, by Nicolo Machiavelli, which was first published in the 1500s. It has been claimed to be one of the first works of modern political philosophy and has continued to be a bestseller up until the modern day. The term “Machiavellian” was coined from this book with its theme of glory and survival justifying the use of immoral means. Machiavelli also wrote A History of Florence of the Affairs of Italy.
George Eliot’s Romola is set in Florence in the 1500s and tells the story of the unhappy marriage of Romola de’ Bardi and Tito Mellena during the time of the Italian Renaissance. George Eliot didn’t expect the novel to be popular, although she did extensive research by visiting Florence on several occasions and wrote that she would, “Swear by every sentence as having been written with my best blood, such as it is, and with the most ardent care for veracity of which my nature is capable”. Another novel that gives us an insight into an unhappy marriage is Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady, in which his heroine Isabel Archer finds cruelty underneath a veneer of cultivation and charm.
In A Room with a View, E M Forster writes about the freeing of Lucy Honeychurch from Edwardian suppression and of her awakening in Florence. She wrote: “It was pleasant, too, to fling wide the windows, pinching the fingers in unfamiliar fastenings, to lean out into sunshine with beautiful hills and trees and marble churches opposite, and, close below, Arno, gurgling against the embankment of the road.”
Many students on an educational tour may remember the stunning cinematic scene of Lucy Honeychurch fainting on the Piazza della Signoria in the James Ivory film adaptation.
Florence’s ruling family, the Medici’s, have left their mark on this city and their history and influence feature large on any educational tour of Florence. Literature, too, has been inspired by this family’s legacy. For an insight to the machinations of Florence’s first family, Christopher Hibbert’s The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall will give a good historical background for students visiting the city. For those with an interest in design and architecture, Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture brings the characters and events surrounding the construction of the famous Duomo to life.
There are many more fictional accounts of the real life events of Florence’s history, and reading them before a visit them is certain to ensure an educational tour will be all the more satisfying. Armed with a good knowledge will make the places students visit all the more real and fascinating.