The story begins in London as Lilia, the young widow of Charles Herriton departs for an extended tour of Italy, taking with her a companion (Caroline Abbott), who is supposed to keep her our of trouble. Lilia leaves her 8-year-old daughter Irma home with the Herritons. The Herritons are a snobbish upper middle class family ruled by an iron-willed matriarch, who has never approved of her daughter-in-law's unassuming and spontaneous nature.

The trouble begins when word arrives from the small town of Monteriano that Lilia has gotten engaged to an Italian man. Mrs. Herriton sends her son Philip to buy off the "wretched Italian" and bring Lilia home. But he arrives too late. The 32-year-old Lilia has already married Gino Carella, who is the unemployed son of a dentist and a decade younger than she is. Gino is charming and seems guileless, although he has no intention of adopting an English attitude toward marriage. Indeed, he has married Lilia for her money and expects her to become a proper Italian wife.

Later, Lilia dies in childbirth, but the baby survives. At first the Herritons intend to sever contact and not acknowledge the child. However, nudged by Miss Abbott, the unsuccessful chaperone, they decide to "save" the child from becoming an Italian. Once again, Philip goes to Italy to buy off Gino and bring the boy to England. Once again, he fails.

But this time, his aggressive sister Harriet intervenes; when all else fails, she steals the baby. Unfortunately, a mishap occurs, and the baby dies. Meanwhile, Philip has fallen in love with Miss Abbott who, in turn, has fallen for the recently remarried Gino. In the end it looks like Phillip and Miss Abbott will become "just good friends."


Snobbishness and cultural insensitivity form the tablet upon which this story is writ. First, you have the English social class difference that leads the Herriton family to patronize (and be embarrassed by) the young harebrained widow in their midst. Then there is the general belief in English superiority over the popish Italians. Finally, you have the total unacceptability of Gino himself, a poor, provincial, and poorly educated Italian.

The lack of cultural awareness extends to Lilia herself, who expects an Italian husband to adopt her English middle class values, and the Italian neighbors to transform themselves into an English community. (It is notable, though, to observe the social oppression of women in provincial Italian society of the time.)

The two characters that to some extent come to terms with cultural difference are Philip Herriton and Caroline Abbott, in both cases because they are open enough to respond to Gino as a person, rather than accepting a stereotype. Philip likes the Italian and understands his love for the baby. Caroline falls in love with the man. Thus, Gino in a sense returns to England with the two of them--as a barrier preventing their own happiness.


First published: 1905



Place Published

New York



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