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Venice Observed (Art and Places) Paperback – September 25, 1963


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 158 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books (September 25, 1963)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015693521X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156935210
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #553,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

MARY MCCARTHY (1912-1989) was a short-story writer, bestselling novelist, essayist, and critic. She was the author of The Stones of Florence and Birds of America, among other books.

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mary McCarthy's VENICE OBSERVED is neither history nor a guide book but rather a literary reflection written by a young 1950s "single" woman who has visited a beautiful place and now sits at her desk and muses over what she has seen.
McCarthy was a writer and an educated woman in an age when educated women were few. She probably wore white gloves and a little hat and visited Europe after graduation from college. One can picture the author of THE GROUP traveling abroad, continuing her education. As part of her formal training, she read James and Ruskin and then she visited the sights they described and wrote her own impressions. I found McCarthy's book intriguing because she was intriguing and women like her don't exist any more. I picture her looking a bit like Katherine Hepburn arriving in Italy in "Summertime." Maybe McCarthy wasn't a "career girl" as single women sans husband and children who worked for a living were called in those days, but this is how I picture her on reading VENICE OBSERVED.
I've just finished reading JJ Norwich's HISTORY OF VENICE and if you want history Norwich's book is the definitive history. VENICE OBSERVED is for women who want a bit of information to complement their education mixed in with another woman's reflections. VENICE OBSERVED is for educated women who travel alone.
McCarthy includes some history, but only as a backdrop to her real interests which are art and literature. She assumes you know who Tintoretto and Titian were and that you've at least seen pictures of their works. Where Norwich mentions Tintoretto in passing (Norwich is more interested in archtecture) McCarthy dwells on him.
VENICE OBSERVED is not an art book however. McCarthy's writing reminds me of James or Ruskin, both of whom she quotes.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jay Dickson VINE VOICE on June 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is one of McCarthy's most delightful books, although it may also be her least controversial. VENICE OBSERVED might be the best single travel book ever written on Venice, and MCarthy's tone is leisurely and informative, her style witty and engaging. Her asides about her personal experiences in the city complement her grander historical and artistic musings: you never feel alienated from her prose (the way you can in her earlier THE STONES OF FLORENCE). Her anecdotes about the doges, Tintoretto, Veronese, the Councils, etc. greatly enhanced one's understanding of the city, and her musings on the art are thoughtful and illuminating.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Diego Banducci on June 18, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Written in 1956, "Venice Observed" was a precursor to "The Stones of Florence" (1959), one of the better travel books ever written. As in "The Stones of Florence," McCarthy weaves a tapestry of art, history, literature, sociology and cogent observation, but this earlier effort is not as well organized as the later book, leaving the reader to dig out the gems that lay within.

Apparently the original hardback versions of both books contained high-quality photographs, and were experiments in presenting the two modes of communication together. Depending upon which edition you buy, the paperback versions either lack photographs altogether or contain low-quality reproductions. While that obviously detracts from the experience, the text standing alone bears witness to an extraordinarily well-disciplined and fine mind at work.

Since McCarthy was born in 1912, she would have been 44 at the time this book was written, hardly the ingenue that other reviewers suggest. In fact, after reading both books, one suspects that this woman was born mature.

It is interesting to note that throughout this book, McCarthy refers to John Ruskin's "The Stones of Venice," which explains her choice of title for "The Stones of Florence."
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful By fdoamerica on April 11, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Venice Observed is not a travel log. Rather, it is a compendium of historical topics that, when brought together, illustrate the mosaic history of Venice.
Mary McCarthy writes with the confidence of a discerning Brussels diamond buyer. In her book McCarthy holds up Venice and asks the reader to observe the beauty, uniqueness, and flaws that time has formed over the past ages. She turns this city/state before you and by the end of her 150 page book, you will have examined a gem.
Her writing, while learned, can be convoluted, and the text should be read with a dictionary by one's side, i.e., "The other way lay universal odium" - odium?. A significant distraction is the lack of an index, biography and glossary. These aspects make the work difficult to engage. Yet, I pushed through the book because of the insights that Mary McCarthy gave to Venetian culture and history.
For those that are schooled in Italian history and have an interest in Venice then this book would be worth reading, for McCarthy's insights can be provocative as well as intriguing.
For the general traveler there is better and more "user friendly" books on this gem of a city. Conditionally Recommended.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By JAD on January 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
VENICE OBSERVED

While this has become sort of a cult classic, there are better books about Venice to be read and enjoyed, written in the years since Mary McCarthy penned this book. It is a very particular, personal and peculiar look at the famed city.

It may be that this work was cutting edge for travelers in the 'Fifties, but it has long since been surpassed both in content and in tone, by more recent books, be they guidebooks or works of a more literary bent such as the gorgeous "Francesco's Venice" (written by a native of Venice) or "The City of Falling Angels" (by the award winning author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" which is a brilliant and affectionate look at the city and its people by an American) both of which I recommend highly, as in five stars--read them before considering reading this book.

Mary McCarthy is knowledgeable but she makes every effort to let you know just how very smart she is with the implication that she is smarter than you. She often quotes in other languages and let the reader puzzle them out - if you don't speak the language, then be glad your computer will do free translations for you. She also assumes you have already studied the art, architecture and history of Venice thoroughly before turning to her book, and having been thus armed with the basics from elsewhere, she will now give you her added (she would say, correct) slant.

The book is not quite painful as her book about Florence, but like that book, this too is not a volume pitched to endear one to Venice.

McCarthy's approach is that Venice is an acquired taste and most readers are not sophisticated enough to acquire it. While one feels put down by such an attitude, it is so pervasive it cannot be accidental.
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