REVIEW: So Wild the Heart by Geoffrey Trease
Thomas Adam, junior Fellow of St. Columb’s College at Oxford University, is one of countless English travellers crossing the channel to explore the reopened Continent after the Napoleonic wars. With Boney imprisoned, there is no time like the present to experience French wine and the Italian countryside — at least, for anyone other than Adam, whose motives are severely academic…
Bound for Italy on the strictest academic pursuit, he has no intention of partaking in the glories of the countries he moves through, much less become involved in any way with the people he encounters. Indeed, anything not directly related to completing his translation of the obscure late poet Antonian, Adam views as entirely irrelevant.
Romance, certainly, is entirely excluded.
Life, however, has a much different summer in store for Adam than the one he has planned. Once settled in the beautiful lakeside town of Lucero, a location he hopes houses the mysterious Isola d’Amore referred to in Antonian’s works, Adam discovers any number of temptations. His encounters with ‘enlightened’ American women and a foolish prophet of Reason seem always to draw him away from his work…but unbeknownst to Adam, the answers he seeks are right under his nose the whole summer.
Yet by the end of the Long Vacation, it is not his translation that occupies his thoughts, but rather problems of love. Problems for which all his classical scholarship has not prepared him… So Wild the Heart is an engaging literary tale that gets to the heart of human emotion.
Last year I read a short biography written by Trease about Samuel Pepys. How, I wondered, would I like a fictional book written by Trease? The answer is “very much.” Yes this is a romance and yes there is a delightful HEA but it’s also a delicious send up of the pompous, the prosy, and the hypocritical all done in understated, wry English humor. Please note that this is an older book, written from only the hero’s POV and focused more on him.
Thomas Adam is a poor hero of working class origins who lucked into a grandfatherly/pupil relationship with an elderly, unmarried vicar and which fanned the embers of his desire to teach this eager young boy. Tom’s mother might have grumbled at the loss of her poaching son – no more pheasants as those were for gentry – and the Reverend’s housekeeper might sniff at this ragamuffin boy but Thomas Adam soaked up knowledge like a sponge.
The slightly unsavory winds of reform wafting over from Revolutionary France were the cause of Tom being appointed to a position at his college after having gained a scholarship to Oxford in the first place. But standards must be kept up or, according to his Warden, basically civilization as it is known in Britain will end – so no trousers at dinner!
Tom might once have thought that having been admitted to Oxford and afterwards appointed as a Fellow his cup would runneth over but as he discovers, it was filled with more vinegar than wine. Is this his future – kowtowing to a creaking, hidebound Warden, fending off the Warden’s unmarried daughters, dreading taking Orders he doesn’t believe in, and tutoring bored young men with little interest in scholarship as he slowly sinks into a slough of despair? Or does his fellow Fellow have the right idea of a trip to Europe now that Boney is safely imprisoned? So, off to Paris they go along with a pent up herd of English milords, miladies, and wealthy nobs eager to look down on the foreigners again.
The war might be over but politics still seethe across the Continent as Tom journeys from France to Italy – oops, not Italy but rather Lombardy-Venetia now under control of the Austrians. Tom doesn’t care as his goal is to prove his point on the translation of a minor classical Roman poet. Soon after arriving in Italy, he falls in with an odd and slightly disreputable household of political and social reformers, free thinkers, women’s rights proponents and assorted Americans.
Yet as Tom gets to know them he finds that more often than not they are likely to be strict chaperons, prepared to shriek of being subjects of His Britannic Majesty and wave their British passports in the faces of the Austrian authorities if faced with arrest as they farcically attend “secret” meetings of Italian freedom fighters and willing to take advantage of a young woman’s ideals. They are, in a word, hypocrites. Meanwhile Tom is exactly who he claims to be and getting slightly disgusted that once again his working class roots are held against him by those with the ability and social status to flout authority and the morals of the day.
Yet what can he do to advance his cause after he finally admits to being in love with a certain young lady? He isn’t even sure she returns his feelings or isn’t more interested in a man of social status who could afford to give her the things Tom can only dream of. That is if he was even in a position to offer marriage which his position as a Fellow of his college forbids him to do. Filled with despair he takes a chance but can he overcome pettifogging Austrian punctiliousness to put his case before his true love? Well, with the help of those very Austrians, a town full of romantic Italians and his own determination and talent with poetry, Tom might stand a chance.
Sly wit and humor abound in this charming little book in which true love triumphs. A-