The most important symbolic role that the city of Venice plays in The Glassblower of Murano is that of the continual cycle of birth and death. The protagonist is drawn to Venice because of her ancestry there, and at that point the city is a mysterious place of origin to which she is strongly connected. Later, Venice offers rebirth and opportunity to her, as she becomes involved in clearing her family name. When finally she finds her place there and has a child of her own, she comes full circle and is integrated into the continuing story of the city. As one character in the novel observes about Venice, “Here the past is all around. It happened only yesterday,” (Fiorato, 2008, p.79).
The Glassblower of Murano, a fictional novel by Marina Fiorato that was published in 2008, begins when the central character Leonora “Nora” Manin moves to Venice from England. As the book opens, Leonora is escaping to her birthplace in the aftermath of her divorce. It offers her a fresh start and a metaphorical life raft. She clings to her neglected Venetian heritage and banks on her blood relation to the famous glass blower Corradino Manin to get her a job in Murano- and island historically famous for its blown glass. The author seems to draw a connection between the glass-blowing trade and the mercurial nature of Venice. “This strange material was at once liquid and solid, and had moods and a finite nature,” (p. 18).
When Leonora is hired as an apprentice at a glass blowing factory, her natural talent for glass making arouses jealousy among the other craftsmen. One angry co-worker accuses her beloved ancestor Corradino of being a traitor who sold his glass-blowing secrets to the French. This embarrassing accusation calls into question Leonora’s family pride, her right to the glass-blowing tradition, and her right to belong in Venice. Corradino Manin’s story unfolds simultaneously in a series of glimpses into the past.
In her struggle to clear Corradino’s name and earn her job back, Leonora becomes consumed by the task of researching her ancestor, and scouring historical documents for proof that he did not flee to Paris. Eventually, though Leonora is still unaware, the reader discovers the truth that Corradino did agree to work on the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. His saving grace is that he only did so to secure a future for his orphaned daughter, with whom he shared a special bond. His decision to betray Venice proves to be tragic when the Venetian government discovers his crime. When Leonora finds a goodbye letter that Corradino wrote to his daughter, she understands his motives and finally makes peace with her past. Leonora’s fixation on her family’s glassblowing reputation is overshadowed by the ultimate importance of family, love and sacrifice.
Central Character Analysis
The plot line of The Glassblower of Murano centers on Leonora. Though her ancestor Corradino’s life is important, it is primarily the backdrop to Leonora’s story. At the beginning of the novel, Leonora’s goal is to start fresh, become self-reliant, and discover her family history in an effort to find personal fulfillment. Her plan is to get a job as a glassblower in Venice. Later, her objective is to preserve her ties to Venice and vindicate her ancestor by clearing his name. Throughout her journey, she is desperate to be accepted as a Venetian. When she begins to understand her ancestor’s story, she realizes that it was much more complicated than whether or not he was guilty of selling his secrets to France. When she has her baby and earns back her job, her priorities shift from self-motivated to inspired by her commitment to the history of Venice and to her family.
The Role of Venice in the Plot
Venice symbolizes mercantilism in this novel as it has for centuries. To Leonora, Venice is about making her own way and supporting herself on the strong and glorious history of glass blowing. But, as it is wont to do, Venice shifts and becomes darker, more mysterious, and less forgiving. The city doesn’t welcome Leonora back with open arms, and it shows her ancestor little mercy. During the story, the dying Venice we know also emerges. The glass-blowing trade is no longer what it was.
As the story continues, however, Venice shifts again. It becomes a complex symbol of life, rebirth, and opportunity. Leonora’s reconciliation with Venice is described thus, “With an open heart she loved Venice again and the city loved her back…and as for Corradino- he was forgiven by her and the city too,” (p. 343). Venice seems like a fickle muse, who must be understood, worshipped, and never taken for granted, lest she withdraw her inspirational powers.
My personal analysis of this novel is positive in that the city of Venice is well portrayed. The author references dozens of familiar Venetian landmarks and historical milestones, and the reader learns many things about the city and its inhabitants from the story- if those descriptions are somewhat clichéd. The narrative was strong and logically organized, and the timed shifts between Leonora’s and Corradino’s stories added suspense that led up to an exciting climax.
However, while the plot was dramatic and memorable, the characters weren’t original. Leonora’s character, for example, was disappointing. The prototype of a divorced, free-spirited woman in search of a new start in a romantic new location is extremely played-out. The fact that Leonora’s story ends with her happy relationship with another man is unsatisfying and trite. Corradino’s character was more believable, but as his story was primarily a jumping-off point for hers, it couldn’t redeem the novel. Though I wanted to invest in Leonora, her stereotypical characteristics kept me from sympathizing with her. Because of these shortfalls in characterization, I would not recommend this book to the rest of the class.
Fiorato, M. (2008). The Glassblower of Murano. Great Britain: Beautiful Books Limited.