‘The Light in the Piazza’ by Elizabeth Spencer – First a Novella, Then a Movie, and Then a Broadway Musical


‘The Light in the Piazza’ by Elizabeth Spencer    (1960) 110 pages


Set in Florence, Italy, the unique captivating plot of ‘The Light in the Piazza’ is likely the reason that it has inspired both a movie in 1962 and a Broadway play, a musical no less, in 2005 based on the novella. Now the musical is being put on by theater groups nearly everywhere.

Here is the setup. Mrs. Margaret Johnson and her 20 year old daughter Clara are in Florence as part of their extended stay in Italy as tourists from North Carolina. As Clara hurries to see a historical marker, she bumps into 22 year old Italian Fabrizio Naccarelli. From the get-go, he is entirely smitten with Clara, and in the following days he shows up wherever Mrs. Johnson and Clara happen to be. He buys and sends elaborate gifts to Clara, never mind that Clara can speak no Italian and Fabrizio speaks very little English. Soon Mrs. Johnson and Clara meet the entire Naccarelli family.

However there is a backstory. Due to a childhood injury when she was kicked in the head by a Palomino horse, Clara has the mental age of a child of ten. The accident with the horse has not affected Clara in any physical way nor her striking beauty. Deep in her heart of hearts, Mrs Johnson hopes that Clara can lead a normal life despite her injury. Should she encourage Fabrizio in his romantic intentions for Clara or should she discourage him? That is the question.

The author Elizabeth Spencer displays a sure grasp of human nature in this novella. What mother would not want the best for her daughter even in these difficult unusual circumstances? The language difficulties between Italian and English might conceal her daughter’s problems to some extent. Fabrizio might behave like your stereotypical Italian guy, but stereotypes arise in the first place because there is some truth of them, And of course Mrs. Johnson’s businessman husband Noel would not understand the subtleties of the situation going on here in Florence.

Although Elizabeth Spencer wrote several other well-regarded works, she will likely most always be remembered for this novella.


Grade:   A







5 responses to this post.

  1. This sounds rather good. I wonder if my library has it…

    Liked by 1 person


  2. This sounds excellent Tony,

    Liked by 1 person


  3. […] The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer (reviewed by Anokatony at Tony’s Book World) […]



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