VIVALDI’S VIRGINS

Barbara Quick

 Set in the early eighteenth century, Vivaldi’s Virgins depicts the last days of the Republic, a place of wild extremes and intriguing mysteries where the hedonistic pleasures of Carnival and the severe austerity embodied by the Grand Inquisitor coexist and often collide. Seen through the perceptive eyes of Anna Maria dal Violin, this lyrical coming-of-age tale travels from the luxurious palaces of the elite and grand high society galas to the poverty of the Jewish Ghetto and the tenements of the underclass, capturing the city’s magnificent heights, its squalid depths and everything in between.

A foundling given the name of her instrument,

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 Set in the early eighteenth century, Vivaldi’s Virgins depicts the last days of the Republic, a place of wild extremes and intriguing mysteries where the hedonistic pleasures of Carnival and the severe austerity embodied by the Grand Inquisitor coexist and often collide. Seen through the perceptive eyes of Anna Maria dal Violin, this lyrical coming-of-age tale travels from the luxurious palaces of the elite and grand high society galas to the poverty of the Jewish Ghetto and the tenements of the underclass, capturing the city’s magnificent heights, its squalid depths and everything in between.

A foundling given the name of her instrument, Anna Maria is an excessively gifted musician left at the Ospedale della Pieta as an infant, and she begins her intensive training just as soon as she can grasp a violin. A rigid environment that encourages bitter rivalries, vigorous competition and close friendships, the convent houses residents from all walks of life.

While some of her peers see their relatives occasionally, Anna Maria knows nothing of her family, a void that will become increasingly unbearable as she grows up. She also develops a growing curiosity about the prohibited world outside the cloister.

Anna Maria becomes increasingly desperate to learn who she is and where she belongs, giving little thought to the reverberations her quest will unleash. And what she unearths about her hidden past while navigating her path between adolescence and adulthood will shape the course of her future in stunning ways. A spellbinding fusion of rigorous research and thrilling invention, Vivaldi’s Virgins delivers a richly atmospheric trip back in time, one well worth taking.

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  • Harper Paperbacks
  • Paperback
  • July 2008
  • 304 Pages
  • 9780060890537

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$14.95

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About Barbara Quick

 Writer and poet Barbara Quick is the author of the novel Northern Edge, winner of the Discover Prize. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her teenage son.

Praise

“Quick has chosen a fascinating backdrop. Her novel shimmers with details about music and Venice in the early 1700s, as well as life within the Pietà…This is a good readalike to match with Girl with a Pearl Earring (2001) and The Birth of Venus (2004).” — Booklist

“Quick’s descriptions of Anna Maria’s violin playing soar off the page, evoking Vivaldi’s own compositions.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Quick gives us a vivid sense of both the pleasures and frustrations of living within [the] cloistered world…of Venice…[an] accomplished novel.” — Houston Chronicle

Vivaldi’s Virgins is a beautifully written story. There are some sentences that are so lovely, and in Ms. Quick’s use of metaphors, that beg to be reread over and over again, but apart from that, the story will draw readers immediately into Anna’s life. The setting — eighteenth century Venice, Italy — is lush, mysterious, and extravagant.” — Romance Reviews Today

Discussion Questions

Vivaldi’s Virgins is the story of a young girl’s coming of age and finding the right path for herself in a life in which her choices were very narrow. What do you think of Anna Maria’s choice to stay on as a musician and teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta?

The novel is also about the influence of mentors in our lives. Sister Laura and Vivaldi empower Anna Maria to come fully into her own as a human being and a musician. La Befana, on the other hand, is a toxic mentor. And Anna Maria herself becomes an empowering mentor for Bernardina and the other students assigned to her. Have you had an important mentor in your life? Have you ever had a toxic mentor—someone who had power over you and used it to hurt you?

Eighteenth-century Venice had an approach to caring for its unwanted and abandoned children that is very different from ours in twenty-first century America, in which a child like Anna Maria would have been put in foster care and maybe moved from placement to placement until she reached the age of 18. What chance would a musical prodigy like Anna Maria have, growing up in our own child welfare system?

Vivaldi was beloved by his students, because he believed in them as musicians. Do you think he was really concerned with them as individuals? Or was he most concerned with wanting to insure that his music was performed well in an age when the only way for a composer’s music to be heard was during a live performance? What hints does the novel give that Vivaldi really did care about Anna Maria?

People came to the Ospedale della Pieta from all over Europe to hear the orchestra and choir—and it was a deeply emotional experience for them. Do you think we’re luckier now, being able to listen to the music of our choice whenever we want to? Is there anything special about listening to music as part of a group, rather than all by oneself?