I was looking to take a small break from work and ended up reading Monna Vanna, a play by Maurice Maeterlinck. It is easily one of the best works of fiction I have read in a long time. I only have a couple of regrets about it. First, that I don’t know French, so I couldn’t read the original work, and second, that I already knew part of the story.
The first act sets up the plot nicely and the next two acts are just brilliant – in particular, the conversation between Monna Vanna and Prinzivalle. The climax is both dramatic and logical, a rare combination. In fact, the entire play is like that – characterization is clear and the riveting plot is consistent with the characterization right upto the end. The character of Monna Vanna is inspiring.
I doubt if women in Renaissance Europe were as independent as Monna Vanna. None of the other works of fiction set during that period that I have read have strong women characters. I have a bit of fascination with fiction set in historical times (not sure why?) and the contrast with other works set in such periods makes Monna Vanna even more attractive.
I wonder if other works by Maeterlinck are as good as this. The Wikipedia page on Maeterlinck says that his plays are characterized by fatalism and mysticism. Monna Vanna is mostly free of both. There is no mysticism and only the character of Marco can be seen as fatalist.