The Silent Gondoliers
The Silent Gondoliers (ISBN 0-345-44263-6) is a 1983 novel written by William Goldman, under the pseudonym of "S. Morgenstern", about why the gondoliers of Venice no longer sing through the tale of the protagonist Luigi. The tale of Luigi actually starts in Chapter III and the previous chapters I and II build up further mythology behind the name Morgenstern and the backstory of Gondolierian history. It has the trademark humour of Goldman, and the unexpected fairy tale twist akin to an anti-fairy tale as the characters never end up as what we imagined or expect in fairy tales.
The Silent Gondoliers is the lesser-known book written by S. Morgenstern. It was released in hardcover in 1983, and a trade paperback version came out from Del Rey in 2001. Paul Giovanopoulos provided 20 pen-and-ink illustrations for the story.
William Goldman also uses this pseudonym in his better-known novel, The Princess Bride. However In this tale, he writes as if he remembers spending Christmas in Venice, with the echo of singing gondoliers, once as a child and again with his wife and daughters. The story haunts him and he begins to research. This leads him into the trail of why Gondoliers can no longer sing well, contrary to the belief that 'gondoliers are the greatest singers of the world' (although he states this as being relative).
It tells the tale of an aspiring gondolier named Luigi. He is a talented boatman, but he's a horrible singer. In fact, he's so awful that people get stomach cramps and migraines just listening to him. And in his Venice, that's a problem, because the gondoliers have their reputation as the best singers in the world to uphold and customers expect it as part of the service. A tone-deaf gondolier just won't do, no matter how skilled he is with his oar. But it was his dream to sing beautifully.
As the story unfolds, the object of his affection, Laura Lorenzini, engaged to him, breaks off her engagement, and ends up marrying a 'better suitor'. Though being an awful singer, his friends do like him and his affable nature, Luigi with the goofy smile. It is agreed that although he is not allowed to be a gondolier anymore, he is able to work in the Tavern, the Gondolier's exclusive haunt. But over time he becomes dissatisfied.
He disappears for many years. He visits various singing teachers such as the great Richardo Sorrento but is turned away—finally Piccoli agrees to teach him. What Luigi doesn't know is that Piccoli hasn't taught in many years and is deaf. He returns to Venice and sings but a 'killer storm' approaches, endangering everyone and even The Church of Souls of Those Who Died for the Sea, which is the most sacred building to the Gondoliers.
Luigi tries to save the day by getting the Great Fireboat of Venice in which he manages with his great skill and courage and leaves it for the people to save the church.
At that very night everyone realizes that Luigi is his singing his heart out whilst the storm is still in full rage, and he is able to because the storm was so noisy but even this doesn't stop the crowds hearing. He sings songs from Bellini and all the great solos he knew. All the gondoliers witness this. They talk about it all night.
After the storm the Queen of Corsica visits. She requests a gondolier to sing as she is on the boat on a Royal visit. George the gondolier starts to sing O sole mio, but he sings terribly and all gondoliers in fact start to sing terribly from thereon, and so much so no one requested the singing anymore.
Luigi was able to be reinstated as a gondolier no less thereafter until of course, when a gondolier dies, he is set in his black boat and pushed out to Adriatic Sea.
Ultimately, we learn why the Venetian gondoliers no longer sing. He pursues his seemingly impossible dream with unexpected consequences.
Goldman says he got the idea to write the book when visiting Venice with his then-wife:
We were on one of the water buses, Vaporettos, and a bunch of gondoliers came rowing down the canal and they were quiet. I suddenly turned to [my wife] Ilene and I said, 'I know why the gondoliers don't sing' and we got off the bus immediately and I went running back to the hotel. I wrote the story down in about five minutes on a piece of paper.
- Egan p 184
- Egan p 184
- Egan, Sean, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, Bear Manor Media 2014