The Silent Gondoliers

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The Silent Gondoliers
First edition
Author William Goldman
Country United States
Language English
Publication date
Pages 110
ISBN 0-345-31279-1

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).


Luigi is an aspiring gondolier in Venice. Though he is a talented boatman, he's a horrible singer. In fact, he's so awful that people get stomach cramps and migraines just listening to him. 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 is unacceptable, no matter how skilled he is with his oar. However, Luigi dreams of singing beautifully as he sculls along the Grand Canal.

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 he is an awful singer, his friends do like him and his affable nature, Luigi with the goony smile. It is agreed that although he is not allowed to be a gondolier anymore, he is able to work in the Tavern, the Gondoliers' 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. Luigi eventually returns to Venice and sings, but finds that his singing is even worse because it has become more powerful. When a 'killer storm' approaches, everyone is endangered. When the Church of Souls of Those Who Died for the Sea, the most sacred building to the Gondoliers, is struck by lightning, even the most skilled gondoliers in Venice find themselves overcome with too much fear to go out and call for the Great Fireboat of Venice to save their church from fire.

Finally, Luigi manages with great skill and courage to reach the Great Fireboat of Venice, which immediately sets out to save the church. When the other gondoliers notice that Luigi did not return with the fireboat, they discover him sailing on the turbulent waters on the Grand Canal. With the noise of the raging storm preventing anyone from hearing him, Luigi is finally able to realize his dream of singing his heart out on the Grand Canal. He sings songs from Bellini and all the great solos he knows. All the gondoliers witness this and 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 to the queen's disgust. Everyone discovers that all gondoliers have start to sing terribly from thereon, and so much so no one requested the singing anymore.

Luigi is reinstated as a gondolier, without the expectation that he must sing. After a long, successful career and happy life, as with all gondoliers when they die, Luigi is set in his black boat and pushed out to Adriatic Sea.


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.[1]

Goldman says this was one of the few times that a novel had popped into his head "fully formed", the other being No Way to Treat a Lady.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Egan p 184
  2. ^ Egan p 184
  • Egan, Sean, William Goldman: The Reluctant Storyteller, Bear Manor Media 2014