As soon as he crossed the border into Italy, Tennessee Williams discovered that his health had been “magically restored.” “There was the sun and the smiling Italians,” wrote the author of A Streetcar Named Desire in his memoirs. Now an unpublished tale by Williams describes its protagonist experiencing similar feelings, although Italians are not as fond of him.
First published this week in Strand magazineWilliams’ 1952 story, The Summer Woman, was found in his archives at the Beinecke Manuscript and Rare Book Library at Yale University. Follow an American academic who visits Rome every summer to continue his relationship with a woman he met while working on the streets. But as the years pass after the end of World War II, he discovers that hostility toward Americans grows.
“Every summer it had seemed to him that the tough, kind faces of the workers along the tracks were getting a little tougher than the previous time and a little less kind,” he thinks as he travels to Rome by train. “But this time it was the first time, from time to time, from an occasional group, a voice was raised to the passing coaches in a tone that could not be mistaken for friendly.”
Williams’ protagonist hears calls from “coco”, which “represented the so-called cocobacillus that his compatriots were accused of having used as a weapon of war in Korea,” and sees the words “Go home, Yankees!” graffiti on the walls. “It would be better, yes, maybe it would be wiser not even to leave the station but to turn on your heels in fear and take the next train north, back to Paris, away from this white sky shivering with heat and these lost people. that he had expected something and was disappointed as always, ”he thinks.
Andrew Gulli, editor-in-chief of The Strand, said he “had no idea why Williams didn’t publish such a fine piece … This is one of the many literary mysteries that has made me scratch my head.”
Whereas Williams, as a playwright, “evokes a southern America’s past, replete with grizzled patriarchs, worn suspenders, faded beauties, decaying mansions, cynicism about southern grandeur, and lots of empty bourbon glasses,” said Gulli, The Summer Woman “represent[s] his versatility and courage to step out of his comfort zone.
With a few general strokes, Williams evokes the beauty of the country and the genuine kindness of its people, while masterfully drawing clear parallels between the American protagonist’s seasonal relationship with an Italian prostitute and the American entanglements abroad, both plagued of conflict, resentment and disappointment. “Gulli added.
Williams also explored Italy and its people in The Rose Tattoo, about the newly widowed Serafina, a Sicilian immigrant, and in the novel The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, about an aging American beauty who moves to Rome. His partner Frank Merlo was of Sicilian descent. Robert Bray, Founding Editor of Tennessee Williams Annual Review, told the Associated Press that Williams was “in love with the sexuality that young Italians exude and with the easier relationship between men than at home in the more limited United States.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism