A Promise on the Horizon

Written by Ann Pearson
Review by Vicki Kondelik

A Promise on the Horizon is a beautifully written novel about two French travelers in the Napoleonic Italy of 1811. Henri Beyle, later to become famous as Stendhal, is an official in the Napoleonic bureaucracy, bored with his position, who travels to Italy to revisit the places he had loved as a young soldier ten years before, and to see Rome, which he had always longed to visit. The fictitious Marie Vernet, a woman whose noble family was torn apart by the French Revolution, has recently come into an inheritance, and takes the courageous step of traveling alone, which is unusual for a woman of that time.

They travel together in the public coach, but then take different paths until they meet up again towards the end of the book. Henri pursues women, especially a married Milanese beauty named Angela, while Marie finds herself attracted to Larocque, a man who is her social inferior. Both protagonists discover a love of Italian art. Henri encourages Marie to defy social convention and declare her love for Larocque. But will Marie, who has braved the perils of traveling alone through Italy, be equally as courageous in matters of the heart?

Pearson’s descriptions of Napoleonic Italy are exquisitely beautiful, and she makes the society come to life for the reader: the countryside, the cities, the art galleries, and the opera houses. Told in alternating sections by the two protagonists, the novel provides contrasting male and female viewpoints and highlights the difficulties of female travelers at the time. Henri, as a man, has much more freedom than Marie in what he is allowed to experience. The two characters also provide contrasting views of the Napoleonic regime: Henri thinks Napoleon will modernize Italy, while Marie sees the death and destruction the regime has brought. Highly recommended.