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The Bookshelf

SANFELICE, by Vincent Sheean, New York, Doubleday, Dorah & Company, $2.50.


Someone has complained that foreign correspondents ought to stick to "personal histories" and non-fiction instead of messing around in a game that belongs to professional novelists. If all foreign correspondents could write as good a novel as "Sanfelice," I shouldn't agree at all.

For "Sanfelice" is a beautiful and thrilling book. The heroine, La Sanfelice herself, an impoverished nobelwoman whose sympathies in the Neapolitan Revolution are naturally aristocratic but who accidentally betrays a royalist counter-revolution and becomes the toast and symbol of the Jacobin cause, comes to life in these pages. Her dissolute husband, her lover Fernando, her nephew Lauriano, are specimens in the fine art of re-creating historical characters. The personal histories of this quartet, and that of Don Gerardo Baker, are fascinatingly unfolded against the grim pageant of Naples torn by civil strife.

The rulers, Queen Maria Carolina and King Ferdinand, Lord Hamilton and his courtesan-wife, the hero Nelson, and the nefarious Acton, privy councillor, are skillfully contrasted with the populace of Naples, aristocrats, shopkeepers, servants, and the appalling "Iazzarone", who lived like beasts in filthy holes by the sea, coming out only at night or when there was looting to be done. Vincent Sheean's first novel is excellent. Never, as the jacket-blurb says, actually anti-historical, it is an impressive demonstration of the mingling in just proportion of literal fact and educated imagination.

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