Then and Now by W. Somerset Maugham
Then and Now is a novel covering three months of the year 1502 in the life of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was born and raised in Florence during the great Italian Renaissance. He served under Cesare Borgia- the Duke of Romagna- as a political ambassador. He also wrote several books… the most famous being The Prince, and his most recognized quote (and his general philosophy in life) is “the ends justifies the means”.
Machiavelli was highly respected for his diplomacy and his patriotism and he may have been a very intelligent man; sophisticated, handsome, and charismatic… but in this farce, all his negative qualities are accentuated. He was the founder of political science, and Maugham illustrates the very foundation of why the general public distrusts politicians. Machiavelli was sneaky, evasive, dishonest, and an egotistical pompous ass. In Then and Now, his own elevated opinion of himself clouds his judgement and sets him up for the perfect dupe for his own schemes.
In the plot of Then and Now, Machiavelli is sent on a diplomatic errand to the nearby city of Imola to establish a pact between Imola and the Republic of Florence and the Pope against other dangerous powers in Italy. While there, away from his pregnant wife, Machiavelli decides to have a brief one-night frivolous affair with the young and beautiful wife of the Count Bartolomeo Martelli of Imola.
He devises an intricate plot involving his traveling companion, a priest, and the young woman’s mother and uses all his most devious and persuasive techniques to insure the success of his seduction.
Halfway through the novel it is easy to guess the outcome. But that doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the read. Quite the opposite, as the plot unfolds, Machiavelli’s embarrassing defeat is awaited with eager anticipation.
Machiavelli used the humiliating experience as the basis for his novel The Mandrake. Of course, “then”, when the fiasco was really happening, it had an unsatisfactory outcome. “Now” in his retelling, through his enhanced fictional account, Machiavelli twists the plot to his best advantage and presents his hero in a more favorable light.
If you are interested in Roman history, the historical culture and customs of Rome, or curious about Machiavelli, you may well find this an enjoyable read.
Rated 3 Stars, April 4, 2017
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