Epic! Transcendent! Ethereal! Timeless! Pascarel is Ouida’s first three-decker (i.e. three volume novel) based entirely in Italy. It is also the first novel of “the Italian set” (Pascarel, Signa, Ariadne, A Village Commune, and In Maremma).
The plot weds a coming of age tale to a love story in a way that is decidedly unique, yet uncontrived. It stars two main characters, Nella and Pascarel—two souls destined for a true and eternal love. However, as in several other of the author’s works, finding love is one thing, but cultivating it is an entirely different matter.
We get to follow Nella’s journey through the various perils and pitfalls of survival. We get to see her rise from poverty and move into loftier estates. We are entertained by her transient life with a bohemian troupe of street performers. We are enchanted by somewhere approaching a full two hundred pages devoted to the experience of falling in love. And all the while it is love and art and history that are fueling a burgeoning discourse between Nella and her soulmate, the charismatic young comedian known to others simply by his formerly noble surname, Pascarel.
What emerges in the writing is one long, beautiful poem on Italy. Pascarel is one of Ouida’s most visually evocative novels. Her use of color in the narrative equates to reading a painting in words. Note, for example, Nella's first impression of Florence:
The town floated on it as upon a lake; her spires, and domes, and towers, and palaces bathed at their base in its amber waves, and rising upward into the rose-hued radiance of the upper air. The mountains that encircled her took all the varying hues of the sunset on their pale heights until they flushed to scarlet, glowered to violet, wavered with flame and paled to whiteness, as the opal burns and fades. (p. 125)
A short excerpt, really, for the language carries on in this fashion throughout the entirety of the novel. Furthermore, her scenes in this novel are richly cinematic, but with depth and substance added to their poignancy.
Last of all, I must add that Pascarel is unarguably one of Ouida’s most jubilant novels. Even though it contains some sad and tragic scenes (and it wouldn’t be Ouida without such tragedy), from start to finish Pascarel feels lighter and more exultant than many of her other works, particularly her later fiction. If you enjoyed any of the other books in the Italian set and you have yet to read Pascarel, I highly recommend adding it to your list.