Having successfully gathered all my Penguin sets together (physically, and corraled into pages on the blog), it’s about time I got going on some of the neglected sets. The Little Black Classics run to 127 titles, and I only have a few, so these will take me a while to get through… I *have* read some (and you can find links on the dedicated LBC page); but I thought I would go back to the start and begin with the first title in the series – “Mrs Rose and the Priest” by Giovanni Boccaccio.

The four stories collected in this volume are, of course, drawn from the author’s famous work “The Decameron”. Published in the 14th century, this groundbreaking book collected together 100 tales supposedly told by a group of men and women sheltering outside Florence to escape the Black Death. The tales range in content from the bawdy to the tragic, and it’s considered a work which reveals what it was like to live at the time. This LBC contains four lively stories: Andreuccio da Perugia’s Neopolitan adventures, Ricciardo da Chinzica loses his wife, Mrs Rosie and the Priest and Patient Griselda.

Life in the 14th century was certainly not dull, if these stories are anything to go by! In the first, the titular young man (a greenhorn, if there ever was one) suffers all manner of misadventures thanks to his naivety and the cunning of a beautiful young woman; as well as ending up covered in excrement, he’s lucky to get away with his money and his life! The second, with echoes of the recent Katherine Anne Porter, demonstrates that an older man should never marry a younger woman, since in this story the titular Ricciardo suffers greatly from not being able to satisfy the sexual demands of his wife!

The author, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Mrs Rosie…” also focuses on sex, here as a bargaining tool between the two title characters in a tussle for supremacy. “Patient Griselda”, however, is a very different kind of story, with a woman being made to suffer all kinds of privations to prove her constancy and worth. I found this the least satisfactory of the stories because I’m not sure I approve of the moral it was trying to peddle!

Boccaccio was an interesting choice for the first LBC; and I’m sure I’ve owned a copy of “The Decameron” in the past, though I don’t think I do any more. The stories were translated by Peter Hainsworth into lively modern vernacular, and they’re certainly mostly a very entertaining read. I’m not sure I would want to spend any more time with Boccaccio, but it was an intriguing experience, and certainly an unforgettable way to begin my reading of the Little Black Classics!