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The Bravo plunges the reader into the darker side of Venice, a city whose majesty, patrician beauty and tight confinement upon marshland captivated the author during his travels there in the 1830s.
Cooper sets out to craft a dark and twisting narrative, with descriptions that evoke the mysterious and foreboding elements of the Venetian streets and alleyways. Symbolically, The Bravo opens with the setting of the sun beneath the distant Alps - as this occurs, the majority of Venice's people shuffles homeward or to well-lit places of evening entertainment. Behind these convivial scenes however, a much more sinister process unfolds.
The cast of characters comprises mainly of ruthless political operators; some have connection with the Catholic church, others are embedded in the aristocracy, while still more are simply political animals out for self-advancement with little regard for human or other costs. Bennett deftly portrays the darker side of European politics with aesthetics; Venice's looks help build the cloak and dagger atmosphere, as characters meet in darkened streets, plot and exchange information.
Hailing from the United States, James Fenimore Cooper was accustomed to a culture where land was plentiful and ranged vast and far. Venice was stood firmly at the other extreme: a tightly packed city for whom every inch of habitable land on the coastal marshes was crucial. While the USA forged its new culture of pioneering in a fresh environment, backed by ideals of individualism and freedom, Venice represented the old order of realpolitik, wherein the great mass of humanity is cynically used to act against their own best wishes.
James Fenimore Cooper was a renowned American author whose prolific creativity did much to establish the literature of the United States. His writing ranged across fictional genres such as espionage, maritime stories of adventure and swashbuckling, to flowing historical novels. A keen observer of human nature, conflict and politics, his books frequently included these themes.