The Blind Contessa’s New Machine

What if you knew you were going blind?  What images would you try to imprint on your mind before all went dark?

In Carey Wallace’s The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, Carolina Fantoni, a young beautiful Italian, who grew up with gardens, lemon trees, and her own quiet retreat by the lake near her house, finds herself going blind, just as she is about to be married.  No one believes her, at first, except Turri, older by ten years, an inventor and her childhood conspirator and partner in exploring.

The story has a fairy tale quality as if the princess, in this case Carolina the Contessa, finds true love and vision only after she loses her sight.  With a nineteenth century Italian setting, Carey’s language beautifully underscores the descriptions of people and objects, bringing them clearly into Carolina’s vision as well as the reader’s.  When Carolina dreams, she sees; when Liza, her maid, lies about the colors of her gown, the pictures in the books, and her perfume, Carolina instinctively knows.

Carolina marries Pietro, who, despite his charm and princely demeanor, can figuratively only see as far as his nose; his love for Carolina’s beauty alone cannot sustain the marriage.  It’s Turri’s passion and true love that help her “see” through her other senses, and eventually leads to his invention of the typewriter so that the lovers can communicate and set the times for their secret assignations.

Based on a true story, with the Contessa’s typed letters verified in Michael Adler’s 1973 nonfiction compilation of typewriter history, The Writing Machine, Carey’s book creates the motivation behind the invention.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a slim book you could slide into your pocket – lovely, romantic, and mostly true.