Study Guide

If on a winter's night a traveler Chapter 15

By Italo Calvino

Chapter 15


  • And the story breaks off.
  • Now you find yourself reading directly from the diary of Silas Flannery.
  • Flannery opens by speaking about peering through his spyglass and watching a woman who is reading a book on a terrace below his cottage lookout. A little creepy there, Flannery?
  • Like Mr. Cavedagna, Flannery suffers from an inability to read simply for pleasure. He can't read at all without thinking about his own job as a writer. He has a strong sense of envy toward the woman in the deck chair. He becomes gripped by a desire to watch the woman react to her book, and to try to write the exact sentence she must be reading.
  • He becomes convinced that the book the woman is reading is his true book, the one he should have written at some point in his life.
  • He then speaks of the difficulty of writing, and entertains the fantasy of being a passive conduit through whom someone else's thinking can flow.
  • He wants to write the "unwritten world" and explore the void of silence that he thinks lurks behind all writing. Whatever that means.
  • He entertains the idea of writing a novel about two writers who watch each other through spyglasses. One is a productive writer, the other a tormented one. Each envies the other. Then they both aim their spyglasses at a woman who's reading.
  • He offers a series of other possible endings, all of which are pretty interesting.
  • He wonders if writing can be an impersonal thing. To say "it writes" the same way you say "it rains." He then writes, "The romantic fascination produced in the pure state by the first sentences of the first chapter of many novels is soon lost in the continuation of the story" (15.39). Sound familiar? Kind of like the book you're reading, right?
  • He recounts that a translator (Marana) has been in touch with him about counterfeits of his books being translated in other languages.
  • Marana gave him one in Japanese, and said it was one Flannery himself had never written. Rather, a firm in Osaka has figured out the formula for Flannery's novels and is able to churn out new ones that are really good, flooding the market with them.
  • Flannery says he'll sue, even though he's not sure how he feels about all of this.
  • Marana is interested in Flannery because he thinks Flannery can be a perfect faker. After all, Marana believes that truth arises only by making people confused. This story is followed by more meditations on writing and a story about the writing of the Koran.
  • On one of his walks, Flannery comes across a group of kids who look like boy scouts, and who are laying out fabrics to make signals for flying saucers. They've heard that a writer living nearby has been chosen by the aliens as an unknowing conduit for their extraterrestrial messages.
  • Next, Flannery mentions that Lotaria (Ludmilla's sister) has visited him because she is writing a thesis on his novels. She is not an innocent reader, but someone with an agenda. He asks her to read more passively and to simply enjoy herself, but she rejects this quite angrily.
  • It appears that Ludmilla has come to see him as well, despite her rule of not wanting to meet authors in person.
  • He makes a pass at her and chases her around his desk like a wolf from an old 1940s cartoon, but eventually relents when she tells him she only wants to know him as an author and not as a man. She warns him about the worldwide plot to inject falseness into manuscripts.
  • He asks her about Marana and about whether he's in Japan. Ludmilla, however, claims that Marana has moved to the Andes Mountains in South America. Think of the Air Miles he must have saved up.
  • Flannery then recounts being visited by you, the Reader, in regards to the two novels, In a network of lines that enlace and In a network of lines that intersect.
  • You have told him that you want to finish the stories you were reading. Flannery tells you that the original you're looking for is a Japanese novel entitled On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon by Takakumi Ikoka, and provides you an English translation.
  • The scene ends, and Flannery entertains the idea of writing a novel that is only the beginnings of novels, basically laying out the plot for Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler.
  • Did you know that a story commenting on itself is often called a "metanarrative?" And so we declare: that's so meta.