Let’s Talk with Debra H Goldstein

by Debra H. Goldstein

The first time I came across the word pentimento was when I read Lillian Hellman’s book, Pentimento: A Book of Portraits, which were short autobiographical pieces. I thought the book was merely okay, but the word fascinated me. Pentimento, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “the reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist.” The word is Italian for repentance and comes from the verb pentirsi which means to repent. In a painting, the hidden part of the work can be images, forms, or strokes the artist decided to hide.

Although it is not exactly the same, nature has its own way of fulfilling the definition of pentimento. To me, each season is a changed painting where subliminal images are either hidden by full foliage, allowed to appear as the leaves change colors and fall, or are seen in all their stark nakedness. The best example of this that I can share with you is the view from my window that I’ve talked about before:

As you can see, the tree that I find comfort looking at is usually front and center, but what nature hides most of the year is an entire street of homes.

Writers also use a form of pentimento in their writing. What is in a first draft often is hidden or changed in revision because like the artist, the writer decides to cover up an original image or character. For a chance to win a print or e-book copy of Four Cuts Too Many (U.S. only), can you describe a pentimento situation in your life, whether caused by you or by nature?

psst! Our January contest is live and runs from Jan 1-18. Did you enter yet? Click HERE to enter to win a free book! (print books mailed to U.S. addresses)