One summer afternoon, the Italian textile heir and occasional model Cody Franchetti spotted a trash bin on the sidewalk outside his West Fourth Street apartment overflowing with classic literature. “They were all bad editions but great books,” Mr. Franchetti said. “From Flaubert, to Goethe, to Hemingway.” There was also a bound, if slightly soiled, Yale University doctorate of philosophy dissertation by one James H. Donelan. “It was about early romantic idealism, and it was Hegel, Beethoven and Hölderlin, so I picked it up,” said Mr. Franchetti, 31, a former Mannes College of Music student.
Impressed by the manuscript, he tracked down Mr. Donelan, now teaching comp lit at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “He was in despair; he had been expanding to make it into a book but had put it aside because he thought, ‘Oh this is hopeless.’” said the scholarly scion. “I gave him courage.”
“I realized after really not very long that we were kindred spirits,” Mr. Donelan said.
Over the next couple of years the two men spent many hours on the phone. “I would read to him and tell him put the colon, take this away, like that,” said Mr. Franchetti, who is computer-phobic. It didn’t stop there. “He said that one critic’s opinion was simply ‘tasteless’ and that he didn’t like it,” the lecturer chuckled. “He said, ‘Remove that terrible Marxist from your paper.’”
They finally met for dinner at the Yale Club in December of 2004. “I was astonished that someone this young could have so sophisticated a knowledge of music, poetry and philosophy,” gushed Mr. Donelan, 44, a father of two. He was astonished anew later that night at the deference shown Mr. Franchetti by the staff of an Italian place across the street from Bloomingdale’s. Afterwards they walked over to Fifth Avenue, and Mr. Franchetti showed Mr. Donelan a four-story poster of himself modeling a Zegna suit. “He said I hope this doesn’t lower your opinion of me,” said the older man. “And I said, ‘Oh, no, not at all, one has to keep body and soul together,’ and he really laughed hard.”
Their collaboration, Poetry and the Romantic Musical Aesthetic, will be published by Cambridge in March.