I recently read Ernest Hemingway’s novel Across the River and Through the Woods. It is mainly set in Venice, Italy and along the way the main character discussed his love/hate relationship with the writings of Italian author, Gabriele D’Annunzio. I had never heard of D’Annunzio so decided to try something of his. I tried one novel, but just couldn’t get into it, and I switched to a book of these short stories than I’m now commenting on.
My own feelings, having read just this one work, could not be described as “love/hate.” Those feelings are too strong. I enjoyed most of the stories but found them to be quite different from most short stories I have ever read.
The stories are fascinating reading, but rather than describing them as short stories I came to think of them as glimpses of life in . . . wherever the place is. Certainly they are real moments, like folks sitting around and sharing memories, so in some sense each has it “story,” yet they do read more like conversations of the past than as typical short stories.
Below I just comment briefly on each story, more to record my own memories and sense of each story than to offer any evaluation them in any sense. The stories are quite straight forward and, again, give this reader a sense of newspaper reporting as much as story writing.
The Hero reminds me very much of an event I actually recognized. In this quite short tale it is an important religious festival in a tiny Italian town and one of the men has the honor of being one of eight who will carry a very heavy statue of the Virgin Mary in a religious service and celebration.
However, they slip getting this very heavy statue up and it lands on one man’s hand crushing it. He is so utterly distraught at not fulfilling this honor that has been bestowed upon him that he finally, at home and in desperation, rushes to the church and in front of all cuts off his wounded hand.
This brought back a vivid memory from sometime in the 1980s when my wife and I were in Assisi, Italy for a very similar parade. The lane to the church was extremely narrow and we were crushed up against one of the tiny shops along the route. Just as one of the FOUR men who were carrying a large statue of the Virgin got abreast of us, the man just inches from us and had a massive heart attack and simply dropped dead.
It was total bedlam, but within 15 or 20 minutes they had a new man for the statue and the dead man was whisked away and the parade and holy celebration when on.
Gabriel D’Annunzio’s version of his story was, thus, for me, quite believable. Yet, again, it was more like a reporter’s account in a newspaper than a literary short story.
The second story, while much longer is written in a similar fashion. It is situated in the small town of Pescara, Italy, which is situated on the Adriatic coast, about mid-way down the long boot of eastern Italy.
The story seems to take place about 1868 when a group of travelling performers came to the town to perform and stayed for some period of time. One of the very wealthy men in town fell madly in love with the key woman performer and she cynically led him on until he was convinced she would stay with him forever.
However, he had been taken, and before too long she just left without a word leaving him ruined, destroyed, a totally broken man. In his last days, his mind, destroyed by grief, he drifted to where he even mistook his maid who had cared for the performer for the performer herself and ended up leaving his fortune to this woman.
It was a very sad, but quite believable story.
Turlendana returns to his native village after more than 30 years away. He has been assumed to be dead. His wife had married three other men over those years, two of whom were dead. He announces who he is, but she is unimpressed and doesn’t want him back. He has arrived with exotic creatures from his travels, a camel, a monkey and a she ass.
His former wife’s fourth husband thinks the whole thing is a great joke, but he does say that his wife now has two husbands.
Things seem to have gone bad for Turlendana and he gets drunk. He can hardly walk or make any sense of anything, but he does come to somewhat understand that his camel has died and that his former wife wants nothing to do with him.
This is a very short report of a theft, or at least attempted theft. A woman is in love with a man not her husband and the lover demands she steal her husband’s few hidden gold pieces, which he decides to do, but is caught. This might just as well have been a news story of attempted robbery.
This story, as most of the others, is set in Pescara. Maestro Peppe De Sieri is called La Brevetta. He’s plebian, short and fat. However, he has a huge prize pig and is set to kill it for meat for the coming year. However two local crooks whom he knows well and the local priest join together to steal the pig.
They got him drunk, and then took the pig and then next day they suggested to him that one of the locals stole it. This sets him up for making a pubic accusation of some unknown local person. By this move he’s be set up for all to oppose him.
However, the crooks aren’t finished yet and they set him up to be exposed as lying about the pig from the beginning, and his reputation is ruined.
A local man, Giacobbe is believed to have special powers and visions. All hail and honor him. Then the candle man, Pallura, turns up seemingly dead, but Giacobbe discovers he isn’t dead, but the large number of candles he was delivering is missing. Later when Pallura is dying he names Mascalico as his murderer. His is from the village across the river, so the mob gets its statue and remains of the saint of their church, and march on the village across the river for revenge.
The village across the way puts of a brutal defense and many on both sides die. In a final attack Giacobbe himself is killed and their saint’s remains are lost to the defenders.
Mungia, a blind and much loved man, is a very poor “Catholic rhapsodist.” From early Spring to October he wanders the region singing his songs and playing his box-wood clarinet. At times other paupers join him with various instruments to form an odd and poor man’s band.
He is always appreciative to the goodness of others toward him and tells all:
“To the health of all these friends of mine, united, I drink this wine so pure and fine.”
This is the first story that has a fairly happy ending!
Donna Cristina Lamonico is a local wealthy woman. Just after Easter she always puts away the table linens and silver. She has her one servant to help and she hires a local laundress, Candia, to help.
However, at the end of the work it is discovered that ONE SPOON is missing. The news of this spreads through all of Pescara. Finger pointing begins, but it is all guessing and surmises, there is no “evidence.”
Nonetheless, the next day Candia is called to the police station and questioned. She is simply furious to have been suspected and she shares her anger with all her customers.
Then Donna Cristina calls in a local psychic who does fine the spoon “. . . in the court in a hole adjacent to the sewer.”
However, many people really believe that the psychic and Candia are working together to take the heat off Candia. Candia is simply furious and little by little her whole life falls apart and village people sort of assume or tease her about this “theft.” She simply can’t live with this accusation and belief hanging over her and she soon dies, pleading her innocence to her death.
Don Filippo Cassaura and his paralytic son are stuck in their castle which is under attack from local people. There is an uprising against the Duke of Ofena, Don Filippo’s son.
The family thinks it has run off the attackers after a serious battle and gun fire. However, their relief is quite short lived as at night the attackers return and burn the castle and it inhabitants.
There is a virtual war going on between the leaders of the government and the people. It’s not quite clear why, but both sides are using tactics that are brutal to the core. There is near war between the town of Castellamamare and Pescara. It’s all about distrust and disease, but in the end it seems there is simply virtual anarchy as the castle is successfully attacked and all who were once the government are dead.
This is sort of like a very brief summary of a local woman’s long life. There is little to the story, just a description of each major event in her life.
Anna was born in 1817 and at age 6 the church burned and she was burned as well, but recovered.
In 1830 her father took to the sea. He took her to Puglia once and she saw him kissing a woman not her mother, but she simply didn’t understand what this meant.
Before long her mother died when crushed in a religious riot and her father left, never to return. At age 24 she took over her father’s donkey route, delivering and carrying things for local people.
When she’s in her early 30s she meets Zacchiele and they became close friends, and soon he asks her to marry him. However, she is unsure and there is a long period of her just thinking about this offer. Some years later he accidently seriously harmed her pet turtle, and that ended their relationship. He then died in that same year. She accepted his death in a flood as being the will of God.
She moves into a convent, but not as a nun, but with her ever present turtle. By the time she is in her 50s, and still living in the convent she has become noted for her holiness, but has lost the ability to speak. When her speech does return the nuns take it as a miracle. She is regarded as a prodigy in the convent, one favored by God and even miracles are accredited to her intercession.
The miracles seem to cease and she has drifted off into a sort of imbecility.
In 1881 by age 63 and there are signs of her approaching death. There is a major earthquake and the nuns run from the convent carrying Anna. She finally dies having a vision at the time.
This was much more like an obituary of a well-known and alleged saint than it was a short story, but was a fascinating read.
Overall, I was quite happy I read the volume. I’m not sure that I will return to other readings of Gabriele D’Annunzio’s writings, but I did come away from the volume with some strong feelings that I had been treated to some fascinating glimpses of mid and late 19th century life in the Pescara region of Italy.Bob Corbett email@example.com