It is a long time I have not been writing on my blog. I have just finished reading a wonderful but heartrending book, Verga’s Mastro Don Gesualdo; this is the perfect occasion to write an article about it and to share with you this literary jewel.
Giovanni Verga, Mastro Don Gesualdo ‘s author, publishes this book in 1889, after many revisions and considerations. The novel is set between 1820 and 1848 in Italy, at the beginning of its unification process.
It tells the story of Gesualdo Motta, a bricklayer [“Mastro”] who longs for better financial and social conditions, becoming rich [“Don”] after years of strenuous work; he is obsessed by stuff [“la roba”] and becomes the owner of many estates. He eventually marries Bianca Trao, a woman whose family is noble but completely ruined. Although Mastro Don Gesualdo believes this marriage will improve his social conditions thanks to Bianca’s connections, she actually marries him for convenience, having being caught in a scandalous love affair with her cousin, Nini’ Rubiera, who she can’t marry. This marriage won’t help Gesualdo in his intentions, instead, he will never be truly accepted by the others aristocrats, these considering him an inferior. Persistently, he continues to expand his financial businesses, also buying all the municipality’s lands, becoming enemy of the town’s aristocracy. Even his own family takes advantage of him and his wife is a stranger in his own house. Just Diodata, his maidservant, remains affectionate to him, giving him two children and marrying to Nanni L’Orbo for not compromising Gesualdo’s social class rise.
Shortly afterwards, Bianca and Gesualdo will have a child, Isabella, whose real father is Nini’ Rubiera. Gesualdo sends her to the best schools in Sicily but Isabella is constantly excluded by her classmates because she is a bricklayer’s daughter. She is completely ashamed of his father. In 1837, she will run off with her cousin Corrado La Gurla; like her mother, she will marry to avoid scandal, in this case with the Duke of Leyra, who is incapable of managing finances and that will gradually drain Gesualdo’s fortune. Bianca dies of consumption and Gesualdo, due to the revolution, leaves his hometown in 1848. By having got cancer, he moves to his daughter’s house, where he will die while seeing all his “roba” and wealth dissipated with carelessness.
Mastro Don Gesualdo is Verga’s most complex character because he is always changing. At first, he is a person who becomes rich by hard work and, secondly, he persists in wanting a better social condition different from his original one. However, destiny will be pitiless with him, making him fall into obscurity as if nothing has really changed in his life. His ending is sad and lonely, an obvious consequence of the enrichment mechanism. He is a decadent character, almost an anti-hero. On his deathbed, he will fall into desperation, with a furious yearning for destroying all the wealth accumulated during his life.
Mastro Don Gesualdo is not the first book I have read by Verga. Indeed, I started by reading his short stories and the first of his novel, I Malavoglia. Verga is one of those writers that I love most. He can describe the South with a veracity which has remained unparalleled, comprehending the sensation of defeat and immobility that pervades this part of Italy. Verga was a great observer of all classes’ behaviours and conditions, to the point of being able to indiscriminately and ironically describing them with a poignant realism. When reading Verga, it feels like he is the blood and flesh of each of his characters, living himself their pains and struggles, brief joys and occasional dreams. By having lived in Sicily for a long time, Verga easily represents not just Sicilian characters, but also the landscapes, these the canvas where the actions take place. Indeed, an abandoned and dismal path, a suffering olive tree, a lizard that runs through the dried bushes, the far scent of the sea, the smell of ripe tomatoes… these are all “natural” characters, offering a better understanding and completing the feeling of the narrated story.
Whoever wants a one-way ticket for Sicily should read Verga’s stories and novels; it will also be the chance for knowing one great Italian author, father of the literary movement “Verismo” [Realism], who is unfortunately not always understood and appreciated by the same Italian readers, this probably due to the strong southern Italy feelings on his writing.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my article on Mastro Don Gesualdo and that it will inspire you to read some of his works.
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