UNDER THE SHADOW
SICILIAN STORIES FROM THE ITALIAN OF
NATHAN HASKELL DOLE
JOSEPH KNIGHT COMPANY
By Joseph Knight Company.
Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co.
|How Peppa Loved Gramigna||1|
|Jeli, the Shepherd||23|
|The Story of the St. Joseph's Ass||131|
|"Under the Shadow of Etna"||Frontispiece|
|Jeli, the Shepherd||22|
"Lola Used to go out on the Balcony with her Hands Crossed"
|The Death of the St. Joseph's Ass||158
Giovanni Verga was born at Catania, in Sicily, in 1840. His youth was spent in Florence and Milan. He afterwards lived in Catania again, where he had an opportunity of studying those types of the Sicilian peasantry which he introduces so effectively, and with such dramatic suggestion, into many of his stories and sketches. After experiencing grievous family losses he returned to Milan, where he now resides.
In "L'Amante di Gramigna" Verga gives, in the form of a letter to his friend, the novelist, S. Farina, a sort of brief exposition of his literary Creed. Much of the drama is left to the imagination of the reader, who sees through the lines the action hinted at in a word or a phrase. Thus, in the story just mentioned, no definite time-limit is assigned. Months elapse, but only a passing expression gives the clue to it. It is amazing how definite is the idea left in the mind. It gives all the vividness of reality.
"Cavalleria Rusticana," or "Rustic Chivalry," has been known all over the world by its operatic setting by Mascagni. "La Lupa," which is scarcely less strong and vital, has been chosen by another Italian composer, Puccini, as the subject for a two-act opera. These two, as well as "L'amante di Gramigna" and" Jeli il Pastore," illustrate the deeper passions of the Sicilian peasantry. Verga's sardonic humor is shown in "Gli Orfani." How the sordid poverty of the people stands out in the comparison between the sorrow over the dying ass, and the utterly materialistic grief at the loss of the painstaking second wife!
"La Storia dell'Asino di San Giuseppe," well illustrates the average treatment of the long-suffering, long-eared mules and asses which make so picturesque a part of the scenery of Italian and Spanish countries. It is a document for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and well deserves to be circulated together with "Black Beauty." What pathos in the sudden transfer of the poor little beast from comparative comfort, at deast from the "dolce far niente" of its foal-hood, to the grim realities of life, and its steady and fatal decline through all the gamut of wretchedness and degradation, to die at last under the weight of its burdens! And what side glances on the condition of those unfortunate Sicilians who live in what ought to be the very garden and Paradise of the world, and yet are so oppressed by unregudated Nature and too well regulated taxes!
It is no land of the imagination into which we are brought by Verga; there is no fascinating glamour of the virtuous triumphing after many vicissitudes, and seeing at last the wicked adequately punished. Here it is grim reality. The poor and weak go relentlessly to the wall; innocence and humble ignorance are crushed by experienced vice, the butterfly is singed by the flame; there is little joy, little peace. The fleckless shy shines down brilliantly on wreck of home and fortune; the son must go to the army, and the daughter to her shame, the father's gray hairs must be crowned with dishonor, and despair must abide in the mother's breast. But yet the stories are not wholly pessimistic, nor do they give an utterly hopeless idea of the Sicilian peasant. He shows his capabilities; the woman her fiery seal and faithfulness, even when on the wrong track. You see that education and a little real sympathy might make a great people out of Verga's "Turiddus" and "Alfios." There are dozens of others of Verga's short sketches which would repay translation, but the little collection of Sicilian pictures here presented is marked by quite wonderful variety and contrast. They well illustrate the author's genius at its best.
Nathan Haskell Doug.
"Hedgecote, Glen Road,
Jamaica Plain, June 19, 1895.
Some of the Italian titles applied to the characters in these stories are retained. They are untranslatable; to omit them takes away from the Sicilian flavor, which is their great charm. Thus the words compare (con and padre) and comare (con and madre), literally godfather and godmother, are used in almost the same way as "uncle" and "aunt" in our country districts, only they are applied to young as well as old; gnà is a contraction for signora, corresponding somewhat to our mis' for "Mrs." Babbo is like our "dad" or "daddie." Massaro is a farmer; compagni d'armi are district policemen, not quite the same as gens d'armes; Bersegliere is the member of a special division of the Italian army.