Most language students who study Italian at university level are familiar with Giovanni Verga as his short stories in the simple realist style are a perfect introduction to Italian Literature as they are easy for first-year students to follow.
Verga’s short tale Cavalleria Rusticana was made into an opera libretto which together with the music of Mascagni makes up part of the popular Italian repertoire to this day. Another short story La Lupa was developed into a full-length play by David Lanfor for the Royal Shakespeare Company. There are also several film adaptations of Verga’s work so he is still very much a vibrant part of modern culture today.
Verga has many longer works that are more challenging to get through, some I still haven’t found the time to read, yet one which has found a place in my heart is the world of small-town Sicilian fishermen in I Malavoglia, translated in English as ‘The house by the Medals Tree.’ I prefer the Italian name of the Malavoglia, the surname or rather nickname of the starving family so sick of being poor that their very name literally reflects how uneasy, cursed and sickened they are of their own poverty.
What draws me into the world of this rustic village is the energy of the local dialect which is liberally sprinkled through the original Italian text. The vibrant Sicilian voice has its own vivacious energy, an innate determination to withstand anything the world throws at it. There is so much wisdom, love, hate, eternal energy and strength in those quips, sayings and pieces of advice which permeate the local conversations.
The quintessential impertinent nature of the Sicilian nature has been captured perfectly by Verga’s language. It is intriguing to read and enter into the insidious way everyone talks and criticizes one another in irreverent small town chatter.
The fate of the Malavoglia is tied to the destiny of their island, they are irrevocably connected to Sicily that any effort to move away or improve themselves is somehow doomed to fail. Their restlessness is subdued by the inevitability of their destiny to remain firmly in the village playing out their part in the insular life of Sicily.
There is an exciting new translation of The House of the Medlar Tree (I Malavoglia) published by the University of California Press, translated by Raymond Rosenthal which I think would make a beautiful addition for anyone looking for additions to their library.
D.H Lawrence was also a lover of Verga’s prose and translated his short stories like the Little Novels of Sicily, they are a little clumsy sounding but are readily available as part of Lawrence’s complete works on Amazon kindle.
(Image from Google images)