Literary Islands: Federico De Roberto

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Frederico De Roberto’s I Vicere’ or The Viceroy’s was another accidental discovery for me, thanks to the Italian’s flare for rich television series period drama. I fell in love with De Roberto’s characters thanks to the screen adaptation I watched a few years ago on the RAI television network in Italy (2007).

I was so impressed I went out and brought the book in to discover the world of politics, aristocracy, superstition and Sicilian inertia created by De Roberto and which is still so predominant in contemporary Sicily.

The Viceroys can be easily seen as an evolution or continuation of another Sicilian classic, Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard who traces the meandering lives of an upper class ancient Sicilian family. I wouldn’t say I Vicere’ was a sequel rather it shows how the social climate of Sicily changes with the new middle class becoming more intricately intertwined with the world of politics, to keep the distribution of power and wealth the way it has always been in Sicily. Nineteenth century Sicily was controlled by a powerful upper class despite the break down of the class system. Keeping in mind Sicily and Italy made the leap from a type of agricultural feudalism to industrialization in one generation, such quick change was bound to create problems.

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De Roberto shows the development towards the birth of the Christian democrat party who dominated Italian politics for most of the post world war two period, while Lampedusa shows the upcoming working middle class intermingling with the upper class, both significant social and political shifts in Sicilian and Italian history.

Frederico De Roberto masterfully captures the social intrigues and interactions between the aristocracy, lower class and the wider community in Sicily.

Once again it is the Sicilian’s ancient dialect which draws me effortlessly into the world of The Viceroy’s, mixes elements of superstition, religion, gossip, mythology into an earthy language which distills a collective Sicilian experience and knowledge. It is positively intoxicating.

As for english translations our friends at Amazon have The Viceroys available as translated by Archibald Colquhoun which is most promising, I have read many of his other translations and they are wonderful.

To read more about De Roberto’s work be sure to take a look at a wonderful essay by the aforementioned critic and translator Archibald Colquhoun titled ‘De Roberto and The Viceroys‘ published online on Poetry Magazines.

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(Images from Google)