Verga and verismo VERGA, MANN AND DE LEDDA Lecture outline Background to naturalism – Darwin and natural selection What is naturalism? Mann’s ‘Little Brother’ and naturalism Verga’s verismo ‘La lupa’ and ‘Malaria’ as verismo literature Giovanni Verga (1840-1922) Crucial figure in development of Italian literature in C20th. See his influence on later writers in the module like Svevo and Pirandello. Like Pirandello, Verga felt is was impossible for an author to be objective – have to take this into account. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) Origin of the Species (1859) outlined theory of evolution and process of natural selection. Darwin was building on ideas from 1830s about natural selection. Natural selection favours those most suited to their environment. These ideas about environment informed Naturalism and verismo. Darwin’s theories readily accepted by many – Catholicism was one doubting voice. Natural selection and Verga Darwin saw the struggle for survival as being worse amongst those of the same species. This idea was extended to class – not as much struggle between classes as within them. Reflected in Verga’s concept of i vinti – life is a battle for humans. For Verga, life was a tide overtaking all but the strongest – some are destined to be overwhelmed. Heredity, psychology and natural selection Heredity is key in Darwin’s theories but the individual can inherit negative as well as positive characteristics. Verga also interested in this – see the villagers’ attitudes towards Marrichia in ‘La lupa’. Difficult to reconcile some ideas about heredity and environment with psychology though – individual personalities conflict with more general classifications. Verga tried to combine Darwin’s theories with psychological reality- proposed series of five novels. What is naturalism? Naturalism is a form of Realismthat developed c. 1870s onwards. It sees reality in terms of natural forces like heredity, environment and natural drive/impulses. Keys figures in this movement were: Hippolyte Taine Emile Zola Edmond de Goncourt Guy de Maupassant Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893) Key to development of French naturalism Proposed a contextual study of art based on race (nation), milieu (environment) and moment (time). Taine also believed an artist should not judge – wanted to present physical realities not moral problems. Verga and Taine Verga influenced by Taine’s ideas but he isn’t objective – usually know his attitudes and preferences towards his characters. Verga does display belief that you can predict how a character will behave – almost viewing characters as machines that events can trigger off. See it in ‘La lupa’ – she manipulates men, seduces Nanni apparently against his will. But characters need more humanity than this – Verga adapts Taine but focuses on those individuals who are destroyed by the process of progress. Emile Zola (1840-1902) Very important naturalist writer – developed Taine’s ideas into literary principles in ‘Le roman experimental’ (1880). Wrote ‘Les Rougon-Macquart’ series of 20 novels (18711893). This focused on effects of environment and heredity on successive generations of one family. Zola believed a naturalist writer should represent life as s/he found it without changing anything, no matter how seedy or disturbing. Zola vs de Goncourt Verga was very familiar with Zola’s work He shared Zola’s view but didn’t always put them into practice – Verga’s work is far more creative than Zola’s. Edmond de Goncourt (1822-1896) criticised naturalist movement for only focusing on lower social classes – Goncourt felt such literature needed to look at upper classes. Verga proposed to do this in his five novel cycle – only wrote I Malavoglia and Maestro don Gesualdo. Verga realised naturalist approach doesn’t work well with higher social classes and their environment. Verga and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893) Maupassant’s thought naturalist literature had to give the illusion of society – art has to be employed to create an impression of reality. This went against Zola’s idea of literature as a ‘slice of life’ – Maupassant’s author is more subjective. See this in Verga’s more creative approach to his writing – builds an impression of reality from individual realistic elements. Verga’s verismo Verga created his own form of naturalism. Like naturalism, his stories are narrated in an impersonal way without judgement. Unlike naturalism, which looked mainly at urban life, Verga’s stories concentrate on rural and regional life. Wanted to give an account of life in rural Sicily where the quality of life was decreasing inC19th. Wrote in a language that used Sicilian dialect but was still accessible to wide readership. Verga, ‘La lupa’ Published in Vita dei campi (1880) Narratorial stance is very much a verismo one – no sense of judgement or intervention to help reader. Very narrow scope – only three main characters and village mentality from outset: “Al villaggio la chiamavano la Lupa perché non era sazia giammai – di nulla. Le donne si facevano la croce quando la vedevano passare, sola come una cagnaccia, con quell’andare randagio e sospettosp della lupa affamata; ella si spolpava i loro figliuoli e i loro mariti in un batter d’occhio [...] Padre Angiolino di Santa Maria di Gesù, un vero servo di Dio, aveva persa l’anima per lei.” Verga, ‘La lupa’ Rural existence very central – time marked by harvest and lots of detail about living on the land. Feels like Maricchia is one of i vinti – destined to fail due to heredity and environment. “Maricchia, poveretta, buona e brava ragazza, piangeva di nascosto, perché era figlia della Lupa, e nessuno l’avrebbe tolta in moglie, sebbene ci avesse la sua bella roba nel cassettone, e la sua buona terra al sole, come ogni altra ragazza del villaggio.” Verga, ‘Malaria’ Published in Novella rusticane (1882). This collection more focused on general social problems – ‘Malaria’ far wider in scope than ‘La lupa’. “E’ vi par di toccarla colle mani – come della terra grassa che fumi, là, dappertutto, torno torno alle montagne che la chiudono, da Agnone al Mongibello incappucciato di neve – stagnante nella pianura, a guisa dell’afa pesante di luglio.” Verga, ‘Malaria’ Focuses on the link between individual and environment – key element of naturalism. Villagers tied to the land but in more destructive way than in ‘La lupa’. Concentrates again on i vinti – the villagers seem doomed in the face of progress. “È che la malaria v’entre nella ossa col pane che mangiate, e se aprite bocca per parlare, mentre camminate lungo le strade soffocanti di polvere e di sole, e vi sentite mancar le ginocchia, or vi accasciate sul basto della mula che va all’ambio, colla testa bassa.” Mary E. Mann (1848-1929) Born and lived in Norfolk in rural communities. Involved with Union Workhouse and helping poorest in the community. Wrote novels and short stories about life in Victorian Norfolk – now seen as a major figure in East Anglian literature. Naturalism in an English rural setting (as opposed to urban naturalism of George Gissing). Narration is non-judgmental and matter-of-fact like Verga. Awareness of the struggle to survive even in late Victorian era. Grazia DeLedda (1871-1936) Born in Sardinia, which became the setting for much of her writing. Novelist, short storywriter who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926. Influenced by Verga but also Gabriele D’Annunzio. Represented landscapes of Italy via myth. Seminar questions How does DeLedda’s view of rural Italy differ from Verga’s? What are the similarities and differences in narrative structure between Verga, Mann and DeLedda? How does each author use language to control the reader’s reaction to their work? Questions for next week How realistic is realism in these stories – is any one of them more realistic than the others? What is the relationship between the individual and society in these stories? How are these stories different to the Naturalist stories last week in terms of characterisation, themes and narrative structure?