verismo V E R G A , M A...

Verga and verismo
Lecture outline
 Background to naturalism – Darwin and natural
 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
 Like Pirandello, Verga
felt is was impossible for
an author to be objective
– have to take this into
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
Natural selection favours those
most suited to their environment.
These ideas about environment
informed Naturalism and
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
 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
 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’
 Wrote ‘Les Rougon-Macquart’
series of 20 novels (18711893).
 This focused on effects of
environment and heredity on
successive generations of one
 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
 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
 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
 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
“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
Naturalism in an English rural setting (as opposed to
urban naturalism of George Gissing).
Narration is non-judgmental and matter-of-fact like
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
 Represented landscapes
of Italy via myth.
Seminar questions
 How does DeLedda’s view of rural Italy differ from
 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?