I think I was expecting something like James Joyce’s Dubliners but this is certainly not that! Verga was a good socialist who wrote about the lives of the common people in the style of Zola – realistically – even if some of them are pretty funny. Also, Verga wrote a good 30 years prior to the time Joyce wrote his novels and Verga was describing the Sicily of his youth and the days of revolution, the 1860s.
Furthermore, the styles are completely different – Joyce is Joyce, even in Dubliners. And all I can say is Verga is Verga and shows us a kind of bird’s eye view of the lives and land in the real life in Sicily which Verga knew in his youth. There is a distinct emphsis on the class strtuggle. Although Verga was of the upper classes, he wrote about the people in the villages and farms near where he was born, which he left for his middle years, and to which he returned in his later years. But Verga loved Sicily as Joyce loved Ireland – and they both supported overturns of the status quo.
And Verga just whisks us through the land and the lives of his characters in the realism he adapted under the influence of Zola. What the title refers to as “Novels” Lawrence in his introduction calls “sketches” and that’s a much better word I think, although the word “novels” keeps them really separated and they do come together in the end – in a way.
Little Novels of Sicily:
by Giovanni Verga
translated by D.H. Lawrence
1883 / 156 pages
rating: 10/ classic short stories
I gave it a 10 because although it’s difficult to get into, if the reader takes the time and makes the effort, this is a really incredible volume. Besides, it’s stood the test of time so that’s a point or two.
HIs Reverence: The story of a very secular and what happens to him during the wars of revolution and unification.
So Much for the King – about a litter-driver who has to drive the king and his little queen (historical) through the crowds knowing that the king could have his head cut off for any infraction.
Don Licciu Papa: An old woman will be taxed for allowing her pig to be in the road and caught by the town pig-snatcher. That starts the story of how law works in the village with pigs in its streets until they’re not. And the Reverend from story one has a little piece, too.
The Mystery Play: The village puts on a play about a Bible story and props are confiscated, actors selected, Mishaps happen and the audience has its own issues to say nothing of the author who is trying to calm everyone but it only makes things worse.
Malaria – very touching story of a town which is stricken with malaria and people die – lots of people. Only a few don’t.
The Orphans – the mother of a small girl dies and the neighbors gossip and try to hook her father up with another wife. The two are both orphans of a sort.
Property – Mazarro owns a LOT of land now, but it wasn’t always this way. Born poor, he worked very hard (he slaved), did some shrewd bargaining (cons), and lived a prudent life (miserly) focused entirely on getting more property and growing more crops and making more money – in pieces not paper. But you can’t take it with you … (very short)
Story of Saint Joseph’s Ass – the story of the life of a donkey from it’s first sale as a foal to it’s demise as it is owned by various peasants to do various things.
Blackbread – love stories and the hard work of the really poor peasants – Santo loves Nena but Nena has no dowry and Santo is poor. They marry anyway but his sister, Lucia, lives with them along with his mother. There are lots of inlaw problems as well as Lucia’s plans and getting money by prostitution (implied).
The Gentry- A rich man is not charitable toward the poor or the church and the fathers kind of pay him back. Then the mountain explodes and the lava flows down on everyone and he gets his pay back.
Liberty – when Garibaldi and the liberation arrived and there was chaos, but the consequences as usual after that.
Across the Sea – The rich can escape by ship and fall in love etc. The poverty the reader has witnessed is left behind by two travelers, a man and a woman. The stories are briefed over but the new lovers get separated and wish they could be permanent like the lovers who wrote their names in stone.