(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Giacomo found the first night of his honeymoon unsatisfactory. His wife had complained that she was tired and still suffering from the effects of the boat trip to Capri and had put him off. Now, on this second day of their marriage, she is as much a virgin as she was before. The thought of his failure to accomplish this prime marital responsibility preys on Giacomo’s mind, as he and his wife, Simona, are walking along a path winding through a field on the heights of Anacapri. He looks around at this place that he has selected for his honeymoon with a jaundiced eye. Several months before, when he was here last, the air was clear and the fields were fresh with flowers; now the weather is sultry and oppressive, the fields have turned to dust.

He walks several paces behind her, reflecting on their relationship, a love match “based rather on the will to love than on genuine feeling.” Giacomo, however, is convinced that his wife views him with physical repulsion and that she regrets being married. He would like to take possession of her with one, single, piercing glance, a technique that has served him well with other women, but he realizes his chances are not good. He tries to figure out what he had found in her that was so physically attractive. Her legs are long and skinny, and chaste, shiny, and cold; her breasts droop and seem like extraneous and burdensome weights.

When she complains that she is being made to walk ahead, Giacomo goes on ahead, brushing her breast with his elbow as he walks past her “to test his own desire.” The path winds around the summit of Monte Solaro; it goes through stretches of vineyards before descending sharply toward the sea. His wife complains, “Have we far to go? It’s so hot. . . . I wish we could go home.” Giacomo promises that soon they will have a swim, and to pass the time, he gets her to recite some poetry. She chooses the third canto from Dante’s Inferno. They pass a villa that once belonged to Axle Munthe, a very fashionable doctor practicing in Rome at the turn of the century. Giacomo tells his wife a story about one of Munthe’s famous treatments. A woman came to him with all sorts of imaginary ailments. Munthe responded by telling her to look out the window; when her back was turned, he gave her a swift kick in the rear. Simona remarks that that is the way she should be treated because she is slightly crazy for having acted the way she did last night. She says that she was neither tired nor seasick but simply afraid, “afraid of the whole idea.” She allows that she will have to grow accustomed to the idea, and remarks, “Tonight I’ll be yours.”

The promise is insufficient to cure Giacomo’s doubts about her and about his own virility. He decides that her aloofness has something to do with her political beliefs. She is a communist, while he is “too much of an individualist.” In fact, he has no interest in politics whatsoever, and the only thing that bothers him is “the fact that his wife did have such an interest.” He taunts her by saying that if the communists ever came to power, she would inform against him. She tells him not to worry about something that does not exist. The fact that she did not categorically deny his charge confirms Giacomo’s suspicions and makes him angry. He continues to blame her for how he feels.

They continue their walk, now going down the slope toward the water. Giacomo watches her run ahead of him and wonders what could be the importance of a political party when...

(The entire section is 1439 words.)