Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Count’s Wife” dramatizes one of Dino Buzzati’s characteristic interests, humankind’s preoccupation with fear, particularly of the unknown or anything that transcends understanding. In this story, it is the protagonist who is preoccupied, and his fear is of the monstrous, inexplicable deformity of his wife. Buzzati has created here a man without imagination, who is easily challenged by anything outside the conventions of his household and village. His own life is routine and unimaginative. He has married a beautiful young woman of nobility, apparently because of his great attraction to her (“he regarded her as the most fascinating woman in the town”), and he keeps her fairly isolated from the rest of the world while he occupies himself with tending his farms and pursuing the peasant girls. He is, in other words, in control of his world. He thus becomes an ideal target for fear and ironic reversal. His wife’s wings threaten to wrest him from his privileged position of control by exposing his family to unwanted attention and subjecting his name to scandal. It is one of the protagonist’s weaknesses that he can imagine no result of his wife’s being appointed by God other than the ruin of his own quiet, conventionally respectable life. He and his wife are both victimized by this weakness. If Buzzati enjoyed depicting man as mainly fearful in face of things unexplainable, he has here made his point especially clear by portraying a man whose small-mindedness is easily transcended.