Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Svevo wrote “Generous Wine” at the time of the rise of the modern novel, and it employs many of the novel’s techniques. Typical is the technique, borrowed from the naturalist writers, of utilizing a single thing or event to portray the whole of human experience concisely. Svevo takes one evening in the protagonist’s life and makes the reader understand his existential predicament. His style is deliberately subdued, yet small, seemingly insignificant details become very important. For example, a passing reference by a dinner guest to a name in the protagonist’s past evokes a sense of guilt and impotence in him that characterizes his entire life.

Although at times fringing on the ironic, Svevo’s style is controlled and depicts a lighthearted resignation to life’s vicissitudes and contradictions. The theme of the breakdown of communication is subtly introduced by simple contrast. In his dream, the author calls for his daughter Emma in a cowardly attempt to save his own life, but his wife interprets his crying out of Emma’s name as a sign of love. Although the protagonist tries to rebel, he ultimately accepts his situation and vows to conform to what his wife and doctor say is best for him. The banality of life actually becomes a haven; by accepting his situation the protagonist will, at the least, avoid more painful consequences. In the end, it is when daylight arrives that he ceases to feel his shame. In stating that the “dream-world was not my world,” he realizes that the wine that brought him to it was not generous.