Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Giovanni Verga is best known as a novelist and a short-story writer and is generally considered Italy’s greatest novelist, after Alessandro Manzoni, and the father of the contemporary Italian novel, especially that of the neorealist school. His name is closely associated with the term Verismo, which was the Italian manifestation of French naturalism. Verismo, or Verism , as explicated by Verga’s close friend Luigi Capuana , like naturalism, rejected the current artistic trends that preferred historical and Romantic subjects, extraordinary events, aristocratic characters, sentimentality, and elegant and sophisticated language, in favor of contemporary subjects dealing with contemporary individuals and social problems of middle-class and working-class people, in a rational and straightforward style. Yet while naturalism primarily considered the problems of an urban and industrial society, related by narrators equipped with positivistic explanations, Verismo concentrated on the problems of rural and small-town life in the provinces, particularly of southern Italy, and emphasized the practice of the “impersonality of the author”—that is, that the characters should speak for themselves.
Verga’s youthful works were still very much in the Romantic tradition. His first published work, I carbonari della montagna...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Because his theater is generally considered a minor aspect of his total opus, there is some irony in the fact that Giovanni Verga achieved his greatest popular triumph with his theatrical version of his short story “Cavalleria rusticana,” and that his enduring international fame is supported by the popularity of Pietro Mascagni’s opera based on the same story. Nevertheless, there is evidence that, from his earliest years, Verga had the ambition of becoming a successful playwright. His motivation may also have been partly materialistic because in the latter decades of the nineteenth century, the theater represented to a young writer some of the same economic temptations as the cinema does in the twenty-first century. That Verga apparently conceived of the theater as an adaptation of narrative literature, without adequately considering the fundamental differences between the two genres, may have been the cause of his general lack of theatrical success. There is even reason to speculate on the extent to which external factors may have been responsible for the surprising and extraordinary success of Cavalleria Rusticana. Certainly the advance publicity given to the debate over its probable failure and a newspaper article appealing for openness and objectivity on the part of the audience, published the day before the opening, contributed to an atmosphere of tense expectation.
According to a newspaper critic’s eyewitness account, the beauty and distinction of the set significantly contributed to the positive attitude with which the audience then received the play. For whatever reason, the enormous success of Cavalleria Rusticana opened the door to Verismo and contemporary realism in the theater. The traditional historical themes, the exaggerated gestures, the rhetorical language, the spectacular, and the marvelous would be increasingly replaced by the contemporary, the sincere, the vivid, the humble, and the straightforward. A successful playwright such as Guiseppe Giacosa would attempt to change from historical themes to contemporary middle-class themes. More important, Verga’s theatrical revolution would have a direct effect on fellow Sicilian Luigi Pirandello, from whose theater most important contemporary European theater derives.
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
The published works of Giovanni Verga are of only two kinds, fiction and drama. Since he considered his primary vocation to be that of novelist, all his earliest publications are novels. His first play, written when he was twenty-nine, was never produced and remained unpublished until after his death. Eventually he wrote seven plays, all of them derived from his own works of fiction. He first turned to short fiction with a relatively lengthy story called Nedda. It was long enough, at any rate, to be accorded separate publication in a tiny volume in 1874 but was clearly not of standard novel length. This publication is generally regarded as the start of his interest in the short story as a literary form.
Two years later he published his first collection of short stories, and that volume also included the previously published Nedda. Thereafter, he practiced this new literary form assiduously enough to make his short stories as important a part of his total achievement as were his novels. Verga is a rarity among writers of fiction in that he published no poetry—not even in his youth—and no literary criticism or travel books. Aside from his novels, short stories, and plays, only selections from his personal letters have ever appeared in print.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
As a socially conscious writer, Giovanni Verga is considered the most determined spokesman of the conditions in which the poor of his native Sicily lived. A master writer of novels and short stories and the leader of an innovative realistic and naturalistic literary current known as Verismo, Verga in his works explored the struggle of humankind to survive in adverse circumstances. He emphasized the importance of family, work, and basic moral and religious values, and he focused on the fundamental role these values play in overcoming difficult times. To enrich his highly humanitarian themes, Verga developed an intense dramatic expression characterized by detailed descriptive features and original linguistic solutions. Along with being widely recognized as one of the best Italian writers, Verga was bestowed with several official honors by the Italian government, while his works continue to endure lasting success as modern classics.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Giovanni Verga (VAYR-gah) was a writer of short stories and a playwright as well as a novelist. “Nedda” is the story of a Sicilian peasant girl who harvests olives and suffers the buffets of bad fortune until at length she thanks the Virgin Mary that her baby has been taken and will no longer suffer on earth. This story, written in 1874, prompted Luigi Capuana to predict that Verga had opened “a new seam in the mine of Italian literature.” In Primavera ed altri racconti (1876; springtime and other stories), Verga attempts a certain realism by occasionally reproducing the Milanese dialect of his characters. Vita dei campi (1880; Cavalleria Rusticana, and Other Stories, 1928; also known as Life in the Country, 2003) contains some of his finest stories, such as “La lupa” (“The She-Wolf”), in which a woman drives her son-in-law to kill her as the result of her continual sexual prodding. Verga transformed this story into the play La lupa (1896).
Also notable in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Other Stories is “Fantasticheria” (“Reverie”), in which a man and a woman compare the merits of the world of high society with the unsullied world of the peasant, and the man in the story argues eloquently for the superiority of the latter. The collection also includes Verga’s “Cavalleria rusticana” (literally meaning “rustic chivalry” but known in English only by its Italian name), the tragedy of Turiddu at the hands of the cuckolded Alfio, each one cooperating with fate to work out the other’s destruction.
Novelle rusticane (1883; translated by D. H. Lawrence in 1925...
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Giovanni Verga is generally viewed as the second greatest novelist Italy has produced, after Alessandro Manzoni. His objectivity, his efforts to infuse new life into the petrified, tradition-shackled Italian language, his compassion for humanity, and his conception of society as controlled by immutable economic laws have made an indelible impression on the Italian writers who followed him, especially on the neorealists. One of the landmark works of the neorealist cinema is Luchino Visconti’s La terra trema (1948), based on Verga’s novel The House by the Medlar Tree. The tragic vision elaborated in his best novels, however, has less appeal than his short stories.
Abroad, Verga is best known as the...
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Adams, Robert Martin. “The Godfather’s Grandfather.” The New York Review of Books 31 (December 20, 1984): 46-49. A discussion of Verga’s works, including The She-Wolf and Other Stories; notes that his reputation stems from the sparse, realistic stories of Sicilian peasants that he wrote in the 1880’s; claims that Verga’s haunting studies of the destructive power of sex and money retain much of their impact.
Alexander, Foscarina. The Aspiration Toward a Lost Natural Harmony in the Work of Three Italian Writers: Leopardi, Verga, and Moravia. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. Provides biographical notes and...
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