Roberto de la Grive is an Italian nobleman who becomes "the only being of our species to have been cast away on a desert ship." The other important characters in The Island of the Day Before are his various teachers, his alter ego, Ferrante, and the women he loves.
As a child, Roberto experiences a delusion that will affect his life for many years: He imagines that he has a bastard brother who hates him and is always trying to do him mischief. Roberto only rids himself of the specter of "Ferrante" by making him the male lead in a piece of fiction and killing him off — and that in turn is possible only because he finally realizes that Ferrante is a projection of unfulfilled parts of his own psyche.
That psyche has been through the wringer in his short life. He is drawn to male teachers and role models, and always loses them. At the siege of Casale, even though there is little actual fighting, he watches the death of his father and of the Cyrano-like Frenchman Saint-Savin. On the ship, he is left to grieve in utter solitude after the German Jesuit Father Caspar Wanderdrossel bravely dons a diving bell and marches off along the ocean floor, never to be seen again. Roberto's experience of love has been unhappy as well. He genuinely suffers all the conventional agonies of the amorous poet of the Baroque, but never manages to go beyond sending passionate, unsigned letters to his chosen ladies. Even in his fiction, it is Ferrante who enjoys...
(The entire section is 413 words.)