Our Ancestors Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Cloven Viscount. The idealistic Viscount Medardo goes to fight for Christendom against the Turks in Bohemia and is awarded the rank of lieutenant by the Holy Roman Emperor. In his first battle, he charges a cannon and is blown apart; the surgeons manage to save the right half of his body and send him home to Terralba, but he soon becomes deeply embittered and increasingly disposed to terrible acts of cruelty. He places traps on his estate that nearly cause the deaths of his nephew (the story’s narrator) and his nephew’s tutor, the amiable Dr. Trelawney. The viscount falls in love with a goatherding girl named Pamela, but she is understandably reluctant to marry him.

The viscount’s other half, which was saved and nursed back to health by monks, reappears in Terralba. Unlike his counterpart, the left side of Medardo has been infused with such sympathy for his fellow human beings that he becomes a virtual saint. The right half will not admit him to the castle, but he sets about undoing much of the evil his other half has done. The left half, too, falls in love with Pamela, and the two halves fight a duel over her. Because neither is properly equipped for combat, they succeed only in ripping open each other’s wounds, and Dr. Trelawney takes advantage of the opportunity to sew them up as a single individual. The resultant whole man combines the characteristics of the two halves, but he has obtained considerable wisdom from his disjunct experience.

The Baron in the Trees. In 1767, when he is twelve years old, Cosimo quarrels with his father, an Italian baron in the province of Ombrosa, at a meal over a basket of snails. After being ordered to leave the table, he climbs a tree in the garden and swears never to set foot on the ground again. He resists all attempts at capture and lives for fifty-three years in the canopy of the heavily wooded estate, which he eventually inherits, occasionally undertaking arboreal journeys much farther afield.

Cosimo is able to strike up an acquaintance with Violante (called Viola for short), the daughter of a neighboring family. He forms a firm friendship with the Cavalier Carrega, his father’s illegitimate brother, until the latter is killed in a fight against Muslim pirates. He also...

(The entire section is 930 words.)