Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Identifying as much as possible with his characters, Verga entered their world through the cadence of a language as closely mimetic of their speech as can be achieved without actually using Sicilian dialect. He explained the genesis and effectiveness of this technique following his chance discovery of a ship captain’s log, written in the abrupt and truncated manner of one little practiced in the art of writing, with the day’s events recorded and chronicled in a straightforward and rough-hewn language, asyntactic but effective—a language, in short, consonant with the individual’s thoughts and ability to express those thoughts. As a logical extension of this pattern, dialogue predominates over description, and where description is necessary, it springs directly from the characters’ perception, the narrator himself taking on the identity of a character in the story, an anonymous fellow villager. This identity is heightened, and the factual reality of the events underlined, through the specific use of proverbs or proverbial statements that recapitulate every pattern of behavior, every expression of feeling, in a traditional and formulaic saying.

Only the She-wolf ventures out “in those hours between nones and vespers, when no good woman goes roving around.” To express her feeling for Nanni, the She-wolf uses an old Sicilian simile: “It’s you I want. You who are as beautiful as the sun, and sweet as honey.” After Maricchia and Nanni are married and the She-wolf is sick with longing, “the people were saying that when the devil gets old, he becomes a hermit.”

The brief descriptions focus on the inclement contrasts that dominate both the landscape and human passions. The cold winds of January are no harsher than the August sirocco, the thirsty and immense fields no more mournful than the howling dogs at night in the vast, dark countryside. Nor will the She-wolf sate her thirst while working next to Nanni in the fields, for she does not want to leave his side even for a minute.

There is no intervention on the part of the author. The narrator is part of a dialogue that involves the characters and the reader equally. At moments, this dialogue becomes an interior monologue, penetrating primitive needs and becoming the voice of a primordial world, conforming dramatically to the nature of that world.