Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1201
Carlo Altoviti, born in Venice on the Day of St. Luke the Evangelist in 1775, spent his boyhood in the ancient, decaying castle of Fratta, the neglected, unwanted poor relation in the household of feudal gentry such as he would live to see swept away by war and revolutions. His mother, the sister of the Countess of Fratta, had made a runaway match with an adventurer named Todero Altoviti, but had deserted her husband a few months later. When her child was born, the infant had been dispatched at once to Fratta. In his childhood, Carlo knew only that his mother was dead and that his father was reported to have turned Turk somewhere in the Levant.
The household at Fratta was composed of the austere, pompous count and his haughty wife; their daughters, Clara and Pisana; the count’s brother, Monsignor Orlando, a stupid, gluttonous priest; the chancellor who managed the count’s business affairs; Captain Sandracca, the swaggering but timid captain of militia; the chaplain; and a number of hangers-on and servants. Carlo’s place was a menial one, and he spent most of his time in the cavernous, gloomy kitchen with the retainers. Sometimes he slipped away to play with his cousin Pisana, who even as a child was a creature of whims and passions, contradictions and loyalties; in later years, she was to make Carlo’s life a torment and a delight. The older daughter, Clara, was a grave, lovely girl who devoted herself to the care of her bedridden grandmother, Lady Badoer. It was Clara who drew the young men of the Friuli region to Fratta. Among these were Giulio del Ponte, a writer of graceful verses; Lucilio Vianello, a medical student; and Alberto Partistagno, a young man of noble family.
The Spaccafumo, a bandit who had once rescued young Carlo from the marshes, was the friend of Antonio Provedoni, the mayor of the commune. When Antonio’s son Leopardo courted Doretta, daughter of the chancellor of Venchieredo, he was set upon by some bullies of Venchieredo, and the Spaccafumo rescued him. The Count of Venchieredo charged that the chaplain of Fratta had sheltered the bandit, and he then laid siege to Fratta; his real purpose was to secure some incriminating documents that a retainer at Fratta possessed. His plan was thwarted by Lucilio Vianello, who put the castle in a state of defense, and by Partistagno, who arrived with his retainers to put the men of Venchieredo to rout. Later, Carlo saved the documents from theft. The Count of Venchieredo was sentenced to ten years in prison. With Venchieredo humbled, Leopardo was free to marry Doretta.
When the news of the French Revolution reached Venice and men began to dream of a new kind of freedom, the Inquisition of State began a reign of terror. Seeing troubled times ahead, Almoro Frumier, a Venetian senator and kinsman of the Count of Fratta, moved with his family to Portogruaro. There the people of Fratta went frequently to visit, and Carlo, now an acknowledged member of the family, went with them. The boy was often thrown into moods of depression as Pisana revealed her flirtatious nature among the young gallants of the region. Clara was kinder to him than ever, but Pisana paid no attention to his bitterness and gloom.
For relief, Carlo turned to his studies so earnestly that the count decided to send him to Padua to study for his doctor’s degree. About the same time, Raimondo di Venchieredo, son of the disgraced castellan, returned to his nearby castle, and Pisana began to pay attention to the young nobleman. Meanwhile, Clara was being courted by a number of aristocratic dandies. The countess tried to arrange a match between young Venchieredo and Clara; however, the alliance was unacceptable to Venetian authorities. Partistagno became Clara’s accepted suitor, but she refused him; people said that she was really in love with Lucilio. When the countess took her daughter to Venice, Lucilio, after taking his degree at Padua, also settled there.
On a scholarship, Carlo went to Padua to study shortly before the French invaded Italy. Returning to Fratta for a visit, he found Pisana now a beautiful woman, demanding admiration from all. Her chief aim was Giulio del Ponte. Back in Padua, Carlo came under the influence of Amilcare Dossi, a young man of liberal political views, and became an ardent Voltairian. Then word came that the old chancellor had died at Fratta, leaving affairs disordered; Carlo returned to take over his duties. Clara entered the Convent of St. Therese. The old count died, and Pisana went to Venice.
One day news arrived that a young French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, had taken command of the Army of the Alps. Within a few months, he controlled the fate of Italy. The people of Fratta fled as the French advanced. Returning from a trip to Portogruaro, Carlo found Fratta deserted and looted and old Lady Badoer dying as the result of French atrocities. When Carlo went to Urbino to protest, Napoleon refused to listen to his story.
A change came in Carlo’s fortunes when his father returned unexpectedly to Venice. Grown wealthy in trade, he planned to establish a family of social and political prestige. His hopes failed, however, when Venice capitulated to the French in 1797. The fall of the patricians completed the ruin of the Frattas. Pisana gave in to her mother’s urgings and married an aged kinsman, Mauro Navagero. Lucilio begged Clara to marry him, but she refused to return to a world that had no respect for God and the Church. When the French turned Venice over to Austria, Carlo prepared to take refuge in the Cisalpine Republic. His father returned to the Levant after giving him a letter of credit on Apostulos, a Greek banker. Pisana became Carlo’s mistress and lived with him until he was forced to flee the city. In Milan he learned that Aglaura Apostulos, his companion in his flight, was his half sister.
Carlo fought with the Cisalpine Legion under Ettore Carafa, who became Pisana’s lover. When English and Russian troops entered Naples, Carafa was captured and hanged. Carlo, Lucilio, and Pisana escaped aboard a Portuguese ship to Genoa. After the battle of Marengo, Carlo served as Secretary of Finances at Ferrara. Returning to Fratta after the Peace of Pressburg, Carlo married Aquilina Provedoni; two children were born to them. Later, he fought under General Pepe against the Austrians. He was captured and sentenced to death but was later pardoned. Accompanied by Pisana, he went to London. There he lost his sight, but it was restored to him through an operation performed by Lucilio. Pisana, who had begged in the streets in order to provide for Carlo during his illness, died.
Carlo returned to Venice in 1823 and engaged in trade until he and Aquilina returned to the Friuli in 1848. Aquilina died soon afterward. At last, Carlo found courage to return to the site of the Castle of Fratta. Only a few stones remained of the place so full of memories of the past. Writing his memoirs, he realized that these were memories of sweetness as well as grief.
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