Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

THE CASTLE OF FRATTA, second only to Alessandro Manzoni’s THE BETROTHED among Italian novels of the nineteenth century, is the English title of LE CONFESSIONI DI UN OTTUAGENARIO, written between December, 1857, and August, 1858, by Ippolito Nievo, one of Garibaldi’s historic “Thousand.” Nievo never lived to revise his work, to which he originally gave the patriotic title, “Le confessioni di un Italiano”; the later change of name was made by his publisher, who thought Nievo’s title too forthright for those unsettled times.

THE CASTLE OF FRATTA is a particularly striking example of those few masterpieces of fiction which encroach upon history, impress upon it their unity and values, and in so doing create what becomes the conventional image of an era. The work is as much an epitaph as a confessional novel, for it became the means to the creation of the myth of Ippolito Nievo, a myth of patriotic selflessness which would ultimately propagate the highest ideals of the Italian Risorgimento. Indeed, fictive and real authors seem almost to converge, when Carlo Altoviti, patriot and witness to his times, concludes his narrative in 1858, three years before the patriotic death of Ippolito Nievo at sea as he attempted to rejoin Garibaldi’s “Thousand.” Unfortunately, the posthumous success of THE CASTLE OF FRATTA cast a retrospective pall over his two earlier novels ANGELO DI BONTA (1856) and IL CONTE PECORAIO (1857). His VERSI (1854), his numerous satires, short stories, and even his two tragedies SPARTACO (1919) and I CAPUANI (1914) fell prey to literary historians oblivious to their intrinsic literary merit but intent on ransacking them for some anticipation of the later masterpiece. Nevertheless, few would deny the influence of Giuseppe Giusti and Giuseppe Parini on the early chapters of THE CASTLE OF FRATTA or that of Heinrich Heine (whom Nievo translated) on his satires. Above all, they revealed the influence of Tommaseo’s emphasis on the importance of a strong, stable family to a resurgent nation. More important than the simple identification of precursors or influences, however, is the understanding of the new meaning they take on in the body of the work itself.

Although scholars such as Bozzetti, Mirmina, and others have devoted studies to Nievo’s social thought, it is important to bear in mind that these studies are often derived from his fictional works and often retain their fictional qualities. One element that nevertheless remains constant to Nievo’s social thought, whatever its origin, is his reluctance to divorce it from his understanding of the importance of his poetic vocation. The moral and national restoration he envisioned in his early VERSES and his letters to Mathilde Ferrari could only be impeded by those eunuchoid poets who continued to rehearse their formulaic anguish in an ornate, archaic style incomprehensible to the peasants, the artisans, and the poor. Literary tradition and its misuse were simply another form of oppression aimed at excluding the experience of the poor from...

(The entire section is 1287 words.)