The Cloven Viscount

by Italo Calvino

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359

The Cloven Viscount (Italian: Il visconte dimezzato) is a 1952 absurdist fiction and fantasy novel written by Italian journalist, novelist and short story writer Italo Calvino. It is the first part of Calvino’s most recognizable "heraldic" trilogy—Our Ancestors (1952-1959), which consists of The Cloven Viscount, The Baron in the Trees (1957), and The Nonexistent Knight (1959).

The story follows a Viscount by the name of Medardo, who is split in half by a cannonball, in the battle against the Turks. The surgeons manage to save him, and stitch the halves into two separate entities. Thus, one half of Medardo returns home to Genoa, reclaims the castle and becomes a villain; he gets the name Gramo (the bad). The other half returns home and becomes Genua’s just, goodhearted and virtuous "hero;" he gets the name Buono (the good).

Things take an interesting turn when both halves of Merdado fall in love with one same woman—the kind peasant girl Pamela. In the end, they both fight for Pamela’s love and heavily wound each other. In an attempt to save their lives, the doctors stitch Gramo and Buono back together, and Medardo becomes one person again. Thus, he continues to live happily ever after in perfect harmony, alongside his beloved wife.

Analysts have noticed that Calvino’s novel has been somewhat influenced by Italian novelist, poet and journalist Aldo Palazzeschi, who tended to add various fantastic, magical, and grotesque elements in his stories. Because of its similarly fantastic and magical plot, many consider The Cloven Viscount a magical realism novel as well.

Aside from this, the book also covers themes and elements which are characteristic of the historical fiction genre. Calvino’s managed to allegorically portray Italy and Europe’s socioeconomic and political climate of the eighteenth century. He wrote about the ignorant and dogmatic Christian values, which were preached and practiced by the people and the Church, and gave his own account on the battles against the Ottoman Empire, and France’s defense against the Spanish Moors. Because of its multi-dimensional narrative, The Cloven Viscount is as relevant today as it was in the time of its first publication.

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