Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Viscount Medardo of Terralba

Viscount Medardo of Terralba, a young Italian nobleman from a small principality on the coast of Italy. Fighting against the Turks, he is split in two by a cannonball; one surviving half is saved by doctors, and he returns home. Once there, he displays a perverted and evil nature, shown especially in his penchant for splitting things—such as fruits, frogs, and mushrooms—into two parts. His courtship of the peasant girl Pamela further reveals his sadistic inclinations. The other part of Medardo, which also survived and was healed by hermits, returns to Terralba; this portion of the viscount is all virtue and makes his presence known by a series of good deeds, many of which inevitably require redressing the harm done by his evil half. The people of Terralba are oppressed and terrified by the bad portion of the viscount and soon find themselves harassed and limited by the good portion. These opposing parts become known to the people of Terralba as “The Bad ’Un” and “The Good ’Un.” Inevitably, the two sides come into a conflict that can be resolved only by their reunion.

The narrator

The narrator, Medardo’s nephew, seven or eight years old. A shrewd and observant child with much common sense, he serves as a generally accurate and unbiased witness of events. Left mostly to himself by his family, he is free to roam the hills and coasts of Terralba and so follow the other characters throughout the novel.

Dr. Trelawney


(The entire section is 626 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The characters in The Cloven Viscount seem, at times, to be strictly stock figures: the good and the bad Medardo, symbolizing man’s divided nature; the artless but beautiful goat girl, Pamela; the naive young narrator, painfully discovering maturity; and the shrewd old nursemaid, unlettered but wise in the ways of the world.

In part, Italo Calvino is deliberately playing with these figures, arranging them in their expected postures to play their required roles. This is not un-usual in a novel largely concerned with symbols and their use. On one level,then, the characters are themselves symbols, not realistic individuals.

This is true most obviously of Viscount Medardo, who spends most of the novel split into two parts, one of them thoroughly evil, the other unbearably good. Neither half of the cloven viscount would actually be able to exist in real life. This unreality allows Calvino to impress upon the reader that neither unadulterated evil nor good is possible in human lives. While this might seem a truism hardly worth mention, let alone elaboration, history might argue otherwise.

Calvino underscores this point further by the description of two communities which exist on the fringe of Terralban life: the Huguenots who live on the heights of Col Gerbido, and the lepers who inhabit Pratofungo. Each of these societies is flawed. The Huguenots have been separated from the rest of the world and their comrades for so long...

(The entire section is 496 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Andrews, Richard. “Italo Calvino,” in Writers and Society in Contemporary Italy: A Collection of Essays, 1984. Edited by Michael Caesar and Peter Hainsworth.

Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, 1986.

Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.

Olken, I.T. With Pleated Eye and Garnet Wing: Symmetries of Italo Calvino, 1984.