The Cloven Viscount

by Italo Calvino

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Cloven Viscount is a novel by Italo Calvino. The story of the novel centers on a young aristocrat who goes to war. During an intense battle, the Viscount is cut in half by an enemy soldier. In Calvino's fantasy novel, the Viscount does not die, but survives to exist as his separate halves. One side of him is evil, whilst the other half is virtuous.

Quote 1

That's the good thing about being halved. One understands the sorrow of every person and thing in the world at its own incompleteness.


The Viscount ponders his misfortune of being cut in half. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, he reflects on the lessons he had learned as an "incomplete" human being. Before he rode off into battle, the Viscount was a sheltered aristocrat in his safe kingdom. Although he was attentive towards his subjects, he could not fully empathize with anyone, especially those who are less privileged than him. When the Viscount was halved during battle, both of his halves took on separate and polar archetypes representing good and evil. Although the evil half was focused on gaining more power and the good half was content helping others, they were still not complete. When the Viscount became whole again at the end of the story, he realized that being whole—in which one accepts both his good and bad sides—is essential to being human.

Quote 2

It’s not only me . . . who am a split being, but you and everyone else too. Now I have a fellowship which I did not understand, did not know before, when whole, a fellowship with all the mutilated and incomplete things in the world.


This quote emphasizes the epiphany that the Viscount experienced. However, in this passage, the Viscount also realizes that he is not the only person in the world who was split in half. He concludes that all people and living things are incomplete in this world until they make peace with every part of themselves. More importantly, the Viscount believes that people on Earth can only be complete when they embrace other people. Calvino, through the character of the Viscount, believes that we are not completely whole until we find someone we love and who will love us back, but that love must start from one's self to one's self. It is fitting that the Viscount marries the woman he loves after being sewn together again.

Quote 3

We'll invent new ways of being together.


In this quote, we see Italo Calvino's poetic sensibilities as a prose writer. The theme of togetherness is the most clearly defined theme of the novel. The majority of the narrative is about the two halves of the Viscount gradually coming together despite being polar opposites. The two halves were on a collision course, because two incomplete parts must inevitably come together sooner or later. The quote also refers to the romantic subplot of the story in which the good half of the Viscount and his beloved were finally reunited together in the form of his "complete" self.

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