Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 887
Giorgio Venanzi, a thirty-eight-year-old count and squire of a province, is caressing the back of his wife, Lucina, when he feels a small protuberance on her left shoulder blade. Alarmed, Giorgio inspects the lump carefully with two magnifying glasses, which reveal only that the lump is covered with a fine down.
The next morning, Giorgio examines his wife’s back again and finds another lump matching the first, at the apex of her right shoulder blade. The lumps are significantly wider now and contain minuscule soft, white feathers. His wife seems to be growing wings. Giorgio’s anxiety has turned to depression; the monstrous growths suggest to him witchcraft rather than miracle.
Giorgio’s depression cannot be attributed to concern for his wife but rather to a fearful reaction to the unknown. University-educated in agriculture, vigorous, and apparently active, he is nevertheless conventional to a fault, unimaginative, poorly cultured, and painfully jealous. His wife, eighteen years old, delicately small and beautiful, married him not out of love but to please her parents, who wanted her to marry someone of their own noble class. Lucina lives a fairly restricted life, mainly because of her husband’s jealousy, but she does not complain, having grown accustomed to Giorgio, who is, after all, greatly enamored of her.
Giorgio questions Lucina about her recent activities, suspecting the work of gypsies, then insists that Lucina see no doctors. He leaves the house, mainly not to be looking at her back the whole day. He is still obsessed, however, with his wife’s monstrosity. For his beautiful wife to sprout wings and become a spectacle is horrible enough, but the threat of scandal, the threat that his dignified family may be subject to ridicule, troubles him even more.
When Giorgio returns home, his worst fears are materialized: The two protuberances have taken the unmistakable form of wings, similar to those on angels in churches. Lucina, to Giorgio’s irritation, is undisturbed and apparently enjoying herself, even laughing through these changes in her.
Giorgio consults his mother, who is equally horrified—reminding Giorgio that she never liked the marriage—and she recommends their talking with Don Francesco, the family chaplain. At first incredulous, the good-humored old priest views the wings of Lucina, who reveals them by unzipping the two vertical zippers she has put on the back of a cotton dress she has made. Don Francesco decides that the wings are either the work of the devil, in which case they are merely illusory, or a gift of God, in which case they are genuine, and functional, wings. To determine which is the case, Lucina must soon attempt flying. Against his wishes, Giorgio agrees to a test flight.
Accordingly, one night Giorgio, Lucina, Giorgio’s mother, and Don Francesco drive out to a clearing in a remote forest of Giorgio’s holdings, and Lucina attempts a flight. It is not long before the wings, which are now more than three meters across when fully spread, lift the light, frail body of Lucina, who is immediately intoxicated with exhilaration, feeling more happy and beautiful than ever before. Don Francesco, moved by the flight as well as by Lucina’s beauty, declares that the wings are a divine investiture. Lucina is an angel. Though Don Francesco argues that Lucina must not be locked up in secrecy, believing she has some divine mission, perhaps as “a sort of new messiah, of the female sex,” Giorgio insists on keeping her change a secret. He curses the possibilities of “gross headlines . . . interviews . . . every kind of annoyance.”
Giorgio is convinced that his wife will accept her imprisonment at home, but she grows increasingly restless, unable to accept this fate: “less than twenty years old . . . chained in her house without being able to . . . look out the window.” She takes advantage of the dense October fog by taking clandestine flights from her garden, which bring her “a blissful delirium.”
One afternoon, Lucina’s confidence betrays her, and she is seen flying by Massimo Lauretta, a brilliant young man who is best friend to her and her husband. She must speak to him while still in flight so that he will not mistake her for a bird and shoot her. At sight of Lucina alighting before him, Massimo kneels and begins praying the “Hail Mary.” Both of them nervous and excited—Massimo by Lucina’s angelic beauty and Lucina by the delirium of flight and, perhaps, the wonderful freedom to be with someone—they have a brief, tender exchange. Massimo offers to take her into a cabin, out of the cold, and Lucina declines, fearful of being seen by the gamekeeper within. Then:
They stood a little while watching one another puzzled. Then Lucina said: “I’m cold, I told you. At least hold me.” Although the young man was still trembling, he didn’t need to be told twice.
In the next scene of the story, Giorgio is returning home to find his wife, wingless, calmly sewing in the parlor. Giorgio is confused, shocked, and relieved. Some months later, Giorgio explains to Lucina, “God really loves you. . . . You were able to meet the Devil at the right moment.” He has overcome his jealousy and possessiveness for the relief of having his wife normal again, safely returned to a conventional existence with him.
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