(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 887 words.)