Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Many qualities of this tale are reminiscent of fables. It is simply and directly told in the third person, lacking in ornament and almost devoid of explanation. It is almost purely narrative, moving action quickly and keeping dialogue spare. The opening lines, “One night Count Giorgio Venanzi, a thirty-eight-year-old landowner and squire of his province . . . ” echo many qualities of fables: the nonspecific time reference “One night” (echoic of “Once upon a time”), the title of the protagonist, and the medieval sounding “squire of his province.” It is a story in which one might be prepared to find winged angels and possible allegorical suggestions. The angelically pure wife falling, as a result of the influence of her husband’s spiritual blindness, does invite an allegorical reading (purity loses to the evil of ignorance or self-centeredness).

Irony is the dominating literary device of the story. The plot leads step by step to the bitterly humorous, final irony: The formerly jealous, possessive husband is relieved to know that his wife has been adulterous, for by meeting the devil she returned their life to normal. This irony is made more striking by Buzzati’s careful preparation for it. The husband’s jealousy is depicted more and more intensely as his protectiveness becomes a mania. At the same time, his horror at the possibility of his wife’s bringing shame to his name and personal ruin to him also crescendos so that at the end these two emotions are nearly indistinguishable. The concluding irony is the focal point, or target, of the story, resolving these two tensions simultaneously.