(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Like the Freudian id or the stunted troll, Lagerkvist’s dwarf, Piccolino, represents the dark side of human life—“a person’s dwarf is really the person’s self,” and one “cannot do without one’s dwarf for long.” This is to say that human life is basically evil: Instead of attempting to deny or to eradicate one’s evil, which is, in fact, one’s instinct to survive, one should be constantly aware of it. The antithesis of evil, in this context, is not good but love, which directs the energy of one’s self toward the betterment of another. To be evil and to love is to become good—that is, good at being human. Evil and love are moral integers; goodness is a functional integer.

Piccolino serves a prince, clearly patterned after Niccolò Macchiavelli’s exemplar, Cesare Borgia. The prince dallies sensually with the courtesan Fiammetta; his wife, Princess Teodora, is in love with Don Ricardo (suggestive of the historical Francesco Orsini, an admirer of Petrarch’s poetry). Angelica, daughter of the prince and Teodora, is in love with Giovanni, the son of the prince’s enemy, Lodovico Montanza il Toro (historically, Ludovico Sforza il Moro). Messer Bernardo (Leonardo da Vinci), who has painted The Last Supper for Montanza in the refectory of Santa Croce (Santa Maria delle Grazie), is now painting a portrait of Princess Teodora (the Mona Lisa). The time of the events is probably 1502 to 1503, when Macchiavelli and...

(The entire section is 468 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Dwarf is the acrid journal of a court freak, a twenty-six-inch-tall misanthrope whose name, Piccoline, is mentioned only once, in passing, by another character. Thereafter called the Dwarf, he offers a distorted perspective on the fortunes of the Italian city-state whose prince he serves. Though generally slighted by them as an insignificant retainer, the Dwarf is able to observe important public figures and bear witness to actions that have dramatic consequences.

After strangling Jehosophat, the Dwarf has become the only dwarf at court and the reluctant pet of Angelica. The Dwarf is discomfited by the arrival in the city of the inquisitive genius Bernardo and gratified by that of the mercenary leader Boccarossa. With Bernardo’s war machinery and Boccarossa’s soldiers, the Prince attacks the enemy Montanzas led by Lodovico. Reveling in battle, the Dwarf reports his disappointment over delays caused by rain and over the retreat necessitated by insufficient funds to pay Boccarossa. He is nauseated when he witnesses the sexual adventures of the Prince and Don Riccardo with prostitutes. He regrets that Don Riccardo, whose illicit love letters he has been forced to convey to Teodora, has not been killed in battle.

During a truce, Lodovico and his followers are entertained at the Prince’s court. The Dwarf follows what he assumes to be his master’s orders and serves poisoned wine to the enemy, but he intentionally kills the...

(The entire section is 405 words.)