When Giovanni Verga was born in Catania on September 2, 1840, into a well-to-do landowning family of aristocratic background, Italy was not yet united, and Sicily belonged to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, governed by Bourbon monarchs from their capital in Naples. Catania remained very distant, therefore, from the cultural centers of Milan and Florence. Verga’s father deserves credit for wanting his son to have the most liberal education possible in his culturally provincial society, and for this purpose, he enrolled him, at age ten, in the private school of Antonino Abate. The teacher, who shared the liberal and pro-Italian sentiments of the younger generation, had the attitude and enthusiasm, if not the talents, of a Romantic poet and as such inspired his pupils, including the young Verga, to try their hands at writing. At age seventeen, Verga wrote his first novel, Amore e patria (1857; love and fatherland), inspired by the American Revolution and full of teenage enthusiasm for patriotic ideals, although not worthy of publication.
In 1858, Verga enrolled in the Faculty of Law at the University of Catania, but instead of studying, he worked on his second novel, I carbonari della montagna, another historical novel imbued with patriotic fervor, which, with his father’s consent, he published, using the money intended for his last two years of university study. Although the second novel was little better than the first, it was given a favorable review in the Florentine periodical Nuova Europa. Encouraged by this success, Verga submitted a third novel, Sulle lagune (1863; on the lagoon), to the same periodical, which published it in serial form (it was published in book form in 1975). In the meantime, he had become involved in various Sicilian journalistic enterprises, but the combination of his publication in Florence and the...
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