Giovanni Verga Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 770 words.)

Giovanni Verga Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The city of Catania, where Giovanni Verga spent the first twenty-five years of his life, was a cultural center for Sicily and even possessed a university; but it was geographically so remote from the mainstream of Italy’s cultural life and so small a place, that its atmosphere was nevertheless provincial and in some ways even primitive. Verga’s family were well-to-do landowners in a society that was agricultural at its base and still feudal in its organization. Verga was fortunate in his schooling to have come under the influence of a teacher who was a writer and who also encouraged his literary bent; at the age of seventeen, Verga completed his first novel. Although he embarked on the study of law a year later, he quickly found he had no taste for the subject and dropped out of the university to pursue a literary career. He tried founding a journal and published a novel at his own expense, but Catania proved an impossible base from which to launch a literary career. In 1865, he went to Florence, where he became part of a circle of young writers, and a few years later he moved to Milan, which was even more active as a center of the arts.

During the 1870’s, Verga was living in Milan, publishing novels and short stories, winning a small reputation, and seeking a new literary voice for himself which would express his ideal of what fiction should be. Because of illness in his family, he made frequent trips back to Catania during that period. From these...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Giovanni Verga Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Giovanni Verga was the eldest of five children born to Giovanni Battista Verga Catalano and Caterina di Mauro. The Vergas were upper middle class, descended from a Spaniard, Lajn Gonzalo de Vergas, who came to Sicily in the thirteenth century. The elder Giovanni Verga was cultured and well read, and he dabbled in the occult; Verga’s mother was an intellectual and was a cousin of Domenico Castorina, a local writer. Both of Verga’s parents were cautiously liberal in that they opposed the Bourbon monarchy that held a tyrannical sway over southern Italy at that time. Although born and reared in Catania, Verga spent much of his life in Vizzini, where his father owned considerable property. There the family sought refuge in summers to avoid outbreaks of cholera and political violence.

In 1850, Verga went to a secular school directed by Antonino Abate. There he read Dante, Petrarch, Torquato Tasso, Ludovico Ariosto, Ugo Foscolo, and Manzoni, as well as the bombastic writings of Catania’s own Castorina.

Although Abate favored the union with Italy, unlike some Sicilians, who desired an independent Sicily, he wished to see an Italian republic rather than a monarchy. His student, Verga, on the other hand, was so grateful when the troops of Giuseppe Garibaldi made a unified Italy possible that he accepted the idea of a monarchy easily. A unified Italy, however, did not bring all it had seemed to promise. When the new leaders began to break up the ancient feudal estates, as the land-hungry peasants had hoped, the fragmented estates were purchased by members of the middle class, who by this means were able to elevate themselves, to the total exclusion of the peasants, who no longer had even the rights of use that they had enjoyed under the previous system. There occurred savage attacks on the gentry by an embittered and defrauded peasantry, and although Verga himself had to flee their unleashed wrath, somehow there took root deep within him a remarkable compassion for the plight of this unfortunate class of people, and it was precisely this empathy that led him to greatness as a writer.

To please his father, Verga entered the University of Catania to study law, but he soon was bored and began to apply himself to writing fiction. Because these first literary efforts were mildly successful, he decided to move to the Italian mainland to perfect his Italian and his literary style. Following the tradition of writers such as Alfieri, Foscolo, and Manzoni, who purified their Italian by taking up residence in the country’s linguistic capital, Verga chose to move to Florence, which in 1865 was also the country’s interim political capital. He mastered Italian, as was his goal, but skillfully preserved the rhythms and syntax of the dialects and, although he used outright idioms that had to be italicized within his texts less and less frequently as he matured as a writer, he succeeded in substituting Italian words for dialect in such a way as to preserve even the lexical flavor of the original speech.

In Florence, Verga renewed his acquaintance with Luigi Capuana, from Mineo, and Mario Rapisardi, from Catania; he also became acquainted with Francesco Dall’Ongaro, a respected critic and writer. At the Dall’Ongaro residence, Verga met Giselda Fojanesi, soon to be Rapisardi’s wife and subsequently Verga’s mistress. Verga saw her during his frequent visits to Catania, where she and her husband returned to live, until December, 1883, when Rapisardi discovered the infidelity and sent Giselda back to Florence, whereupon Verga ended...

(The entire section is 1455 words.)

Giovanni Verga Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111207120-Verga.jpg Giovanni Verga Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Widely considered the greatest Italian novelist after Alessandro Manzoni, Giovanni Verga (VAYR-gah) was born in Catania, Sicily, in 1840, of a family supposed to have come from Aragon in the thirteenth century. The Vergas were a family of patriots. The grandfather was an underground fighter for independence and a deputy to the first Sicilian parliament in 1812. During Giovanni’s boyhood, his mother encouraged him to read. Although he gave her credit for his decision at the age of fifteen to become a novelist, biographers point out that his teacher Pietro Abato wrote poems and novels and assigned classwork that caused the young student to write a six-hundred-page novel about George Washington and the American Revolution. Fortunately, Verga knew more about the subjects of his later fiction.

Instead of entering the university in 1860, he persuaded his father to let him use the money to publish another manuscript he had completed in four volumes—I carbonari della montagna, concerning the adventures of his grandfather. During the next fifteen years Verga lived in Florence and Milan. In these cities, under the influence of the French writers, he wrote passable novels of middle-class life, among them the sentimental Sparrow: The Story of a Songbird. In Milan he described adultery in high society in Eva and Tigre reale.

From this distance Verga could look back on his childhood home and draw upon his...

(The entire section is 588 words.)