Verga, Giovanni 1840-1922
Italian short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.
Verga is a major figure both in Italian literature and in the evolution of modern Western literature. During the era of his mature genius he was the leading voice of verismo, an Italian movement of literary realism roughly corresponding to the school of Naturalism originated by French novelist Emile Zola. Verga employed a unique style in which the story is told completely through direct and indirect speech of the characters. The form, diction, and tone of the story mirror the attitudes and consciousness of its characters, both individually and collectively. This method was particularly effective in Verga's depictions of Sicilian peasant life. One of his most successful examinations of this peasant world was "Cavalleria rusticana," which the author wrote as both a short story and a drama, and which was adapted as the libretto for Pietro Mascagni's well-known opera of the same title.
Verga was born in Sicily into an upper-class family, and for a time he studied law at the University of Catania. His interests, however, were resolutely literary, and after publishing some undistinguished early novels he decided to leave Sicily in 1869 and pursue his career in the more cosmopolitan centers of Florence and Milan. The novels he produced during the next few years were fashionable romances dealing with the passions of the rich, and they did not yet display his ultimate style. While living in Milan, Verga's artistic concerns altered dramatically, from romanticism to realism, and from the culture of high society to the rural life that surrounded him when he was growing up in Sicily. By 1879 Verga had returned completely to his Sicilian roots and moved into his childhood home in Catania. He died there in 1922 after twenty years of literary silence.
Major Works of Short Fiction
"Nedda," which Verga subtitled "A Sicilian Sketch," is one of the earliest stories to exhibit the cultural and stylistic focus of his later genius. With the publication of this story in 1874, Verga truly began to develop his style of verismo. In his later work Verga sought to efface the author's identity and allow the fictional subject to dictate the form of the work. Thus, in his later short stories and novels Verga let the dialects and idioms of his characters permeate every level of his narrative. Some of the stories that best exemplify Verga's mature style are "Cavalleria rusticana," "The She-Wolf," "Gramigna's Mistress," and "Rosso Malpelo," all of which are included in his major collections: Vita dei campi (Cavalleria Rusticana, and Other Tales of Sicilian Peasant Life) and Novelle rusticane (Little Novels of Sicily). Verga writes each in the style indirect libre, or "free indirect style," where the characters seem to narrate themselves with no intrusion from the author. In these stories, Verga anticipates such modernist artistic devices as interior monologue and stream of consciousness.
Critics agree that Verga's genius is most brilliantly displayed in his development of verismo. His gift for letting action and dialogue relate the story, with never a word wasted, is universally lauded. Commentators consider him the first Italian writer to accurately represent the language of the Sicilian people and the peculiar subtleties of their dialects. Critics debate whether Verga's method of verismo developed independently of others with similar styles, but his mastery of the technique is rarely questioned. Although he produced the body of his work in the nineteenth century, Verga is perhaps best understood in terms of twentieth-century modernist literature and the search for new forms of expression.