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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1168

As boys, Mattia Pascal and his brother Roberto lived an easy life with their wealthy widowed mother. While the boys were growing up, however, the fortune their merchant father had left them was gradually acquired by a dishonest man named Malagna, to whom the mother confided all of her business affairs. One by one the farms and city property belonging to the Pascals were mortgaged and then sold. Everyone except the widow Pascal realized how dishonest Malagna was. Her confidence in her agent enabled him to rob her of everything over a period of many years.

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When he was in his teens, Mattia Pascal fell in love with a beautiful young girl, Romilda Pescatore. Unfortunately for the affair, Malagna, whose two wives had failed to give him any children, had his eye on Romilda for himself. A bad situation developed when Romilda became pregnant; her mother, a termagant who seized any opportunity to improve her position, saw a chance to capitalize on the evil. She advised Romilda to take Malagna as her lover and let him think the child was his. The mother thought that he would be so happy to have his impotence seemingly disproved that he would at least make Romilda, her mother, and the child very comfortable.

Although Romilda told Malagna the truth, the two kept the whole affair a secret. Through Mattia Pascal, Malagna’s wife discovered what had happened. In revenge on her husband, whom she had suspected of infidelity, she in turn became pregnant by Mattia. The husband, realizing what had happened as soon as his wife told him of her pregnancy, was furious. In his anger he refused to help Romilda, saying it was bad enough that he should be compelled to support one of Mattia Pascal’s bastards. In a way the prospect pleased him, for the Pascal fortune he had stolen would now go eventually to Mattia’s child by Malagna’s wife.

Mattia and Romilda were married, but their marriage was an unhappy one. Because Malagna had foreclosed on the last bit of property owned by the Pascals, the newlyweds and Mattia’s mother were forced to move into the hovel owned by Romilda’s mother. Mattia’s aunt finally took pity on his mother and took her away, but Mattia, who was unable to find a job, and his wife continued to live with his shrewish mother-in-law. Their situation was relieved somewhat by Mattia’s success in getting a political appointment as the caretaker of a municipal library in the town. The post was a sinecure; Mattia spent most of his time reading and catching rats that infested the place.

Mattia’s mother and his child both died suddenly and within a day of each other. A few days after his mother’s burial, Mattia received several hundred lire from his brother, who had married into a rich family. The funeral expenses were already paid for, and Mattia put the money away. One day he suddenly decided to travel. He took the money his brother had sent and went to Monte Carlo. There he won a fortune. Although he lost most of it again, he stopped playing after seeing the corpse of a destitute young gambler who had shot himself.

On his way home with the eighty-two thousand lire he had won, Mattia read in a newspaper an account of his death and burial. The people in his village, it appeared, had discovered a body some days after his secret departure, and his relatives had identified it as his. When the shock of the story wore off, Mattia realized how lucky he was: he had been released suddenly from an unhappy marriage and a mountain of debts; in addition, he had enough money in his pockets to live comfortably for many years.

Instead of going back to his native village, Mattia went to Rome and assumed a new identity. He shaved off his beard, had his hair cut shorter, and called himself Adriano Meis. The only part of his appearance he could not change was a crossed eye; to disguise...

(The entire section contains 1168 words.)

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