Emilio Brentani (eh-MIHL-ih-oh brehn-TAH-nee), a clerk in an insurance office. The Italian title Senilità (senility) must refer to him but cannot be taken literally, for he is only thirty-five years old; metaphorically, it seems not inappropriate, because his lack of energy and enterprise suits a much older man. He is content to live in a shabby apartment with his pale sister and “to go cautiously through life, avoiding all its perils, but also renouncing all its pleasures.” He neither pursues a literary career (he has published one novel) nor translates his liberal political opinions into action. He might seem to be pursuing life’s pleasures in his affair with Angiolina Zarri, but his irresolution and capacity for self-deception bring defeat in the end. Although he is unwilling to marry, he expects fidelity from Angiolina and blinds himself to evidence of her promiscuity. After she deserts him and his sister Amalia dies, he yields to senility, looking back with “enchanted wonder” to the period of his affair and blending Angiolina and Amalia into one splendid symbol.
Angiolina Zarri (ahn-gee-oh-LEE-nah ZAH-ree), a lower-class girl of striking beauty and vibrant health. She treats Emilio with warmth and affection, but from the first her conduct is...
(The entire section is 496 words.)