Although the hero of "Bomarzo" is some 450 years old, the story he offers us is one, relatively speaking, of his youth, in the Renaissance as the hunchbacked Prince Pier Francesco Orsini, Duke of Bomarzo, who, having sustained a long, heroic and sometimes successful battle against impotence through two marriages, fought without distinction in the battle of Lepanto. The tone of the novel recalls Italo Svevo's "Confessions of Zeno." Mujica-Lainez shares Svevo's candidly endearing irony, and like Zeno, Bomarzo is able to bring to bear on his complexed Renaissance life the lessons of psychoanalysis that he has learnt, centuries later, in Buenos Aires. (p. 40)
The Freudian lessons acquired in Buenos Aires are not lost: the hero has killed his father in order to become him—to become the Duke of Bomarzo—but his life is tormented by the guilt his action has inspired. The fantasy of the hero's remarkable age is indeed a useful device to combine a contemporary account of a Renaissance life with the improving perspectives of a 20th-century education in psychoanalysis. Bomarzo is even aware, in retrospect, that the erect swords flourished at his wedding ceremony were boldly flamboyant, though useless, phallic symbols.
"Bomarzo" has been a best seller in Argentina, and it has earned extravagant praise from perhaps the finest Latin American writer, Jorge Luis Borges. It is as easy to speculate on its appeal as it is to imagine the sour reception it will have from many quarters. Is it not impudent, after all, that a writer from an underdeveloped country should be engaged in a reconstruction of the Italian Renaissance aristocracy instead of tackling the problems of his own people?...
(The entire section is 703 words.)