Giovanni Verga, author of the short story, “Cavalleria Rusticana,” which was used as the libretto for Pietro Mascagni’s opera, is generally regarded as the finest Italian novelist since Alessandro Manzoni. MASTRO-DON GESUALDO is the second in an unfinished series of what was to be five novels, the first was I MALAVOGLIA (1881; THE HOUSE BY THE MEDLAR TREE). The series, titled “I vinti” (the conquered), was to have included a third novel about the Sicilian aristocracy, titled “La duchessa di Leyra.” MASTRO-DON GESUALDO is a naturalistic study of the rise and fall of an ambitious Sicilian peasant. His efforts to elevate himself place Mastro-don Gesualdo between two worlds—the peasantry and the gentry—and his marriage to one of the Trao family, who are of the gentry, only widens the gap between him and the others on either side.
Although solidly in the late nineteenth century tradition of realism, MASTRO-DON GESUALDO is a unique book in many respects. Gesualdo Motta, despite his peasant background, assumes the stature of a tragic figure by the end of the novel. Like Emma Bovary and Willy Loman, he never understands his own tragedy or the flaws of his own character which propel him to his fate, but his force of personality and drive, his vision and intense purpose, lift him beyond the essentially petty world in which he struggles, and, more important, raise him to the status of a symbol. He is...
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