(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Giorgio Aurispa, a young Italian of old family and sufficient money to enjoy life without working, is in love with a lovely married woman named Ippolita. She lived with her husband for only a few weeks, for she fell ill shortly after they were married. When she began her affair with Giorgio, she left her husband and returned to her family. Marriage is out of the question for the lovers—for religious reasons, they cannot marry as long as one or the other has a living spouse.

Infatuated, both Giorgio and Ippolita often wish they could spend even more time together. On the second anniversary of their first meeting, however, an incident occurs that both regard as an ill omen and that casts a pall over their minds. As they are walking in the gardens of Rome’s Pincio, they come to a terrace where a man has just committed suicide. Blood and a lock of blond hair are still in evidence. The suicide of the unknown young man in the Pincio will affect the lovers even more than they realize at the time. Giorgio begins to feel that materialism and sensuality, fostered by his love for Ippolita, have taken too firm a hold on him. Ippolita responds to the suicide as a renewed warning about her own mortality and the fact that she has a tendency toward epilepsy.

Soon after the incident, Giorgio is called home. His father and mother do not live together, and Giorgio has known for some time that his father keeps a mistress. When Giorgio sees his mother, he learns for the first time the full story of his father’s conduct. His mother tells him that his father has despoiled the family fortune, refuses a dowry for their daughter, and lives openly with his mistress and two illegitimate children. Giorgio dislikes the financial entanglements of the situation; he has inherited his own money from an uncle. When Giorgio visits his father to intercede for his family, the young man does nothing to help his mother and sister. Instead, he agrees to sign a note as surety for his father, who is trying to borrow money from a bank. Giorgio, however, is struck by the way his father has surrendered completely to a life of gross materialism.

Before he leaves his mother’s home to return to Rome, Giorgio visits the apartment in the mansion where his uncle had lived. His uncle had committed suicide, and the realization of his uncle’s deed fills Giorgio with curiosity and melancholy. He almost decides to kill himself with the same dueling pistol his uncle used.

Returning to Rome, Giorgio again falls under the spell of Ippolita, even though he is now haunted by his fear of...

(The entire section is 1055 words.)