Giovanni Verga
(1840-1922)

Sicilian realist novelist whose writings often deal with social issues. Born in Catania, he spent a large part of his life in northern Italy, and the majority of his writings deal with his native island.



Novels

I Malavoglia or The House by the Medlar Tree (1881): 255 pages, you will notice that the first two pages of this novel contain a "cast of characters" much like that of a play. Normally you don't see this in a novel, which is why it is important to point out that this novel is really about a small Sicilian town, and as such about the collectivity of the town, about all of the residents of this town, although it does focus on one family, the Malavoglia family, in specific. Thus this is more a novel of a collectively, of a mass of people, of a community rather than the normal "individualistic" novels which focus almost entirely on one person or a few people. I Malavoglia is placed in the small port town of Aci Trezza in east Sicily. It is 11 km north of Catania. This novel is placed in the middle 1800's, and as is obvious in the novel, Aci Trezza is a very small town: even today it's population is only 5,000. This novel is about a poor fishing family and their continuous and often futile attempts to survive. Verga portrays the suffering and struggles of the Malavoglia family, and of the lower class of Aci Trezza as a whole, in a vivid and realistic manner, and he doesn't fall pry at all to reinforcing the capitalist myth that if you work hard enough you will become rich. In fact, this novel attacks that myth if anything, as the Malavoglias work very hard, but never really improve their lot, and some members of the family give up working completely and turn to "illegal" activities because they are sick of the never ending work and poor conditions. Verga also attacks credit and shows the detrimental effect of a loan on the Malavoglia family. Perhaps one of the greatest realist novels written, it is politically radical because it shows the truth of the conditions and life of the lower classes without distortion or embellishment.

Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889): 328 pages, the second of a planned series of five novels which Verga had intended to write, it was the last major work he wrote. Has a long character list at the beginning like a play, and deals with a wide array of characters, although it's main focus is on Mastro-don Gesualdo, formerly a peasant, who rises to the heights of the social pyramid in Vizzini (a small town 60km from Catania), and marries into a formerly wealthy aristocratic family. This novel is the opposite face of I Malavoglia; it shows what it really necessary for a lower class person to rise to wealth: suppression of emotions, marrying for materialistic reasons, disowning those you loved if they are a liability, and infinite greed and callousness. It also takes the attack to the end: what it the purpose of doing all this repulsive, reprehensible activity? Will the rich man be buried with his money? Will the money look after him and love him in his old age and times of rest or danger? Verga portrays Gesualdo, a typical rising rich person, with realism and without sympathy, and without covering up the reprehensible acts that are necessary for one to rise to wealth. Also a picture of a small society in economic transition, with the older aristocratic class dying out or else adapting themselves to new economic ideas and means of accumulating wealth.


Short Stories

Across the Sea

Bindweed's Lover

Black Bread

Crackpot

Don Licciu Papa: This story attacks the repressive foundation and support of the capitalist state, i.e. laws, courts, and "law” enforcement. This short quote from the story best explains what it is about: “Law is made for them who've got money to spend.”

His Reverence

Jeli the Herdboy

Liberty: about a small rural town's revolt during the time the Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi was in Sicily. Not only does this work depict a minor revolution of the peasants and the poor, it also shows how empty bourgeois nationalism is for the lower class, for freedom from foreign domination may improve the lot of the lower classes, but in the end bourgeois nationalism still perpetuates the subjugation of the lower classes, and works against genuine class struggle.

Malaria

Nasty Foxfur: an excellent portrayal of how capitalism turns workers into beasts of burden, brutalizes them and turns them against each other. The main character of this story "Foxfur" is continually described and alluded to as animal-like, which is simply the result of his constant exploitation and the back-breaking manual labor he has been forced to perform since his early youth. This story also shows very clearly how capitalist oppression turns members of the revolutionary class against each other, brutalizes them, and promotes violent tensions between them. Also, we see that "Foxfur" is not only physically brutalized but also emotionally brutalized by his fellow workers and by his own family. In fact he is given little, if any, compassion at all, compassion which we human beings need to live, just as much as food or water.

Property

Rustic Honor

She-Wolf

So Much for the King

Story of the Saint Joseph's Ass

The Gentry

The Mystery Play

The Orphans

The War of the Saints