I included a grotesque description of a character from Mastro-Don Gesualdo, which is from a section full of grotesquerie, almost nothing but grotesques, the chapters where cholera comes to the land and Sicily, pretty bad all along, turns into Hell.
More Italian literature is directly descended from Dante than I had realized a year ago.
As they went along, he told stories that would make your hair stand on end. At Marineo they had murdered a traveler who kept hanging around the watering trough, during the hot hours of the day. He was ragged, barefoot, white with dust, his face burning, his eyes sullen, trying to do his thing in spite of the Christians who were guarding from a distance, in suspicion. At Callari they had found a body behind a fence, swollen as a wineskin; they had found it from the stench. At night, everywhere, you could see fireworks, rockets raining down, just like on Saint Lawrence night, God save us! (226)
The characters flee to the countryside, to their farms. Amidst this horror, Verga decides to start up a love story, with Gesualdo’s daughter falling for her cousin, repeating her mother’s history, although she does not know it. Love in the time of cholera. Hey, wait, I’ve read that book.
The beginnings of love are inspired by the land, her father’s property, which are foreboding, perhaps from the aura of her father:
The level fields were deserted, shaded in dark. There was a low wall covered with sad ivy, a small abandoned water basin in which some aquatic plants were rotting, and on the other side of the road some squares of dusty vegetables, cut across by abandoned roads that ended up drowning into the thick boxwood bristling with yellow, dead branches. (235)
That does not sound so inspiring, yet the sad landscape contain traces of her lover:
… burned pieces of paper, damp, still moving about as if they were living things – burned matches, torn ivy leaves, shoots broken up into small pieces by his feverish hands, during the long hours of his waiting, in the automatic activity of his fantasizing.
The scene of Isabella’s love becomes, years later, a place of epiphany for her dying father, Don Gesualdo:
But down there, before his property, he indeed realized that it was all over, that all hope was lost for him, when he saw that now he didn’t care at all. The vines were already leafing, the wheat was tall, the olive trees in bloom, the sumacs green, and over everything there spread a mist, a sadness, a black veil… The world was still going its own way, while for him there was no hope any more, gnawed inside by a worm just like a rotten apple that must fall from the tree – without the strength to take a step on his own land, without feeling like swallowing an egg. Then, desperate that he had to die, he began to hit ducks and turkeys with his stick, to break out the buds and the wheat stocks. He’d have liked to destroy in a single blow all the wealth he had put together little by little. He wanted his property to go with him, desperate as he was. (311, ellipses mine)
And in the next sentence, he is whisked away from his property forever.