D’Annunzio stands out
De Amicis has a second entry in the book, “College Friends,” which has more universal appeal. This piece is technically not a story at all, but rather a memoir or essay. De Amicis reflects fondly on his time spent in a military college and speculates as to the ultimate fate of his old friends and classmates. Even though he’s only 25 looking back at 19, he contemplates youth, old age, and death with a mixture of regret and optimism. More than just self-indulgent navel-gazing, this piece is quite moving and life-affirming.
In Antonio Fogazzaro’s “Pereat Rochus,” a simple parish priest finds himself embroiled in an ethical battle when he refuses to turn out a servant who is accused of having an affair with a local bandit. The tone is a bit too frivolous and the clergyman becomes the butt of a few too many jokes. “It Snows” by Enrico Castelnuovo is another story that ultimately leaves the reader underwhelmed. A widower has developed a window-to-window friendship with an attractive widow across the alley, but any thoughts of marriage are stifled by the loyalty he feels toward his dead wife and young daughter. It’s a pleasant enough tale, and sensitively rendered, but it’s too much of a garden-variety melodrama to deservedly represent a nation’s literature.
The real revelation in this book is Gabriele D’Annunzio’s “San Pantaleone.” When the sky inexplicably turns blood red, the inhabitants of a small town seek solace from their priest, their holy relics, and their superstitions. Their panic and fanaticism lead them to a violent confrontation with a rival village. This story has a very medieval feel, but for the brief mention of guns. The stark imagery and bleak atmosphere is reminiscent of the stories of Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, but with the over-the-top violence of a Robert E. Howard gorefest. It’s truly a stunning piece of writing.
Incidentally, three of the selections in this book were translated by Edith Wharton, author of Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence. As a whole, I did not enjoy this Italian collection as much as some of the other volumes in the Stories by Foreign Authors series, but these books are nonetheless valuable for the introduction they provide to lesser-known authors. This time around D’Annunzio was a great discovery for me, and I look forward to tracking down more of his work.
Stories in this collection
A Great Day by Edmondo De Amicis
Pereat Rochus by Antonio Fogazzaro
San Panteleone by Gabriele D’Annunzio
It Snows by Enrico Castelnuovo
College Friends by Edmondo De Amicis
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