Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Tales of my native town online

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Gabriele D'Annunzio
















I The Hero 3

II The Countess of Amalfi .... 10

III The Return of Turlendana ... 56

IV Turlendana Drunk 72

V The Gold Pieces ....... 83

VI Sorcery 92

VII The Idolaters ........ 119

VIII Mungia 140

IX The Downfall of Candia . . . . 153

X The Death of the Duke of Ofena . 172

XI The War of the Bridge 192

XII The Virgin Anna 215


By Joseph Hergesheimer


THE attitude of mind necessary to a com-
plete enjoyment of the tales in this book
must first spring from the reahsation that, as
stories, they are as different from our own short
imaginative fiction as the town of Pescara, on
the Adriatic Sea, is different from Marblehead in
Massachusetts. It is true that fundamentally the
motives of creative writing, at least in the West-
ern Hemisphere, are practically everywhere alike ;
they are what might be called the primary
emotions, hatred and envy, love and cruelty, lust,
purity and courage. There are others, but these
are sufficient: and an analysis of The Downfall of
Candia together with any considerable story na-
tive to the United States would disclose a similar

But men are not so much united by the deeper
bonds of a common humanity as they are sepa-
rated by the superficial aspects and prejudices of
society. The New England town and Pescara, at


heart very much the same, are far apart in the
overwhelming trivialities of civilisation, and
Signor D'Annunzio's tales, read in a local state of
being, might as well have remained untranslated.
But this difference, of course, lies in the writer,
not in his material; and Gabriele D'Annunzio Is
the special and peculiar product of modern Italy.

No other country, no other history, would have
given birth to a genius made up of such contend-
ing and utterly opposed qualities: it is exactly as
if all the small principalities that were Italy before
the Risorgemento, all the amazing contradictions
of stark heroics and depraved nepotism, the
fanaticism and black blood and superstition, with
the Introspective and febrile weariness of a very
old land, were bound into D'Annunzio's being.

Not only Is this true of the country and of the
man, the difference noted, it particularly Includes
the writing itself. And exactly here is the diffi-
culty which, above all others, must be overcome If
pleasure Is to result from "Tales of My Native
Town." These are not stories at all. In the sense
of an Individual coherent action with the stirring
properties of a plot. The Interest is not cunningly
seized upon and stimulated and baffled up to a
satisfactory finale. The formula that constitutes
the base of practically every applauded story here
a determination opposed to hopeless odds but
invariably triumphant Is not ^only missing from


Tales of My Native Town, in the majority of
cases It Is controverted. For the greater part man>
Is the victim of Inimical powers, both within him \
and about; and fate, or rather circumstance, is
too heavy for the defiance of any individual.

What, actually, has happened is that D'An-
nunzlo has not disentangled these coherent frag-
ments from the mass of life. He has not lifted
his tales into the crystallised isolation of a short
story: they merge from the beginning and beyond
the end Into the general confusion of existence,
they are moments, significantly tragic or humor-
ous, selected from the whole incomprehensible
sweep of a vastly larger work, and presented as/
naturally as possible. However, they are nor
without form, In reality these tales are woven with
an infinite delicacy, an art, like all art, essentially
artificial. But a definite interest in them, the sense
of their beauty, must rise from an intrinsic in-_,
terest in the greater affair of being. It is useless
for anyone not Impressed with the beauty of sheer
living as a spectacle to read "Tales of My Native


The clear understanding of a divergence should
result in a common ground of departure, of sym-
pathy, and to make this plainer still It ought to
be added that in the question of taste, of the


latitude of allowable material and treatment, the
Italians are far more comprehensive than our-

js^lveSi^ This, certainly, Is particularly true In their
attitude toward the relation of the sexes; and here
is, perhaps, the greatest difference between what
might be loosely called a Latin literature and an
Anglo-Saxon. We are almost exclusively in-
terested In the results, the reactions, of sexual
contacts; but the former have their gaze fixed
keenly on the process itself. At the most we
indicate that consummations of passion have oc-
curred, and then turn, with a feeling of relief, to
what we are convinced is the greater importance
of Its consequences.

But not only is Gabriele D'Annunzio perfectly
within his privilege in lingering over any important
act of nature, he is equally at liberty to develop all
the smaller expressions of lust practically barred

yjrom English or American pens. These, unde-
niably, have as large an influence in one country,
one man, as In another; they are as small things
are apt to be more powerful in the end than
the greatest attributes. Yet while we have agreed
to ignore them, to discard them as Ignoble and
obscene, in "Tales of My Native Town" erotic
gestures and thoughts, libidinous whispers, play
their inevitable devastating part.

Yet this is not a book devoted to such impulses;
one tale only, although in many ways that is the


best, has as its motive lust. It is rather in the
amazingly direct treatment of disease, of physical
abnormality, that it will be disturbing to the unpre-
pared reader from an entirely different and less
admirable, or, at any rate, less honest, conven-
tion. Undoubtedly D'Annunzio's unsparing rev'^^
elation of human deformity and ills will seem
morbid to the unaccustomed mind; but, conversely,
it can be urged that the dread of these details is
in itself morbid. Then, too, we have an exagger- "
ated horror of the unpleasant, a natural, but
saccharine, preference for happiness. As a na-
tion we are not conspicuously happier than Italy,
but we clamour with a deafening insistence for the
semblance of a material good fortune. Meeting
pain no better and no worse than other nations,
from our written stories we banish it absolutely;
but anyone who cares to realise the beauty that,
beyond question, pervades the following pages
will be obliged to harden himself to meet pre-
cisely the deplorable accidents that he must face
wherever life has been contaminated by centuries
of brutal ignorance, oppression and want.

Again, it is not in the larger aspects, the nobler
phases, of suffering with which we are concerned, ^
but in the cold revelation of rasping details, brutal
sores and deformity, the dusty spiders of paralysis.
If this were all it would be hideous beyond sup-
port; but, fortunately, the coldness Is only in the


method, there is a saving spirit of pity, the valid
humanity born of understanding. Such horror as
exists here is the result of D'Annunzio's sensitive
recognition of the weight of poverty and super-
stition crushing men into unspeakable fatalities of
the flesh. A caustic humour, as well, illuminates
the darker pits of existence, ironic rather than
satirical, bitter rather than fatalistic; and then ad-
mirably exposing the rough play of countrymen
like the rough wine of their Province. In addition
there Is always, for reassurance, the inclusion of
the simple bravery that in itself leavens both life
and books with hope.


Yet, with the attention directed so exclusively
upon national differences, equally It must be said
that no Individual has ever written Into literattire
a more minute examination of actuality than that
in "Tales of My Native Town." Indeed, to find
its counterpart it would be necessary to turn to the
relentlessly veracious paintings of the early Dutch-
men, or the anatomical canvasses of El Greco.
D'Annunzio's descriptions of countenances are
dermatological, the smallest pores are carefully
traced, the shape and hue and colour of every feat-
ure. This is set down not only directly but by
means of remarkable simllies : BInchl-Blanche has
a surly, yellow-lined face like a lemon without any


juice; Afrlcana's husband's mouth resembles the
cut in a rotten pumpkin; Ciarole's face was that of
a gilded wooden effigy from which the gilding had
partly worn off; while Biagio Quaglia reflected
the brilliancy and freshness of an almond tree in

The direct descriptions are often appalling,
since, as has already been indicated, nothing is con- 1
sidered unimportant; there are literally no reser-(
vations, or rather, no prejudices. The physical
disintegration that accompanies death is, as well,
recorded to the last black clot and bubble of red
froth. D'Annunzio Is not afraid of death in the \.
context of his pages, he is never reluctant to meet <
the great facts, the terrible penalties, of existence ; i
rather it is upon them that his writing Is founded; ^
it has. In the main. In these tales, two sides, one -
of violence, of murder and venom, and the oihjer
an Idyllic presentation of a setting, an environ-
ment, saturated with classic and natural beauty. '

The mind, now horrified by the dislocated
beggars gathered about the blind Mungia, Is sud-
denly swept into the release of evening fragrantly
cool like myrtles; or Turlendana returns from
his long voyages and, with his amazing animals,
makes his way home Into Pescara : "The river of
his native place carried to him the peaceful air of
the sea. . . . The silence was profound. The
cobwebs shone tranquilly in the sun like mirrors


framed by the crystal of the sea." He passes with
the Cyclopean camel, the monkey and the she-ass
across the boat bridge and: "Far behind the
mountain of Gran Sasso the setting sun irradiated
the spring sky . . . and from the damp earth, the
water of the river, the seas, and the ponds, the
moisture had arisen. A rosy glow tinted the
houses, the sails, the masts, the plants, and the
whole landscape, and the figures of the people,
acquiring a sort of transparency, grew obscure,
the lines of their contour wavering In the fading
light." ^

Nothing could surpass in peacefulness this
vision, a scene like a mirage of fabulous days
wrapped in tender colour. Throughout the tale of
The Virgin Anna, too, there are, In spite of the
vitriolic realism of its spirit, the crystal ecstasies
of white flocks of girls before the Eucharist of
their first communion. While it was Anna's
father who came ashore from his voyages to the
island of Rota with his shirt all scented with
southern fruit. The Virgin Anna has many points
of resemblance to that other entranced peasant
in Une Vie Simple ; but Anna had a turtle In place
of a parrot, and D'Annunzio is severer with his
subject than was Flaubert.

But such Idylls are quickly swept away in the
fiery death of the Duke of Orfena, with the
pistols ringing in high stately chambers, and


Mazzagrogna, the major-domo, a dripping corpse,
hanging in the railing of a balcony. There is no
shrinking, no evasion, here ; and none is permitted
the reader: the flames that consume the Duke
are not romantic figments, their fierce energy
scorches the imagination.


These qualities belong to a high order of
creative writing, they can never be the property of
mere talent, they have no part in concessions to
popular and superficial demands. This does not
necessarily imply a criticism of the latter: it is not
a crime to prefer happiness to misery, and cer-
tainly the tangible facts of happiness are success
and the omnipotence of love. Tales and stories
exist as a source of pleasure, but men take their
pleasures with a difference; and for any who are
moved by the heroic spectacle of humanity pinned
by fatality to earth but forever struggling for
release ''Tales of My Native Town'' must have a
deep significance.

No one has abhorred brutality and deception
more passionately than Gabriele D'AnnunzIo, and
no one has held himself more firmly to the exact
drawing of their insuperable evils. But this is not
all; it is not, perhaps, even the most important
aspect : that may well be his fascinating art. Here,
above all, the contending elements of his being.


the brilliant genius of the Renaissance, pre-
dominate; an age bright with blood and gold
and silk, an age of poetry as delicately cultivated
as its assassinations. It was a period logical and
cruel, lovely and corrupt; and, to an extraordinary
degree, it has its reflection in D'Annunzio's writ-

Yet, in him, it is troubled by modern appre-
hensions, a social conscience unavoidable now to
any fineness of perception. His tales are no
longer simply the blazing arbitrary pictures of the
Quatrocento; they possess our own vastly more
burdened spirit. In this, as well, they are as
American as they are Italian; the crimes and
beggars and misery of Pescara, the problems and
hopes of one, belong to the other; the bonds of
need and sympathy are complete.

The tales themselves are filled with energy and
movement, the emotions are in high keys. At
times a contest of will, of temptation playing with
fear, as in The Gold Pieces, they rise to pitched
battles between whole towns; the factions, more
often than not led by Holy reliques and statues, a
sacred arm in silver or the sparkling bust of a
Saint with a solar disc, massed with scythes and
bars and knives, meet in sanguinary struggle. Or
again the passions smoulder into indi^^idual bitter-
ness and scandal and mean hatred. The Duchess
of Amalfi is such a chronicle, the record of Don


Giova's devastating passion for Violetta Kutufa,
who came to Pescara with a company of singers
at Carnival.

Nothing is omitted that could add to the ve-
racity, the inevitable collapse, of this almost senile
Don Juan; while the psychology of the ending is
an accomplishment of arresting power and fit-
ness. There is in The Duchess of Amalfi a vivid
presentation of Pescara itself, the houses and
-Violetta's room scented with cyprus-powder, the
square with the cobblers working and eating figs,
a caged blackbird whistling the Hymn of Gari-
baldi, the Casino, immersed in shadow, its tables
sprinkled with water.

Around Pescara is the level sea, the river and
mountains and the broad campagnia, the vines, the
wine vats and oil presses, the dwellings of mud
and reeds; the plain is flooded with magnificent
noon, and, at night, Turlendana, drunk, is mocked
by the barking of vagrant dogs; the men linger
under Violetta's lighted windows, and the strains
of her song run through all the salons, all the
heads, of the town. ... It is as far away as
possible, and yet, in its truth, implied in every


of my




ALREADY the huge standards of Saint
Gonselvo had appeared on the square and
were swaying heavily in the breeze. Those who
bore them in their hands were men of herculean
stature, red in the face and with their necks swollen
from effort; and they were playing with them.

After the victory over the Radusani the people
of Mascalico celebrated the feast of September
with greater magnificence than ever. A marvellous
passion for religion held all souls. The entire
country sacrificed the recent richness of the corn
to the glory of the Patron Saint. Upon the streets
from one window to another the women had
stretched their nuptial coverlets. The men had



wreathed with vines the doorways and heaped up
the thresholds with flowers. As the wind blew
along the streets there was everywhere an im-
mense and dazzling undulation which intoxicated
the crowd.

From the church the procession proceeded to
wind in and out and to lengthen out as far as the
square. Before the altar, where Saint Pantaleone
had fallen, eight men, privileged souls, were await-
ing the moment for the lifting of the statue of
Saint Gonselvo ; their names were : Giovanni Curo,
rUmmalido, Mattala, Vencenzio Guanno, Rocco
di Cenzo, Benedetto Galante, Biagio di Clisci,
Giovanni Senzapaura. They stood in silence, con-
scious of the dignity of their work, but with their
brains slightly confused. They seemed very
strong; had the burning eye of the fanatic, and
wore in their ears, like women, two circles of gold.
From time to time they tested their biceps and
wrists as if to calculate their vigour; or smiled
fugitively at one another.

The statue of the Patron Saint was enormous,
very heavy, made of hollow bronze, blackish, with
the head and hands of silver.

Mattala cried:


The people, everywhere, struggled to see. The


windows of the church roared at every gust of the
wind. The nave was fumigated with incense and
resin. The sounds of instruments were heard now
and then. A kind of religious fever seized the
eight men, in the centre of that turbulence. They
extended their arms to be ready.

Mattala cried:

"One! Two! Three!"

Simultaneously the men made the effort to raise
the statue to the altar. But its weight was over-
powering, and the figure swayed to the left. The
men had not yet succeeded in getting a firm grip
around the base. They bent their backs in their
endeavour to resist. Biagio di Clisci and Giovanni
Curo, the least strong, lost their hold. The statue
swerved violently to one side. L'Ummalido gave
a cry.

*'Take care! Take care!" vociferated the
spectators on seeing the Patron Saint so imperilled.
From the square came a resounding crash that
drowned all voices.

L'Ummalido had fallen on his knees with his
right arm beneath the bronze. Thus kneeling, he
held his two large eyes, full of terror and pain,
fixed on his hand which he could not free, while his
mouth twisted but no longer spoke. Drops of
blood sprinkled the altar.


His companions, all together, made a second
effort to raise the weight. The operation was diffi-
cult. L'Ummalido, in a spasm of pain, twisted
his mouth. The women spectators shuddered.

At length the statue was lifted and L'Ummalido
withdrew his hand, crushed and bleeding and
formless. **Go home, now! Go home!" the peo-
ple cried, while pushing him toward the door of
the church.

A woman removed her apron and offered it to
him for a bandage. L'Ummalido refused it. He
did not speak, but watched a group of men who
were gesticulating and disputing around the

''It is my turn!"

*'No ! no ! It's my turn !"

''No! let me!"

Cicco Ponno, Mattia Scafarolo and Tommaso
di Clisci were contending for the place left vacant
by L'Ummalido.

He approached the disputants. Holding his
bruised hand at his side, and with the other open-
ing a path, he said simply:

"The position is mine."

And he placed his left shoulder as a prop for
the Patron Saint. He stifled down his pain, grit-
ting his teeth, with fierce will-power.


Mattala asked him :

"What are you trying to do?'*

He answered:

"What Saint Gonselvo wishes me to do."

And he began to walk with the others. Dumb-
founded the people watched him pass. From time
to time, someone, on seeing the wound which was
bleeding and growing black, asked him :

"L'Umma', what Is the matter?"

He did not answer. He moved forward grave-
ly, measuring his steps by the rhythm of the music,
with his mind a little hazy, beneath the vast cover-
lets that flapped in the wind and amongst the
swelling crowd.

At a street corner he suddenly fell. The Saint
stopped an instant and swayed, in the centre of a
momentary confusion, then continued its progress.
Mattia Scafarola supplied the vacant place. Two
relations gathered up the swooning man and car-
ried him to a nearby house.

Anna di Cenzo, who was an old woman, expert
at healing wounds, looked at the formless and
bloody member, and then shaking her head, said:

"What can I do with it?"

Her little skill was able to do nothing.
L'Ummalldo controlled his feelings and said noth-
ing. He sat down and tranquilly contemplated his


wound. The hand hung limp, forever useless, with
the bones ground to powder.

Two or three aged farmers came to look at It.
Each, with a gesture or a word, expressed the
same thought.

L'Ummalido asked :

"Who carried the Saint In my place?"

They answered:

"Mattia Scafarola."

Again he asked:

"What are they doing now?"

They answered:

"They are singing the vespers."

The farmers bid him good-bye and left for
vespers. A great chiming came from the mother

One of the relations placed near the wound a
bucket of cold water, saying:

"Every little while put your hand in it. We
must go. Let us go and listen to the vespers."

L'Ummalido remained alone. The chimmg in-
creased, while changing its metre. The light of
day began to wane. An olive tree, blown by the
wind, beat its branches against the low window.

L'Ummalido began to bathe his hand little by
little. As the blood and concretions fell away, the


injury appeared even greater. L'Ummalido mused :

"It Is entirely useless I It Is lost. Saint Gon-
selvo,! offer It up to you."

He took a knife and went out. The streets
were deserted. All of the devotees were in the
church. Above the houses sped, like fugitive herds
of cattle, the violet clouds of a September sunset.

In the church the united multitude sang in
measured Intervals as if in chorus to the music of
the instruments. An intense heat emanated from
the human bodies and the burning tapers. The
silver head of Saint Gonselvo scintillated from on
high like a light house. L'Ummalido entered. To
the stupefaction of all, he walked up to the altar
and said, in a clear voice, while holding the knife
In his left hand:

*'SaInt Gonselvo, I offer It up to you."

And he began to cut around the right wrist,
gently, In full sight of the horrified people. The
shapeless hand became detached little by little
amidst the blood. It swung an Instant suspended
by the last filaments. Then It fell into a basin of
copper which held the money offerings at the feet
of the Patron Saint.

L'Ummalido then raised the bloody stump and
repeated in a clear voice:

"Saint Gonselvo, I offer it up to you.*'




WHEN, one day, toward two o'clock in the
afternoon, Don Giovanni Ussorio was
about to set his foot on the threshold of Violetta
Kutufas' house, Rosa Catana appeared at the
head of the stairs and announced in a lowered
voice, while she bent her head:

"Don Giova, the Signora has gone."
Don Giovanni, at this unexpected news, stood
dumbfounded, and remained thus for a moment
with his eyes bulging and his mouth wide open
while gazing upward as if awaiting further ex-
planations. Since Rosa stood silently at the top
of the stairs, twisting an edge of her apron with
her hands and dilly-dallying somewhat, he asked
at length:

"But tell me why? But tell me why ?" And he
mounted several steps while he kept repeating with
a slight stutter:



*'Butwhy? But why?"

"Don Giova, what have I to tell you? Only
that she has gone."

"But why?"

"Don Giova, I do not know, so there I"

And Rosa took several steps on the landing-
place toward the door of the empty apartment.
She was rather a thin woman, with reddish hair,
and face liberally scattered with freckles. Her
large, ash-coloured eyes had nevertheless a singu-
lar vitality. The excessive distance between her
nose and mouth gave to the lower part of her
face the appearance of a monkey.

Don Giovanni pushed open the partly closed
door and passed through the first room, and then
the third; he walked around the entire apartment
with excited steps; he stopped at the little room,
set aside for the bath. The silence almost terrified
him; a heavy anxiety weighted down his heart.

"It can't be true I It can't be true I" he mur-
mured, staring around confusedly.

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Online LibraryGabriele D'AnnunzioTales of my native town → online text (page 1 of 15)