Verga, "I Malavoglia" and "La Terra Trema"

"La Terra Trema"

Picture of Giovanni Verga

Sequence of images from the film
" La Terra Trema "


I Malavoglia di Giovanni Verga



On the 2nd September of 1840 in a wealthy economic condition- and noble family origin was born in Catania Giovanni Verga. At eleven years he began his studies thanks to Antonino Abate, literary and patriot, and the canonical Mario Torrisi. The kind of education -he received was, on the political plan, patriotic- renaissance and, on the literary plan, substantially romantic.

He started the law studies at the University but he did not finish the studies, because of the historical-political unrest (after the arrival of Garibaldi in Sicily). He started to write the first novellistic tests: the unknown "Amore e patria", inspired to the American revolution and written when he was 17 years old, "i carbonari della montagna" published in 1861 by expenses of the author who did not continue his jurisprudence studies anymore. In the same year he enlisted into the National Guard of Catania and he had an intense activity as journalist (he was one of the founders and the editors of three newspapers, "Roma degli Italiani", but they had short life). In 1863, a Florence's periodical  "Nuova Europa" published the novel "Sulle lagune", "Una peccatrice" (1866) and "Storia di una capinera" (1871)


After his father’s death, in 1865 he went to live in Florence where he received the literary influence of Francesco Dell'Ongaro, journalist, university professor of dramatic literature and author of the famous theatrical work "il fornaretto di Venezia". He met with the poets Giovanni Prati and Aleardo Aleardi and the writer Caterina Percoto. After he wrote "Una peccatrice" (1866) and "Storia di una capinera" published in 1871, he becames a big novel writer. The meeting with Luigi Capuana was really important, where he began a good friendship and he was allowed into the literary society.


He moved to Milan, a big literary centre: between 1873 and 1876 he wrote the novels "Eva", "Tigre reale", "Eros", the novel collection "Primavera ed altri racconti", and, in 1874, the sketch of "Nedda" in a sicilian atmosphere in which for the first time he did not write about the social life thematic. In the second half of Seventies his writing became a novellistic writing like "truth searching".
In 1877 Capuana began a literary battle for the Verismo and he started to write the novel "Giacinta" that is inspired toward that poetic conception.
In 1878, writing a letter to his friend Salvatore Paola, Verga showed is intention that will be the thematic of the "I Malavoglia": "a job" that is "a type of phantasmagoria of the fight for the life from the ragman to the minister or the artist... "
In 1881, preceded from the novels "Fantasticheria" (1880) and "Vita dei campi" (1878), the "I Malavoglia" was written in the same year with "Malombra" by Fogazzaro. The unexpected failure of the novel denoted the preference of the readers towards the created literary climate of this last one.
Also discouraged, Verga continued to write: "I ricordi del capitano d'Arce" (1881), Il marito di Elena (1882), the novel collections: "Novelle Rusticane" (1883), "Per le vie" (1883, inspired to the bad life of the city populace and people of Milan), "Drammi intimi" (1884).
While he began the new activity as author for the theatre with alternate vicissitudes of successes and fiascos: "Cavalleria Rusticana
" (interpreted by "Duse") made a good impression in Turin but not in Milan.
In 1887 he wrote the novel collection "Vagabondaggio" and the year after wrote "New Anthology" (Mastro don Gesualdo).
In 1893 he went to live in Catania after he won a cause (against the musician Peter Mascagni) for the rights of author of "Cavalleria Rusticana": the money he gained, - allowed him to pay his debits. He was jealousy for the admiration that his friends had for the poet Mario Rapisardi (1884-1912). His natural aversion towards intrigues that he saw to prevail in the literary world, and then some familiar displeasures and mournings, more and more took him away from the literary world.


He definitively went to live in Catania, with short stays to Milan and Rome where, in 1895 he met with Capuana, Zola, master of the French Naturalismo.
He continued the production for the theatre: the "La Lupa" is performed in Turin on 1896.
The interest about the political vicissitudes took him a lot: faithful to his patriotic and unitary mentality, they opposed him to the separatista movement of "Fasci siciliani" and in 1896 supporter of the necessity makes itself, for Italy, of an African revenge and a more incisive colonial policy. In 1911 he received with enthusiasm the decision of the Libyan campaign and in 1912 he joined to the nationalist party.
In 1911 he started again to work on the "Duchessa di Leyra", the third novel of the "Il ciclo dei vinti" but he wrote just only one chapter that it will be published posthumous.
During the years before the first world war, in a literary climate that continued to prefer post-verismo authors, the works of Verga lost interest, but after the war, later on the test "Giovanni Verga" by Luigi Russo (1919), the acknowledgment of his merits, made him more and more famous and the verghiana art began to be appreciated.
In 1920 his eightieth birthday was celebrated in Rome and Catania: he was nominated senator the 3rd October.
The 27th January 1922 died in Catania, caught by a cerebral paralysis.


The literary activity of Verga can be divided in three parts:
- novellistic the historical-patriotic one of the debuts;
- the social life novels;
- the verista production.

He had a literary formation in the provincial Sicily, this is understandable reading his three juvenile novels. In particular, "I carbonari della montagna" (1861) an historical novel (that was not common anymore) that Verga dedicated to his models, Francesco Domenico Guerrazzi and Alexandre Dumas. Fundamental in his change of interests it was when he left the island in 1869, to go to Florence. Introduced by the poet Francesco Dall'Ongaro in the good city society, he was dedicated to the study of the bourgeois life where he was living, with a particular interest for the female figures and the sentimental vicissitudes, as it can be understood from the titles of the novels that he wrote during this "social life" period: Una peccatrice (1866), Eva (1873), Eros (1875). Large agreement had in particular "Storia di una capinera" (1871), the story of the forced becoming nun of a girl who loved her sister's husband and she died because of the desperation.

If the novel "Il marito di Elena" (1882) continued along this line of expressive search, the next production took another way of writing. In 1872, when he was living in Milan, capital of the publishing trade, he met with Scapigliati, Arrigo Boigo and Giuseppe Giacosa, thanks also to the support of Salvatore Farina, a writer famous at that time. Here he was caught up from the friend Luigi Capuana, writer and theoretical literary critic of the verismo.

The literary change can be dated by 1874, the year in which was published the novel Nedda, called from the author a "sicilian sketch". The atmosphere is rural; the scenes are performed in Sicily; the protagonists are humble peasants. Also protagonist of the vicissitude is a woman here, but her situation is tragic and concrete, not abstract and sentimental.

From that moment on, the peasant Sicily with its ancient culture it was at the centre of the catanese writer's the job.

The two stories "Vita dei campi" (1880) and "Novelle rusticane" (1883) contain some of the verghiani best works, become famous like "la lupa", "La roba", "Rosso Malpelo", "Cavalleria rusticana".


"I Malavoglia" (1881) is about the history of a fishermen family who lives and works in Aci Trezza, a small town close to Catania. Protagonist of the novel is all the place, made of people united by the same culture but divided because of old rivalries.
Thanks to a sage writing he reproduced some characteristics of the dialect and that he adapted it to the various points of sight of the several personages, taking off the presence of the author in first place.

Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889), instead, puts in evidence the history of the protagonist who gives the title to the novel. Of modest origins, Gesualdo has beaten his destiny of misery and he became rich. The wedding with the noble Bianca Trao does not cancel his modest social origin: even his daughter Isabella is shamed of her father. Remained alone, Gesualdo died in the palace of Palermo, abandoned to himself and ignored from the servitude that took game of him.
Also the atmosphere is sicilian here (the novel is performed to Vizzini) and the language shows the truth giving the right background to the novel.

It was an unexpected failure and Verga went to Catania abandoning the writing. The "Ciclo dei vinti", that is about those people who fight for a better life, it supposed to be made up of three more novels ("La duchessa di Leyra", "L'onorevole Scipioni" and "L'uomo di lusso"), but it remained unfinished.

The success arrived to Verga in another way.
- Cavalleria rusticana, Verga made a theatral version (represented in 1884 that made a good public impression), that was played by Pietro Mascagni (1890) and  it is still famous and performed today.
- "I Malavoglia" gave the starting point for the film "La terra trema" (1948) by Luchino Visconti, important moment of the neorealist cinema.
- Today, all the literature students are unanimous recognizing to the sicilian writer a large novellistic stature.


In order to reproduce the society in the more "true" way, Verga scrupulously observed it, studying the physical atmosphere and the dialect, documenting himself about trades and traditions; by the way, he used an impersonal style so that the reader finds itself, as Verga said. It seems that the cast and the vicissitudes are introduced by themself, and who reads get the impression to be put in real contact with the truth which is spoken about.

In order to get the impersonality, Verga adopts the people's point of view, avoiding to show his personal judgment and his feelings. To render the representation more true and impersonal, the writer writes in a new language: it is the national language (he does not use the sicilian dialect because he wants that it should be read in all Italy) enriched of terms of dialectal origin, ways to say and proverbs, a syntax made on the rhythm of the language spoken by the people.


It is the first novel of the "Ciclo dei vinti" remained unfinished, in which the writer shows his bad point of view about the life. The novel narrates the misadventure of a humble fishermen family living in Acitrezza (Catania) that - tries to improve its economic conditions. The "I Malavoglia" is the history of a defeat in which the radical pessimism of Verga is showed. There is not hope of any change for that poor people who want to win against the nature law. This condition of the humble ones becomes emblematic for the whole humanity. The only positive thing is that the verghiano world is made of humble people who doesn’t fight against his own destiny without useless rebellions.

This story is the sincere and dispassionate study about the first problems came up in the humblest conditions for the well-being and which bring in a relatively happy family, the fear that they do not live in good life conditions.

Milan, 19 January 1881.

The centre of this history is the Malavoglia's fishing boat called "Provvidenza". The "Provvidenza" is the oldest fishing boat of Acitrezza and it was a member of the good family of Malavoglia, the most honest of the town.
With the grandfather Padron 'Ntoni, head of the house, live others seven people making part of three generations. Padron ' Ntoni and the "Provvidenza" are the centre of that domestic world. When the oldest of the grandsons, 'Ntoni, finished to work because of the Army, the grandfather tried a transaction, he bought a big load of lupins that he loaded on the boat and gave those to his son Bastianazzo to sell them to Riposto. During the night, the boat got broken, Bastianazzo died, the lupins went lost. The "Provvidenza" was founded stranded on the beach. Only the lupins debts remained to Padron 'Ntoni.

After that triple disaster, everythings seemed to be against "Toscano-Malavoglia" family: Luca, one of the grandsons, died during the battle of Lissa; Maruzza, the daughter-in-law, died by colera. Padron 'Ntoni's home, "casa del nespolo",   was bought, the home that he loved so much; and because of the debit of the lupins he could not get married his grandaughter Mena. That is not enough: a new crash of the "Provvidenza" left Padron 'Ntoni without a job. The oldest son 'Ntoni, when he came back from the military service was arrested because he hurt a customs officer. Lia, the youngest sister, left the town and -did not come back anymore. Mena did not get married anymore with Alfio and - remained with Alessi's sons taking care of them. Alessi, the youngest among the brothers, kept working like fisherman, making again the family and buying the "casa del nespolo" that it had been sold.
When 'Ntoni was released from prison, he went back to Acitrezza, he recognised that he could not stay with his family after the bad things he did.

The Elements and the Topics:
- the presence of a crowd of personages but none is the main act, just to show a type of social organization based on the patriarchal family;
- The hope of a better life that made decide padron 'Ntoni to buy the lupins and the young 'Ntoni to emigrate: tries both failed to change their bad destiny;
- the brutality of the fight for the survival which is dominated by an economic law;
- the religion of the family, the feelings, only defense against the greed of the world;
- the impossibility to change condition and kind of life that takes the desperation.


Mastro-don Gesualdo: it is the second novel of the "Ciclo dei Vinti", that it should be made up of five novels; in truth the author wrote the first two thinking to have already demonstrated the thought that had been proposed: the man, whichever it is its position of life, it is the loser and it must submit itself to its destiny.

It is an example Mastro-don Gesualdo, a builder that has become rich and respected thanks to hard working and sacrifices. He even raised himself socially, marrying the noble Bianca Trao who married him to make up a mistake, but she did not love him. Isabella, born because of the mistake of Bianca Trao, was considered like Gesualdo's daughter. In fact, he made her go to the most aristocratic colleges.

Died Bianca who was starting to love her husband, Isabella was hostile against her father even if he satisfied all her whims, includes that one to marry a poor duke who spent all Gesualdo's patrimony that he accumulated during his life. When Gesualdo was ill, Isabella put him in a small room of her palace where he died alone, dreaming his house and his estates, and regretting that his "roba" was gonna be destined to people who do not love it, as his son-in-law, the duke of Leyra.

Novelle Rusticane: it is a novel collection that describes exactly sicilian people and atmospheres.

Vita dei campi (1880): it is a novel collection, in which Verga wrote about the rude life of sicilian people.

In nine stories, like "La lupa", "Cavalleria rusticana", "Fantasticheria", "Jeli il pastore", "Rosso Malpelo", "L'amante di Gramigna", the principle of impersonality finds its first expression.

"La Lupa", in the homonymous novel, knows that loves her son-in-law and he will kill her because of it, but she knew that and she goes towards the death with no fears.
In "Cavalleria rusticana", the honour law is mixed to the blood one, according to an old ritual of a primitive civilization.

Sometimes the fight for the existence changes the characteristic of people initially good but because of egoism or things like that, they are forced to become evil. In "Jeli il pastore", the shepherd is rebelled to his boss who has stolen his wife his honour, and he killed him, but he finished behind the bars; In "Rosso Malpelo", the young man did not have any problems to live in a wild way, but at the end, he understood that he could never have a better life and during an exploration in a mine, he was missed.

Copyright© 2000-2002 Grasso Giovanni - Antonio Guarnera. Tradotto da Mario Grasso. Translated by Mario Grasso. Tutti i diritti sono riservati. All rights reserved. Vietata la riproduzione anche parziale

Renewed: 20-07-05 .

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