Experimental Fictions: From Emile Zola's Naturalism to Giovanni Verga's Verism

Experimental Fictions: From Emile Zola's Naturalism to Giovanni Verga's Verism

Experimental Fictions: From Emile Zola's Naturalism to Giovanni Verga's Verism

Experimental Fictions: From Emile Zola's Naturalism to Giovanni Verga's Verism

Synopsis

Experimental Fictions constitutes the first serious attempt to explore the relationship between the two authors' writing by challenging many traditional assumptions about Zola's and Verga's fictions. The author combines a close reading of some of their major novels with a broader look at the question of ideology. Ideology is studied in theoretical terms, beginning with Althusser, and in cultural context by looking at Verga's and Zola's position as intellectuals in the society of the time.

Excerpt

This book is the result of a long reflection I began several years ago, on the relation between French Naturalism and Italian Verism. It started as doctoral research on Giovanni Verga, whose Verist masterpieces gave me the opportunity to put to the test the still abstract narratological notions I had learned during my graduate studies. For me, going back to “Rosso Malpelo,” after having read Bakhtin and Volosinov on quasi-direct speech and dialogism in the novel, constituted a truly enlightening experience. When you have finished reading (not once, but several times) a short text like “Rosso Malpelo” or “Pane Nero,” and you turn back to the French masters of “style indirect libre,” from Flaubert to Zola, their sophisticated narrative techniques and the subtle use of irony displayed in their texts suddenly become clear. It is not surprising that several of the most important figures of stylistic criticism in the fifties and sixties—from Spitzer to Devoto to Cecchetti—devoted their analyses to Verga’s texts. Interest in Verga’s fiction continued through the seventies and eighties, when semioticians and Marxist literary critics approached his narrative from new methodological perspectives. Thanks to this ongoing interest in his fiction, Giovanni Verga is currently known for his stylistic achievements well beyond the field of Italian studies. When I mentioned to Peter Brooks that I was working on Giovanni Verga, his first reaction was: “Yes, that is the most interesting instance of free indirect style after Flaubert.”

There is something truly astonishing about Verga’s literary accomplishments, especially if one thinks of the cultural atmosphere in Italy after the unification. But if one refuses to believe in miracles—that is, if one thinks that literary masterpieces are not the exclusive product of the creative imagination of the artist, but originate through a dialogue with other texts—one is forced to wonder where Giovanni Verga did turn to develop such a dialogue. Surprisingly, the questioner need not go far. Beginning in July 1876, La République des Lettres begins publishing weekly installments of Zola’s L’Assommoir. the novel appears . . .

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