Superuomini e no: Dannunzian hypotexts in Capuana's Rassegnazione.
Parallels have long been noted between Luigi Capuana's novel Rassegnazione (1907) and D'Annunzio's Le vergini delle rocce (1895), both of which recount an attempt to breed a Nietzschean superuomo. There is disagreement, however, as to whether Capuana parodies or emulates his source. This article argues that previous analyses err in seeing both D'Annunzio's aesthetics and Capuana's response to them as unchanging. It shows that Rassegnazione polemically contrasts the protagonists of D'Annunzio's early Romanzi delta Rosa with his later superuomini, and reacts not to a monolithic dannunzianesimo but to D'Annunzio's evolving thought and practice. Reading the novel against Capuana's intense critical engagement with D'Annunzio's fiction from II piacere (1889) to II fuoco (1900), and charting the presence of several significant Dannunzian hypotexts, it concludes that while Capuana clearly debunks superomismo, he does not definitively reject D'Annunzio's ideal of art-in-life.
decadence, I romanzi delta Rosa, II fuoco, Le vergini delle rocce, reception, superman
Parallels have long been noted between Luigi Capuana's final novel Rassegnazione (1907) and D'Annunzio's Le vergini delle rocce (1895). The protagonists of both seek to breed a superuomo. Just as D'Annunzio's Claudio Cantelmo aims to father a son 'destinato a incidere su nuove tavole nuove leggi per l'anima religiosa dei popoli' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 415), Capuana's Dario dreams of siring 'colui che avrebbe [...] rivelato alla societa l'idea nuova e feconda che avrebbe allargato i confini dell'intelligenza, dominate le menti e creato l'avvenire' (Capuana, 1907: 89). Yet the nature of the relationship between the two texts has divided critics. For some, such as Scalia (1952: 241), Madrignani (1970: 249), Davies (1979: 106-114), Storti Abate (1989: 136) and Cappello (1994: 131-132), Rassegnazione is an unambiguously polemical parody, in which Capuana attacks the ideology of superomismo with D'Annunzio's own weapons. His hero's failure is the inevitable consequence when Nietzschean ideals are tested against reality. For other critics, conversely, Rassegnazione is poised between parody and homage. For Oliva (1979: 123), it is unquestionably 'un romanzo critico verso il superomismo', but censure is attenuated by a profound admiration for D'Annunzio's artistic integrity. Giorgio Pullini, in the fullest study of the novel to date, argues that Capuana closely emulates D'Annunzio until a conclusion which diverges less in the rejection of superomismo than 'nel rifiuto della soluzione tragica sensazionale' (Pullini, 1986: 115). (1) In Pullini's analysis, Capuana targets Trionfo della morte as much as Le vergini delle rocce. His hero's 'resignation' is a humble riposte to Giorgio Aurispa's Liebestod. For Pullini, Capuana rejects D'Annunzio's 'decadentismo maggiore' in favour of the muted, minor-key decadence of Butti, Oriani and Borgese, which offers a 'soluzione intimistica (anziche superomistica) di una sconfitta nel rapporto con la storia' (Pullini, 1986: 134). While Pullini rightly observes that Le vergini delle rocce is not the only important Dannunzian hypotext in Rassegnazione, he follows earlier critics in seeing both Capuana's judgement of D'Annunzio and D'Annunzio's own ideology and aesthetics as essentially unchanging. This article will show that Rassegnazione polemically contrasts the protagonists of D'Annunzio's early Romanzi della Rosa with his later superuomini, and comments not on a monolithic dannunzianesimo but on D'Annunzio's evolving thought and practice. Reading it against Capuana's intense critical engagement with D'Annunzio's fiction from Il piacere (1889) to Il fuoco (1900), I shall argue that the novel represents Capuana's most ambitious response to the challenges presented by D'Annunzio's work.
A review of Il piacere is the lead essay in Capuana's 1892 volume Libri e teatro. (2) Here he regrets that subjective lyricism and delight in artifice too often mask 'la visione schietta e sincera della realta' (Capuana, 1972: 74). D'Annunzio fails to transmute autobiographical material into an organic form existing 'fuori della personalita dell'artista' (Capuana, 1972: 92). We detect none of the 'tristezza' (Capuana, 1972: 74) that he claims to have felt in studying his subject. D'Annunzio revels, conversely, in Andrea Sperelli's (and, by extension, his own) sensuality and refined perversion. Capuana, then, sees the quintessential traits of the Decadent hero--detached self-observation, the esprit d'analyse--as mere authorial projection.
In the same year, Capuana levels similar charges in a joint review of Giovanni Episcopo and L'innocente. Tullio Hermil, protagonist of the latter, incongruously shares his creator's morbid pleasure in analysis, remaining 'quasi estraneo a tutto quel che va scrutando nel proprio cuore' (Capuana, 1972: 108). (3) In Capuana's reading, he resembles a mere device permitting his creator to vaunt his exquisite psychological insight. Capuana nonetheless glimpses signs of a 'rinnovazione' of D'Annunzio's art, as he has abandoned the pure subjectivity of Il piacere. D'Annunzio no longer simply portrays himself but as yet lacks the objectivity to grant his creations independent life. Criticism is nonetheless tempered by an acknowledgement of D'Annunzio's immense potential. Few other novelists offer 'uguale intensita di interesse [...] uguale ricchezza di contenuto [...] uguali bellezze [...] di forma' (Capuana, 1972: 113).
In an interview with Ugo Ojetti, Capuana described D'Annunzio's next novel Trionfo delta morte (1894) as one of the three 'libri saldi nuovi vitali' of 1894 (Ojetti, 1946: 233) but regrettably did not review it. (4) A brief comment in an 1896 essay reveals, however, that he detected further encouraging signs of the nascent objectivity glimpsed in L'innocente. Midway through the novel, the protagonists suddenly become 'persone vive, di sangue, carne, e ossa' before D'Annunzio again succumbs to 'cosmopolitite acuta' (Capuana, 1898: 16-17). (5)
Le vergini delle rocce, however, dashes Capuana's hopes. His critique of the novel, published in May 1896, is perhaps the most consummate stroncatura of his reviewing career. He first declares his readiness to accept 'tutto il contenuto possibile, a patto pero che egli prenda forma vitale' (Capuana, 1898: 25). The writings of Verga and D'Annunzio are underpinned by opposing philosophical or scientific concepts, but, for the critic, Tun concetto vale l'altro' (Capuana, 1898: 29): his task is merely to assess how fully the concept is realized in form. Yet Capuana's summary of the two writers' ideological positions plainly reveals hostility to D'Annunzio's Nietzschean premise. Where Verga portrays 'la darwiniana lotta per la vita', D'Annunzio espouses 'la pessimistica e aristocratica filosofia del pensatore tedesco finito in un ospedale di matti'. For both writers, Capuana continues, characters are ideologically charged symbols. Where Verga, however, creates 'simboli vivi, che ignorano la loro qualita di simboli, e non si analizzano da per loro', D'Annunzio's Cantelmo 'non sa muovere un dito senza distillare tutte le conseguenze piu riposte e piu misteriose di quella mossa' (Capuana, 1898: 30). Yet this obsessive reasoner, familiar with every conquest of positivist science, is suddenly 'invasato' by the idea of creating the supreme Italian type, 'anzi il futuro Re di Roma', using 'mezzi diversi da quelli stabiliti dalla natura'. Flouting genetics, he seeks a partner in a decayed aristocratic family 'composta di idioti, di pazzi, di nevrotiche, di isteriche'. The sheer incoherence of his thoughts and actions prevents him from achieving 'forma vitale'. He may be a symbol but he is no 'creatura umana' (Capuana, 1898: 31).
Purporting to accept D'Annunzio's concept a priori and to chart a failure of artistic realization, Capuana essentially argues that he is thwarted by the irrationality of the concept embodied in Cantelmo. Subsequently responding to Ojetti's defence of Le vergini delle rocce, Capuana again targets its premise. D'Annunzio disregards 'una logica severa a cui le volizioni e le azioni dell'anima nostra debbono necessariamente conformarsi' (Capuana, 1898: 53). Undertaking an enterprise 'con mezzi disadatti al suo intento', Cantelmo must be judged 'o pazzo o imbecille, o per lo meno non sana'. He is no 'creatura equilibrata, sana, da poter dare l'illusione che essa continui nelle pagine del libro le pagine della vita' (Capuana, 1898: 54-55). Cantelmo would only be credible as a 'Don Chisciotte dell'ideale aristocratico' (Capuana, 1898: 55).
These remarks would surely lead us to suspect a parodic intent behind Dario's imitation of Cantelmo in Rassegnazione. So flawed is Cantelmo's ideal in Capuana's eyes that it could only support comic treatment. The finished novel, however, reflects a gradual evolution in Capuana's reading of D'Annunzio over its decade-long gestation. The compositional history of Rassegnazione has, in fact, provoked some confusion. Sipala (1974: 55), Pullini (1986: 113), Storti Abate (1989: 136) and Cappello (1994: 131) affirm that, though only published in 1907, it was complete in 1897. They cite the preface to the first edition where Capuana recalls presenting a chapter of the novel 'allora inedito' as a wedding gift to Lucio D'Ambra in that year (Capuana, 1907: i). (6) While this would facilitate a reading of Rassegnazione as polemical riposte to Le vergini delle rocce (serialized January-June 1895), it was, in fact, as Pasquini (2000: 11-19) has recently confirmed, (7) composed over a much longer time-frame. A manuscript note reveals that Capuana began work on Rassegnazione on 30 January 1894, (8) too early, then, for it to originate as a response to D'Annunzio's novel. In a letter of 14 February 1895, Capuana informs De Roberto that 'la prima parte' is almost complete (Zappulla Muscara, 1984: 350). In another dated 19 October 1895, he specifies that six chapters are ready (Zappulla Muscara, 1984: 353). A fragment corresponding to Chapters 4-5 of the finished novel appears in Marzocco on 15 March 1896 (Pasquini, 2000: 18; Raya, 1969: 97), and in October of that year, Capuana informs De Roberto that he has signed a contract for Rassegnazione and is hurrying to complete it (Zappulla Muscara, 1986: 362). It is still unfinished, however, in 1900 when the first 13 chapters appear in the journal Flegrea. (9) The manuscript note states that Capuana then suspended composition until 15 April 1906, finally completing the novel on 5 July 1906. (It was then serialized in its entirety in the Giornale d'Italia between 1 September and 8 October 1906 and finally published in volume form in January 1897.) If 14 of Rassegnazione's 27 chapters were written in 1906, we must engage with Capuana's critical writings postdating the stroncatura of Le vergini delle rocce, and account for his much warmer review of D'Annunzio's next novel Il fuoco (1900). (10) Here Capuana acknowledges that the novel is even more autobiographical than its predecessors, but so coherent is the marriage of art and life in Stelio Effrena's 'sogno di bellezza e di dominio' that we are simultaneously 'stupiti da tanta audacia e da tanta improntitudine' and 'soggiogati, vinti, affascinati' (Capuana, 1960: 213). (11) Rather than projecting himself upon pallid mannequins, D'Annunzio pours 'tutto se stesso' into Effrena. Capuana still urges D'Annunzio towards 'diretto contatto con la realta esteriore' but is impressed by the vigour with which he pursues the ideal of art-in-life (Capuana, 1960: 215). Only Oliva (1979: 119-121) and Pupino (2004: 19) have sought to explain Capuana's apparent volte-face on D'Annunzio's aestheticism, detecting the influence of 'Le Roman', Guy Maupassant's essay-preface to his novel Pierre et Jean (1888), with its demand that 'sincerite' be prized over all other qualities in a work of art. A writer must be granted his 'conception personelle de l'art' (Maupassant, 1992: 15). Otherwise, 'c'est vouloir le forcer a modifier son temperament, recuser son originalite' (Maupassant, 1992: 18). Palermo has charted how 'sincerita' gradually becomes the 'parola-chiave' (Palermo, 1990: 302) or 'mot-drapeau' (Palermo, 1990: 303) of Capuana's criticism from Per l'arte (1885) onwards. While arguing that Capuana ultimately derives the concept from De Sanctis (Palermo, 1990: 307), he accepts that it is reinforced in dialogue with Maupassant's 'Le Roman' and with Tolstoy's What Is Art? (1897), and will notably influence Croce's polemic against the 'insincerita' of fine secolo Italian literature in 'Di un carattere della piu recente letteratura italiana' (1907). (12) Confronting Il fuoco as the advocate of 'sincerita', Capuana acknowledges that a critic cannot simply demand of D'Annunzio: 'Sii diverso da quello che sei stato finora' (Capuana, 1960: 215).
Capuana does not review any of D'Annunzio's later work. In his only subsequent published discussion of D'Annunzio, the essay 'L'arte e la vita' (1905), he again expresses readiness to accept both 'grandissimi pregi' and 'grandi difetti' as integral to a sincerely expressed artistic personality (Capuana, 1905: 221). He nonetheless stresses the latter: striving to transmute 'i comuni impuri elementi', D'Annunzio disregards the evolution of the novel towards the impersonal rendering of observable reality. If D'Annunzio's view that 'la funzione dell'Arte e unicamente funzione di Bellezza' is potentially tenable, beauty is too often 'ristretta a funzione esteriore di stile' and inseparable from the 'morbosa eccitazione di certi sentimenti per mezzo di artificiose stranezze di concezione' (Capuana, 1905: 220).
Capuana's subsequent silence has been seen as evidence that he considers D'Annunzio 'beyond esthetic redemption' (Scalia, 1952: 170). Yet correspondence between the two writers suggests otherwise. On 23 April 1911, Capuana writes that 'mancano solo due capitoli' of a critical monograph on D'Annunzio's work first announced in 1901 (Oliva, 1979: 128). (13 ) He praises D'Annunzio for honouring Italy abroad with 'le magnifiche risorse del tuo mirabile ingegno' and requests an advance copy of Le Martyre de saint Sebastien so as to review it 'all'indomani della prima rappresentazione'. Capuana writes again on 20 June, assuring D'Annunzio of the 'interesse di ammiratore e di amico' provoked by a theatrical triumph that few can have savoured 'con maggiore sincerita e con piu entusiasmo' (Oliva, 1979: 127-128). This may resemble flattery in quest of a journalistic scoop, but Capuana comes to D'Annunzio's defence elsewhere in his correspondence. On 17 July 1909, he congratulates Alberto Lumbroso on his criticism of Borgese's monograph on D'Annunzio ('una maligna indiscrezione su la vita privata del grande scrittore'). As 'un antico ma non cieco ammiratore del D'Annunzio', Capuana's own projected study will be more 'equanime' (in Barbina, 1978: 293-294). Although Capuana informed Mario Puccini on 23 December 1911 that he had sent his publisher Bemporad 'quasi tutto il materiale di un vasto studio critico intorno a Gabriele d'Annunzio' (Zappulla Muscara, 1996: 504), the monograph was never published, and the manuscript remains untraced. (14) There is nonetheless further proof of Capuana's continued critical engagement with D'Annunzio in the decision to lecture on his poetry at the University of Catania in 1912-1913 (Raya, 1960: 217-230).
Capuana's post-1900 discourse on D'Annunzio might lead us then to anticipate a more nuanced critique in Rassegnazione than in the review of Le vergini delle rocce. It is revealing that Capuana offered Rassegnazione for publication in D'Annunzio's journal Rinascimento. The proposal may have been mischievous but Capuana clearly did not consider the novel a glaring spoof.
Rassegnazione consists of five narrative sequences:
* Chapters 1-8 (Dario's childhood and adolescence)
* Chapters 9-14 (first attempt to father a superuomo)
* Chapters 15-20 (second attempt, leading to his wife's death in childbirth)
* Chapters 21-22 (Dario's systematic quest for pleasure)
* Chapters 23-27 (attempted suicide and adoption of the child Rosa/Fausta)
The first four are each closely modelled on a different Dannunzian archetype.
Chapters 1-8: Rassegnazione and Trionfo della morte
Little in the novel's opening chapters suggests a parody of Le vergini delle rocce. Dario stems not from an aristocratic race of 'dominatori' but the provincial bourgeoisie. Lacking Cantelmo's 'virilita' and 'pienezza' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 418, 444), he is convinced of his physical and intellectual inferiority. Where Cantelmo disciplines both mind and body, Dario lives 'soltanto con la testa' (Capuana, 1907: 32). While Cantelmo struggles to marshal the 'irrompere confuso delle sensazioni' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 405), the impassive Dario is nicknamed 'mummia' (Capuana, 1907: 11) by his classmates. The two protagonists are united only in the conviction that 'il mondo e la rappresentazione della sensibilita e del pensiero di pochi uomini superiori' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 405). Dario is convinced that he must be 'artista o pensatore, giacche uomo di azione non era il caso; ma grande artista, gran pensatore... o niente!' (Capuana, 1907: 34). Persuaded of his mediocrity, however, he fears that he is simply the 'zero che da valore a un'unita' (Capuana, 1907: 50).
If Capuana is preparing a polemical pastiche of Le vergini delle rocce, then he surely creates too great a distance between Dario's weaknesses and the superhuman ideal. At this point, though, he strikingly resembles another of D'Annunzio's heroes: Giorgio Aurispa in Trionfo della morte. Dario and Aurispa are both daunted by their father's sheer carnality. In each, physical repulsion is mixed with admiration for their parent's undivided vitality. Where Dario asks 'come mai da quel colosso ero potuto scaturire io' (Capuana, 1907: 8), Aurispa marvels 'io, io sono il figliuolo di quest'uomo!' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 737). Both are most struck by the contrast at the dinner table, observing their fathers' gargantuan appetites. The death of Dario's father by apoplexy, which first shakes his faith in the powers of the 'pochi uomini superiori', echoes a passage where Aurispa imagines his father felled by a stroke (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 737). There is a further parallel between Dario's efforts to acquire what he calls 'la coscienza della mia vita' and Aurispa's search for his 'vera vita' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 731), his 'vera essenza' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 871). Both suffer from paralysis of the senses. Dario complains that he is 'incapace di ricevere intero l'urto delle impressioni esterne [...] quasi i miei nervi fossero stati di bambagia' (Capuana, 1907: 10), while Aurispa's consciousness is 'come ricoperta da una superficie opaca che pareva mettere tra quella e la realta una specie di diaframma [...] impedendo le percezioni del mondo esterno' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 776).
To a degree, Aurispa's inability to commune directly with reality mirrors that of the protagonists of Il piacere and L'innocente. In these works, echoing Paul Bourget's Essais de psychologic contemporaine (1883), the esprit d'analyse creates a dedoublement between the observing and experiencing self. Aurispa, however, lacks his predecessors' talent for psychological experimentation and the aesthetic elaboration of intricate mental states. He struggles to master a 'preoccupazione della perspicacia' (D'Annunzio, 1953: 1, 622) and, more hopelessly than Sperelli or Hermil, flounders in 'il miscuglio dei sentimenti ideali e reali' (D'Annunzio, 1953: 1, 813).
It is perhaps the suggestion that Aurispa is constantly misled and undermined by his analytical zeal that leads Capuana to prefer Trionfo della morte to D'Annunzio's previous novels. (15) Having censured both D'Annunzio and his protagonists for abusing, indeed glamorizing, analysis, Capuana may detect welcome signs of self-criticism. Rassegnazione, however, does not simply replicate D'Annunzio's portrait of a character paralyzed by positivist analysis. The young Dario initially attributes both his aridity and faith in the intellect to his scientific readings, only to modify his diagnosis in Chapter 8, where he recalls his former tutor, a Hegelian expriest who had fulminated against 'tutti quanti i positivisti' (Capuana, 1907: 74). Dario now realizes that Hegelian ideals have fermented in his mind 'commiste e confuse con tante altre idee di opposta natura' (p. 75). They are primarily responsible both for his 'sogno di grandezza' and for his inertia as they reveal the chasm 'tra quel che sapevo di essere e quel che avrei voluto e non avrei potuto mai essere' (p. 9). Persuaded of the futility of his aspirations, Dario's self-image--endorsed by his narrating older self--resembles less the Decadent malato della volontd than the malato d'ideali of the Scapigliatura. Yet, as Dario recounts the failure of his literary ambitions, which he presents as definitive proof of his sterility, we are invited to query his diagnosis. The reader of Rassegnazione must guard against assuming that Capuana subscribes to his narrator's conclusions. We shall see that the older Dario's self-knowledge is imperfect and that Capuana maintains an ironic distance.
Dario confesses that, in anticipation of failure, he had long avoided testing his literary talents. But finally, he writes, 'mi lasciai trascinare' (Capuana, 1907: 26) and for two weeks struggled against 'la resistenza che la forma mi opponeva' (p. 30). Finally, though, his critical conscience persuaded him of his 'impotenza creativa'. While the older Dario mocks his youthful conviction that a masterpiece would spring from a 'confuso ribollimento' (p. 29), we might find him equally naive in judging his unsurprising failure as definitive. Dario's friends persistently chide him for neglecting his talents while they build literary careers from equally unpromising beginnings. Even his mother questions his despair: 'Hai tentato, ti e parso di non aver forza da riuscire, ed hai perduto la fiducia' (p. 43). Anticipating failure, he predictably balks at the first setback. Revealingly, he consistently envies the strong will of others - his father (p. 8), his friends Lenzi and Bissini (p. 25), even a seven-year-old boy (p. 37) - while failing to attribute his own inaction to abulia. Seeking to present himself, then, as a thwarted idealist, Dario stands revealed as at least equally a malato della volonta.
The suggestion is that, for Capuana, Dado's generation suffers from a combination of positivist analysis and a vestigial idealism which renders that analysis destructive. Chapters 1-8 do not reveal, then, a straightforwardly anti-Dannunzian polemic but a refinement of the Bourgettian psychology underpinning the Romanzi della Rosa. Capuana's narrator, however, fails to see how positivism and idealism work in tandem to paralyze his will, exclusively blaming first one then the other.
Chapters 9-14: Rassegnazione and Le vergini delle rocce
Dario, then, initially appears an unlikely disciple of Claudio Cantelmo. One might conjecture that Rassegnazione, begun before the appearance of Le vergini delle rocce, originated as a response to Trionfo della morte and to other analyses of generational crisis such as Butti's L'automa (1892). (16) Chapters 9-14, though, which record Dario's first attempt to father a superman, conspicuously mirror Le vergini delle rocce and show that Capuana does not solely revise diagnoses of spiritual malaise but questions proposals for regeneration.
Dario's experiments begin in an incongruous fashion. Resigned to literary failure but stumped for an alternative path, he asks his mother for advice, promising to obey her blindly. She urges him to marry; creating a family is an 'azione bella e grande quanta l'arte e la scienza' (Capuana, 1907: 63). Dario, though, rapidly glimpses the possibility of reconciling idealism and resignation. Just as Cantelmo hopes to engender 'viva poesia' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 411), Dario dreams of fathering 'un'opera d'arte in azione' (Capuana, 1907: 81) and generating 'colui che avrebbe creato il capolavoro d'arte a me negato di produrre' (Capuana, 1907: 89).
As the narrator remarks, frustrated ideals subvert a 'modestissimo atto di sottomissione' (Capuana, 1907: 89). Yet this barely measures his youthful presumption. If Cantelmo himself approaches the superhuman ideal, Dario has hitherto been paralyzed by a sense of physical and intellectual ineptitude. Yet we are now told that he still aspires to be 'un uomo', that is, Tindividuo della specie che ha raggiunto la maggiore eccellenza, che ha incarnato piu largamente un certo ideale, una certa perfezione' (Capuana, 1907: 80-81). He considers his peers to be 'riprove sbagliate e corrette', without noticing that he too represents 'una prova sbagliata e delle peggiori'. This is jarringly at odds with Dario's self-presentation so far and the first sign that Capuana is parodying a Dannunzian hypotext. Reviewing Le vergini delle rocce, he professed astonishment that a person with Cantelmo's positivist grounding should suddenly and gratuitously embrace an irrational ideal. The incongruity of Dario's ambition mimics Cantelmo's absurd logic. We are reminded that earlier protagonists in D'Annunzio's works pre-empt Cantelmo's superomismo. Giorgio Aurispa, whom Dario has hitherto most resembled, dreams of generating an Ubermensch after reading Nietzsche. Tullio Hermil, using a vocabulary close to Dario's, longs to become 'una forma nobile della vita, un Uomo' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 513). Both, however, ultimately recognize their impotence and yearn for an 'intercessore per la vita' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 657). Dario has thus far shared their sterility and yearning for intervention. The sudden shift from feckless mother's boy to aspirant superman comically highlights D'Annunzio's conceptual leap from the fragmented Aurispa to the self-willed Cantelmo.
Dario nonetheless insists that he adopted a scientific approach to fathering a Wunderkind. Approaching 'un fatto che la maggior parte degli uomini compie con colpevole spensieratezza', he obeys 'non i sensi, ma la riflessione' (Capuana, 1907: 88). Again, though, his account flatly contradicts this premise. He confesses to being initially paralyzed by 'paura dell'ignoto' (Capuana, 1907: 81), and for the adolescent Dario, the unknown is essentially woman. His readings have persuaded him that she is a mere 'intermedio fra gli antropoidi e l'uomo' (Capuana, 1907: 78), the slave of sensation and sentiment who debases the spiritual male. She is thus 'la gran nemica, l'avversaria'. This, of course, is a Decadent topos but again Dario most conspicuously echoes Giorgio Aurispa who blames Topera distruttrice della Nemica' for sapping his 'vigore' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 940). He also recalls Andrea Sperelli's description of Elena as Tidolo' withering 'tutte le volonta del cuore' and 'tutte le forze dell'intelletto' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 27), or Giovanni Episcopo's dread of'la bestia, la femmina' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 374). In his fear of woman, then, Dario again resembles D'Annunzio's earlier malati della volonta. Cantelmo, conversely, delights in moving 'con una vaga antiveggenza verso l'Ignota e l'Infinito viventi'. Placing 'tutta la dignita dell'essere nell'esercitare o nel patire una forza morale', he approaches both man and woman 'con l'ansia segreta di dominare o d'esser dominato' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 398-399). As Dario prepares to emulate him, Capuana again exposes the chasm between the Romanzi della Rosa and Le vergini delle rocce.
Dario finally overcomes his fear of woman by recalling the heroines of Romantic literature and resolving to seek their real-life counterparts: 'Con queste qui oh! non amerai solo: sarai riamato!' (Capuana, 1907: 84). Nothing, of course, could be further from his vaunted scientific rigor. Nor can we be convinced by the claim that he dedicated all his physical and intellectual powers to choosing a mate, approaching man's loftiest task 'con degna preparazione, con intera e limpida coscienza' (p. 88). While complaining of 'la stanchezza delle inutili ricerche' (p. 90), he appears merely to frequent provincial society: 'ero stato presentato in varie famiglie, frequentavo riunioni, feste, teatri' (p. 91). Finally, his friend Lenzi frivolously suggests that he marry his 17-year-old sister Fausta. It is wisest, he jokes, to marry a stranger, as love-matches never last. Initially judging Lenzi's proposal 'sconveniente' (p. 92), Dario soon reflects that any bride would be 'incognita' (p. 95) so he may as well trust to chance. This, of course, contradicts both his scientific program and the romantic search for a soul-mate with which it has become confused. Dario tellingly confesses that he felt 'quasi liberato dal grave imbarazzo delle ricerche e della scelta' (p. 96). Once more, then, he is grateful for an 'intercessore'. Pairing Dario off with a school-friend's kid sister, Capuana may again be parodying Le vergini delle rocce. In his review of the novel, he notes that, for all his rhetoric, Cantelmo effectively marries his next-door neighbour. A parallel may thus be drawn between the equally desultory efforts of both protagonists. Only after his engagement to Fausta does Dario verify his choice scientifically by seeking medical confirmation of their suitability for reproduction. Here Dario's fusion of idealism and positivism produces its most comically incongruous results. Yet, unlike his irreverent GP, the older Dario apparently sees no conflict between superhuman ideals and a humiliating examination where he is urged to exercise his sexual organs 'perche non si atrofizzino' (p. 113).
Assured of Fausta's suitability for maternity, Dario proudly notes that she exerts no sensual hold upon him. His contemporaries exaggerate the snares that nature sets to conserve the species. Obeying its laws 'riflessivamente', he need not fear sexual temptation or emotional entanglement. Again, however, Dario soon abandons all pretence to scientific rigor. Marriage leads to a mystical exaltation of the will, where he personally embodies 'la Volonta, la Forza maschile, l'Elemento fecondatore e creatore' (Capuana, 1907: 125). Appalled by Fausta's indifference as to their child's gender, he exhorts her to will a son, as 'la volonta infiuisce' (p. 131). It is this episode which most clearly parodies the rhetoric of Le vergini delle rocce. Claudio Cantelmo's 'Re di Roma' becomes Dario's 'principino imperiale' (p. 141). His 'Colui che deve venire' (D'Annunzio, 1953: II, 398, 500, 526, 542) becomes Dario's 'Colui che avrebbe dovuto attuare quel che al suo genitore era stato negato' (Capuana, 1907: 143). He approaches the consummation of his marriage as 'il piu solenne atto religioso della mia vita' (p. 124), then leads his bride to receive 'la benedizione dei primi raggi del sole' (p. 126) and scans the heavens for a 'portento' (p. 136).
The older narrator partly distances himself, mocking 'tutte queste fantasticherie' (Capuana, 1907: 126) and regretting what he terms 'la deformazione del mio spirito' (p. 127) which provokes an 'urlo bestiale' when Fausta predictably gives birth to a daughter. Again, however, he presents his defeat as proof that nature inexorably thwarts human will, while failing (or choosing not) to perceive that he has succumbed to abulia. Purporting to act scientifically, he leaves his choice of partner to chance and only a posteriori subjects her to cursory scientific examination. Having demonstrated his lack of moral and intellectual vigor, he then exalts will precisely where it must prove impotent.
In the chapters of Rassegnazione that most closely mimic Le vergini delle rocce, then, Capuana underlines the gratuitous evolution of the protagonists of I romanzi della Rosa into the self-realizing Cantelmo. Like the former, Dario is paralyzed by the abuse of positivist analysis (exacerbated, in Capuana's diagnosis, by lingering Hegelian idealism). He abandons emasculating 'riflessione' for Cantelmo's exaltation of the will, but superomismo is revealed as dehumanizing wishful thinking. Capuana, then, debunks D'Annunzio's proposals for spiritual renewal but accepts much of his earlier dissection of generational malaise.
Chapters 15-21: Rassegnazione and L'innocente
If the central chapters of Rassegnazione clearly parallel Le vergini delle rocce, twin references to 'la innocente creaturina' (Capuana, 1907: 147) in the final paragraph of Chapter 14, however, hint at a further largely undetected Dannunzian hypotext. (17) Chapters 15-21 strongly evoke L'innocente in two areas. Firstly, both Dario and Tullio Hermil provoke the death of a child whose existence they regard as an affront to their will. Secondly, both are warned that a future pregnancy will prove fatal to their wives. Thus, in each novel, scenes of apparent marital reconciliation (each during a nostalgic visit to a honeymoon villa) conceal a suicide attempt on the wife's part. These analogies indicate that Rassegnazione should not be read as didactic Bildungsroman but as unconscious confession.
The narrator, though, initially stresses his critical distance from his younger self. In his estrangement from Fausta and loathing of his child, he is 'qualcosa di peggio' than 'un bruto' or 'un selvaggio' (Capuana, 1907: 161). He would readily have committed 'il sacrilegio, il delitto' (p. 162) of condemning Fausta to death in childbirth, if he were sure that a male child would survive. Fausta, he now admits, rightly accused him of deforming 'la propria intelligenza, il proprio cuore' (p. 165), which he had then dismissed as further proof of the inferiority of female intelligence (p. 171). Yet the older Dario underplays his role in his daughter's death. Fausta warns him that the child is sickly and will not accept her 'latte guasto' (p. 164), urging him to hire a nurse. Dario, however, repeatedly delays acting, and the child duly dies. Although horrified to recall his sense of liberation, the older Dario never explicitly accepts responsibility for hastening his daughter's end. Where Hermil acts consciously, Dario appears imperfectly aware of his guilt. The subsequent account of the 'rebirth' of his humanity must therefore be approached with scepticism. In his reconciliation with Fausta, Dario again resembles Tullio Hermil who insists that his wife must suffer to achieve heroism (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 375). Reawakening Dario's interest after she loses her child and despairs of reconquering her husband, Fausta attracts him in the double guise of mater dolorata and abandoned woman. While the narrating Dario vaunts the 'humanity' of his new emotion, he merely exchanges one Decadent female icon, Aurispa's 'la Nemica', for another, Hermil's 'martyr'. Earlier, Dario had only overcome his indifference to his mother when revelations of marital mistreatment revealed her as 'una martire' (Capuana, 1907: 46), 'una santa' (p. 64). Similarly, the literary heroines who permit him to conquer his fear of woman are predominantly sacrificial victims. Dario, then, abandons the concept of woman as brute instrument of nature only to recast her as a martyred image of the spirit.
Unperceived thraldom to Decadent sexual iconography explains inconsistencies in Dario's account of Fausta's second pregnancy and death. He presents his younger self as a penitent figure who could not countenance endangering Fausta's life through potentially sexual contact. Initially unaware of her condition, Fausta berates him for his indifference, but, upon learning the truth, declares herself ready to die to realize Dario's dream of fathering a superman. Dario characteristically wavers until his mother persuades him to seek a second medical opinion. Confirming the original diagnosis, the doctor suggests that the couple practice birth control. In Fausta, nature has granted Dario 'una delle piu belle, fresche e sontuose coppe di amore' (Capuana, 1907: 204). Scandalized, Dario considers Fausta's offer of self-immolation infinitely preferable to such 'pretesa scienza positiva' (p. 205).
Returning home, Dario glimpses Fausta picking flowers and finds her 'trasformata' (Capuana, 1907: 207). Although stirred, he initially checks his passions. Convinced that pregnancy would prove fatal - 'a che scopo avrei immolato quella giovinezza, giacche (non potevo piu dubitarne) l'immolazione era sicura'--he again judges Fausta's proposed self-sacrifice an 'enormita' (pp. 210-211). Nonetheless, contemplating Fausta, he is overcome by 'stupore' and rushes to embrace her, reflecting that 'sarebbe una grande infamia della Natura' if the doctor's prognosis proved accurate (p. 213). Fausta responds 'sollevando fieramente la fronte in atto di sfida al destino' and, Dario writes, 'mi sentii forte anch'io contro di esso, e quasi mi parve di aver vinto'. Yet moments before, he had rightly believed her death inevitable.
In Dario's account, two factors lead him to impregnate Fausta 'despite himself ('mio malgrado' (Capuana, 1907: 205)). Firstly, he rebels against an arrogant positivist science intent on turning his wife into a 'coppa di piacere'. Secondly, he surrenders to 'l'irrompente rigoglio della virilita'. He asks us to celebrate both as proof of a resurgent 'humanity' rather than perceive that a moment's lust condemns Fausta to death. Dario's impulse of 'virilita' shows that he spurns positivism for an equally dehumanizing Decadent sexual ideology. He experiences his first erotic urge precisely once persuaded that sex will prove fatal. It is just after the definitive second consultation that Fausta suddenly appears 'trasformata'. Gathering flowers in the garden, she of course evokes Proserpine, personification of Spring yet queen of the Underworld. He is stirred by Fausta's 'delicata bellezza' (p. 207), having previously extolled her vigorous health which would never provoke 'furori di passione morbosa' (p. 116). Weakened by an arduous birth, shattered by her daughter's death and husband's indifference, and now under threat of death herself, Fausta inspires a passion which can only appear morbid. Like Hermil, Dario is driven to 'martyr' his wife.
Throughout the ensuing pregnancy, Dario significantly fears that he has committed a crime. While Fausta embraces his Nietzschean dream, calling their child 'il Sospirato, l'Atteso' (Capuana, 1907: 215), Dario sees her only as 'una vittima coronata di fiori' (p. 217). When she dies in childbirth, he claims to have experienced a remorse which has poisoned his existence, yet he strives, in fact, to minimize his responsibility. He situates his guilt in two areas. Firstly, he now believes that Fausta consciously sought death because of her despair at being unable to realize his ideal, and he accuses himself of colluding in her crime 'per debolezza' (p. 218). She had only pretended to doubt the doctor's diagnosis in order to draw Dario into an 'inganno' which facilitated her suicide. Yet as she had pleaded with Dario to accept her sacrifice, crying 'Prendi la mia vita!' (p. 205), we cannot accept that he was ignorant of her death-wish. Secondly, Dario retrospectively blames himself for the 'superbo intento di voler mettere la ragione nelle piccole irragione-volezze della Natura' (p. 219). Fausta's second pregnancy has not, though, been presented as an attempt to manipulate nature 'con la riflessione' or to father a superman. On the contrary, it was a 'human' challenge to positivist science. Moreover, impregnating Fausta cannot simultaneously be an act of 'debolezza' and a principled 'sfida'. Dario's self-contradictory mea culpa reeks of mauvaise foi. Evading the conclusion that morbid erotic passion caused his wife's death, he interprets her suicide in a manner flattering to his self-image as thwarted idealist.
There is further evidence of an unquiet conscience in the confession that he has only understood Fausta's death as self-punishing suicide in the act of writing. If his life has truly been poisoned by remorse, how has he previously interpreted it? We must surely wonder why Fausta dies parroting the Cantelmo-like rhetoric which she has hitherto dismissed as a pipe-dream. If she is convinced that childbirth will be fatal, there may be bitter sarcasm in her apparent yearning for 'il Sospirato, l'Atteso' (Capuana, 1907: 215). Perhaps hers is a form of revenge-suicide and Dario has long seen an accusation in her words. (18)
Where Hermil unconvincingly maintains that remorse motivates his autobiography, Dario claims to write from a 'resigned' perspective. Chapters 15-21 suggest, however, that his conscience is troubled by crimes as great as Hermil's. Both shun a concept of woman as embodiment of nature for an equally dualistic image of her as purely spiritual being martyred to male sexuality. Both display a compound of mauvaise foi and masochistic pleasure as they publicly wallow in only as much guilt as they are prepared to acknowledge.
Chapters 21-22: Rassegnazione and II piacere
Believing himself the victim of a hostile 'Natura', Dario contemplates death. Wishing to spare his ailing mother, however, he opts instead for moral suicide and a life of systematic debauchery in Milan. In a final attempt to prove his will stronger than fate, he will turn himself into a 'bruto' (Capuana, 1907: 230). The Dannunzian hypotext for this brief episode is self-evident. It is sufficient to note that the word 'piacere' occurs 16 times in its 19 pages. As the older Dario perceives, far from abdicating his former self, he transfers his idealism to a lower sphere. Chasing 'il piacere supremo', Dario echoes Andrea Sperelli's pursuit of the 'oltrapiacente' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 89). Grigoni, Dario's mentor in debauchery, teaches him that pleasure is 'qualcosa di amorfo' (Capuana, 1907: 240) moulded by imagination. Dario glimpses a new means of imposing his will upon nature, and takes a mistress as raw material for 'una creazione vissuta, in azione'. (19)
The humble Savina, however, is unsuited to his 'opera di raffinamento' (Capuana, 1907: 241), frustrating him with 'pudori' and 'atteggiamenti di rimprovero' which suddenly remind him of Fausta. Unlike Sperelli who delights in superimposing Elena's image on Maria's body, or Grigoni who finds 'il rinascere dei ricordi' a form of 'godimento' (p. 243), Dario is horrified at profaning his past, and dismisses Savina. He nonetheless makes one further attempt to realize his ideal. His joy in stealing the glacial Gilda from a moribund aristocrat recalls Sperelli's delight in winning Ippolita Albonico from Giannetto Rutolo (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 119). He now aims to achieve supreme pleasure by melting Gilda's frigidity. Yet the harder he strives to 'animate' Gilda, the more he forgets Grigoni's warning that pleasure resides in the imagination. He is only rescued from falling in love by the intervention of his friends Lostini and Bissi. Ultimately, more than Sperelli, Dario again resembles Aurispa, the most inept and abulic of D'Annunzio's heroes. Aurispa aims to create an artificially sensual world but, paradoxically, cannot tolerate the thought that his lover is an inanimate puppet. The narrator again errs in presenting this episode as a defeat of the will. Significantly, Dario seeks to exercise his will precisely where Sperelli abdicates his own. If Dario plans 'una vita novella' of pleasure, Sperelli's thwarted 'vita nuova' is the pursuit of art. It is Aurispa, conversely, who vainly demands a new life from the senses alone. As in the Cantelmo-inspired episode, Dario exalts the will in a sphere where it is powerless.
Chapters 23-27: Resignation?
There are further echoes of Aurispa in the novel's concluding episode. Returning home, Dario again contemplates suicide but, like the hero of Trionfo della morte, seeks an intercessor for death where once he sought an intercessor for life. Just as Aurispa, planning to imitate his uncle's suicide, invokes help from his shade (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 781-794), Dario begs Fausta's spirit to give him 'la forza di venire volontariamente a raggiungerti' (Capuana, 1907: 259). Both Dario and Aurispa shut themselves in the deceased's chamber, vainly hoping that suggestion will strengthen their resolve.
Out of consideration for his mother, Dario finally decides to commit suicide in his country villa. Once there, however, he prevaricates. The narrator attributes his hesitation to the examples of industry and resignation set by the local priest and doctor. Perhaps, though, he simply lacks an intercessor's spur. Had he brought Fausta's portrait with him, he declares, he would have killed himself forthwith 'quasi per precipitarmi tra le braccia in attesa' (Capuana, 1907: 272). Thus when he risks his life to rescue a peasant-child from a fire, we suspect that he is half-seeking a death which does not implicate his will. Recovering consciousness, his first words are 'Peccato! Sarebbe stato finito!' (p. 289).
The child, Rosa, is orphaned in the blaze and Dario adopts her. For most critics, the adoption is a successful and authorially endorsed attempt to imitate the resigned charity of the humble village priest and doctor. (20) Reference to the novel-in-progress in Capuana's correspondence would certainly suggest that he meant his protagonist to achieve a healthy 'resignation'. On 14 February 1895, he describes it to De Roberto as the tale of a man thwarted by a weak organism and 'la natura del suo ingegno' who finally 'arriva a rassegnarsi, riconoscendo che anche gli umili e i mediocri hanno il loro valore' (Zappulla Muscara, 1984: 350). Publishing the first 11 chapters in 1900, he alerts De Roberto to the 'concetto elevato, filosofico e sociale' which will emerge from Dario's account of 'le sue aspirazioni, le sue illusioni, le sue delusioni, la sua rassegnazione'. In the preface to the completed novel, however, he merely hopes that 'qualcuno degli illusi, come il mio Dario, ne ricevesse conforto e insegnamento a non chiedere alla vita piu di quel che essa pud dare' (Capuana, 1907: ii). This does not necessarily signify that Dario himself achieves resignation; he may remain one of the 'illusi'.
From the outset, in fact, the adoption of Rosa invites scepticism. We can only be wary of Dario's claim to have shed his ideals and become 'un altro' (Capuana, 1907: 298). He uses much the same words on abandoning his literary ambitions and on essaying a life of debauchery. Rather than active charity, he displays his habitual fusion of corrosive positivist analysis and idealism. The former leads him to fear that he can never erase the imprint of Rosa's early environment, the latter to subvert his program of adoption. As Rosa owes him her life, he comes to see her as his 'creatura'. Glimpsing a new possibility of 'creazione vissuta, in azione', he resolves to refashion her in his dead wife's image (p. 303), his educational program grotesquely mirroring the 'opera di raffinamento' attempted with Savina.
As Dario charts the 'spirito in formazione' of his 'nuova creazione' (Capuana, 1907: 306), he again imitates the rhetoric of Claudio Cantelmo and Stelio Effrena: 'dovevo esser io il dominatore, il creatore' (p. 305). Equally strongly, however, he recalls Giorgio Aurispa's creative excitement as he attempts to mould Ippolita. Aurispa concludes that Ippolita passively adopts gestures and attitudes while remaining fundamentally unaltered. Although his experiment is incomplete at the novel's conclusion, Dario is tormented by the same doubts which lead Aurispa to destroy himself and his 'creation'. Capuana implies that, in his portrayal of Aurispa, D'Annunzio has already shown us that the demiurgic ambitions of his self-deluding successors, Cantelmo and Effrena, are doomed to failure. (21)
The older Dario nonetheless wonders whether he judges his own attempts to realize an ideal too harshly. Perhaps his apparently futile life might be justified 'davanti alla riflessione' and might serve 'qualche inesplicabile funzione [...] nel vasto organismo della societa' (Capuana, 1907: 310). It is, he claims, in an effort to discover that 'funzione' that he begins his memoirs. Dario's autobiographical urge remains largely unexamined. Critics have broadly assumed that, like Capuana in the preface, he means to offer 'conforto e insegnamento' to those yet to achieve resignation. Yet this is nowhere implied in Dario's text itself, which begins without preamble at his first salient memory. Only at the conclusion does he motivate his narrative, presenting it as an open-ended enquiry. His persistent displays of mauvaise foi, however, cast doubt on his commitment to self-understanding. The novel's final scene confirms that his motives are neither altruistic nor genuinely self-analytical.
Here Dario explains to his novelist-friend Bissi that his memoirs will expose 'anche per gli altri, i miseri avvenimenti che hanno fatto di me un impotente della vita' (Capuana, 1907: 314). This might imply that his intent is indeed didactic but that he proposes himself as a negative role model. Tellingly, however, he blames 'avvenimenti' rather than personal failings. Writing, he informs Bissi, has alerted him to 'l'alto mio grido contro la fatalita della Sorte'. Presenting himself once again as a self-willed idealist thwarted by Fate/Nature, he adds that his autobiography will thus be 'la mia piu compiuta giustificazione'.
Yet this act of self-justification may not constitute the end of Dario's itinerary. The conversation with Bissi takes place just before the completion of his memoirs. He will write no more, he explains, as his present life is mere 'vegetazione quasi ingombrante' (Capuana, 1907: 314). His autobiography will justify him 'caso mai', a phrase alluding to intimations of death. Dario fears that he will not see the outcome of his artistic experiment with Rosa, and that his life will end 'con un desolatissimo punto interrogativo' (p. 316). As the conversation ends, the cry of an owl makes him murmur 'per chi crede ai presage... !' (p. 316). Too little attention has been paid to Dario's premonitions of death. The tone of these concluding pages suggests an elderly narrator recounting youthful misdeeds, but, in fact, Dario can barely have reached early middle age. We might suspect that he is merely striking a tragic pose, but should nonetheless ask how his manuscript reaches us. Dario, after all, asks Bissi to publish it only after his death. One might think Dario incapable of committing suicide, but the implication remains that he meets an early end. If, as he assures Bissi, he is 'rassegnato' after describing the defeat of 'tanto slancio di volonta', it is not active Christian resignation but renunciation of the will to live. (22)
In this light, how do we finally interpret the novel's allusions to D'Annunzio's fiction? The adolescent Dario shares the corrosive powers of analysis of the protagonists of the Romanzi della Rosa. Coupled with vestigial Hegelian idealism, these erode his will and persuade him of his impotence. To escape this impasse, he embraces the superomismo of Cantelmo and Effrena which offers him the illusion of exercising the will in spheres where it must prove powerless. The inevitable (and ultimately foreseen) failure of his ideals persuades Dario of the futility of human endeavour and confers the dignity of resignation upon his abulia. Capuana essentially turns D'Annunzio's own weapons against him by waving a copy of Trionfo della morte at the author of Le vergini delle rocce, making Cantelmo's exaltation of the will appear a gratuitous attempt to escape an ideological dead end. Does this mean, though, that Capuana accepts the pessimism of the younger D'Annunzio? A closer examination of the relationship between Dario and Bissi suggests that D'Annunzio's later ideal of 'arte in vita' is not definitively dismissed.
Bissi, as his name somewhat crudely suggests, is Dario's ideological double. Initially the adolescent friends appear to share the same exacerbated idealism. Bissi swears that he will spearhead a 'gran movimento di rinnovazione artistica' or take his own life (Capuana, 1907: 23). Upon reaching adulthood, however, Bissi shocks Dario by accepting a bureaucratic post as a customs officer. Convinced that he cannot make a living from his concept of literature, and with a mother to support, Bissi will write at night. The customs post is a transparent cipher for the frontier between real and ideal. Abandoning his teenage absolutism, he acknowledges the need for exchange between the two spheres. Dario, though, is appalled by the loss of an idealist role model. Already shaken by his own perceived literary failure and the death of a vigorous father, he laments his 'orrendo destino' (p. 71). Bissi, however, refuses to pamper his self-pity, brusquely inquiring: 'Che ti manca?' His own visions of death or literary glory were mere 'sciocchezze da vanitoso'. Significantly Dario detects an accusation in these words, as if Bissi were asking: 'Tu che speri? Sei nel caso di fare come faro io, occorrendo; ma non ti basta l'animo!' (p. 71).
Bissi, in fact, persistently challenges Dario's conviction of artistic impotence. At the death of Dario's father, he seeks to comfort him by suggesting that 'soltanto l'arte purifica, eleva, trasportandoci in un'atmosfera dove i casi della vita, lieti o tristi, non hanno phi nessuna importanza o hanno soltanto quella che loro proviene dalla possibilita di trasformarli in elementi di creazione' (Capuana, 1907: 65). From his customs post, Bissi again strives to rekindle Dario's literary ambitions. 'E l'arte?', he writes, 'ne hai smesso ogni pensiero?' (p. 128). Dario, however, attempts to persuade Bissi that a living work of art is superior to literature. Awaiting the birth of his child, he likens himself to a wizard mastering natural forces to produce something 'piu nobile e piu elevata' (p. 88). Bissi retorts that 'solo e vero mago e l'artista' (p. 136). As we have absolute mastery over thought alone, art is the only possible 'creazione umana' (p. 137) and easily surpasses the chance products of nature. At this stage, then, Bissi espouses an aesthetic which, in his reviews, Capuana associates with D'Annunzio's Romanzi della Rosa. (23) He subjugates life to art, transforming the raw matter of experience into 'elementi di creazione'. Dario, conversely, embraces the art-in-life of Cantelmo and Effrena. All exchanges between the two friends involve a dialogue between these two ideals.
Bissi's visits or letters to Dario generally coincide with a birth or death, as if to emphasize the superiority of his literary creations. Having first comforted Dario on his father's death, Bissi next visits just before the birth of Dario's child. He announces the death of his own mother and the imminent publication of his debut novel. The implied comparison between natural and ideal creation is made explicit when Bissi likens writing to giving birth: 'guardo l'opera mia con la stessa tenerezza, con la stessa compiacenza con cui una mamma deve certamente guardare la creaturina che poche ore avanti le ha straziato le viscere per venire alla luce' (Capuana, 1907: 139). Dario takes up the analogy, comparing Bissi's novel to his longed-for child, 'il mio capolavoro, di natura diversa' (p. 143). Bissi again insists, however, that human will cannot master nature and that art is always superior to the 'misero organismo [...] che potra essere un genio, un cretino, un delinquente senza che la nostra volonta c'entri per nulla' (p. 140). His words are borne out when Fausta gives birth to a daughter, but there are signs that Bissi has embryonic doubts about the literary process. Writing has saved him from surrendering to grief at his mother's death. Immediately after her funeral, he completes his novel in 10 days of intense but sanity-saving work. Yet he now judges this as sacrilegious, 'una cosa orrenda' (p. 137), 'una mostruosita' (p. 138). Glimpsing that the transmutation of raw life experience into art may dehumanize, he begins to look more indulgently upon Dario's ambition to realize an artistic ideal in life itself.
Their next and final meeting occurs at the novel's conclusion. When Dario presents Rosa (now renamed Fausta), Bissi's opposition to Dario's ideal of art-in-life is further shaken. Enchanted by the child's artistic sensibility, he concedes that Dario may indeed have achieved a living masterpiece in rescuing a 'creatura informe' (Capuana, 1907: 315) from the caprices of nature. Dario, however, is persuaded that Rosa/Fausta's transformation is superficial, and that heredity and her original environment will reassert themselves. He now shares Bissi's original conviction that literary creation is superior. Bissi remarks, though, that even literary characters rebel against their creator's will. An author must follow them 'nella logica dei loro errori, senza poter farli deviare' (p. 313). Dario, then, may err less in pursuing a living work of art than in trying to bend his creation to a preconceived end and not permitting her to evolve organically.
Ironically, Dario abandons his attempt to create a living work of art just as he is perhaps on the verge of success. In Rosa/Fausta he may achieve an authentic 'connubio' of life and art, a form of creation more 'human' than Bissi's literary masterpieces. If Rassegnazione satirically underlines the conceptual leap from Aurispa's abulia to Cantelmo's superomismo, it finally reflects something of Capuana's qualified critical respect for the later D'Annunzio. The ideal of art-in-life, pursued by the heroes of Le vergini delle rocce and Il fuoco, is not unequivocally dismissed as a futile attempt to pit will against nature. Dario's frustration with Rosa suggests that D'Annunzio's principal error is to view art as a pure emanation of the creator's will. Denied the right to evolve autonomously, his creatures rarely acquire vital form.
(1.) A similar line is subsequently taken in Pasquini (2000).
(2.) First published in Capuana (1892: 3-48). For a perceptive recent survey of Capuana's writings on D'Annunzio, see Pupino (2004).
(3.) The review is first published in La tavola rotonda, 24 April 1892.
(4.) The other two were De Roberto's I Vicere and Butti's L'anima.
(5.) Tdealismo e cosmopolitismo', as printed in Capuana (1898: 9-59), consists of two articles, 'Appunti critici: III' and 'Polemica letteraria', published in Roma di Roma, 10 and 17 May 1896. The latter is a response to Ugo Ojetti's 'La difesa di Empedocle', Roma di Roma, 16 May 1896.
(6.) In the preface, Capuana addresses Lucio D'Ambra by his birth name, Renato Edoardo Manganella.
(7.) The chronology established by Pasquini (2000) matches that in my unpublished doctoral thesis (Barnaby, 1997: 249). Pasquini also argues that Capuana deliberately employs an 'orgogliosa menzogna' to insinuate that the novel was complete in 1897 and thus conceal its lengthy and laborious composition ('egli riafferma cosi la propria perizia rifiutando di ammettere al lettore la fatica e le difficolta tanto a lungo patite'; Pasquini, 2000: 17). I am not convinced, however, of Capuana's intention to mislead--does 'tuttora inedito' necessarily imply completion?--and cannot see why, without Capuana's prefatory note, the reader would not automatically assume that the novel was freshly written.
(8.) This note, on the first page of the manuscript of the novel, held in the Biblioteca Comunale Luigi Capuana di Mineo (collection no. 2754), is first reproduced in Davies (1979: 106), and subsequently in Pasquini (2000: 11) (though Pasquini appears to be unaware of Davies' pioneering work).
(9.) See Raya(1969: 113) and Pasquini (2000: 18). Capuana's manuscript note states that only 11 chapters appeared in Flegrea, but Pasquini shows this to be wrong.
(10.) We must also abandon the tradition of placing Rassegnazione before Il marchese di Roccaverdina (1901) in surveys of Capuana's work.
(11.) First published in 1900 in Rivista d'Italia 3: 475-488.
(12.) Palermo (1990: 313) also detects echoes of Capuana's 'sincerita' in Pirandello's early criticism.
(13.) The monograph (Gabriele D'Annunzio: Studio critico) is optimistically announced as 'in corso di stampa' in Capuana's short-story collection Il benefattore (1901); see Oliva (1979: 111) and Pasquini (2000: 5).
(14.) Pupino (2004: 6), who notes further public and private references to Capuana's projected 'opera complessiva' on D'Annunzio, describes a fruitless quest for the finished manuscript in publishers' and other archives.
(15.) Capuana exposes the dangers of the decadent appetite for psychological complexity (which he terms 'bizantinismo') in his neglected 1897 novel La sfinge (see Barnaby, 2004).
(16.) Davies (1979: 107) convincingly notes analogies with Attilio Valda, hero of Butti's 1892 novel, who shares Dario's provincial bourgeois background, lucid passivity, inertia and sense of 'anticipata vecchiezza' (Capuana, 1907: 11). Other depictions of generational crisis proposed as hypotexts include Enrico Onufrio's L'ultimo borghese (1885), Giuseppe Mezzanotte's La tragedia di Senarica (1887), Emilio De Marchi's Demetrio Pianelli (1890) (all suggested by Pasquini, 2000: 38), Luigi Gualdo's Decadenza (1892), Svevo's Una Vita (1893) and Alfredo Oriani's Gelosia (1894) and La disfatta (1896) (all suggested by Pullini, 1986: 113-114). It must be stressed, however, that none offers as close and extensive a range of textual parallels as D'Annunzio's Romanzi della Rosa.
(17.) Only Oliva (1979: 123) likens the attitudes of Dario and Tullio Hermil following their children's deaths.
(18.) Pasquini (2000: 47) interprets Fausta's second pregnancy as evidence of her desire to realize Dario's ideal and provide him with a child 'a rischio certo della propria morte'. Yet, as she must have foreseen, the pregnancy proves equally fatal to the child.
(19.) Compare this to Sperelli's concept of life as 'un'opera d'arte' in process (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 37).
(20.) See Tonelli (1928: 13), Marchese (1964: 138), Zangara (1964: 86), Traversa (1968: 125) and Davies (1979: 109). Others such as Vetro (1922: 252), Caccia (1962: 2909) and Pasquini (2000: 49) see Dario's resignation as more fatalistic.
(21.) The very name of the child Rosa may be an ironic hint that, in Capuana's view, D'Annunzio never convincingly moves beyond the corrosive analysis of his early Romanzi della Rosa. As the heroes of the later Le vergini delle rocce and Il fuoco attempt to create 'art-in-life', the reader is all too forcefully reminded of the failure of earlier protagonists like Andrea Sperelli and Giorgio Aurispa to impose their creative will on living materials.
(22.) Given his association with birth and death, Bissi's presence at the conclusion might appear ominous in itself.
(23.) For the superiority of artistic over natural creation in the early D'Annunzio, see, in particular, Aurispa's dream of generating 'imagini [...] evidentissime, non offuscate da ombra di morte ma viventi d'una vita superiori' (D'Annunzio, 1953: I, 785). Pupino (2004: 22-24) briefly surveys the history of this topos from its origins in German Romanticism to Gabriel Seailles' Essai sur le genie dans l'art (1883), which he proposes as D'Annunzio's most direct source. For the persistent, unfavourable comparison of natural to artistic birth (as late as Pirandello's preface to Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore), see also West (2012: 244-248).
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University of Edinburgh, UK
Paul Barnaby, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Library, George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LJ, UK.
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