#WITMonth: After the Divorce, Grazia Deledda

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My first book for Women in Translation, hosted by Meytal at Bibliobio this month, was Grazia Deledda’s After the Divorce. Deledda was the second woman to win the Nobel Prize of Literature. It was awarded in 1926 for her “idealistically inspired writing” about Sardinia, her native island, and her ability to write “with depth and sympathy” about “human problems in general.” After the Divorce was published in 1902, so it fit into Meytal’s challenge to read a translated classic. Sadly, I did not enjoy it all that much.

The story takes place in a small village in Sardinia, where Constantino Ledda is accused of murdering his cruel uncle. He is tried and convicted, although he is innocent. His wife Giovanna suffers greatly after his conviction, having no means to support herself and their son, who eventually dies. Eventually, she takes advantage of a new law that allows a woman to file for divorce if her husband has been sent to prison. Giovanna marries the rich man of the village. He is a drunkard and his mother is a cheap and cruel woman, so Giovanna suffers greatly. After many years, Constantino is proven innocent, returns to the village, and starts a forbidden affair with “his wife.”

One thing that shone through Deledda’s writing is her love of Sardinia. Her descriptions of nature are often beautiful, conjuring up pictures of the Italian countryside.

“The all-pervading stillness was pierced by the distant note of a blackbird. Wild figs with coarse, dark foliage, and a hedge of wild robinia, among whose branches hairy nettles and the whitish-leaved henbane had wound and interlaced themselves, surrounded the hut; and from the doorway could be seen a wide expanse of country, lonely and vaporous as the sea.”

1130724And to be fair, she does write “with depth and sympathy” about the problems of the villagers. The friction between traditional, deeply religious people and secular free thinkers is explored in detail, giving a good representation of what was going on in Italy after the aforementioned divorce law was passed. I just couldn’t bring myself to care all that much for any of the characters. There was a lot of repetition: the suffering of Constantino in prison, the scheming of Giovanna’s mother to get her daughter to marry the rich man, the saintliness of the poor fisherman. No character particularly grabbed me, and although the mystery of who was the real murderer added some tension, it wasn’t enough for me. Because of the time this book was written in, it had to be one of the characters who slowly fell into depravity.

It didn’t help that the translation I read, accessed via Project Gutenberg (NOT the one pictured here), could have used a good proofreader. Since it was free, I can’t complain too much about the mistakes. At least they gave me a chuckle every now and then, as I came across little gems like this one:

“‘You are a fool,” said the woman; then, lowering her voice, she called him by an outrageous name, and passed out.”

No, the woman did not have too much to drink. In the context, it would have been quite funny if the woman had passed out. Yet she was only leaving, so “passed out” should have simply been “left.”

Another highlight was the very last sentence of the story:

“[The children] are the invisible woof of peace and mutual forgiveness.”

I don’t remember a single dog in the story…. In fact, I have a feeling that this entire book is not one that I will remember in the future.

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7 comments

  1. Thank you for the info about this Nobel Prize winner.
    I’m reading the Nobels on my “own’ #NobelChallenge….so I’ll have to read Deledda
    one of these days. There are a few Nobel winners that I doubt they deserved the accolade.
    (Anatole France, Thomas Mann for Buddenbrooks) while Zola, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, Robert Graves…..were all snubbed.

  2. Oh, what a pity this book didn’t live up to your expectations, that’s always a risk when you try a new author. It does sound rather grim. And I know what you mean about the need to care about the characters – you’ve got to connect with at least one of the main players for this type of story to be bearable.

    • You’re right, just one appealing character (appealing to me) would have probably salvaged the story for me. But even though I didn’t quite like this one, I’m still glad that I got introduced to a new writer. I wondered a little bit if I might like her other stories any better, but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to try them. Time to move on…

  3. This is a very balanced review. I’ve never heard of Deledda before–which is shameful considering the fact that she won the Nobel Prize for Literature! The book’s description of Sardinia sounds beautiful and possibly makes the book worth reading, even if the story doesn’t quite live up to expectations (it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea!).

    • I was pretty shocked myself when I found out she was a Nobel Prize winner and I had never heard of her. It’s too bad, too, because the little I found out about her sounded pretty interesting. So even though this one didn’t quite work for me, I’m glad I know about her now.

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