Every time that in the historic panorama of a certain age come on stage a new medium, that is a technology connected to the mass-media, even the language, the stylistic forms and the artistic expressions are stimulated to change and to take new features and new attributes. This was the case of the realistic literature of Giovanni Verga that conditioned by his passion for the photography wrote tales and novels without colors, in “black and white” .
In the year 1966 in the catanese house of Giovanni Verga
, at the 8 of St. Anna Street, in Catania, were found 448 photographic negatives – 327 plates of glass and 121 celluloid photograms taken by the writer since the 1878. Some of the negatives, restored and printed by the same discoverer, Prof. Giovanni Garra Agosta
in collaboration with the 3M Society, portrayed relatives, domestic, friends, many of those were cultural personalities of his time, like Luigi Capuana
, Federico De Roberto
, Eleonora Duse
, the editors Emilio and Giuseppe Treves
, and many others. Others depict even landscapes, foreshortening of humble houses, and the streets of villages like Vizzini, Scordia
and Licodia Eubea
, so deprived of people, perhaps at work in the fields, that recall to the feeling of an immobile and immutable world that we breath in the vergan tales. But other photos more portray the rural environment of his properties, with his reliable men and his workers, ideal models certainly for his realistic novels, from the tale's collection “Vita dei Campi” (Life in the fields) published in 1880 – two year after the official beginning of his activity of photographer – until the novels “I Malavoglia” and “Mastro Don Gesualdo”.
In that time the photography
was a widespread hobby among nobles, intellectuals and rich men. Even the other realistic writers and friends of Verga were keen on the photography, so that was the same Capuana to teach him the printing process of the negatives. Also for this reason the photographic work of the realistic writer was considered by the critics like a simple hobby, with any influence on his literary work.
But if it is correct that his adhesion to the guidelines of the Realistic literary current – the scientific description of the natural and human environment, the rigorous objectivity of the narration, the emotional and ethical separation of the author – came especially by the example of the realistic European literature, especially that of the French writer Emile Zola, on the other hand it seems excessive think that a mass-media and an instrument of artistic representation like the photography had not any connection with his literature.
First at all Verga was born just after an year (1840) the official birth of the photography in France, in the August of the 1839. Like the others Realistic writers, friends of him, he belonged to the generation that saw to grow and to develop around himself that new technology. When he was old 9 years saw his uncle Salvatore Verga Catalano to take photographs with one of the early box camera bought in the 1849, and that served later to him for the first tests. Then he saw many other examples of the new technology in the cities where still young he moved - first in Florence, then since 1872, Milan – and even in the hands of his friends Capuana, which since 1863 photographed and printed by himself the negatives. He certainly, like his contemporary, convince himself that the reality could be represented even without the mediation of the painters. His choice to write with a literary form more faithful to the reality had certainly to be parallel to the decision to make the photograph, at least since the 1878, two years before to publish his first collection of tales wrote in realistic style. Both this choices were the consequence not only of the adhesion to the new naturalistic French principles, but even of the admiration to the new technology.
Every time that in the historic panorama of a certain age come on stage a new medium, that is a technology connected to the mass-media, even the language, the stylistic forms and the artistic expressions are stimulated to change and to take new features and new attributes. It was so in the case of the paper and of the printing in the Middle Age, and after the photography was so even in the case of the movie, of the radio, ecc.
Even if the number of the negatives found is considerable, a great part of the photographies of the catanese writer have to be lost. The surviving negatives in fact have many notes in which the same Verga noted subjects, places and dates.
But do not exists any photo about many years, and in the same way miss negatives about some important settings of his novels, for example, the village of Aci Trezza
(Catania), set of the “I Malavoglia”
. This was an other reason that convinced the critics of the total separation between his photographic hobby and his literary work.
We clarify however that Verga – especially in the first times – was helped by others more expert, like his friend Capuana, to get photographies of rural environments and people, as we know from a letter of the December 26, 1881, where he says: "…Bisogna assolutamente che tu mi faccia o mi procuri gli schizzi e le fotografie di paesaggio e di costumi pel mio volume di novelle siciliane, tipi di contadini, maschi e femmine, di preti, e di galantuomini, e qualche paesaggio della campagna di Mineo
, ecco quanto mi basta, ma mi è necessario. Potrai farmeli anche tu con la tua macchina fotografica da S. Margherita…". (... I need that you make or try to me the sketches and the photographs of landscape and costumes for my book of Sicilian tales: farmers, males and females, clerks, gentlemen, and some landscape of the Mineo's fields, this is suffice for me, but I need it. You can make it even with your camera at S. Margherita...)
Then it's hard to exclude that the catanese writer was not influenced – perhaps in unconscious way - more and more by his photographies until to see his narrative world with the glass of his photographic objective, an instrument of social investigation equivalent to other scientific instruments with glasses: "…ma per poter comprendere siffatta caparbietà, che è per certi aspetti eroica, bisogna farci piccini anche noi, chiudere tutto l'orizzonte fra due zolle, e guardare col microscopio le piccole cause che fanno battere i piccoli cuori. Volete metterci un occhio anche voi, a cotesta lente? voi che guardate la vita dall'altro lato del cannocchiale? Lo spettacolo vi parrà strano, e perciò forse vi divertirà…" (...but to may know this stubbornness, that is by some point of view heroic, we need to make us little, to close all the horizon between two turfs, and to look with the microscope at the little reasons that do hit the little hearts. Would you put an eye of you near to this glass ? You that watch the life by the other side of the spyglass ? The show might seem you strange, and so perhaps will amuse you...” (from the tale “Fantasticheria”).
Verga left us a significant trace of this original perception in some features of his realistic style. First at all he is very thrifty with the use of the colors, even when landscape and environment are described in detail. In his tale “Cavalleria Rusticana”
(Rural Chivalry), there is not any other color except the black, the white, and the red that is mentioned only four times, almost always with the mean of “to blush”. The other tales forming the collections “Vita dei campi” (Life in the fields) and “Novelle Rusticane” (Rural Tales) follow less or more this same rule, with the addition here and there – but very rarely – of the citation of a blue, of a green or an other color. Even when Verga paints rural scenery do not use any chromatic tonality. In the first part of the famous tale “La roba” (The wealth) where is described in picturesque style the Plain of Catania are mentioned once the green and the red: they are the two only moments in the tale, that do not show other colors except those “chiaroscuros” (white, black and gray). The extreme case however seems to be the novel “I Malavoglia”, set in the village of Aci Trezza, in a maritime scenery, where the term “blue” occurs once all over the novel, inside a proverb: "…ma la ragazza cantava come uno stornello, perchè aveva diciotto anni, e a quell'età se il cielo è azzurro vi ride negli occhi, e gli uccelli vi cantano nel cuore…" (...but the girl sing like a little starling, because she was eighteen, and at that age if the sky is blue it laughs in your eyes, and the birds sing in your heart...).
The same color, like a paradox, occurs a grater number of time (5) in the book “Mastro don Gesualdo” set in the rural inland of the Sicily (for more details see the notes in the bibliography).
So in the realistic works of Verga, landscapes, environments and characters are described, just like in the artistic photo in black and white, with a refined play of lights and darks of the sun, of the night, of the fires, ecc. Moreover the plots of his tales seems a sequence of short neo-realistic scenes bound each other by the voice of the writer. Inside these scenes the humble characters stand out like black-white shapes upon a background of a rural and human landscape that is unrefined and often hostile, exactly depicted like in the photographies that he left us. And just because the structure of every tale is like a sequence of “snapshots”, who “portrays”, that is the writer, is able to remain easily out of it, like behind his camera, when he open the objective toward the reality. For Verga and his contemporary, the photography was an ideal model to that inspire the style of their tales, because it suggested a model of perception of the world in a form more and more impersonal, unbiased and without any emotional involvement. In the second half of the XIX century occurred, in short, that is happening today: the low cost photocameras with great memory tempt everyone to take every side of the reality, good or bad, common or extraordinary with no fear to waste film. It can happen then a change in our perception of the reality – men and things – from emotionally direct like in the past to an indirect way by an optical diaphragm that reduce even the people to a simple character of a show to watch from the outside often without emotions.
Verga was probably conscious of this new outlook because his first photography in chronological order, among those come to us, is a “self-timer” of the 1878 where is with his closest relatives (his mother, his sister, one of his brothers and his sister-in-law). In this photo the writer is still “inside” the reality show, in front of the photographic objective. Later on, photographs of him, or self-timers, had taken very rarely, because he preferred instead to stay behind the camera, “out” of the reality show, certainly understanding and assuming more and more a mentality of “external observer”: "…Chi osserva questo spettacolo non ha il diritto di giudicarlo; è già molto se riesce a trarsi un istante fuori del campo della lotta per studiarla senza passione, e rendere la scena nettamente, coi colori adatti, tale da dare la rappresentazione della realtà com'è stata, o come avrebbe dovuto essere…". (“...Who watch this show has not the right to judge it; it's something if he can to draw out for a moment from the battlefield for studying it without passion, and to portray clearly the scene, with the right colors, so to give the portrayal of the reality as it has been, or as have to be...” (from the introduction of the “I Malavoglia”).
However he give an account that all this could not be even enough, because as the photos alone cannot tell any story, so “to photographs” the reality by the voice of a narrator, even if detached and impersonal, can result still far from the best realism.
This become clearer since 1884 with the first performance of the “Cavalleria Rusticana” (Rural Chivalry) in Turin, with that Verga inaugurate his realistic theatrical works, but even getting to anticipate brightly not only the natural evolution of the photography, but also the same his artistic destiny (as luck would have it many of the negatives that he bought to photograph were made by the Lumiere Society in Paris !). The writer of Catania was conscious that in the theatrical performance was absent the voice of the narrator that linked the single scenes, but this instead of a limit could be an advantage for the realistic style, because the story can take place by itself, automatically and spontaneously, developing by the same action of the characters. But was fundamental that the characters were directed in a way very detailed and exact, and could well stand out in chiaroscuro over the natural and social environment, even this meticulously described. So even the scripts of his dramas are full of stage directions that describe in every detail the scene and the same action of the character, even those not protagonists: “…La piazzetta del villaggio, irregolare. In fondo a sinistra, il viale alberato che conduce alla chiesuola, e il muro di un orto che chiude la piazzetta; a destra una viottola, fra due siepi di fichidindia, che si perde nei campi. Al primo piano a destra, la bettola della gnà Nunzia, colla frasca appesa all'uscio; un panchettino con su delle ova, pane e verdura, in mostra; e, dall'altra parte dell'uscio una panca addossata al muro. La bettola fa angolo con una stradicciuola che immette nell'interno del villaggio... Lo zio Brasi attraversa la scena dalla sinistra con un fascio di fieno in capo, che va a deporre sotto la tettoia. Comare Camilla sulla terrazza, ripiegando della biancheria di bucato. Donne lungo il viale per andare in chiesa. Un contadino seduto sotto la tettoia, col mento fra le mani canticchiando. Suona la messa. La zia Filomena esce dalla bettola della gnà Nunzia, portando roba sotto il grembiale...." (...The irregular little square of the village. At the end on the left, the tree-lined boulevard leading to the little church, and the wall of a vegetable garden that close the little square: on the right a path, between two hedges of prickly pears leading to the fields. On the right at the first floor, the tavern of the Gnà Nunzia, with the bough hung on the door; a little stall with showed eggs, bread and vegetables; and in the other side of the door a bench leaned against the wall....The uncle Brasi crosses the scene from the left with a bunch of hay on his head, that he put down under the roof. The gossiper Camilla in her terrace, that folds washing' linen. Women along the boulevard going to the church. A farmer sits down under the roof, crooning with the chin among his hands. The bell sounds the mass. The uncle Filomena comes out from the tavern of the Gnà Nunzia bringing things under her apron...(From: Rural Chivalry, scene I).
Moreover some month before the performance, in the October 29, 1883, with a letter Verga ask to his friend Capuana to send him "…delle fotografie di contadini (e tu sai i personaggi principali), due donne giovani colla mantellina, una senza e vecchia, anche per vedere la pettinatura, e qualche tipo di carrettiere e contadino. Insomma dai un'occhiata alla novella e ti regoli. Se potessi anche mandarmi una fotografia d'interno di villaggio, strada o piazza, sarebbe il colmo del bene. Ai costumi segna in nota il colore e possibilmente la stoffa dei panni…" (“... some photos with farmers (and you know the principle characters), two young women with the cape, one old woman without cape, even to see her hairstyle, and some character of carter and farmer. In short, look at the tale and direct you. If you could send me even a photo with the inside of a village, street or square, it would be the top of the good ! To the costumes notes the color and, if possible, the material of the clothes...”)
All this seems a cinematographic screenplay released before of the invention of the Lumiere Brothers. This because if is true that the tales and the novels of Verga had their ideal models in the photography, but even point out the limitation of it – because the photos cannot narrate – the technological evolution of the photography, the cinema
, could provide for this shortage, eliminating furthermore the voice of the narrator, in advantage of a greater realism and impersonality of the story. But the cinema had still to come and so the only solution for the great catanese writer was the theatre: but a theatre supported and directed by a real pre-lumieristic cinematographic screenplay, the only artistic medium that could assure the right reproduction on the scene, in an authentic manner, of the story, of the character's relations, of their emotions and of the environment in which they lived. With this key seems so logic the choice of Verga to change in dramas some his tales – after Cavalleria Rusticana , for exemple, even “La lupa”
(The she-wolf) in 1886 – like an attempt to make them more real by an other artistic medium that was able to replace and to anticipate, a technological tool that still not existed.
Almost like a logical evolution of his artistic destiny, in the last part of his life Verga begin to neglect tales, novels and dramas and gave himself up the arms of the “tenth Muse”. Until some years ago the critics think that he had expended all his creativity, or he was tired, or even embittered by the controversies of the critics against his works. From a few times it is discovered that he wrote the screenplays of some his works for the bearing film-making industry, but with no his signature: he feared the opinion of the malevolent critics. This Verga's unknown activity will be explained in detail in an other article.
Other articles in English: click here
Garra Agosta, G.
- Verga fotografo
- Maimone Editore, Catania, 1991 (In this book are all the photos of Verga come to us).
- Capuana, Verga, De Roberto fotografi
- Edikronos, Palermo, 1982.
- Giovanni Verga fotografo
- Ed. Centro Informazioni 3M, 1970.
- Teatro e società in Sicilia (1860-1918)
- Bulzoni, Roma, 1978.
- This site web has the downloading works of Verga. Using the function “find” of many word processor programs, we saw that in the novel “I Malavoglia” the color blue is absolutely absent, the azure occurs once, the green 16 times, the yellow 21 and the red 32. In the novel Mastro don Gesualdo the statistic is: blue = 0; azure = 5; green = 19; yellow = 27; red = 44. We underlined that green, yellow, red, in all the novels and tales are used by Verga almost always to describe moods: “green of rage”, “yellow like a dead”, “red of rage”, ecc.
www.vizzini citta di verga.com
- Has some of the Verga's photos.
www.sapere.it/ tca /minisite/ arte/ nonsolomostre/ 2004verga_fotografo/ verga_fotografo.html
Museums of Verga:
House of Medlar Tree (Via De Maria 15, Aci Trezza - CT) www.museo casa del nespolo.info
House of Giovanni Verga (Via S. Anna 8, Catania)
www. regione. sicilia.it/ beniculturali/ dirbenicult/ musei/ musei2/ verga.htm
The portray of Giovanni Verga come from WWW.WIKIPEDIA.ORG free encyclopedia. .
site web announced us that in the city of Vizzini (Catania) are shown in the “House of the memory and the arts” the Verga's photos and some cameras of him.