Cultural Background

Grazia Deledda

Grazia Maria Cosima Damiana Deledda was an Italian writer who received the
Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926 “for her idealistically inspired writings which with plastic clarity picture the life on her native island [i.e. Sardinia] and with depth and sympathy deal with human problems in general”. She was the first Italian woman to receive this honor.

Born in Nuoro, Sardinia, into a middle-class family, she attended elementary school and then was educated by a private tutor (a guest of one of her relatives) and moved on to study literature on her own. She started writing at a very young age, inspired by the Sardinian peasants and their struggles.

In 1903 she published her first real success, Elias Portolu that confirmed her as a writer and started her work as a successful writer of novels and theatrical works: Cenere (1904), L’edera (1908), Sino al confine (1911), Colombi e sparvieri (1912), Canne al vento (1913) -her most well known book in Italy-, L’incendio nell’oliveto (1918), Il Dio dei venti (1922).

Cenere was the inspiration for a silent movie with the famous Italian actress Eleonora Duse. It was the only time Duse appeared in film.

The life, customs, and traditions of the Sardinian people are prominent in her writing. She relies heavily on geographical description and details and her work is most often concerned with transgressions. Many of her characters are social outcasts that struggle in silence and isolation. Deledda’s whole work is based on strong facts of love, pain and death upon which rests the feeling of sin and of an inevitable fatality.

In her works we can recognize the influence of the verism of Giovanni Verga and, sometimes, also that of the decadentism by Gabriele D’Annunzio.

In Deledda’s novels there is always a strong connection between places and people, feelings and environment. The environment depicted is mostly that one harsh of native Sardinia, but it is not depicted according to regional veristic schemes neither according to the otherworldly vision by D’Annunzio, but relived through the myth.

Deledda has not gained much recognition as a feminist writer potentially due to her themes of women’s pain and suffering as opposed to women’s autonomy.

Canne al vento

Canne al vento, Italian for “Reeds in the wind”) is a novel by the Italian author and Nobel Prize winner Grazia Deledda. After being published by episodes on L’Illustrazione Italiana, in the period January 13–27, 1913, it was released as a volume by editor Fratelli Treves in Milan. It’s considered the most notable work written by Deledda. The title of the book is an allusion to human frailty and sorrow, which was already found in Elias Portolu, written in 1900: Uomini siamo, Elias, uomini fragili come canne, pensaci bene. Al di sopra di noi c’è una forza che non possiamo vincere. («We are human, Elias, as frail as reeds: think carefully. There’s a force we can’t defeat above us.»)

Efix, the loyal servant of the Pintor sisters
Efix, the loyal servant of the Pintor sisters

A Sardinian village called Galte, not far from the mouth of the Cedrino river (on the Tyrrhenian coast), is home to the noble family Pintor (a father and a mother with four daughters); Don Zame, the head of the family, is described as red and violent as the devil: he’s a proud and arrogant man, jealous of the house’s honor in the village. His wife and daughters, devoted to housework, are never allowed to go out. The only rebel to their condition is Lia, Don Zame’s third child, who flees to the Italian peninsula against her father’s rule, reaching Civitavecchia. There, she gets married and has a son, but unfortunately she dies. Don Zame appears to go mad for the scandal. “A shade of death encumbered the house: no comparable scandal had ever rose before; it had never happened that such a noble and polite maiden like Lia had run away like that”. Eventually, her father is mysteriously found dead on the bridge at the entrance of the village. Was it a misfortune or a murder? The above events are the background to the story, revealed throughout the novel from the point in which Giacinto, Lia’s son, comes to the Pintor house.

The narration begins years later, when the no longer young Pintor ladies (Ruth, Ester and Noemi) live in a by then crumbling house and are still the owners of a small estate, barely sufficient to their maintenance. Their existences pass in a mournful sadness that is overthrowing their pride and amour propre, sometimes seen in Noemi’s behavior but very seldom in her elder sisters’, who are worn out because of misery. Their servant Efix (from Ephysius, the name of the patron saint of Cagliari) is attached to them by a strong guilt trip (in effect, he had killed Don Zame to help Lia, for whom he had a feeling really similar to love). He dreams one day the house of Pintor will flourish again. His hope is kindled by the arrival of Giacinto, which arouses very different emotions among the people of the village. Finally love establishes a new balance of things.

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