[(essay date November 2006) In the following essay, Del Principe argues that, despite their focus on the supernatural, Tarchetti's fantastic tales offer incisive social and political commentary on some of the real issues facing post-unification Italy.]
Thoughts from above hit the people down below People in this world, we have no place to go. Temptation, New Order1
Ugo Tarchetti's collection of Racconti fantastici [Fantastic Tales] offers a compelling historical and political vision of nineteenth-century Italy that remains largely unexplored, as readings of the short stories have tended to focus on their supernatural content.2 'Le leggende del castello nero' ['The Legend of the Black Castle'] and 'I fatali' ['The Fated'] are two tales that suggest a paradox in Tarchetti's aesthetics: the coexistence of a preternatural thematics with historical, political, and economic ideologies.3 Although Tarchetti's fiction has been decried by critics as Romantic sentimentality, I argue that it borrows from the Gothic genre, purposely upsetting Romantic subjectivities and overstating a representation of the natural to expose contradictions in the social fabric of Risorgimento and post-unification Italy.
Although Tarchetti did not coin the term, he is recognized as the cynosure of the Scapigliati, or disheveled ones, the movement of late nineteenth-century, anticonformist authors based in Milan and Turin who confronted Risorgimento politics and bourgeois essentialism with a dissenting realism and a sepulchral poetics.4 Tarchetti, and the Scapigliati, deeply influenced by the 'antibourgeois' poetics of Charles Baudelaire, the French Symbolists, and by Edgar Allan Poe's poetic theory of 'Art for Art's sake,' disavowed the utilitarian function of Art and, consequently, developed an aversion to bourgeois values. Tarchetti's outspoken defense of the press as a democratic forum for the expression of opposing political views, and the controversy surrounding his 1866 antimilitary novel Una nobile follia [A Noble Folly], caused his mainstream literary career to be jeopardized and his opus to be banished to the margins of the literary canon.5
In this essay I consider Tarchetti's approach to Gothic motifs of recurrence, dreams, and superstition in Fantastic Tales as an elusive but dynamic formula for realism. Embarking on a 'ricerca del magico naturale, del soprannaturale come espressione della realtà quotidiana' ['search for natural magic and the supernatural as an expression of everyday reality'], such a formula conflates the imaginary and the real, the exceptional and the ordinary, and the individualistic and the historical to suggest social and political as well as metaphysical truths.6 The uncanny, fatal influence and determinism in 'The Fated' serve as a narrative mantle meant to divert attention away from an historical realism that threatened to depose the providence-based formula for realism laid out by Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi [The Betrothed].7 Tarchetti's agenda was distinctly antitraditionalist, eschewing a Manzonian, historical model for national rebirth and the veneration of Italian history. Thus his use in 'Legends' of the trope of recurrence--scattering the protagonist's history over twelve lives to significantly confound a linear, historical narrative--may be seen as reflecting the...