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Fuga a Sorrento

 

Fuga a Sorrento, published by Feltrinelli in 2003, presents three «stories», three long tales, that have in common on one hand the theme of wandering, and on the other central figures that are either historical or at least immersed in history. De Marchi shows a special predilection for reconstructing historical time, including (in the first story) linguistic reconstruction. All the same, such work on historical construction should not imply the author's conversion to a realistic or objective technique. Quite the contrary, what distinguished the other novels and in particular the last one, Una crociera, is clearly also true of these «three tales». Reality near and far, and the 14th or 16th century backdrop, are not reproduced in an picture with firm, precise lines, but are placed within the perspective of the figures, and therefore undergo relevant or less relevant distortions.
      The distortion is at its greatest in the story that gives the book its title, in which Torquato Tasso (who is only named in the last line of the text) flees across Italy tormented by nightmares and obsessions persecuted by enemies real or supposed, crossing the Appenines on foot, embarking in Gaeta, finally landing in Sorrento, to present himself to his sister disguised as a shepherd coming to announce his own death. The journey is hectic - perceptions of time, landscapes, charaters all appear distorted in the mind of the protagonist, the external world becoming a sort of projection of his fears. The mental anguish that made its first appearance in Il bacio della maestra (p. 111) here assumes pathological contours that are blown-up and deformed, thereby furnishing the skeleton of this introspective fresco («quella sofferenza mentale di cui sentiva di avere il terribile privilegio, e che gli altri attizzavano con fredda ferocia», p. 73). (We learn in «Notes on the texts» that Fuga a Sorrento appeared in a review in 1987 and has since been «carefully corrected and pruned of any redundancies.»)
      The first story, Insipiens quidam, is presented with almost artistical duality by a contemporary Florentine, Professor Petrucci, «a second-rate philologist», and by Lapo Pegolotti, a great but unknown 14th century poet, whose numerous letters and one poem in terza rima he discovers in the archives of the National Library in Florence. Lapo is in reality a merchant who neglects commerce in pursuit of the daydream of poetry and actually succeeds (or so he claims) in being received by Dante in Ravenna, in joining Petrarch unsolicited in his climb up Mont Ventoux, and finds Boccaccio in Florence after the plague, and saves the Decameron. The to and fro between the professor and the merchant often borders on the grotesque, in the form of a linguistic pastiche.
      Grotesque notes also resound in the last story, Sulle Alpi, in which the philosopher Hegel, at the height of his career, makes a long excursion into the Bernese mountains. «With his brows always knitted by the internal pressure of thought», impatient with the two assistants accompanying him, and humourless, he loses patience when he happens to discover a portrait of Washington, whom he detests, and he remembers without even a touch of compassion the madness of a friend of his youth, Hölderlin. The situation takes a turn, signalled by the change of subject implicit in the use of free indirect speech, when one of his two assistants starts to back away from his imposing master and finally abandons the group, renouncing his return to Berlin and giving up a university career.
      Another theme intertwines with the dominant one of wanderings, and it is indubitably that of madness, in which in turn manifests itself that other theme so dear to the author, disorder. The madness afflicting Professor Petrucci after the floods in Florence have swallowed up the manuscripts that he had found, the madness of Hölderlin seen in the memory of a visit to the aging poet in the tower in Tübingen, and above all the lengthy articulate representation of Tasso's schizophrenia all seem to unhinge the structure of reality. They also threaten the language itself by twisting it in a labyrinth of phrases, beaking up its rhythm, but in the end always smoothing it out in the narrative flow. The breaking up of the order of reality does not defeat the order of the linguistic texture, and this seems to be De Marchi's intention.

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