Controversial Italian Classic
By Gabriele D’Annunzio, Translated by Lara Gochin Raffaelli
Penguin Classics, $17.00, 355 pages
In Pleasure, written by Gabriele D’Annunnzio and translated by Lara Gochin Raffaelli, we enter the privileged Italian class and the internal world of one of its young men, who plots by every means possible to seduce two women in particular. Like other fin de siecle or earlier European novels, descriptions of and references to decorum and, in this case, to art populate the pages. D’Annunnzio does not treat his characters with as much compassion as say, Tolstoy does in Anna Karenina, and external scandal does not matter as much as personal perspective.
“Sometimes, in some tired solitary moment, he felt bitterness rise up from his deepest innards, like sudden nausea; and he sat there mulling over it, troubled, without the strength to expel it, with a kind of dull resignation, like a sick person who has lost all faith in being healed and is inclined to live with his illness, to withdraw into his suffering, to sink down into his mortal misery.”
The protagonist, Andrea Sperelli, descends to the bottom of Fortune’s Wheel, opposite the zenith he occupied just weeks before in the narrative, when he had recovered from wounds among family, merged with the world, and found a new love. The insights and expressions of the lovers’ troubled minds are tormented and veer into the redundant or unbelievable (but who among us has not obsessed over a desire at some point?). This was especially the case with the female characters, but arguably male internal monologues on romance are underrepresented in fiction. The protagonist’s periodic months of travel outside Italy are referred to only in passing which reinforces that pleasure was the most real thing in his life.
Pleasure is like a focused primer in “comparative romance,” in a different time and country that what we know, and thankfully it is all there for us to enjoy in this new, full translation by Raffaelli.
Reviewed by Sarah Alibabaie
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