This handsome little volume contains four stories by the young D'Annunzio, written in the early 1880s. Three are slight, but 'The Virgins' is a substantial and startling piece of writing, and an important example of late nineteenth-century 'verismo' or realism. It begins by describing in detail the experience of a sick woman slowly recovering from typhus: she responds with a voluptuous intensity to the returning sensations of sight, smell and sound - leading to amorous arousal, rape and death (some readers will find the story lurid and repellent). I know no text that evokes physical sensation so effectively. In other D'Annunzio stories that are equally vivid there tends to be a divorce between the thoughts of the characters and amazingly evocative descriptions that manifestly reflect not their sensibility but that of the author; here the two coincide, and the result is, in my view, D'Annunzio's finest story (in his later fiction he sadly abandoned realism in favour of second-rate psychology). My only hesitation in giving this volume an unreserved recommendation is that there is a rival English version (in D'Annunzio, 'Nocturne and Five Tales of Love and Death') that is an even better translation and which follows a revised and marginally improved version of the story (to which D'Annunzio gave the new title 'The Virgin Orsola'). The present volume has the advantage, however, of being singularly neat and attractive in both format and typeface.
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A slightly racy title written by a friend of Mussolini, which turns out not to be laced with corrupting morals and politics after all, indeed by today's standards it's safe enough for the mainstream. But this isn't quite the Ring cycle. Written in a refined but curious style, it sits happily alongside works by Loti or Verga, with a modern concern for the psychology of its characters, and a preoccupation with desire. It's innocent and insubstantial, but makes for a briefly diverting read. Hesperus is doing good work in reviving forgotten literature.