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MLN 115.1 (2000) 137-141

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Book Review

Modi narrativi e stile del 'Novellino' di Masuccio Salernitano

Donato Pirovano. Modi narrativi e stile del 'Novellino' di Masuccio Salernitano. Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1996. Pp. 281.

At a time when literary studies in general and Western literary studies in particular are undeniably undergoing significant changes, a meticulously written monograph on no one less than a fifteenth century novelliere, Masuccio Salernitano (1410?-1477), comes almost as a surprise. Indeed it is encouraging to learn that, at least for some Italian publishers, neither the monograph nor philology have surrendered to "market" demand. At first sight Donato Pirovano's Modi narrativi e stile del 'Novellino' di Masuccio Salernitano contains the double promise of being a thorough, refreshing and necessary philological study of both a writer, Tommaso Guardati alias Masuccio Salernitano, and a genre, the novella, that need further attention. Because of the Salernitano that surfaces at the end of our reading, this work--the author's 1995 doctoral dissertation at the University of Milan--is also an excellent pre-text for future scholars, including Pirovano himself, to parallel and supplement the kind of study conducted by, for instance, Salvatore Nigro in Le brache di San Griffone (Bari: Laterza, 1983).

An analysis of the narrative procedures and the style of Masuccio Salernitano's Novellino has long been called for, and while much ink has been spilled over Masuccio's biting anticlericalism and disturbing misogyny (for instance A. Bozzoli's analysis of the Novellino's third and fourth days), and the novelliere has inspired several good linguistic studies highlighting particular aspects of his language and style (for instance S. Gentile), this truly is, to my knowledge, the first comprehensive work of its kind on Masuccio's "multo pisto e lutulente libretto." Both form- and content-oriented past and future scholarly works will be conditioned by this detailed structural, linguistic and stylistic analysis of one of the most bizarre novella collections produced in fifteenth century Naples under Aragon rule.

The three chapters of Modi narrativi e stile del 'Novellino' di Masuccio Salernitano address in a lean and unpretentious prose the Novellino's narrative mechanisms, its rhetorical aspects and its syntactic and lexical peculiarities. After a general overview of the collection's overall structure and the structure of the individual novellas, Pirovano attempts a rather artificial, perhaps unoriginal classification into respectively "racconto," "novella-romanzo," "novella-episodio," "contrasto," "mimo," "commedia," and "novella-polemica." [End Page 137] However, Masuccio Salernitano's obvious and explicit reverence for the Boccaccian model justifies the terminology appropriated from Mario Baratto's division for the Decameron's tales in Realtà e stile nel 'Decameron' (Rome: Edizioni Riuniti, 1984). In fact this categorization yields several remarkable aspects of the Novellino.

When we consider the "racconti," "novelle-romanzo," "novelle episodio," and "contrasti" together, as Pirovano does, we come to conclusions that perhaps exceed those carefully formulated by our author. Paraphrasing Pirovano, while the Novellino is inspired by the Boccaccian paradigm, diegesis with ample use of ellipsis prevails. The plot is developed linearly, without digressions, aspiring to a fast and direct denouement, be it comic or tragic (249). One also detects an ascending rhythm creating a continuous and persistent tension (ibid.). However, what Pirovano implies, is perhaps as important as what he writes explicitly. It is indeed noteworthy how these same uninterrupted vertical upward and downward narrative movements create a stylistic "violence," so to speak, that is perfectly compatible with the intensity that spills from the content of the novellas selected to fit the Barratto-inspired categories (the insatiable sexual appetite of the queen of Poland in no. XLII, the speed with which Mariotta and Ganozza--precursors of Romeo and Juliet--are narratively led to their tragic deaths in XXXIII; the abruptness of the gestures and language of the characters in tale no. XLV as well as the determination and resoluteness of a "ligiadra e multo bella madonna" named Laura [ibid.]; the excessive punishment inflicted by the king of Sicily on two of his knights as punishment for rape, i.e. for the excessive violence to the bodies...


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