Ettore Fieramosca; Or, the Challenge of Barletta
The Struggles of an Italian against Foreign Invaders and Foreign Protectors. By Phillips, Sampson, & Co. 16mo.. Boston :
THE recent war led to the publication of a great number of books upon the state of Italy and the relative positions of the contending powers; now that the wave has receded, all these are left high and dry. This novel, however, does not depend upon any transient interest in the affairs of Italy for its success. As the production of an eminent author, who is also one of the first of Italian statesmen, it demands a respectful consideration. The condition of the country in the sixteenth century presents a striking counterpart to that of the present year : two foreign monarchs were at war in the Peninsula; and then, as now, it was a question whether unhappy Italy had not as much to fear from her allies as from her invaders.
The scene of the story is laid in the little town of Barletta, on the Adriatic coast, in the present kingdom of Naples. The action turns upon the fortunes of the day in a contest d I’outrance, wherein a dozen French knights, the flower of the invading army, were met and vanquished by an equal number of Italians, of whom the hero, Ettore Fieramosca, was the chief. The English reader will not expect to find in this book any of the traits with which he is familiar in the novels of our own authors. There is little scenery-painting, few wayside reflections, and no attempt at portraying the comic side of human nature, or even the ordinary gayety of domestic life. The times did not suggest such topics; and if they did, we suspect that the Italian novelists would turn from such commonplace affairs to the more stirring events with which History has been heretofore concerned. But the story before us has no lack of incident. When the persons of the drama are fairly brought upon the stage, the action begins at once; surprise follows surprise, plot is matched by plot, until the fortunes of the actors are entwined inextricably. The portraits of the famous Colonna and of the infamous Cæsar Borgia (the latter being the arch “villain” of the story) are drawn in sharp and decisive lines. The tournament which forms the scene of the catastrophe is a brilliant picture, though not a pleasing one for a Friend or a member of the Peace Society.
Of course the element of Love is not wanting; two golden threads run through the crimsoned web; but whether they meet before Atropos comes with the fatal shears, it is not best to say. When the modern novel-reader can answer the momentous question, “ Did they marry ? ” the charm of the most exciting story, for him, is gone.
Aside from the interest which one feels in the changing fortunes of the hero, the book is especially valuable for the light it throws upon that period of Italian history, and upon the subtilties of Italian character.