Saturday, January 14, 2012

Guy de Maupassant's Sicily

Over the past few months, I've been fascinated by a trend that I noticed -- why do so many authors, artists, musicians and others searching for inspiration always head to Italy? In this particular post, I'm going to look at the island of Sicily.

While technically not Italian literature, I was curious as to why so many authors and writers spent time in Sicily. I recently stumbled upon Guy de Maupassant's Sicily which was published in installments in Le Figaro and Gil Blas in 1885 and then again in 1886 in La nouvelle revue and as a chapter in La vie errante ("The Wandering Life") These writings describe Maupassant's travels to the island, his observations, and his reasons for going -- to see the splendid Venus of Syracuse, one of the masterworks of ancient scuplture.

Maupassant really captures the essence of Sicily, and it was ironic that many of his observations, at least of the buildings and monuments he visited, still ring true today. Maupassant also demonstrates how much Sicily has changed -- the thousands and thousands of orange and lemon groves have been replaced by urban sprawl as the island has changed and developed over the past 125 years.

Maupassant did much of his traveling by railroad and shows just how efficient and important rail was to Sicily. When Maupassat visited Sicily in 1885, the rail was a young 25 years old, but it enabled the author to see much of the island that might have been difficult to traverse by horse and carriage. Maupassant makes several observations about the crime and violence of the island but does his best to assure his readers that much of the danger is hype and fear -- a common misperception of the island even today. 

Maupassant begins his journey in Palermo and visits Catania, Syracuse and several other cities along the way, even making a trek to Mt. Etna to see one of Europe's most active volcanoes. He visits many ancient sites, recounts local anecdotes and describes many of the most important churches and buildings in Palermo, notably Cappella Palatina and the Duomo of Monreale (pictured) and the bronze ram of Syracuse, located in the Museo Archeologico Regionale "Antonio Salinas".

  1. Maupassant, Guy de, and Robert W. Berger. Sicily. Italica historical travel guides. New York: Italica Press, 2007. This is an excellent English translation of Maupassant's writing. The introduction and notes are excellent and provide background to the context of Maupassant's writings as well as links to further reading.
  2. Maupassant, Guy de. Viaggio in Sicilia. [Palermo]: Sigma, 1998.One of several Italian translations.
  3. Maupassant, Guy de. Cronaca d'un viaggio in Sicilia. Biblioteca storica del viaggio in Sicilia, 6. Palermo: EdiBiSi, 2000.

image credit: Duomo of Monreale, Sicily, all rights reserved

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