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Death, Burial, and the Afterlife

Dublin Death Studies


Edited By Philip Cottrell and Wolfgang Marx

The essays incorporated into this volume share an ambitious interest in investigating death as an individual, social and metaphorical phenomenon that may be exemplified by themes involving burial rituals, identity, and commemoration. The disciplines represented are as diverse as art history, classics, history, music, languages and literatures, and the approaches taken reflect various aspects of contemporary death studies. These include the fear of death, the role of death in shaping human identity, the ‘taming’ of death through ritual or aesthetic sublimation, and the utilization of death – particularly dead bodies – to manipulate social and political ends.

The topics covered include the exhumation and reburial of Cardinal John Henry Newman;the funerary monument of John Donne in his shroud; the funeral of Joseph Stalin; the theme of mutilation and non-burial of the corpse in Homer’s Iliad; the individual’s encounter with death in the work of the German Philosopher Josef Pieper; the Requiem by the Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford; the imagery of death in Giovanni Verga’s novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, and the changing attitudes toward death in the writings of Michel Foucault.

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7 | Arrigo Boito and Giovanni Verga: the Body, Illness and Death in Mastro-don Gesualdo

7 | Arrigo Boito and Giovanni Verga: the Body, Illness and Death in Mastro-don Gesualdo


Deirdre O’Grady

This short study takes as its point of departure the association between two Italian writers: the Paduan Arrigo Boito (1842-1918) (fig. 7.1)1 and Giovanni Verga (1840-1922) (fig. 7.2) 2 who was from Vizzini in the Sicilian province of Catania. The latter’s absorption into the iconoclastic movement known as the Milanese ‘Scapigliatura’ that followed the author’s transference to Milan in 1872 3 marks his turning towards realistic expression conveyed in economic terms. Later in his career, in the novel Mastro-don Gesualdo, Verga employs body imagery and utilizes it as a metaphor for economic hardship and the socio-political change (1821-1848) that culminated in Italian Unification (1861). Verga’s treatment of the themes of illness, death, burial and afterlife contrasts with Boito’s symbolic poetic presentations that are for the most part conveyed by means of images of works of art. Yet it may be argued that Verga’s symbolic imagery takes its prime influence from the morbid preoccupation with death and decomposition found in the writers of ‘Scapigliatura’, and in the confrontation of art and science found in Boito’s work. The term ‘Scapigliatura’ in Italian means ‘dishevelled’. It alludes to the anti-conformist nature of the artistic and social vision of its members.

A study of the symbolic body as found in the poetry of Arrigo Boito, and a comparison with Giovanni Verga’s treatment of the same in Mastro-don Gesualdo highlights the transition from Romanticism to Realism, the conflict, yet coexistence of art and science within the literary form,...

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