Milly Dandolo "The Gift of the Innocent"


If it weren't for the fact that the book is yellowed, flecked, cracked, if it weren't for the fact that the edition (Garzanti 1942) is a reprint of the original for the Treves types of 1926, I would say that the style of "The gift of the innocent" by Milli Dandolo is similar to that of many contemporary authors, surprisingly modern for the time, albeit fully influenced by the decadent climate. It is no coincidence that Dandolo, in addition to being a writer for children - a collaborator of “Il Giornalino” at the age of fourteen, together with Gian Burrasca's Vamba - was also a translator of foreign masterpieces. Italian versions and adaptations of Dickens, Maupassant, Katherine Mansfield, Bernardin de Saint Pierre, D. H. Lawrence and Barrie are due to her.

Milly Dandolo (1985 - 1946) was born in Milan but lived mainly in Veneto, often setting her novels in Venice. She wrote poetry, short stories for children and fiction for adults. Of a restless and sensitive nature, the recurring themes of her writings are pain, connected, as in this case, to the innocence of children, and the fundamental role of motherhood for women. In the wake of an Orthodox and Manichaean Catholicism, and a fascist imperative that wanted women to be wives and mothers, maternal sacrifice is exalted. The woman lives a condition of suffering, of subordination, which she can only endure through dedication and love for her children. De Amicis turns into ideology.

The women of Dandolo are not heroines but victims, they meet men who rape them or marry them without loving them enough, without understanding their uniqueness, sensitivity, talent. They undermine their nature, make them subtly unhappy, resigned, renouncing, prey to their pain, unable to find comfort in faith. Their companions are the source of their suffering but they are not characterized, they remain colorless.

Dandolo takes a step back from the romance literature of Liala and Delly, goes back to the late nineteenth century, to Ada Negri, but, perhaps, also to certain unredeemed atmospheres of Deledda, to certain Fogazzaro crepuscularisms.

“Spring had brought joy to all the creatures of the garden and the countryside, even to the meanest. The grass in the meadows had sprung up, shiny and all equalk, like a beautiful green silk, but even the green tufts among the stones of the barnyard happily stood up to bathe in the same joy of the sun. The little dewdrops flickered on the mulberry leaves, and then fell on the little herbs that have a name only for scientists, and a good taste for the young chickens that ran around, a little crazy and a little amazed. "

The style of "The Gift of the Innocent" is not banal and hasty, it seems to us that the narration has a current air, a modern rush - as if Ada Negri had assumed the hypersensitivity of Katherine Mansfield - and, at the same time, of the pauses of a decadent languor, without D'Annunzio's flashes, but with a breath of spiritual research that finds no peace in religion but is, rather, an interior excavation.

The story is simple. Maria marries Enrico, who can assure her of a lukewarm affection, a passion held back because it is almost considered inconvenient, and a life dedicated to well-being. She goes to live in the big house where the gruff but good-natured shadow of his old aunt is around. She has a son, a sweet and vital child who is the reward for her lack of marital joy. One day, however, she meets an old love, now a wandering player, and indulges in a series of clandestine nocturnal conferences in the garden of the villa. These amorous appointments satisfy her, not so much from the point of view of sentiment, but of a renewed vital impulse, of a revival of the body and soul that were withering. It is no coincidence that great emphasis is placed on contact with nature, on the impact it has on the protagonist.

"Suddenly she noticed that the fir branches became clear and thin, almost fragile, and that a white light passed between them, and wet the air and the earth, like a shining dew. She noticed that the crickets were singing, with a low melody, close and close, and some invisible bird responded, equally soft. She felt enveloped by a mixed odor, with a bizarre sweetness, of herringbone and resin, of mint and hay. "

The moment comes, however, that, like Anna Karenina, Maria is faced with the need to choose: her lover asks her to run away with him. She doesn't, too weak to face a life of hardship, too attached to her son to abandon him. The lover promises her that he will die for her and, in fact, he lets himself be killed in a drunken brawl.

The sense of guilt overwhelms Mary, leads her to the limit of madness. To appease it, she confesses everything to her husband, hoping for his forgiveness. The man reacts with cruelty, distancing the child from the mother, and behaving towards her with absolute and ruthless coldness.

"Maybe", Maria thinks, "if he were less good he would understand me."

But Enrico "is good", and arrogates to himself the right to punish and judge, he is imbued with moralism and sound principles, he does not know how to forgive and fears the influence of the lost woman on his son.

When Christmas is upon them, little Fausto, relegated to an aunt, can no longer bear being away from his mother. He escapes secretly to bring her a rose as a gift, the gift of the innocent.

The child is found feverish, the novel ends with the parents at his bedside. Perhaps he will be saved, perhaps not, there is no information, the important thing is that the human sacrifice is completed. Only innocence cleanses from sins, only the innocent "lamb" reconciles and purifies.

"Little Jesus had come, even though no one had lit the pink candle on the fir branch. And none of those who watched over the sick child, none had ever heard Jesus as in that night. Indeed, it seemed that they were all watching him together, and that they heard his breathing. "

Strong colors of the beginning of the century, certainly, in this forgotten novel, but also an incredible psychological refinement to represent disturbances, feelings of guilt, changes of the soul.