The Viceroys

by Federico De Roberto (the first edition was published in 1894)

Review by Ninni Radicini

Federico De Roberto's choice to write the The Viceroys (it. I Viceré) is the demonstration of the notable importance of Sicily in the Italian post-unification historical whole. Developed on a plot of relationships in the noble Uzeda dynasty, the novel begins with the disappearance of Princess Teresa and the division of the properties she left behind, the reason for the reunion of her children and brothers. The narrative is articulated through their stories, with each of the characters characterized and consistent with the phase considered - between the 50s and the early 80s of the Nineteenth century - that is, the Risorgimento period prior to Italian unity, in the sign of annexation of the territories of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Kingdom of Italy, with the monarchy of the Savoy (it. Savoia) at the top, and the first subsequent decades, in which contradictions emerge, represented individually and projected into the broader historical and social context.

The title of the novel refers to the denomination attributed to the regents of the Spanish government in the Kingdom of Sicily from 1412 to 1759. With the institution of the Viceroy of Sicily (Virrey de Sicilia) a special union was established between the Kingdom of Sicily and the King of Aragon - in an individual sense - without the Kingdom of Sicily becoming part of the Aragonese domains. The Viceroy could appoint a President of the Kingdom of Sicily, who performed the functions of the Viceroy if he was unable to.

The appointment of the Viceroy of Sicily was up to the Consejo de Estado (Council of State of Aragon), chaired by the King of Aragon, on the proposal of the Real y Supremo Consejo (Supreme Council), a collegial consultative body of the Kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and Navarre, with competence on the administration of Kingdoms connected to the Aragonese dynasty, including the Kingdom of Sicily. The institution of the Viceroys was transformed into Lieutenant in 1806 by the King of Sicily Ferdinand III of Bourbon, then, after the Congress of Vienna, ruler of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies with the name of Ferdinand I.

The Viceroys, published in 1894, is a completely Sicilian novel, in the anthropology of the characters and in the setting: the Uzeda have their properties around Catania, Don Eugenio lives in Palermo, the wife of Count Raimondo, Matilde, is from Milazzo, Baron Giovannino Radalì goes to live in Augusta...

Prince Giacomo - eldest son of Princess Teresa and Prince Consalvo VII Uzeda of Francalanza - is the manager of the dynasty's assets. He makes no distinction in the treatment of his brothers and sisters rather than the court master, servants, or larger relatives. A pragmatic attitude that will have a particular turning point (from a certain point on in the novel) with the discovery of his superstition, also without regard to extraneousness or kinship, even towards his son Consalvo VIII.

Lucrezia, Giacomo's sister, determined at the beginning in wanting to overcome the traditions of her own dynasty by marrying Benedict, heir to an upper class family - distant from the royal genealogy of the Uzeda but eager to acquire noble characteristics - will change her attitude towards the one who will be able to marry, and then change again in the final phase of the novel. The transformation of his character is one of the surprising features of the narrative scan.

In the first part of the novel it seems that the author can mark its initial profile at any time, as demonstrated by a dialogue, where Lucrezia disputes her brother Raimondo when he makes comparisons between Sicily and other Italian realities. It is a passage without continuation, as if De Roberto wanted not so much to open a further narrative line as to hint at a complementary argument, which could have assumed a subjectivity worthy of interest. Raimondo is instead described as a character whose behavior is among the most criticizable in the whole development of the novel.

Benedetto is the most sincere supporter of the Risorgimento and, after the Italian unification, he puts himself at the service of Gaspare Uzeda - Duke of Oragua, brother of Princess Teresa or uncle of Prince Giacomo - waiting to obtain an award that he will never have. Instead, he will be increasingly sidelined. He represents the defeat of the ideals of the Risorgimento, to the advantage of the opportunists, of the supporters of the last hour of the Kingdom of Italy (in a certain passage of the novel, Lucrezia, says that her husband, Benedetto, first was mayor, then was appointed assessor and in the future will be hired as a janitor).

In the development of the narrative, each of the characters of the Uzeda dynasty has humoral transformations and changes in personal relationships, which the Author materializes on various occasions even externally, through physical changes. It should be noted that in the description of the birth of the first child of Chiara Uzeda and of Count Federico and in the immediate behavior of the mother, the novel has an unpredictable horror character, in a style that will be found in the stories of Howard Phillips Lovecraft (example "The Dunwich Horror", published in 1929).

In the development of the plot, Federico De Roberto inserts the political-electoral developments of the historical phase considered: from the first legislative consultation when suffrage was not yet universal, the capital and seat of Parliament was Turin and the candidates were an almost indistinguishable set of supporters of the Kingdom of Italy; in the subsequent elections, with which a distinction between Right and Left begins to be drawn, although not particularly striking; until the advance of the Left and its subsequent division between progressives and radical democrats. It is the first novel in which a realistic representation emerges and a profound disillusionment with regard to what is envisaged with the Risorgimento. Thus it happens that a liberal seeks the consensus of the clerical, in turn sought by those who proclaim themselves progressive but are convinced that being a candidate to represent citizens in a legislative assembly is a natural continuation of being a descendant of a viceroy dynasty.

In the continuous attempt of the characters to excel and to defend themselves from the maneuvers of others, the one who always seems to get what he wants is the Duke Gaspare. Not Consalvo VIII Uzeda, not Benedetto, not Don Blasco, not Aunt Ferdinanda (the latter two brother and sister of Princess Teresa Uzeda). He, the Duke Gaspare, is always among the winners, indeed he is the winner who does not expose himself with any competing ideological part. He is the one who manages to be elected to Parliament already in the first elections, even without having any oratory skills. Like the character of Don Abbondio in Alessandro Manzoni's novel I Promossi Sposi, Duke Gaspare is the man without qualities, who does not worry anyone and therefore has no adversaries and therefore finds no obstacle in obtaining what he proposes. In front of him are - defeated - Benedetto, Ferdinando, Giovannino, each in his own idealistic way, some in politics, some in the way of living everyday life, some in feelings.

Consalvo Uzeda's electoral rally for his candidacy in the legislative elections of 1882 and his electoral speech, with the description of the preparations, the arrival of the invited personalities and citizens, is the culmination of his transformation into a professional politician, even theoretical, as demonstrates when in his programmatic speech he predicts, in an extraordinary way, the formation of the United States of Europe, although the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71) had taken place a few years earlier, the conclusion of which, with the victory of Prussia, in the novel is considered the end of the last hopes of a Duosicilian Bourbon monarchical re-legitimization.

With the Uzeda dynasty, The Viceroys also highlights the profound historical, cultural and geopolitical connection of Sicily with Spain. The first historical and dynastic link between Sicily and Spain occurred when, at the request of the Parliament of the Kingdom of Sicily, Peter III of Aragon, husband of Constance II of Sicily (nephew of Frederick II Hohenstaufen, the Swabian-Norman-Sicilian emperor defined "Stupor Mundi") became King of Sicily with the name of Peter I. A connection in the uses, in the language, in the customs. In the Sicilian language various words are taken from the Spanish language (Castilian).

It was, and is, in the religious manifestations of Christianity. In The Viceroy the biographical reference to the one who will become Blessed Ximena is an explicit demonstration of this, as is the question of the feast of Santa Agata (one of the first occasions in which Consalvo Uzeda demonstrates his political ability). The Uzeda are described as a noble dynasty of Spanish origin that became Sicilian-Spanish over time, as it previously happened with the Norman dynasties, who arrived in Sicily near the 12th century and defeated the Saracens, doing the same in the same period. in Spain in the framework of what has been called the "Reconquista".

The historical and cultural relevance of the period in which Federico De Roberto sets The Viceroys is demonstrated by the publication, over sixty years later, in 1958, of Il Gattopardo, the famous novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

The Trinacria, Symbol of convergence of Sicily with Hellenic and Norman History and Culture Ninni Radicini (Sicily) has written and published articles on Greece and Germany (political-electoral-historical area). Articles on other topics have been published on various periodicals. He also published reviews and book prefaces. Co-author of the book Contemporary Greece 1974-2006 (La Grecia contemporanea 1974-2006) (book only in Italian edition).

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