Day 4Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo
p. 61—p. 80 (“It’s surely easier to change oneself than to reshape others.”)
September 16, 2022 by Claire Messud
Zeno’s first encounter with his future wife’s family is with the patriarch, Giovanni Malfenti. Zeno is highly educated and “cultivated”; while Malfenti is “a great businessman, ignorant and active”. Malfenti’s ignorance gives him “strength and peace of mind”—and Zeno, like Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, envies him, and tries to imitate him.
Malfenti, true, like a fox, to his businessman nature, isn’t above swindling his own son-in-law, though Zeno doesn’t hold it against him. Drunk at his daughter’s wedding, Malfenti laughs at Zeno: “He knows the classics by heart. He knows who said this and who said that. But he doesn’t know how to read the daily paper!”
The four Malfenti daughters—Ada, Augusta, Alberta, and Anna—all have names beginning with A: “My name is Zeno,” our narrator reflects, “and I therefore had the sensation I was about to take a wife very far from my own country.”
Augusta, Zeno’s future wife, is the first of the four sisters he encounters: “One was eliminated then and there, as far as I was concerned.” Nowadays, he’d have swiped left—then, as now, on the most superficial evidence possible.
Zeno insists to Ada that “death was the true organizer of life” and that he “thought always of death”—but confusingly to us (and surely to Ada!) this is all a flirtatious ploy: he hopes to convey “what a happy man I was,” because “happiness had lent me a hand with women.”
p. 20—p. 37 (“But I would have been amazed to see him really happy, alone and old as he was.”)
p. 80—p. 98 (“On the crowded Via Cavana, therefore, I had thought more purposefully than in my solitary study.”)
p. 162—p. 185 (“I had found something more than a mere pretext for doing what it was my desire to do.”)
p. 272–p. 296 (“I would not torment myself any more for having wanted to play that false role of Mentor.”)
p. 296—p. 318 (“the Ada who had scornfully repulsed me no longer existed, unless my medical books were mistaken.”)