Lawrence Venuti, winner of a Guggenheim fellowship and the Global Humanities Translation Prize, among many other awards, has translated into English these Italian Gothic tales of obsessive love, mysterious phobias, and the hellish curse of everlasting life.
In this collection of nine eerie stories, Iginio Ugo Tarchetti switches effortlessly between the macabre and the breezily comical. Set in nineteenth-century Italy, his characters court spirits and blend in with the undead: passionate romances filled with jealousy and devotion are fueled by magic elixirs. Time becomes fluid as characters travel between centuries, chasing affairs that never quite prosper. First published by Mercury House in 1992.
September 29, 2020
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The Legends of the Black Castle I do not know whether the memoirs I am about to write can hold the interest of anyone but me –– I write, at any rate, for myself. Nearly all of them refer to an event pervaded with mystery and terror, in which very often it will be impossible to trace the thread of a narrative, or infer a conclusion, or find any reason whatsoever. I alone will be able to do these things, I who am actor and victim at once. Begun at that age when the mind is susceptible to the strangest and most frightening hallucinations; continued, interrupted, and resumed after an interval of almost twenty years; encompassed by all the apparitions of dreams; completed –– if such can be said of something that had no obvious beginning –– in a land that was not mine and to which I had been drawn by traditions filled with superstition and gloom, I can only consider this the most inscrutable event in my life, an insoluble enigma, the shadow of a fact, a revelation that remains incomplete yet eloquently expressive of a past existence. Were they facts, or visions? Both –– or perhaps neither. In the abyss that swallows up the past, no facts or ideas endure; there is merely the past. The mighty characters of things are destroyed, like the things themselves, and with them ideas suffer transmutations –– truth lies only in the instant –– past and future are deep shadows enveloping us on all sides, amidst which, leaning on our escort, the present, as if detached from time, we make the painful journey of life. Yet did we have a previous life? Have we already lived out our current existence in another epoch, with a different heart and a different destiny? Was there a moment in time when we resided in places we now avoid, loved creatures whom death snatched away years ago, lived among people whose works we see today, or whose memory we pursue in chronicles or obscure traditions? I have no definitive answers to these questions. And yet for all that… yes, I have often heard something speak to me of a past life, something murky and confused, I admit, but distant, infinitely distant. I possess certain memories that cannot be contained within the narrow bounds of my life; to reach their origin, I must retrace the curve of years, journey back very far… two or three centuries… Before today, too, I frequently had occasion to linger in some countryside on my travels and exclaim, “I must have already seen this place. I was here, several times… These fields, this valley, this horizon –– I recognize them!” And who has not declared now and then, thinking that he has recognized a familiar countenance in some person, “That man, I have seen him before. Where? When? Who is he? I cannot be definite, but surely we have seen one another before, we know one another!” In my childhood, I often saw an old man I certainly knew when he was a boy, and who certainly knew me when I was quite old; we did not converse but rather looked at one another like people who sense that they have met. Along a road to Poole, near the beach at Manica, I found a stone where I vividly recall sitting, about seventy years ago, and I remember that it was a dreary, rainy day and I was waiting for someone whose name and face I have forgotten, but who was dear to me. In an art gallery at Graz, I saw a portrait of a woman I loved, and I recognized her immediately, even though she was younger then, and the portrait was painted perhaps twenty years after our separation. The canvas bore the date 1647. Most of these memoirs go back roughly to that period. There was a time in my boyhood when I could not listen to the cadence of certain songs the country women sang to us on the farms without feeling suddenly transported to an epoch so remote from my life that I could not reach it if I multiplied my present age many, many times. I had only to hear that melody to lapse instantly into a condition like paralysis, a spiritual lethargy that made everything around me seem strange, whatever my state of mind when it overtook me. After twenty years, I have never again experienced that phenomenon. Did I never hear the melody again? Or has my spirit, already quite inseparable from my current existence, become deaf to the call? Either my nature is infirm, or my thinking differs from other men’s, or they undergo the same sensations, but without realizing it. I feel, yet am unable to express how, that my life –– or what we properly use this term to designate –– did not begin with the day of my birth and will not end at my death; I feel this with the same force, with the same fullness of sensation that I feel life at this instant, although in a way that is more obscure, stranger, more inexplicable. On the other hand, how do we feel that we are living at this instant? One says, I am alive. But this is not sufficient: when we sleep, we have no awareness of existing –– and nonetheless we live. This awareness of existing cannot be fully circumscribed by the narrow boundaries of what we call life. We can contain two lives: this belief, in various forms, has been accepted by every people in every period. One life is essential, continuous, perhaps imperishable, whereas the other is changeable, progressing its fits and starts, more or less brief, more or less recurrent. One is essence; the other relevation, form. What dies in the world? Life dies, but the spirit, the secret, the force of life does not die: it lives forever in the world.
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