Giovanni Verga: The She-Wolf, la Lupa

GIOVANNI VERGA – She was tall and lean; but she had a firm, full bust, and yet she was no longer young; her complexion was brunette, but pallid as if she had always suffered from malaria, and this pallor set forth two big eyes and fresh rosy lips that seemed to eat you.
In the village she was called la Lupa—the She-Wolf—because she was never satisfied. Women made the sign of the cross when they saw her pass, always alone like a big ugly hound, with the vagabond and suspicious gait of a famished wolf; she would bewitch their sons and their husbands in the twinkling of an eye with her red lips and she made them fall in love with her merely by looking at them out of those big Satanic eyes of hers, even if they were before Santa Agrippina’s altar.

Fortunately la Lupa never came to church at Easter or at Christmas, nor to hear Mass or to make confession. Padre Angiolino of Santa Maria di Gesù, a true servant of God, had lost his soul on her account.
Maricchia,—poor girl, pretty and clever she was,—secretly wept because she was la Lupa‘s daughter, and no one had offered to marry her though she had nice clothes in her bureau, and her own little piece of land in the sun, like every other girl of the village.

One time la Lupa fell in love with a handsome youth who had just served out his time in the army, and had come home and was helping to reap the notary’s harvest with her; for surely it means to be in love when she felt the flesh burn under the fustian shift, and on looking at him to experience the thirst that one has in hot June days down in the low-lands.
But he went on with his work, undisturbed, with his nose on his sheaves, and he said to her, “Oh, what’s the matter, gnà Pina?”
In the immense fields where the only sound was the rustle of the grasshoppers flying up, while the sun was pouring down his hottest beams perpendicularly, la Lupa was heaping up sheaf on sheaf, and pile on pile, without ever showing any signs of fatigue, without one moment straightening herself up, without once touching her lips to the water jug, so as to stick close to Nanni’s heels as he reaped and reaped; and now and again he would ask,—

“What do you want, gnà Pina?”
One evening she told him, it was while the men were sleeping in the threshing-floor, weary of the long day’s work and the dogs were howling through the vast black campagna,—
“I want you! you are as handsome as the sun and as sweet as honey; I want you!”
“But I want your daughter—I want the young calf,” said Nanni, laughing at his own joke.
La Lupa thrust her hands into the masses of her hair, scratching her temples, without saying a word, and went off and was not seen again in the harvest field. But the following October she saw Nanni again at the time when they were pressing the oil, because he worked near her house, and the rattle of the press kept her awake all night.
“Take a bag of olives,” she said to her daughter, “and come with me.”
Nanni was shoveling the olives into the hopper and shouting “Ohi” to the mule to keep it going.
“Do you want my daughter Maricchia?” demanded gnà Pina.
“What dowry will you give with your daughter Maricchia?” replied Nanni.
“She has her father’s things, and besides I will give her my house; it will be enough for me if you’ll let me have a corner in the kitchen to spread out a mattress in.”
“If that is so, we can talk about it at Christmas,” said Nanni. Nanni was all grease and dirt from the olives put to fermenting, and Maricchia would not have him on any account; but her mother grabbed her by the hair as they stood in front of the hearth and hissed through her set teeth,—
“If you don’t take him, I’ll kill you.”
La Lupa looked ill, and the people remarked: “When the devil was old the devil a monk would be.” She no longer went wandering about; she stood no more at her doorway looking out with those eyes as of one possessed.
Her son-in-law, when she fixed those eyes on his face, always began to laugh, and would pull out his cloth talisman, with its effigy of the Madonna, to cross himself with.

Maricchia stayed at home to nurse her children, and her mother went out to work in the fields with the men, just like a man,—to weed, to dig, to guide the animals, to dress the vines, whether it were during the Greek-Levant winds of January, or during the August sirocco, when mules let their heads droop, and men sleep prone on their bellies under the shadow of the North wall.
In that time between vespers and nones, when, according to the saying, no good woman is seen going about, gnà Pina was the only living creature to be seen wandering across the campagna, over the fiery hot stones of the narrow streets, among the parched stubble of the wide, wide fields that stretched away into the burning haze toward cloudy Etna, where the sky hangs heavy on the horizon.
“Wake up!” said la Lupa to Nanni, who was asleep in the ditch next the dusty harvest-field, with his head on his arms. “Wake up, for I’ve brought you some wine to cool your throat.”
Nanni opened his eyes, half awake, and saw her sitting up straight and pale before him, with her swelling breast, and her eyes as black as coal, and drew back waving his arms,—
“No! a good woman does not go about between vespers and nones,” groaned Nanni, thrusting his face in amongst the dried weeds of the ditch as far as he could, and putting his fingers into his hair. “Go away! Get you gone! And don’t you come to the threshing-floor any more.”
She turned and went away,—la Lupa,—knotting up her splendid tresses again, looking down steadily as she made her way among the hot stubble, with her eyes black as coal.
But she did go back to the threshing-floor, and Nanni no longer reproached her; and when she failed to come, in that hour between vespers and nones, he went, and with perspiration on his brow, waited for her at the top of the white deserted footpath, but afterwards he would thrust his hands through his hair, and every time he would say, “Go away! Go away! Don’t come to the threshing-floor again.”

Maricchia wept night and day, and she looked into her mother’s face with eyes blazing with tears and jealousy, like a lupachiotta, a young wolf herself, every time that she saw her coming back from the fields, silent and pale.
“Vile! scellerata!” she would say, “Vile mamma.”
“Hold your tongue!”
“Thief! thief!”
“Hold your tongue!”
“I’ll go to the brigadiere!”
And she actually went with her infants in her arms, without a sign of fear, and without shedding a tear, like a crazy woman, because now she passionately loved that husband whom she had been forced to marry, greasy and dirty as he was from the olives set to fermenting.
The brigadiere summoned Nanni, and threatened him with the galleys and the gallows. Nanni began to weep, and pull his hair; he denied nothing, did not try to justify himself.
“The temptation was too much,” said he, “’twas the temptation of hell.” He flung himself at the brigadiere‘s feet, begging him to send him to the galleys.
“For mercy’s sake, Signor brigadiere, take me out of this hell! Have me shot! Send me to prison! Don’t let me see her ever again! never again!”
“No,” replied la Lupa, to the brigadiere‘s question. “I kept a corner of the kitchen to sleep in when I gave him my house as my daughter’s dowry. The house is mine. I do not intend to go away.”

Shortly after, Nanni was kicked in the chest by a mule, and was like to die; but the priest refused to bring him the Holy Unction unless la Lupa was out of the house.
La Lupa went away, and her son-in-law was then permitted to pass away like a good Christian; he confessed and partook of the Sacrament with such signs of penitence and contrition that all the neighbors and inquisitive visitors wept as they surrounded the dying man’s bed.
And it would have been better for him if he had died then and there, before the devil had a chance to return to tempt him, and take possession of him, mind and body, when he got well again.
“Let me be!” he said to la Lupa; “for mercy’s sake, leave me in peace! I have seen death with my own eyes! Poor Maricchia is in despair. Now the whole region knows about it! If I don’t see you, it’s better for you and better for me.”

And he would rather have put his eyes out, than see la Lupa‘s, for when hers were fastened on him, they made him lose soul and body. He did not know what to do to overcome the enchantment. He paid for Masses to be sung for the souls in Purgatory, and he went for aid to the priest and the brigadiere. At Easter he went to confession, and as a penance, publicly stood on the flint stones of the holy ground in front of the church, putting out six handbreadths of tongue, and then, when la Lupa returned to tempt him,—
“See here,” said he, “don’t you come on the threshing-floor again, because if you do come to seek me again, as sure as God exists, I’ll kill you.”
“All right, kill me!” replied la Lupa. “It makes no difference to me; but I can not live without you.”
When he saw her afar off coming through the green corn field, he left off pruning the vines, and went and got his axe from the elm.
La Lupa saw him coming to meet her, with his face pale and his eyes rolling wildly, with the axe shining in the sun; but she did not hesitate an instant, did not look away. She went straight forward with her hands full of bunches of red poppies, and devouring him with those black eyes of hers.
“Ah! a curse on your soul!” stammered Nanni.

*Giovanni Verga (IT, 1840-1922), “La Lupa”, in Id., Vita dei campi, Milano, Treves, 1880; translated by  Nathan Haskell Dole (USA 1852-1935): Under The Shadow Of Etna  (Boston: Simonds & Co., 1896)

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