APT Basilicata

APT Basilicata

Basilicata turistica

Materi Luigi

On April 19, 1877, in the city of Naples, MP Francesco Paolo Materi and Teresa Giliberti gave birth to Luigi Materi, who was to die in the same city on January 19, 1922, at the age of forty-four. Even though he graduated in law, he preferred living on an unearned income and never practised any profession. His philosophy of life is epitomized in a bizarre book, L’arte della bellezza ai nostri tempi, devoted, as an imitation of Ovid’s Medicamen faciei, mostly to female beauty treatment and partly to male. Beauty is the most important of all values, the only thing which makes life worth living. “Beauty is a capital to be preserved as long as possible against the inescapable toll that time takes.” He was an aesthete, then, a dandy, but in a city where, in marked contrast, miserable and sordid sights piled up every day, and hordes of migrants kept pouring in.

Like any aesthete, Luigi Materi ranged over a vast variety of authors, from Verlaine to D’Annunzio, from Baudelaire to Kierkegaard, from De Mausset to Daudet, from Tolstoj to Balzac. An expert in the French language, Materi moved freely between realism and naturalism, psychologism and decadentism. But, like any aesthete, he felt the impermanence and vanity of beauty. As opposed to the faintness of city life and to the hypocrisy of high society, he always felt the countryside, with its roughness and instinctivity, genuineness and wildness, as a shelter and an antidote, as an oblivion place.

His early literary production is devoted to this opposition, as the works by other writers, including D’Annunzio. In Il matrimonio di Marcello, which he wrote at the age of 27, the main character, Marcello, is a young man who has prematurely “grown old” and, sick and tired of city life and wearing love affairs, takes shelter in a faraway country seat where he hopes to recover. The same themes are in Caleidoscopio sanguigno, where everything calls to mind Verga, Capuano, and even more De Roberto, in addition to D’Annunzio’s Novelle della Pescara. Violence scenes, almost always related to sex, run through the book.

In Adolescenti (1909), the main character decides to withdraw in the countryside to recover from his lovesickness, too. Everything is useless, since the way out is suicide. In Il Giornale d’una signorina, published in volume together with Adolescenti in 1911, the way out is represented by marriage, loveless but frankly accepted, in homage to the decency of a “quiet” life.

The best of Luigi Materi, however, is represented by L’ultima canzone – Il romanzo della Grancìa, published posthumously. The Grancìa di San Demetrio, estate of the Materis, is the place where, as a young man, Luigi Materi spent the summer during his childhood and youth. The novel, finished on the night of November 25, 1919, when its author was forty-two, deals with the love-story, started two years before in Naples, between a seventeen-year-old girl, a war refugee coming from Friuli, and Paolo Alderisi, a forty-four-year-old philanderer, noble, well-built and of smart appearance who is, nevertheless, conscious of his own ineluctable ageing. To save his love, which he knows to be his last one, he decides, while war is spreading its rage all around, to withdraw in the Grancìa forest, where an apparent peace prevails. But this calm turns out to be false and unreal, made out of apathy and boredom. The young girl does not resign herself to this life, and one day she decides to go back to life; the man can but see her leaving from the window of his “castle.”

This novel reminds us of Levi’s Christ Stopped At Eboli, as far as the opposition between city and countryside is concerned. But Levi considered it from a social and political standpoint, while in Materi it fell within the ambit of existentialism and psychology, in a way which was closer to Freud than to Jung, who was precious to Levi. It is usually said that Materi was apart from any political tension or sociological assessment. World War I, for example, did not excite him, so he did not enlist, and did not fight, which his cherished D’Annunzio did. The Great War, more realistically, remained an “appalling tragedy,” emblematic of life’s fatal ending into decay. Literary themes and references are to be found, therefore, well beyond Naples, in D’Annunzio’s Rome (Il piacere), in Svevo’s Trieste, and even more in Proust’s Paris and in Wilde’s London. Though his most painful and true novel, L’ultima canzone is Materi’s best work, and the one which deserves to be included among the most interesting works of the early 20th Century Italian literature.

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