Short summary - The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Baron in the Trees
Italo Calvino

The incredible events of this novel, which combines the features of an essay, a utopia, and a philosophical and satirical story, take place at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. His hero, Baron Cosimo di Rondo, at the age of twelve, protesting against the boiled snails served every day for dinner, climbs a tree and decides to spend his whole life there, making it a rule never to touch the ground. And so, strictly fulfilling his decision, young Cosimo begins to equip his life on the trees.

Learning to move from tree to tree, he finds himself in the garden of the Marquis d'Ondariv, where he meets his daughter Viola. However, their friendship does not last long - the girl is soon sent to a boarding school.

Cosimo's supplier is his younger brother Biagio - he brings him blankets, umbrellas, food and everything necessary for life. The humble Abbé Voschlafleur, who teaches the brothers all the sciences, gives Cosimo lessons in the open air. Biagio sees how his older brother, “sitting on an elm branch and dangling his legs, and the abbot below, in the middle of the lawn on a bench,” repeat hexameters in one voice. Then Biagio watches as the abbot, "dangling his long, thin legs in black stockings," tries to sit on a tree branch.

Cosimo successfully hunts and, like Robinson Crusoe, sews clothes for himself from the skins of the animals he killed. He tames a dachshund forgotten by Viola and names her Ottimo-Massimo, believing that the girl will like it.

Cosimo fishes, catches swarms of bees and gradually ceases to observe the customs established in the family, such as going to Mass, and less and less appears on the oak branch near the open window of the church.

In the forest where Cosimo lives, the robber Forest Jan is in charge. One day, when the young baron is sitting on a branch and reading Le Sage's Gilles Blas, Lesnoy Jan jumps out into the clearing: he is being chased by the gathering. Cosimo saves the robber, and he asks him to read a book. A touching friendship develops between them. Now all the books from the home library that Biagio brings to his brother are also read by Forest Gian, from which they return "disheveled, with mold spots and snail marks, because God knows where he kept them." The robber gets used to reading, and "soon for the brother, always urged on by the insatiable robber, reading from half an hour of fun turned into the main occupation and the main goal", because before giving the book to the robber, he has to at least look through it: Forest Jan is picky and does not read bad books. Gradually, the formidable robber becomes disgusted with "criminal and vicious people", ceases to engage in his robbery business, goes to prison, and then to the gallows - like the hero of the last book he read.

During his acquaintance with the robber, Cosimo develops an indefatigable passion for reading and serious studies. He himself is looking for the abbot Aoshlafler and demands that he explain this or that subject to him. The kindest abbot writes out the latest books for his pupil, and gradually a rumor spreads around the district that “a priest who watches over all the most blasphemous books in Europe” lives in the castle of Baron di Rondo. The church tribunal arrests the abbot, and he has to spend the rest of his life in "prison and monastery." Cosimo, who went hunting, does not have time to say goodbye to his mentor. Cosimo enters into correspondence with the largest scientists and philosophers of Europe. Unfortunately, these letters disappeared without a trace - "for sure they were eaten away by mold and gnawed by squirrels."

Reading the "Encyclopedia" by Diderot and d'Alembert, Cosimo is imbued with the desire to "do something for the good of his neighbor." With the help of Ogtimo-Massimo, he prevents a wildfire and then saves the locals from Muslim pirates.

Despite his hectic life, Cosimo does not feel satisfied: he still has not met love - how to find love in the trees? Unexpectedly, he learns that a whole colony of Spaniards lives in the trees in Olivebass, and immediately embarks on a journey through the forests, "at great risk overcoming areas where there is almost no vegetation."

In Olivebass, there really is a colony of exiles in the trees - Spanish feudal lords who rebelled against King Charles III because of some kind of privileges. Cosimo meets Ursula and learns the mystery of love. Soon forgiveness comes out to the Spaniards, they descend from the trees and leave; Ursula's father calls Cosimo with him - by marrying his daughter, he will become his heir. The young man refuses: “I settled in the trees before you, I will stay in them after you!” he answers.

Arriving home, Cosimo falls seriously ill. While recovering, he, forced to sit motionless on a tree, begins to write "The Draft Constitution of an Ideal State Located in the Trees", in which he describes an imaginary above-ground republic inhabited by just people. He sends his work to Diderot. Rumors about Cosimo roam Europe, newspapermen in their fabrications place him somewhere "between a hermaphrodite and a siren." Viola returns - she has grown up and become a real beauty. Children's affection turns into a violent passion. “For Cosimo, and for Viola too, the most wonderful time in her life began, she rushed through the fields and roads on her white horse and, seeing Cosimo between the foliage and the sky, immediately got off her horse, climbed up the crooked trunk and thick branches” . Lovers get to know each other and themselves. But time passes, passionate lovers quarrel and part forever.

After that, "Cosimo walked for a long time in rags through the trees, sobbing and refusing to eat." The Baron is insane. It was during this period that he mastered the art of printing and began to publish pamphlets and newspapers. Gradually reason returns to Cosimo; he becomes a Freemason, and the journal he publishes is called The Rational Vertebrate.

The winds of freedom are blowing over Europe, a revolution is taking place in France. Cosimo helps the locals get rid of the tolls and tax collectors. A tree of freedom is planted in the village square, and Cosimo, with a tricolor cockade on a fur hat from the top of it, makes a speech about Rousseau and Voltaire.

Cosimo successfully exterminates the Austrian regiment that has gone deep into the forest and inspires a detachment of French volunteers under the command of the poet, Lieutenant Papillon, to fight. Soon, the French troops from the republican become imperial and pretty sick of the locals. Making a trip to Italy after the coronation, Napoleon meets with the famous "patriot living in trees" and says: "If I were not Emperor Napoleon, I would like to be a citizen of Cosimo Rondo!"

Cosimo is getting old. Napoleon's army is defeated on the Berezina, the British land in Genoa, everyone is waiting for new coups. The nineteenth century, having begun badly, continues even worse. “The shadow of the Restoration hangs over Europe; all reformers, whether Jacobins or Bonapartists, are defeated; absolutism and the Jesuits are once again triumphant, the ideals of youth, the bright lights and hopes of our eighteenth century - everything has turned to ashes. Ill Cosimo spends whole days lying on a bed set on a tree, basking near the brazier. Suddenly, a hot air balloon appears in the sky, and at the moment when it flies past Cosimo, he “with truly youthful dexterity” grabs his dangling rope with an anchor and, blown away by the wind, disappears into the sea distance.

“So Cosimo disappeared, without giving us the consolation of seeing him return to earth even dead.”