Short summary - The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis - Ugo Foscolo

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis
Ugo Foscolo

The action begins in October 1789, ends in March 1799 and takes place mainly in northern Italy, in the vicinity of Venice. The narrative consists of letters from the protagonist, Jacopo Ortiz, to his friend Lorenzo, as well as Lorenzo's memories of Jacopo.

In October 1797, an agreement was signed between Napoleonic France and Austria, according to which Bonaparte ceded Venice to the Austrians, and received Belgium and the Ionian Islands. This agreement crossed out the hopes of the Venetians for the liberation of their homeland from Austrian rule, the hopes that were originally associated with the emperor of France, who embodied the Great French Revolution in the eyes of the Italians. Many young Venetians who fought for freedom were included in the proscription lists by the Austrian authorities and doomed to exile. Jacopo Ortiz, who left his mother in Venice and left for a modest family estate in the Euganean mountains, was also forced to leave his native city. In letters to a friend, Lorenzo Alderani, he mourns the tragic fate of his homeland and the younger generation of Italians, for whom there is no future in their native country.

The solitude of the young man was shared only by his faithful servant Michele. But soon Jacopo's loneliness was broken by the visit of a neighbor, Signor T., who lived on his estate with his daughters - the blond beauty Teresa and the four-year-old baby Isabella. Tormented by the soul, Jacopo found solace in conversations with a smart, educated neighbor, in games with a baby, in tender friendship with Teresa. Very soon, the young man realized that he loved Teresa selflessly. Jacopo also met a family friend, Odoardo, serious, positive, well-read, but completely alien to subtle emotional experiences and not sharing the lofty political ideals of Jacopo. During a walk in Arcua, to the house of Petrarch, the excited Teresa unexpectedly entrusted Jacopo with her secret - her father is marrying her to Odoardo. The girl does not love him, but they are ruined; because of his political views, the father is compromised in the eyes of the authorities; marriage with a wealthy, reasonable, trustworthy person, according to the father, will ensure the future of his daughter and strengthen the position of the T. family. Teresa's mother, who took pity on her daughter and dared to object to her husband, was forced to leave for Padua after a fierce quarrel.

Teresa's confession shocked Jacopo, made him suffer severely and deprived him of that ghostly peace that he had found far from Venice. He succumbed to his mother's persuasion and left for Padua, where he intended to continue his education at the university. But university science seemed to him dry and useless; he became disillusioned with books and ordered Lorenzo to sell his huge library left in Venice. The secular society of Padua rejected Jacopo: he ridiculed the empty chatter of salons, openly called scoundrels scoundrels and did not succumb to the charms of cold beauties.

In January, Ortiz returned to the Euganean Mountains. Odoardo was away on business, and Jacopo continued to visit the T family. Only when he saw Teresa did he feel that life had not yet left him. He was looking for meetings with her and at the same time was afraid of them. Once, while reading Stern, Jacopo was struck by the similarity of the story told in the novel with the fate of the young Lauretta, whom both friends once knew - after the death of her lover, she lost her mind. Having connected the translation of part of the novel with the true story of Lauretta, Jacopo wanted to let Teresa read it, so that she would understand how painful unrequited love is, but did not dare to embarrass the girl's soul. And soon Lorenzo told a friend that Lauretta died in misery. Lauretta became for Jacopo a symbol of true love.

But the young man happened to see something else - at Signor T. he met a girl who was once loved by one of his now deceased friends. She was given in marriage to a well-intentioned aristocrat. Now she startled Jacopo with her empty chatter about hats and frank callousness.

Once on a walk, Jacopo could not stand it and kissed Teresa. The shocked girl ran away, and the young man felt himself at the pinnacle of bliss. However, the inevitable return of Odoardo was approaching, and from Teresa Jacopo heard the fateful words: "I will never be yours."

Odoardo returned, and Jacopo completely lost his mental balance, emaciated, turned pale. As if mad, he wandered through the fields, tormented and sobbed for no reason. The meeting with Odoardo ended in a violent quarrel, the reason for which was Odoardo's pro-Austrian views. Signor T., who loved and understood Jacopo, began to guess about his feelings for Teresa. Worried about the young man's illness, he nevertheless told Teresa that Ortiz's love could push the T. family into the abyss. Preparations for the wedding had already begun, and Jacopo fell ill with a severe fever.

Ortiz felt guilty for destroying Teresa's peace of mind. As soon as he got to his feet, he went on a trip to Italy. He visited Ferrara, Bologna, Florence, where, looking at the monuments of the great past of Italy, he thought bitterly about its present and future, comparing great ancestors and miserable descendants.

An important stage in Jacopo's journey was Milan, where he met Giuseppe Parini, a famous Italian poet. Ortiz poured out his soul to the old poet and found in him a like-minded person who also did not accept the conformism and pettiness of Italian society. Parini prophetically predicted a tragic lot for Ortiz.

Jacopo intended to continue his wanderings in France, but stopped in a town in the Ligurian Alps, where he ran into a young Italian, a former lieutenant of the Napoleonic troops, who once fought against the Austrians with weapons in his hands. Now he was in exile, in poverty, unable to feed his wife and daughter. Jacopo gave him all the money; the sad fate of the lieutenant, doomed to humiliation, again reminded him of the futility of existence and the inevitability of the collapse of hopes. Having reached Nice, Ortiz decided to return to Italy: someone told him the news, which Lorenzo preferred to keep silent about - Teresa was already married to Odoardo. "In the past - repentance, in the present - longing, in the future - fear" - this is how life now seemed to Ortiz. Before returning to the Euganean mountains, he stopped at Ravenna to bow to the grave of Dante.

Returning to the estate, Jacopo only glimpsed Teresa, accompanied by her husband and father. Deep mental suffering pushed Jacopo to insane acts. He rushed at night on horseback through the fields and once accidentally knocked a peasant to death with his horse. The young man did everything so that the unfortunate family did not need anything.

Jacopo had the strength to pay another visit to the T family. He talked about the upcoming trip and said that they would not see each other for a long time. Father and Teresa felt that this was not just a goodbye before leaving.

The story of the last week of Jacopo Ortiz's life was collected bit by bit by Lorenzo Alderani, including fragments of records found in Jacopo's room after his death. Jacopo confessed to the aimlessness of his own existence, to spiritual emptiness and deep despair. According to the servant Michele, most of what was written on the eve of his death was burned by his master. Gathering the last strength, the young man went to Venice, where he met with Lorenzo and his mother, whom he convinced that he was returning to Padua, and then continue the journey. In his hometown, Jacopo visited Lauretta's grave. After spending only one day in Padua, he returned to the estate.

Lorenzo stopped by a friend, hoping to persuade him to go traveling together, but saw that Ortiz was not happy with him. Jacopo was just about to visit Signor T. Lorenzo did not dare to leave his friend alone and went with him. They saw Teresa, but the meeting took place in heavy silence, only little Isabella suddenly burst into tears and no one could calm her down. Then Lorenzo learned that by this time Jacopo had already prepared farewell letters: one for a friend, the other for Teresa.

Michele, who was sleeping in the next room, at night it seemed that groans were coming from the master's bedroom. Lately, however, Ortiz had often been plagued by nightmares, and the servant did not visit Jacopo. In the morning the door had to be forced open - Jacopo lay on the bed covered in blood. He plunged a dagger into his chest, trying to hit his heart. The unfortunate man had the strength to pull out his weapon, and blood flowed like a river from a vast wound. The young man was dying, but still breathing. The doctor was not at home, and Michele rushed to Signor T. Teresa, having learned about the misfortune, lost consciousness, fell to the ground. Her father rushed to Ortiz's house, where he managed to take the last breath of Jacopo, whom he had always loved like a son. On a piece of paper thrown on the table, one could read "dear mother ...", and on the other - "Teresa is not to blame for anything ..."

Lorenzo was summoned from Padua, Jacopo in a farewell letter asked his friend to take care of the funeral. Teresa spent all these days in complete silence, immersed in deep mourning. Jacopo Ortiz was buried in a modest grave at the foot of a hill in the Euganean mountains.