Places: Our Ancestors

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Il nostri antenati, 1960 (English translation, 1980); Il visconte dimezzato, 1952 (The Cloven Viscount, 1962); Il barone rampante, 1957 (The Baron in the Trees, 1959); Il cavaliere inesistente, 1959 (The Non-existent Knight, 1962)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Middle Ages to early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Terralba

*Terralba. Our AncestorsVillage on the west coast of the Mediterranean island of Sardinia at the time of the Crusades. At the conclusion of The Cloven Viscount, the adolescent narrator misses his chance to set sail with his tutor, Dr. Trelawney. Although Trelawney is sailing with the historical Captain James Cook, he is also a character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883). Ultimately, Trelawney’s departure represents the loss of childhood adventure stories, and the imaginary spaces of literature more generally, and the narrator is left behind in the real world of “responsibilities” and disappointing “will-o’-the-wisps.”


Forest. Woods surrounding the fictional Ombrosa in Northern Italy during the Enlightenment in The Baron in the Trees. The woods ultimately extend over much of Europe, permitting Cosimo, who has decided to live in the trees, to range freely over the continent, where he meets characters both literary and historical. His arbitrary decision to live in the trees represents a desire to find a utopia, a true harmony between humanity and nature. At the end of the novel, however, the narrator wonders if this idyllic forest ever existed at all or was merely a tangle of fantasy, like his own story, indeed, like the words on the very page he is writing.


Convent. Nunnery located somewhere in chivalric Europe in The Non-existent Knight. Sister Theodora recounts the often parodic story of famous figures from chivalric romances, such as Emperor Charlemagne and the woman warrior Bradamante. The implicit contrast throughout the novel is between the open space of Europe–filled with epic adventure–and the closed, literary space of the convent, where Theodora writes as a penance. At the novel’s end, this division is neatly undone when Theodora reveals that she is Bradamante, and the division between the two spaces collapses as she dedicates herself to the possibilities the future may hold.

BibliographyCannon, JoAnn. Italo Calvino: Writer and Critic. Ravenna, Italy: Longo, 1981. A brief, comprehensive survey of the writer and his work.Carter, Albert Howard III. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1987. A comprehensive study focusing on uses of fantasy in the author’s works.Hume, Kathryn. Calvino’s Fictions: Cogito and Cosmos. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1992. The most comprehensive study of Calvino’s works. The main discussion of the trilogy is in the chapter “Identifying the Labyrinth.”Woodhouse, J. R. “From Italo Calvino to Tonio Cavilla: The First Twenty Years.” In Calvino Revisited, edited by Franco Ricci. Ottawa, Canada: Dovehouse Editions, 1989. A compact overview of the writer’s earlier work, including a commentary on the trilogy.Woodhouse, J. R. Italo Calvino: A Reappraisal and an Appreciation of the Trilogy. Hull, England: University of Hull Publications, 1968. A long essay on the trilogy.
Categories: Places