Places: The Mother

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La madre, 1920 (English translation, 1922)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Sardinia

*Sardinia. Mother, TheItalian island that is the second largest island of the Mediterranean Sea and one of the most ancient of European lands, with remnants of human habitation dating from 6000 b.c.e. Until well into the twentieth century, it remained one of the most isolated of Italian regions, maintaining its own languages and tribal customs. The literary revelation of Sardinia was the work of Grazia Deledda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1926, with special praise by the Swedish Academy for her skilled descriptions of splendidly rugged and desolate landscapes. In the Sardinia of Deledda’s novels the vendetta remain, bandits are admired, loss of chastity is horribly punished, and emotions are always raw. Her characters are not Rousseauistic noble savages, but they are also not yet corrupted by the more subtle vices of the European mainland. As in a Homeric epic, fate broods over the landscape, which, like the weather, seems to mirror the emotions of the people.


Presbytery. Primitive Sardinian home designed for the ascetic life of a priest and a female housekeeper of “a certain age.” Paul’s housekeeper is his own widowed mother, who functions as his conscience and jailor as well. She listens to his every movement and shadows him on his pastoral rounds. The austerity of the home and its keeper serves daily to remind the young priest of the life he has been forced to renounce; no youthful frivolity or sensual pleasure is to be his. Ordered by his bishop to show deference to his mother, this woman who has chosen for him this vocation, and to frequently kiss her hand, Paul has a frightening vision of her lying on the altar, like a mysterious pagan idol whose cold hand he is forced to kiss.


Aar. Fictional Sardinian village, typical of the island’s villages in the Nuoro region in the early twentieth century, long before developers and tourists arrived. The nearby mountains are the lairs of bandits; in the surrounding fields, shepherds tend their flocks. Peasants, petty craftsmen, small landowners, and priests are the neighbors. Life is especially lonely for women, shrouded in their long black garments. Older women such as Maria may live through their children, who are themselves condemned to limited, deprived existences, but younger women like Agnes, especially when they are alone, are constantly watched and judged. Only the church calendar, with its cycle of fasts and feast days, slightly relieves the monotony of the lives that pass here from birth to death without even the respite of a trip to the island’s cities, Cagliari and Sassari.

BibliographyBalducci, Carolyn. A Self-Made Woman: Biography of Nobel-Prize-Winner Grazia Deledda. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975. The only book-length study or biography of Deledda in English. Written primarily for young adults in a nonscholarly, novelistic style.Deledda, Grazia. The Mother. Translated by Mary G. Steegmann. New York: Macmillan, 1923. Reprint. Cherokee, 1982. The introduction provides an excellent, nontechnical discussion in English of Deledda’s most famous novel.Lawrence, D. H. Sea and Sardinia. London: Heinemann, 1950. A poetic evocation of the Sardinian milieu. An English classic of travel literature, written by one of Deledda’s most ardent admirers. Contains an especially pertinent account of a journey inland to Nuoro, identified as Deledda’s home town.Pacifici, Sergio. The Modern Italian Novel: From Capuana to Tozzi. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973. Highly readable account of Italian achievements in modern fiction. One chapter is devoted principally to Deledda’s work.Pribic, Rado, ed. Nobel Laureates in Literature: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland, 1990. Reviews Deledda’s literary achievement, with a concise, pertinent commentary on The Mother. Identifies themes the novel shares with Deledda’s other books and with representative international works of literary naturalism and existentialism.
Categories: Places