The Viceroys

Author: Federico De Roberto
Title: The Viceroys
Publish Date: 1894
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 600 pages


The Viceroys by Federico De Roberto, published in 1894, is a significant work of historical fiction that delves into the power struggles, social dynamics, and moral dilemmas of a Sicilian noble family during the years of Italian unification in the late 19th century. The novel provides a rich portrayal of the complex characters and their interactions, as well as exploring themes of identity, honor, and the consequences of personal choices in a rapidly changing society.

Set in the late 1860s, The Viceroys introduces readers to the Uzeda family, an aristocratic dynasty that faces challenges in maintaining its traditional privileges and influential position in Sicilian society. The novel is structured in three sections, each focusing on a particular phase of the family’s history.

In the first section, titled “Don Fabrizio,” readers are introduced to the patriarch of the Uzeda family, Don Fabrizio Corbera, the Prince of Salina. Don Fabrizio is a respected figure with a deep understanding of the social and political landscape of Sicily. As the prince witnesses the ascent of a new middle class seeking to reshape the power dynamics of the island, he is torn between preserving the traditions of his class and embracing the changes brought forth by Italian unity. Don Fabrizio’s complex character is further revealed through his troubled relationship with his wife, Donna Maria Stella, and his beloved nephew, Tancrède Falconeri, who embodies the family’s downfall and moral ambiguity.

The second section, “Tancredi,” revolves around Tancrède Falconeri’s youth and his involvement in the revolutionary movement against the Bourbon monarchy. Through Tancrède’s eyes, readers witness the idealism and passion of the younger generation, motivated by ambitions to eradicate the corruption of the old regime. Tancrède’s participation in the revolution leads him to form a complicated relationship with Angelica Sedara, the daughter of a wealthy bourgeois family whose prosperity is built upon the chaos of the changing times.

The final section, “Ciccio,” focuses on Don Fabrizio’s older son, Ciccio. Unlike Tancrède, who struggles between his desire for change and his family’s aristocratic legacy, Ciccio embodies the traditional values and preserves the old ways. As society continues to transform, Ciccio’s frustrations grow, leading him to distance himself from the Uzeda family and its responsibilities. However, Ciccio’s internal conflicts intensify, eventually colliding with societal pressures, leading to tragic consequences that profoundly impact the family’s future.

Throughout The Viceroys, De Roberto masterfully intertwines the personal lives of the Uzeda family with the broader historical events of the era. The novel provides insights into the complex interplay between the old noble class and the rising bourgeoisie and explores the tensions and compromises required for societal progress. De Roberto’s characters encapsulate the struggles faced by individuals caught between their personal desires, familial duties, and societal expectations. The Prince of Salina’s constant reflection on his own powerlessness and the inevitability of change embodies the overarching theme of the novel—namely, the transience and mutability of power in the face of historical forces.

In conclusion, The Viceroys by Federico De Roberto offers a compelling portrayal of a noble Sicilian family experiencing the winds of socio-political change during Italian unification. De Roberto’s intricate storytelling and profound understanding of human nature make the novel a significant contribution to the genre of historical fiction. The characters, their dilemmas, and the broader themes explored in the novel serve as a poignant reminder of the complexities inherent in navigating personal and societal transformations during times of great historical significance.