Friday, September 19, 2014

"I killed Pompilia Franceschini" -- the testimony of Count Guido

I killed Pompilia Franceschini, Sirs;
Killed too the Comparini, husband, wife,
Who called themselves, by a notorious lie,
Her father and her mother to ruin me.
Oh, Browning. You are such a card. Yes, Count Guido Franceschini is testifying before the court, the defendant in a murder trial, accused of butchering his wife and her parents. Guido admits to all if it, see? It's a fair cop, and fairly done, and fair is fair so let him go. The wench was an adulteress, her parents frauds; what choice did Guido have?

There is much humor in Guido's testimony, though all in the ironic vein. Guido has been tortured prior to appearing in court, to help loosen his tongue and encourage him to speak honestly. Guido is not a young man, nor is he used to such rough handling, but he is grateful to the court for having him racked:
Not your fault, sweet Sir! Come, you take to heart
An ordinary matter. Law is law.
Noblemen were exempt, the vulgar thought,
From racking, but, since law thinks otherwise,
I have been put to the rack: all’s over now,
And neither wrist — what men style, out of joint:
If any harm be, ’tis the shoulder-blade,
The left one, that seems wrong i’ the socket — Sirs,
Much could not happen, I was quick to faint,
Being past my prime of life, and out of health.
In short I thank you — yes, and mean the word.
"No, that's okay, I passed out from the pain, your Honors!" But why does he thank the court? The change in form of Guido's punishment was a relief:
Needs must the Court be slow to understand
How this quite novel form of taking pain,
This getting tortured merely in the flesh,
Amounts to almost an agreeable change
In my case, me fastidious, plied too much
With opposite treatment, used (forgive the joke)
To the rasp-tooth toying with this brain of mine,
And, in and out my heart, the play o’ the probe.
Four years have I been operated on
I’ the soul, do you see — its tense or tremulous part —
My self-respect, my care for a good name,
Pride in an old one, love of kindred — just
A mother, brothers, sisters, and the like,
That looked up to my face when days were dim,
And fancied they found light there — no one spot,
Foppishly sensitive, but has paid its pang.
That, and not this you now oblige me with,
That was the Vigil-torment, if you please!
Ho ho ho, Guido, good one! The rack is better than living with that wife of his, gentlemen! Thanks for the diversion; were he stronger, he'd ask for another taste. "vigil torment" refers to the cheerful habit of Renaissance Italian prisons to deny sleep to a condemned prisoner, just to add to the misery. Guido implies that living with his young wife was a torture he endured while awaiting death, which could not come too soon, your Honors. Ho ho ho, Browning. This martyrdom of Guido's is the central pillar of his defense, so it's important that he establish his great relief at his wife's somewhat forced demise, no matter the consequences to Guido himself, brave lad that he is. He done her in but she had it coming, you see. At some length Guido will explain why. Who can blame him, sir? Well, it turns out that the law blames him, and will chop off his head by way of repercussion. But that's later. For now there's the martyrdom--the sainthood, really--of Guido Franceschini, the poor dear man.


  1. FYI

  2. It is really too bad that The Ring and the Book is such a brick. It contains such wonderful things.

    1. It's not that it's so long, it's that it's so dense. One could say "rich" rather than "dense," I suppose. Brilliant and exhausting, but it would never be so brilliant without being exhausting in its particular way. Is it immediately apparent that I'm short on sleep? I think it is.