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A Vendetta by Maupassant: Setting & Summary

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson we will take a closer look at ''A Vendetta'' by Guy de Maupassant. In addition to going over a summary, we will discuss the setting and the role it plays in the story.

A Time and Place

Think about the last story you read. Where did it take place? When? The time and place of a story are known as its setting, and setting often plays a significant role in a work of literature. One example is in Guy de Maupassant's short story ''A Vendetta.'' This story opens with a vivid, multi-paragraph description of the setting.

The story is set partly in the city of Bonifacio, Italy, and partly in the village of Longosardo, Sardinia. Longosardo sits across a channel from Bonifacio, which is clustered at the clifftop ''like the nest of wild birds.'' The widow Saverini, the main character of the story, lives in Bonifacio with her son and his dog. The son's name is Antoine, and the dog is Semillante. The widow's house ''[holds] on for dear life to the very edge of the cliff,'' and she can see Longosardo from her three windows.

Bonifacio sits atop a sheer cliff
Bonifacio

Landscape

The clear description of the landscape in the story serves to illustrate the harsh conditions that the widow and her son lived in. Maupassant includes descriptions like this one:

''The unresting wind harasses the sea and eats away the bare shore, clad with a sparse covering of grass; it rushes into the ravine and ravages its two sides.''

This kind of language paints a bleak and dismal picture, and gives the story a very dark overtone. Since ''A Vendetta'' is a story of murder and revenge, the setting is very fitting, and helps enhance the severe, desolate mood of the story.

The Story

Following the scenery descriptions, Maupassant tells us that the widow lives alone with Antoine and Semillante. Antoine is killed one night by Nicholas Ravolati, who immediately leaves town and flees to Longosardo. The widow stands vigil over the body in her house all night, and vows to take revenge on Ravolati.

This is the vendetta mentioned in the title. A vendetta is a feud in which a family member seeks revenge for a person who has been murdered. The widow is the only family that Antoine has left, and so it is up to her to avenge his death.

The Widow's Plan

The widow knows she cannot simply go and confront Ravolati because she is old and infirm. Instead, she comes up with a plan. She starves Semillante for two days. One morning she ties food around the next of a straw dummy and releases the ''ravenous'' dog. Eventually she takes the food off the dummy and simply gives it to Semillante when she attacks on command. This training goes on for three months until Semillante always attacks on command.

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