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Isabella Santacroce has reached a new level of genius with her short story “Desdemona Undicesima”. Her addition to Venice Noir is utterly perplexing in its multiplicity and its almost insane narration.
Repetition is everywhere and is rarely able to be figured out. The multiplicity of meaning that goes along with various events in the story also makes the true meaning of the story complicated. If readers are looking for a complex story that requires multiple readings of not just the story itself, but of the characters and events within the story, then this short story is exactly what they are looking for.
Desdemona, the lead female and narrator, could be a representation of the Desdemona from Shakespeare’s Othello, a descendent of that character, since the title of the story could be translated as “Desdemona the Eleventh”, or she could be her own character entirely. Depending on which of these the reader chooses to believe changes the meaning and experience of the story.
If readers choose to think of Desdemona as loosely representing the character similarly named in Othello they may be sorely disappointed to see certain aspects have been left out. However, the idea of Desdemona being a possible adulterous is maintained. Although, her husband is the one who should be called an adulterer despite his inclusion of his wife in the various sexual acts he partakes of outside of their marriage.
Reading the story as if Desdemona were a very distant relative to the woman in Othello, would account for the discrepancies between Santacroce’s character and Shakespeare’s, but the few similarities would still make sense. Whether those similarities are a result of personality or even genealogy is a different matter altogether. One that is most likely not to meant to be explored in this short story.
The last way to look at Desdemona, as a character all her own, is by far the most difficult one. It does not allow for any background information for readers to lean upon for possible explanations to her actions or those around her. The only that can be gotten from her name is that it means “ill-fated”, quite an accurate title for such a character considering the situations her husband puts her in because she cannot have a child.
From this particular point of view, the entire story does not seem to fit together and placing the events in sequential order is strenuous at best. Even more wearisome is the fact that Desdemona claims to be a few different people, all by the same name, and even calls the readers by her name.
Perhaps the story would be more enjoyable read in a class with someone who has already analyzed it to the point that they understand or can at least explain certain aspects of significance. “Desdemona Undecesima” is similar to poetry in the aspect that the best poetry upon first reading makes a reader think, “Huh?!”, but then when they go back and discover certain patterns or motifs they start to put together the pieces and the poem becomes a treasured favorite.
This is how readers will react to Santacroce’s short story. Even though readers may struggle through the story without understanding the details of what is taking place they will still get a general idea and this will either keep them rereading to try to make sense of the troubled heroine or toss the book aside altogether.
Image Courtesy of Isabella Santacroce