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The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount Paperback – March 28, 1977

4.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Delightful...[The Nonexistent Knight] is a mordantly witty satire on the affairs of modern man...The Cloven Viscount is a dark-hued Gothic gem -- Helena Cantarella -- The New York Times Book Review

Language Notes

Text: English, Italian (translation)

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Product Details

  • Series: Harbrace Paperbound Library ; 73
  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; Harvest ed. edition (March 28, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156659751
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156659758
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Calvino rarely, if ever, disappoints. This book includes two early stories, both of which have everything you would expect from Calvino: surrealism, wisdom, fabulism, and poignancy derived from bizarre and unexpected sources. Reading them is a unique experience, much like reading anything Calvino has written; these stories, being earlier works, are slightly more conventional (for Calvino) in that they follow a plot line and a story unfolds linearly (contrasted with later works such as "Invisible Cities" or "Cosmicomics" where there's a story, but not in a completely conventional sense).
"The Nonexistent Knight" is about just that: a knight in Charlemagne's army who doesn't exist, but "inhabits" an empty suit of armor. The knight, Agilulf, is an exemplar of chivalry, and annoys almost everyone. When the validity of his knighthood is brought into question, a great chase ensues between the main characters of the story, which, when the smoke clears, culminates in a "confession" of the narrator. The story's mood is a strangely profound tongue-in-cheek. It is moving, funny, and intense.
"The Cloven Viscount", by contrast, is a harsh and violent story that includes enough whimsy to keep it from sinking into a hopelessly depressing tale. After the mostly upbeat feel of "The Nonexistent Knight" the brutal imagery of this story is shocking. The story involves a Viscount who is in fact cloven, that is, literally cloven in two by a Turkish cannon. He is not only cloven physically, but in other more interesting ways. The implications this story presents are numerous and incredibly thought-provoking.
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Format: Paperback
As I'd previously read and enjoyed Calvino's The Baron in the Trees, I thought I'd try this collection of two novellas. While I more or less enjoyed the two stories, they're not quite as good as The Baron in the Trees. The first tale is of a knight whose every action is perfect, but has no physical body, he is literally an empty suit of armor. His perfection is an aphrodisiac to a female knight who has contempt for all other men, but finds him irresistible. Meanwhile, a naive young knight follows her around like a puppy. Meanwhile, another young knight seeks out the Order of the Holy Grail, who he claims as having fathered him. There's a kind of Shakespearean comedy element to all of this, especially in the hasty and tidy conclusion. However, one has to read it as a fable instructing us that though we seek spiritual and earthly perfection, they may not turn out to be what we want.
The second tale is of a nobleman cut in half whose two halves live separately on: one evil, one good. This is a more straightforward and compact story, and clearly a warning against extremism of any kinds. The evil side is truly nasty, and the good one starts out beloved, but eventfully gets too pushy and interfering for everyone's good. Eventually the two halves are rejoined to make a balanced personality and everyone lives happily ever after.
Both stories can also be read as existentialist meditations on the meaning of existence. They can also be read with an eye toward the horrors of WWII and the nature of evil. In the first tale, Charlemagne and his knights are bumbling fools for the most part, but still manage to engage in a bloody war. In the second, a carpenter's expertise is enlisted to create more and more elaborate torture and hanging devices, while a doctor abandons his commitment to helping people. In any event, if you like Calvino's other fabulist work, you'll like these two novellas, but they're probably not the place to start if you're unfamiliar with his work.
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Format: Paperback
Magical realism was never more magic than when Italo Calvino wrote it. While the two novellas "The Nonexistent Knight and The Cloven Viscount" are early work, his quirky satire and strange fantasy are in fine form here. The best description of Calvino's writing is: fairy tales for adults, which are smart and funny at the same time.

"The Nonexistant Knight" opens with Charlemagne and his army preparing for a massive battle -- except that one knight named Agilulf is, technically, nonexistant. Okay, he's the very image of honor and chivalry, but he's also a walking empty suit of white armor. For some reason, Charlemagne doesn't seem disturbed by this.

Fortunately, Agilulf is able to do his job despite not existing; Calvino's meditations on this are outstanding. Because of his ultra-perfection, Agilulf ends up attracting a naive young soldier, a feisty warrior woman, and an odd young knight who is looking for the Order of the Holy Grail. A Shakespearean tangle of sorts emerges before things start to sort themselves out...

"The Cloven Viscount" is a simpler work: A viscount is hit by a Turkish cannonball that somehow splits him in half. Surprisingly, he's not dead -- they're able to save the right half of his body. But when the right half goes home, it becomes increasingly clear that it only has half the personality as well. And unfortunately, it's the evil half.

As the various peasants try to deal with the viscount's vicious acts, the left half shows up as well. As it happens, the left half is the good half. He's also, despite his goody-goody personality, as much of a menace as the evil side. Can the two halves somehow get back into a whole man, or will they drive everyone else nuts?
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