Becoming One: Social Deconstruction in Tarchetti’s “A Spirit in a Raspberry”
In Iginio Ugo Tarchetti’s “A Spirit in A Raspberry,” the main character, Baron B. has always been in his comfort zone: he has all he needs, and he is content with existing only in his small corner of the world. The young baron is unaware that life could be any different and lives an egocentric life. However, the baron’s later experience sharing an experience with another adds dimension to his previously simple life. Nevertheless, such a dimension also brings with it an uncanny fright: according to Sigmund Freud, blurring the lines between the familiar and the unfamiliar gives rise to the uncanny. Yet in the story, the baron’s familiar self is made whole by Clara’s unfamiliar other half, making this uncanny experience both wholesome and frightening. Although the spiritual union between Clara and the baron is a supernatural event, it also shows that love can unify two opposing wills, completing the baron’s human experience.
In the story, the baron’s sight and feelings are linked to his emotions, and his thoughts and memories are linked to his knowledge. He sees things differently when he feel differently about them, whereas his knowledge relies on memories and is independent of the senses. However, how he feels often differs from what he knows. While the baron is out hunting in the woods, he eats a raspberry from a wild bush and starts to feel different. The baron says he “would like to know” why he feels different (Tarchetti, 26). By phrasing the baron’s thoughts like a question, Tarchetti shows that the baron does not actually know why he feels different. He is disoriented between his thoughts and feelings: he is certain about how he feels, but uncertain about what he thinks or what he knows.
The relationship between knowing, feeling, and seeing is highlighted when the baron sees the village: “The village no longer seemed the same to him; he felt as if he had been away for many months. He saw that the campanile of the parish church had recently been repaired, and although he already knew about this change, it still felt as if he had not known” (Tarchetti, 31). Indeed, from the way Clara sees the baron’s bloodhound, Visir, we know she is murdered six months ago. Before her murder, Visir is “only two months old” (Tarchetti, 29), so even though the baron knows Visir is now “over eight” months old (Tarchetti, 29), this information is new to Clara, so it still feels unfamiliar to the baron. Similarly, “he already knew” about the campanile repair, but Clara has not known, because she “had been away for many months (Tarchetti, 31). Therefore, even though the baron sees what he has known, he still feels as if he has not known. Here, sight is significantly influenced by emotion, and knowing something is entirely different from feeling it.
This divergence of knowledge and emotion leads to the uncanny, and the uncanny is something not only the baron experiences, but also the people around him. Although the baron’s internal change is invisible, other characters in the story still see him differently. For example, the crowd in the story shares a collective uncanny experience because of the baron’s absurd behavior: they “felt as if they had glimpsed… something in his actions, but without knowing precisely what it might be. It did, however, make them frightened and concerned” (Tarchetti, 32). Again, what the crowd sees influences how they feel, but not knowing what they see or feel makes the experience uncanny, which frightens them, and even the baron himself is “terrified” (Tarchetti, 32) at his own actions. Tarchetti illustrates the uncanny doubling, a supernatural phenomenon, by referencing “optical illusion” (Tarchetti, 29), a scientific phenomenon. However, the biological phenomenon is within the laws of nature, but what the baron is experiencing is not, so the parallel between science and the supernatural is itself an uncanny example of doubling. The doubling spreads throughout the baron’s senses, which he compares to an “optical phenomenon” (Tarchetti, 29). The comparison of the unfamiliar supernatural phenomenon the baron is experiencing to a familiar biological phenomenon he has experienced lessens the fear from this uncanny situation to a certain extent. Here, the two “pupils” parallel the doubling (Tarchetti, 29): they are separate but exist in the same body. Similarly, Clara and the baron are two separate spirits but “looked through the same eyes” (Tarchetti, 29).
However, although the baron’s vision is double, it is not identical: the images “did not completely resemble one another in their doubleness” (Tarchetti, 29). This suggests that even though Clara and the baron share “the same eyes” （Tarchetti, 29), what they see seems different, because sight and feelings are interconnected, and their spirits respond to the same sight with different feelings. The combination of two spirits is uncanny: they share the same senses, but the same senses arouse different feelings for each of them, and they become increasingly distinct while existing within the same body. There seems to be a separation of the two spirits, and the repetition of “double” and “two” emphasizes this distinction (Tarchetti, 29-30). Even though they share the same physical body, they do not share the same “ideas”, “reason”, or “conscience” (Tarchetti, 30), but have two separate sets of each. Ideas, reason, and conscience are also linked more to rational thinking than to emotion, which suggests that while their emotions may coalesce, the two spirits maintain independent thinking. This is a clear distinction between the baron’s and Clara’s spirits, so the two spirits are mingled but separate. The two spirits are “conflicting, segregated, by nature different; they could not be fused together” (Tarchetti, 30). So while on the surface, the union between the baron and Clara seems to stem from their shared physical senses, there is actually a spiritual separation within the physical union, which is illustrated by the internal conflict between the two spirits.
This internal conflict is represented by outward paralysis, and the baron has to make a “violent effort” to come out of his “state of rigidity” (Tarchetti, 26). Even when the two wills do act in concert, the result is still violent, whereas having only one will does not impair his physical movements. Here, the two spirits are a hindrance. They compete for control, and although the two wills are “conflicting but equally powerful” (Tarchetti, 26), physically, Clara seems to control the body more: “the baron wanted to stop, but could not” (Tarchetti, 31). Clara’s will often overpowers the baron’s, so that he is “under the domination of that will which directed him as it pleased” (Tarchetti, 32), and “yields” to her “stronger impulse” (Tarchetti, 30). However, Clara is “timid” and ‘lower’ than the baron in gender and class (Tarchetti, 28), so it is surprising that their opposing wills have “the same force” (Tarchetti, 28), and at times Clara’s will even overpowers the baron’s will.
Clara’s will is powerful because she has experienced more of the world than the baron has. Even though Clara dies before the story begins, the reader glimpses her character through the baron. Clara is friendly and familiar with the other inhabitants of the village. For example, she asks about Caterina’s “father-in-law”. Caterina describes Clara’s behavior through the baron as “gracious” (Tarchetti, 29), which shows that although Clara is of a lower class, she is “graceful” in her character as well as in her physical movements (Tarchetti, 28). She knows the servants by name and embraces them “with transports of delight” (Tarchetti, 30), which suggests Clara’s warm personality allows her to experience intimacy and connection with others, to which the baron is unaccustomed. In contrast, even the baron’s exhibition of Clara’s “courtesy” towards his servants is out of the norm (Tarchetti, 31). Unlike Clara, the baron lacks curiosity towards his environment and seems to have limited human interaction. Clara’s empathy empowers her spirit, and the baron’s solipsism confines him to a “state of rigidity” (Tarchetti, 26).
The baron and Clara are polar opposites. The combination of their wills in a physical is an uncanny experience that creates separation rather than union. Thus the two conflicting spirits do not fuse from sharing a common physical body, but from sharing an experience:
“I come to sleep with you, Baron, sir.” And new memories were aroused in his soul; they were double memories – that is, recollections of impressions that the same event leaves in two different spirits – and he welcomed both sorts of impressions in himself. Yet these recollections were not like the ones that had already been evoked under the trellis: those were simple, these complex; those left a part of his soul empty, neutral, impartial; these occupied it totally. (Tarchetti, 32)
“I come to sleep with you, Baron, Sir,” suggests that Clara and the baron have slept together before (Tarchetti, 32), which is how they know each other. This is evidence that the baron and Clara have a shared experience—sex—and this “same event” is remembered by both of them (Tarchetti, 32), not just by Clara, but now the baron also has access to Clara’s memory of this event, which explains the “double memories” (Tarchetti, 32). Every other ‘new’ memory experienced by the baron up to this point belongs to only Clara, and this is the only double memory that belongs to both spirits. Previously, only the experience of sex is shared between the two individuals, but now their two minds merge as they also share their different impressions of the shared experience. These memories are not only double memories, but also memories of love. They have not “left part of his soul empty” but “occupied it totally” (Tarchetti, 32), because they are the memories of two, not one: while Clara’s previous memories delight the baron, their shared memories fulfil him, and their spiritual union is achieved with shared memories of sex, which fills the empty half of his soul that cannot be filled by only his own spirit.
This concept of unity and sex is examined explicitly in Plato’s The Symposium, which persists in the background of “A Spirit in a Raspberry,” although never explicitly referenced. Within his story, Tarchetti expresses a contrast between men and women through the notion of androgynous bodies from the Speech of Aristophanes, in which Aristophanes tells the story of the primordial male, female, and androgynous. They were split in half by Zeus, who feared their power; so each of us today is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole. Men who split from the androgynous are attracted to women, and women who split from the female and men who split from the male are attracted to their own genders. Aristophanes argues that love, therefore, is the pursuit of wholeness, justifying why the baron cannot be fulfilled without those double memories of love and sex.
Sex is not new to the baron, yet double memories add to his understanding of sex with what has been missing—Clara’s perspective—without diminishing his own memories, and Clara’s perspective is one that is quite different from the baron’s. For the baron, sex is an act of power, but for Clara, the notion of sex is linked to love and generosity, and their different attitudes towards sex are revealed through their love affair. We suspect that the baron and Clara know each other personally when Clara asks Francesco about the baron’s wellbeing and says, “tell him he will see me again” (Tarchetti, 30), which is particularly striking since Clara’s spirit seems foreign to the baron. Further, the baron seems to have many “women” (Tarchetti, 24), and he forgets about Clara in a mere “two months” (Tarchetti, 24). These suggest that Clara is not particularly important to the baron, but this experience allows him to know her thoughts and feelings with the utmost intimacy.
The baron is able to know Clara by becoming her, which is almost a type of radical empathy. For example, Clara has “a love more kind and lofty than he had ever felt, and a sin more sweet and generous than he had ever committed” (Tarchetti, 30-31), and it is as if the baron also experiences his own first love and first sin through Clara’s memories, since they are more intense than his own experiences. In contrast to the baron, who is initially cavalier and selfish in his pursuit of sex, Clara is compassionate and appreciative, and although sin should be an act of transgression, for Clara, it is something sweet. Baron B. experiences fear and compassion for the first time through Clara, which shows that the combined spirits have a much greater range of emotions than one spirit does. Because the baron no longer has sole control over his own mind and body, he actually becomes more human than before through Clara’s memories, enabling the supernatural union that enriches the baron’s human experience.
The supernatural element of the story is particularly enhanced by the Speech of Aristophanes, connecting sexual love to forces beyond the human realm with a mythological tale of an ancient event. Although the central theme of the speech is the origin of sexual love, in giving a speech with elements of origin, Aristophanes brings the nature of love into focus, describing the indescribable wholeness of finding a soul mate and accomplishing the pursuit for completeness. He explains that when one retrieves his other half, they hold onto each other, which goes beyond sex, but rather deals with the longings of a lover’s soul.
Thus this spiritual union between Clara and Baron B. is beyond their physical union of sex, because their memories contain both spiritual and physical impressions; so through their fusion of memories, each experiences the other’s physical and spiritual impressions of sex and gains a comprehensive understanding of both physical and spiritual love:
And since they were memories of love, at that moment he understood the great unity, the immense inclusiveness of love, which, since the inexorable laws of life make it a sentiment divided in two, can be comprehended only partially by any one person. It was the full and complete fusion of two spirits, a fusion towards which love is only an aspiration, the delights of love no more than a shadow, an echo, a dream of those delights. Nor can I express with less confusion the singular state in which he found himself. (Tarchetti, 32-33)
Within this passage, union contrasts with separation: “the great unity, the immense inclusiveness of love” contrasts with “a sentiment divided in two, can be comprehended only partially by any one person” (Tarchetti, 32), which highlights that the two spirits working in unison produces harmony, unlike before, when working in concert results only in violent and precipitated movements. Moreover, repeated words such as “fusion,” “love,” and “delights” link one clause to the next, adding to the congruity of the fusion (Tarchetti, 32), while the rhythm of “a shadow, an echo, a dream” recreates the fluidity of the fusion (Tarchetti, 32-33).
Gone is the “imperceptible line” that separated the two spirits (Tarchetti, 31), and here is “the full and complete fusion of two spirits” (Tarchetti, 32), directly contrasting to the previous spiritual separation, when they are “conflicting, segregated, by nature different; they could not be fused together” (Tarchetti, 30). This is “a fusion towards which love is only an aspiration” (Tarchetti, 32). In comparison, love—“a sentiment divided in two” (Tarchetti, 32)—is rendered inferior and can only aspire to become this fusion, and the delights from the partial love experienced by ordinary individuals now become only “a shadow, an echo, a dream of those delights” (Tarchetti, 32-33). The fusion of the two spirits creates one single mind that is both male and female, resembling the union of the once androgynous humans; and sexual love fuses the spirits, because it is a shared desire between both men and women, so it has the unique ability to bring them together.
As a character, the baron progresses from only feeling the double in his senses and thoughts, to struggling against the double in his movements, to knowing the double through shared memory, and now to accepting the double: the two wills no longer oppose each other, but work in harmony. Even when the baron sees Clara’s image in a mirror, “it seemed very natural to him because he knew that this unity contained two people, that he was not just one person, but two at the same time” (Tarchetti, 33). Here, neither spirit overpowers the other, and the baron embraces Clara’s spiritual presence in his body.
Acceptance of duality seems to be a prerequisite to social freedom – equivalent to the original natural freedom of the androgynous people. However, the baron’s “natural” acceptance is a contrast to the societal boundaries he previously followed (Tarchetti, 33). The baron’s three passions—hunting, horse, and love—are masculine “passions”. The historical context is such that men are expected to express masculinity through bloodshed, command, and sex. Yet sexual love allows the baron to transcend the “inexorable laws of life” (Tarchetti, 32), which is what prevents ordinary individuals from experiencing “the immense inclusiveness of love” (Tarchetti, 32). One of the baron’s passions is love, but before, he only views love as sex, which is only the physical aspect of love, and now he has experienced love like he never has before—like no one ever has before—which leaves him in a “singular state” (Tarchetti, 33). This can be interpreted as a remarkable state of being, but I interpret it as the single, unified state from his experience of spiritual love from spiritual union, which complements his previously limited experience from only physical love.
However, the baron’s supernatural experience of gender mutuality through sexual love is required to repair the union, just as Zeus’ divine intervention is required to split the androgynous. This is an example of the supernatural theme typical of the Gothic genre. Christina Petraglia, in The Gothic and Death, highlights that the works of the scapigliati are riddled with normativity typical of the Gothic: uncanniness, crises of consciousness, and the occult worlds of the supernatural and the physical, which gives context to the comparison of the baron’s supernatural phenomenon to a scientific phenomenon of optics, with doubling as their common feature. Tarchetti uses synesthesia to portray the blending of senses, which also denotes the dualism between Clara and the Baron: In the optics illustration, the two pupils represent the two spirits: as the pupils “converge towards the same central point” (Tarchetti, 29), the two souls also eventually learn to work in tandem. The supernatural phenomenon of their fusion crosses the boundaries of class and gender, just as the pupils in the biological phenomenon “crosses the line of vision” (Tarchetti, 29).
In the real world, no single individual can experience sex and love both as a man and as a woman at the same time, but the Gothic genre allows fiction to explore the possibilities of what is impossible in real life—to escape the boundaries of class and, particularly, gender—and gives the story an element of social radicalism. In “A Spirit in A Raspberry,” the union from sexual love allows the baron to cross the natural boundaries of gender and the social boundaries of class, which points to sexuality as potential liberation from socially imposed boundaries. Indeed, Tarchetti effectively collapses the natural boundaries of gender and the social boundaries of class imposed by the bourgeoisie by reconciling gender differences through sexuality, which is a pursuit shared across classes and genders, allowing humanity to be experienced to the full.
Petraglia, Christina. The Gothic and Death. Edited by Carol Margaret Davison, Manchester University Press, 2017.
Tarchetti, Iginio Ugo. “A Spirit in a Raspberry.” Fantastic Tales. Edited and translated with an introduction by Lawrence Venuti, Alma Classics, 2013.