One had a squint: The cross-eyed bride

Zeno\'s Conscience : A Novel (Vintage International)In the novel Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo, the fictional Zeno wrote of meeting four sisters whom he considered as possible marriage prospects. However, one had a squint — another name for strabismus or a crossed eye. Zeno journaled how this one, Augusta, was eliminated from the prospects immediately, because of the squint Yet it would eventually be Augusta who would become his bride in a long and happy marriage.

But first, he considered the other sisters. Anna, was soon eliminated because she was only 8 years old. Alberta was set on a career instead of marriage. Zeno’s choice was the beautiful Ada, but she felt only disdain for him. Zeno often told the girls stories, not altogether true, of adventures he had.

“A long time afterwards I learned from Augusta that none of the three girls had believed my stories were true.” he journaled. But “to Augusta, they seemed all the more precious because, as I had invented them, they were more mine than if fate had visited them upon me.”

Augusta patiently waited while Zeno tried to woo Ada, and later Alberta. Augusta was his last pick. Yet she knew, deep inside, that she had qualities that would make a good wife. Augusta truly cared for Zeno, and told him on the day of the engagement: “You, Zeno, need a woman who wants to live for you and help you. I want to be that woman.”

Augusta’s inward beauty made up for the outward flaws in the end. Though it took Zeno quite a while to figure that out, Augusta was patient. She was caring and genuine. Years into his marriage with Augusta, Zeno looked at his former heart throb, Ada, and she was older, fat and had a goiter — and none of the enduring inner qualities that Augusta had.

One had a squint. Yet in the preface of the book, Elizabeth Hardwick writes of “the once spurned Augusta, who will at last define his [Zeno’s] life.”

I am not necessarily endorsing the book here. According to the reviews, there are a lot of tangled stories in the book, and I’ve not been able to read much of it. I understand from some of the reviews that the fictional Zeno had a psychotic mind, and one whole section is devoted to his entrapment with a mistress. I only mentioned the book in order to pull out this story about strabismus.

You can read the reviews or order the book for yourself here:

Another review can be found here:
Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | From hero to Zeno

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