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Books by Carlo Emilio Gadda


Carlo Emilio Gadda was born in Milan in 1893. His childhood and youth were marked by a series of traumatic events which were to return in an almost obsessive manner as the motifs of his work: the construction of a villa in Brianza, his father’s bankruptcy, his family’s poverty and struggle to make ends meet, and his mother’s generosity to people outside the family and lack of attention to her son. This was the origin of his neurosis, the “obscure malaise” he talks about in Cognizione del dolore.

He fought in the First World War in the areas of the Tonale, the Adamello and the Carso and was taken prisoner in Germany. In 1920 he graduated in engineering at the Milan Polytechnic. He began working for a company in Milan and in 1922 travelled for work to Argentina. In 1924 he returned to Italy, where he taught at the Liceo Parini in Milan and resumed studying for his philosophy degree. In 1925 he moved to Rome, where he worked first for a private company and subsequently for the Technical Services of the Vatican. In this period he completed all his philosophy exams and began writing his thesis on Leibniz, which however was to remain unfinished. In 1931 Solaria published his La Madonna dei Filosofi, a collection of narrative prose, followed in 1934 by Il castello di Udine, which won the Bagutta Prize. Between 1938 and 1941 he published Cognizione del dolore in the literary review Letteratura. From 1940 to 1950 he lived in Florence, where he devoted himself entirely to literature and published L’Adalgisa (1944). In the 1950s he published Il primo libro delle favole (1952) and Novelle del ducato in fiamme (1953). Between 1955 and 1973, the year of his death in Rome, he published I sogni e la folgore and Giornale di guerra e di prigionia (1955), Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana; 1957), I viaggi la morte (1958), Verso la Certosa (1961), La cognizione del dolore (Acquainted with Grief; 1963) and Accoppiamenti giudiziosi (1963), Le meraviglie d’Italia and I Luigi di Francia (1964), Eros e Priapo and Il guerriero, l’amazzone e il verso immortale nella poesia di Foscolo (1967), La meccanica (1970), and Novella seconda (1971).

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Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome: Ignazio Silone, Giorgio Bassani, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Carlo Levi, Carlo Emilio Gadda

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and Alberto Moravia, Carlo Levi, Elsa Morante, Giorgio Bassani

William Weaver (Editor), Kristina Olson (Editor)

Traddutore, traditore, goes the old Italian proverb: To translate is to betray. But William Weaver, who has assembled a fine anthology of contemporary Italian prose in Open City: Seven Writers in Postwar Rome, is anything but treacherous toward his favorites. For one thing, he is our preeminent translator from that euphonious, vowel-encrusted language, and anybody who reads his elegant versions of Italo Calvino or Umberto Eco will recognize what a great service he has performed to these high-wire stylists–not to mention their readers.

But as Weaver’s preface-cum-memoir makes clear, he is not merely a linguistic loyalist. During the late 1940s and ’50s, when the young translator lived in Rome, he got to know all the contributors to Open City: Ignazio Silone, Giorgio Bassani, Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Carlo Levi, and Carlo Emiliano Gadda. This anthology, then, is a peculiarly personal one, in which the editor exposes us to both the art and life of each author. It necessarily excludes such giants as Primo Levi, Leonardo Sciascia, and Calvino, none of whom happened to cross Weaver’s path during his dolce vita phase. But the septet he has assembled is a splendid one, which suggests that the Eternal City was some kind of literary hot spot in the wake of the Second World War.

Gadda undoubtedly wins the crown for sheer stylistic extravagance. The excerpt Weaver has chosen from That Awful Mess on Via Merulana gives a vivid sense of the challenges (and rewards!) of that macaronic masterpiece. (It also includes some of the best portraiture of Rome itself, “lying as if on a map or scale model: it smoked slightly, at Porta San Paolo: a clear proximity of infinite thoughts and palaces, which the north wind had cleansed.”) At the opposite end of the spectrum is Natalia Ginzburg, whose antirhetorical style still makes most contemporary novelists sound crude and inflationary, especially when it comes to minute discriminations of feeling. And in between, we find such marvels as Moravia’s “Agostino” (a cruelly accurate account of childhood’s end), Morante’s “The Nameless One,” and an excerpt from Carlo Levi’s The Watch, which dispenses its wisdom casually but hits the bull’s-eye every time:

The world holds us with a thousand ties of habit, work, inertia, affections. It’s difficult and painful to separate from them. But as soon as a foot rests on a train, airplane, or automobile that will carry us away, everything disappears, the past becomes remote and is buried, a new time crowded to the brim with unknown promises envelopes us and, entirely free and anonymous, we look around searching for new companions.

Weaver’s memoir is primarily an elegy for his “lost, open city” and those writers with whom he inhabited it–all but Bassani have died during the succeeding decades. As such, it includes an unmistakable hint of melancholy. But it manages to convey the excitement of the era, too–and the words that Weaver’s companions committed to paper are, as Open City demonstrates, very much alive.

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