Carlo Emilio Gadda

Carlo Emilio Gadda (may 14 1893 - November 21 1973) was an Italian writer and poet. He belongs to the tradition of the language innovators, writers that played with the somewhat stiff standard pre-war Italian language, and added elements of dialects, technical jargon and wordplay.


Gadda was a practising engineer from Milan, and he both loved and hated his job. Critics have compared him to other writers with a scientific background, such as Primo Levi, Robert Musil and Thomas Pynchon--a similar spirit of exactitude pervades some of Gadda's books.

Carlo Emilio Gadda was born in Milan in 1893, and he was always intensely Milanese, although late in his life Florence and Rome also became an influence. Gadda's nickname is "Il gran Lombardo", The Great Lombard: a reference to the famous lines 70-3 of Paradiso XVII, which predict the protection Dante would receive from Bartolomeo II della Scala of Verona during his exile from Florence: "Lo primo tuo refugio e 'l primo ostello / sarà la cortesia del gran Lombardo/ che 'n su la scala porta il santo uccello" ("Your first refuge and inn shall be the courtesy of the great Lombard, who bears on the ladder the sacred bird").

Gadda's father died in 1909, leaving the family in reduced economic conditions; Gadda's mother, however, never tried to adopt a cheaper style of life. The paternal business ineptitude and the maternal obsession for keeping "face" and appearances turn up strongly in "La cognizione del dolore".

He studied in Milan, and while studying at the Politecnico (a university specialized in engineering and architecture), he volunteered for World War I. During the war he was taken prisoner and his brother was killed in a plane--his brother's death features prominently in "La cognizione del dolore".

After the war, in 1920, Gadda finally graduated. He practiced as an engineer until 1935, spending three of these years in Argentina. The country at that time was experiencing a booming economy, and Gadda used the experience for the fictional South American-cum-Brianza setting of "La Cognizione del Dolore". After that, in the 1940s, he dedicated himself to literature. These were the years of fascism, that found him a grumbling and embittered pessimist. With age, his bitterness and misanthropy somewhat intensified--one of his less amiable traits was misery.

There is some debate amongst scholars as regards Gadda's sexual orientation. Certainly, his work demonstrates a strongly subversive attitude towards bourgeois values, expressed above all by a discordant use of language interspersed with dialect, academic and technical jargon and dirty talk. [Giulio Cattaneo, "Il gran lombardo", Turin 1991] This is particularly interesting as the criticism of the bourgoise life comes, as it were, from the inside, with the former engineer cutting a respectable figure in genteel poverty. [William Weaver, "That Awful Mess On Via Merulana", New York 1984]

Gadda kept writing until his death, in 1973. The most important critic of Gadda was Gianfranco Contini.


*"La madonna dei filosofi" (1931, translated into English as "The Philosophers' Madonna" by Anthony Melville)
*"Il castello di Udine" (1934)
*"Le meraviglie d'Italia" (1939)
*"Gli anni" (1943)
*"L'Adalgisa "(1944, short stories)
*"Il primo libro delle favole" (1952, collection of tales in a mock-antique style)
*"Novelle dal ducato in fiamme" (1953, short stories)
*"I sogni e la folgore" (1955)
*"Giornale di guerra e di prigionia" (1955), a diary covering Gadda's years in World War I, including his military actions in the Passo Tonale area and his months as a prisoner in Austria
*"Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana" (1957, translated into English as "That Awful Mess on Via Merulana"), a crime novel which experiments heavily with language, borrowing a great deal from several Italian dialects
*"I viaggi e la morte" (1958)
*"Verso la Certosa" (1961)
*"Accoppiamenti giudiziosi" (1963)
*"La cognizione del dolore" (1963, translated into English as "Acquainted with Grief"), a large unfinished crime novel set in a fictitious South American country that is really the Brianza area close to Milan
*"I Luigi di Francia" (1964), a summary of French history, through the distorting and corrosive outlook of the author
*"Eros e Priapo" (1967), an analysis of Italian Fascism and of Italian fascination with Benito Mussolini, which explains Fascism as an essentially bourgeois movement
*"La meccanica" (1970)
*"Novella seconda" (1971)
*"Meditazione milanese" (1974)
*"Le bizze del capitano in congedo" (1981)
*"Il palazzo degli ori" (1983)
*"Racconto italiano di ignoto del novecento" (1983)
*"Azoto e altri scritti di divulgazione scientifica" (1986, collection of scientific prose)
*"Taccuino di Caporetto" (1991)
*"Opere" (1988-93)


External links

* [ The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies]
* [ Carlo Emilio Gadda (italian language)]

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