Authors: Carlo Emilio Gadda

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, 1957 (That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, 1965)

La cognizione del dolore, 1963, revised 1970 (Acquainted with Grief, 1969)

La meccanica, 1970 (unfinished novella)

Racconto italiano di ignoto del novecento, 1983 (fragment)

Short Fiction:

La madonna dei filosofi, 1931

Il castello di Udine, 1934

L’Adalgisa: Disegni milanesi, 1944

Il primo libro delle favole, 1952

Novelle dal ducato in fiamme, 1953

Accoppiamenti giudiziosi, 1963

I Luigi di Francia, 1964

Le bizze del capitano in congedo e altri racconti, 1981


Il guerriero, l’amazzone lo spirito della poesia nel verso immortale del Foscolo, pb. 1967


Le meraviglie d’Italia, 1939, revised 1964

Giornale di guerra e de prigionia, 1955, 1965

I viaggi la morte, 1958

Eros e Priapo, 1967

Meditazione milanese, 1974

Per favore, mi lasci nell’ombra: Interviste, 1950-1972, 1993 (interviews; Claudio Vela, editor)

Carissimo Gianfranco: Lettere ritrovate, 1943-1963, 1998 (letters; Giulio Ungarelli, editor)


The stature of Carlo Emilio Gadda (GAHD-dah) in Italian literature is great, yet outside Italy he is known primarily for one book, the detective novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, which has been translated into a dozen languages. Gadda, who came from a middle-class family, participated in World War I as a member of the elite Alpini corps, or mountain troops. Captured by the Germans in 1917, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. From his experiences there came his later book Giornale di guerra e de prigionia, a diary of the war and his imprisonment. After the war he returned to his studies at Milan University and in 1920 received a degree in engineering. In 1926, while working as an engineer, Gadda began writing short pieces for the Florentine literary magazine Solaria; soon he was submitting stories and philosophical essays. In 1931 he published his first book, La madonna dei filosofi (Our Lady of the philosophers), a collection of stories. Three years later it was followed by a second book of stories, Il castello di Udine (the castle of Udine). These two collections were met with favorable critical attention. Gadda also wrote for another magazine in Florence, Letteratura, in which in the late 1930’s he began publishing his novels in installments.{$I[AN]9810001189}{$I[A]Gadda, Carlo Emilio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Gadda, Carlo Emilio}{$I[tim]1893;Gadda, Carlo Emilio}

In his early works Gadda frequently used the Milanese dialect. Indeed, he often included footnotes in the texts of his stories to explain the local turns of phrase, as in many of the stories in L’Adalgisa (tales from Milan). Translating Gadda is thus a major endeavor, requiring knowledge not only of the Milanese but also of the Roman and Neapolitan dialects. That is one reason the bulk of Gadda’s work is unknown outside Italy.

In his work as an engineer Gadda traveled throughout the world, including in Argentina, France, and Germany. The influence of his travels can be seen in his novel Acquainted with Grief, which takes place in a mythical South American country. This novel, like others by Gadda, was later revised and expanded. The chief features of Gadda’s work, which began to attract worldwide attention with the success of That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, are his interest in language and his concern with injustice. His writing style is almost baroque, very complex, and full of obscure references. Fundamental to his style, however, is Gadda’s focus on language and its use by common people. In That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, for example, he uses both Roman and Neapolitan dialects, an aspect that is impossible to convey in translation.

Gadda’s concern with injustice, which fills the pages of Acquainted with Grief, is perhaps his greatest and most significant virtue. In this novel Gadda focuses not only on the international aspect of injustice but also on its local forms, which oppress the novel’s hero, the engineer Gonzalo Pirobutirro d’Eltino. In 1950 Gadda settled in Rome, where he died in 1973.

BibliographyAdams, Robert Martin. “Carlo Emilio Gadda.” In After Joyce: Studies in Fiction After “Ulysses.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1977. Gadda’s place in modern European literature is discussed.Bertone, Manuela, and Robert S. Dombroski. Carlo Gadda: Contemporary Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997. A collection of essays in which Gadda’s plurilingualism, pastiches, and narrative entanglements are revealed both as a revolt against conventional literary style and as the expression of a chaotic, painful world. Gadda emerges as a transgressive novelist, a humorist, and a mannerist who continuously deforms language through parodic and comic modes.Dombroski, Robert S. Creative Entanglements: Gadda and the Baroque. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Gadda’s language has often been described as “baroque”; this study explores that description in depth.Ragusa, Olga. Narrative and Drama: Essays in Modern Italian Literature from Verga to Pasolini. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1976. Gadda’s importance to modern Italian literature receives its due coverage.Sbragia, Albert. Carlo Emilio Gadda and the Modern Macaronic. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996. This study elucidates Gadda’s mixture of Milanese vernacular with erudite vocabulary and diction.
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