Sixth Edition

Scottish Parliament
26 June 2019

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The Edinburgh Gadda Prize

Honorary President: Gianrico Carofiglio

Chair: Federica G. Pedriali

powered by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies

Carlo Emilio Gadda

gadda posterWhen Carlo Emilio Gadda’s first successful novel was published in 1957, he was already 64 years old. He was born into a family of rapidly reducing wealth in Milan and his father’s death in 1909 made their situation worse.

On his mother’s insistence Gadda studied electrical engineering at the Politecnico di Milano and graduated after the First World War, having seen action as a lieutenant in the Alpini. He had a successful career, working not just in Italy, but in Europe and in Argentina, even building the power station for the Vatican City. In the end, however, the challenges of the engineer were not sufficient for his remarkable mind.

He quit his last proper job in 1940 and moved to Florence, where he began to build a reputation as a writer of fantastic ability and unique style. Not that the younger Gadda had been idle in putting his ideas on paper. Gadda had already published enough of his work to be noticed by the key critics and literary figures of the day, and it was their encouragement and financial help that enabled his greatness to flourish. In the literary magazine Letteratura he published the first versions of his two greatest novels, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana and Cognizione del dolore, convincing more and more people of his exceptional talent.

Gadda moved to Rome in 1950, finding a job at RAI (the Italian public broadcaster) thanks in part to the influence of friends in Roman literary circles, and to his burgeoning reputation. It was in Rome that Gadda was to spend the rest of his life, in the unfashionable Monte Mario district, four miles from the city centre. Quer pasticciaccio, a novel set in Rome and packed with florid stylings, authentic Roman dialect and colourful language, came out in 1957 and was a surprise commercial hit. A film adaptation followed in 1959, adding to the success. With this novel, Gadda drew attention to his intellectual complexity as a writer, to his lexical dexterity and startling originality. But the book was also fantastic fun to read: he had moved from being the doyen of the Italian literary elite to being a figure of celebrity – a «Sofio Loren», as he joked.

When he passed away in 1973, Gadda had had his 79th birthday, an outstanding career as an electrical engineer, several unlikely hits as a novelist, multiple literary prizes and the respect and admiration of a generation of artists, critics and academics. The tale does not end with his death, however. A succession of his books were published posthumously, establishing his place in the Italian and European literary canon as the most original, linguistically complex and arresting of writers, a reputation that has steadily grown and continues to grow today.

To explore the Gadda world further visit EJGS.