Showing posts with label Carlo Emilio Gadda. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carlo Emilio Gadda. Show all posts

4 February 2019

Ugo Betti - playwright

Judge who combined writing with legal career

Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927 and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927
and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti, a playwright whose works exploring facets of the human condition are considered by some to be the finest plays written by an Italian after Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1892 in Camerino in Le Marche. 

Betti wrote 27 plays, mainly concerned with evil, guilt, justice, atonement and redemption, largely in his spare time alongside a career in the legal profession.

Although he started life in what was then a remote town in the Apennine mountains, about 75km (47 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast and a similar distance from the city of Perugia, Betti moved with his family at an early age to Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

He followed his older brother Emilio in studying law, although his progress was interrupted when he was enlisted as a volunteer in the army after Italy entered the First World War. He was captured in the disastrous Battle of Caporetto and interned in a German prisoner of war camp.

By chance, he found himself in the company of two writers, Carlo Emilio Gadda and Bonaventura Tecchi, who encouraged him in his own writing. His first collections of poems, entitled Il re pensieroso (The Thoughtful King) and published in 1922, were written while he was in German captivity.

Betti's plays have been reproduced in many editions in Italy
Betti's plays have been reproduced
in many editions in Italy
Betti returned to his studies after the war and became a magistrate and then a judge, first in Parma and later in Rome.  As a young man, he was also an enthusiastic amateur footballer and was one of a group that formed the city’s football club in 1913. In fact, along with another in the group, Betti designed the club’s original shirt - white with a black Latin cross - which has been revived this season as one of the Serie A team’s alternative strips.

His first play, La padrona (The Proprietress), was performed in 1927 at Rome's Teatro Odescalchi and received enough critical acclaim for him to continue. By the time the Second World War broke out, he had written seven more.

In one of these, Frana allo scalo nord (Landslide at the North Station), published in 1932, Betti explored the concept of collective guilt through a story about a court inquiry into an accident which had caused the death of some labourers and a girl. As the story evolves, the circle of those responsible becomes wider and wider so that ultimately humanity itself is on trial.

As a writer during the Fascist period in Italy, he was accused at different times of being anti-Fascist and a Fascist apologist, to the extent that he was threatened with imprisonment, although ultimately he continued to write unimpeded.  A job after the war in the library at the Ministry of Justice allowed him more time to write.

Betti managed to combine his literary career with his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Betti managed to combine his literary career with
his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Many consider his greatest play to be Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia (Corruption in the Palace of Justice), written between 1944 and 1945 although not performed until January 1949 at the Teatro delle Arti in Rome.

The play, in which an unscrupulous judge, having clawed his way to the presidency of the Supreme Court, realizes his own guilt after being investigated for corruption and and gives himself up. Again, Betti’s implication is that all of humanity is culpable.

Along with Delitto all'isola delle capre (Crime on Goat Island), a violent tragedy of love and revenge, and La regina e gli insorti (The Queen and the Rebels), in which the case is made for compassion and self-sacrifice, Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia established Betti’s reputation internationally.  Actors of the calibre of Vittorio Gassman, Enrico Maria Salerno, Salvo Randone and Tino Buazzelli - all highly regarded in Italian theatrical circles - eagerly accepted parts in Betti plays.

Betti, who finished his legal career at the court of appeal in Rome, won a number of awards, including the that of the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma in 1949 and the Premio Roma the following year.

He also co-founded the National Union of Dramatic Authors (SNAD), with the aim of safeguarding the work of dramatists and theatrical writers.

He died in Rome in June 1953, aged 61.

The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
Travel tip:

Camerino is built over the site of Camerinum, a Roman settlement, although no remains are visible, lying at least one metre below ground level. However, the town, which has a population of around 8,000, does have a neoclassical cathedral built in the early 19th century, a university that dates back to 1336 and, just outside the town, the Rocca Borgesca, a castle built after Camerino was invaded by Cesare Borgia in 1502. The fortress was built around a convent, although most of the buildings within the walls were demolished in the 17th century after the castle fell into disuse. Today the walls remain, surrounded by gardens, while a surviving stable building inside the walls has become a restaurant.

Search for hotels in Camerino with tripadvisor

The pink marble baptistery is one of the attractions of Parma's elegant centre
The pink marble baptistery is one of the
attractions of Parma's elegant centre
Travel tip:

Parma, where Betti grew up and began his working life, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, also known as ‘parmesan’. Noteworthy buildings include the 12th century Romanesque cathedral and its pink marble baptistery. The golden fresco that covers the cupola in the cathedral is Correggio’s 1520s masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. The Teatro Regio, a 19th-century opera house, is a noted theatre and the Galleria Nazionale, inside the Palazzo della Pilotta, displays works by painters including Correggio and Canaletto. The composer Giuseppe Verdi was born near Parma at Bussetto.

More reading:

Pietro Badoglio - the controversial general who presided over Italy's defeat at the Battle of Caporetto

Why Carlo Emilio Gadda's work draws comparisons with James Joyce and Carlo Levi

Vittorio Gassman - multi-talented star of stage and screen

Also on this day:

14 November 2018

Carlo Emilio Gadda - writer and novelist

Author who drew comparisons with Levi and Joyce

Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer before he became a full-time writer
Carlo Emilio Gadda was an engineer
before he became a full-time writer
The essayist and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work has been compared with the writings of Primo Levi, James Joyce and Marcel Proust, was born on this day in 1893 in Milan.

His novels and short stories were considered outstanding for his original and innovative style, moving away from the rather staid language of Italian literature in the early 20th century, adding elements of dialect, technical jargon and wordplay.

It has been said that Gadda opted for his experimental style because he thought that only through the use of a fragmentary, incoherent language could he adequately portray what he considered a disintegrated world.

Born into an upper middle-class family living on Via Manzoni in the centre of Milan, Gadda lost his father when he was only a child, after which his mother had to bring up the family on limited means, although she refused to compromise with her lifestyle. His father’s business ineptitude and his mother’s obsession with keeping up appearances would figure strongly in his 1963 novel, La cognizione del dolore, published in English as Acquainted with Grief.

Gadda fought in the First World War as a volunteer with the Alpini and was captured at the Battle of Caporetto, in which the Italians suffered a catastrophic defeat. His younger brother Enrico, an aviator, was killed. A fervent nationalist at the time of Italy’s entry into the conflict, he was deeply humiliated by the months he had to spend as a German prisoner of war.

Gadda's most famous work is available in English
Gadda's most famous work is
available in English
During the 1920s he worked as an electrical engineer, often abroad. He spent several years in Argentina, although at home he was credited with the construction, as engineer, of the Vatican Power Station for Pope Pius XI.

He began writing in the 1930s after moving to Florence and joining a literary group around the Florentine review Solaria. He wrote a number of essays and short stories, from the beginning demonstrating a fascination with linguistic experimentation as well as a gift for psychological and sociological analysis. His first works were collected in I sogni e la folgore (1955; The Dreams and the Lightning).

Gadda became a full-time writer in 1940, although between 1950 and 1955 he worked for RAI, the Italian radio and television network. He lived in Rome, alone, in a cheap apartment in Via Blumenstihl.

At one time an admirer of Mussolini, he later satirised the dictator in Eros e Priapo (1945), in which he analysed the collective phenomena that favoured the rise of Italian Fascism, arguing that Fascism was essentially a bourgeois movement.  Refused publication initially for its allegedly obscene content, it was not until 2013 that the work was published in fully unexpurgated form.

Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda's birthplace in Milan is marked with a plaque
Gadda’s best-known and most successful novel, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (1957; That Awful Mess on Via Merulana), is a story of a murder and burglary in Fascist Rome and of the subsequent investigation, which features characters from many levels of Roman life, written in a pastiche of literary Italian mixed with passages of Roman dialect, dotted with puns, technical jargon, foreign words, invented words and classical allusions.

At once a sociological, comic and political novel, as well as an extraordinary feat of wordplay, at the end of which nothing has been established or proven in relation to the crime, it was described as 'the great modern Italian novel' by Italo Calvino, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia. 

Gadda died in Rome in 1973, at the age of 79.

The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
The Stadio Olimpico is the home of Rome's two soccer clubs
Travel tip:

Via Bernardo Blumenstihl, where Gadda lived in Rome, may have been a modest address in the 1940s but today is in a quiet, upmarket residential area in which many of the apartment complexes have swimming pools and tennis courts and communal gardens.  Situated to the northwest of the city centre, it is not far from the Stadio Olimpico, home of the AS Roma and SS Lazio football clubs.

The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
The Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome
Travel tip:

Via Merulana is a street in Rome, to the southeast of the centre, linking the magnificent Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, with its imposing 18th century Baroque facade by Alessandro Galilei, and the Basilica Papale di Santa Maria Maggiore, famous for its Roman mosaics and gilded ceiling. The name derives from family that owned the land in medieval times.  It forms part of the Rione Monti, near the Oppian Hill.

More reading:

How Alberto Moravia likened Fascism to a childhood illness

Novelist whose books exposed political links with the Mafia

The Auschwitz survivor who became one of Italy's greatest writers

Also on this day:

1812: The birth of Maria Cristina of Savoy

1812: The birth of poet Aleardo Aleardi

1897: The death of soprano Giuseppina Strepponi