Chronology of Gadda’s Life

è nato a Milano quattordici giorni avanti la caduta del Ministero Giolitti, del primo. Vi trascorse un’infanzia tormentata e un’adolescenza anche più dolorosa: fu accolto nelle classi elementari del Comune, ottime. Vi trovò il suo liceo e le sue matematiche. Poi la guerra: la perdita del fratello Enrico, caduto nel ’18. Lavorò in Italia fuori d’Italia: in Argentina, in Francia, in Germania, nel Belgio. La sua carriera di scrittore incontrò gli ostacoli classici, economici ed ambientali: più quelli dell’era, anzi delle diverse ere che gli toccò di attraversare. Visse dieci anni a Firenze: 1940-1950: gli anni belli, quand’era venuto il bello. Niente Capponcina. Vive nella capitale della Repubblica a quattordici chilometri dal centro, in una casa di civile abitazione, confortato nottetempo dagli ululati dei lupi e lungo tutto il giorno dai guaiti di copiosissima prole, non sua, ma ugualmente cara e benedetta. «Che cosa fai tutto il giorno?» gli chiedono le persone indaffarate: «non ti muovi mai?» «No: non mi muovo».

autobiographical cover note to
the first edition (1957) of Quer pasticciaccio, SGF II 872


Carlo Emilio Gadda is born in Milan on 14 November 1893, the eldest son of Francesco Ippolito Gadda and Adele Lehr. His father was a business partner in the Ronchetti Silk Company, while his mother, who was half Hungarian, taught history and geography and served as principal of schools in several northern Italian towns. Carlo Emilio’s paternal grandfather, Francesco, had married into the noble Ripamonti family; his son Giuseppe, Carlo Emilio’s uncle, remembered for his achievements in the public sphere, served as minister of public works in the Lanza-Sella govemment from 1869 to 1873.

Throughout his works and in published interviews, Gadda refers to the important role his native city and social class played in his cultural formation. The values the nineteenth-century Milanese bourgeoisie handed down to the young Gadda were those of positivist science and technical and industrial efficiency, of productivity and competition in the best tradition of economic liberalism. He was taught to regard Milan as a model of enlightened rationality, the moral and cultural capital of Italy; his family, as a tranquil space and repository of deep feelings and emotions. But the specific circumstances of Gadda’s childhood and adolescence opposed such an ideal image of family and society. Gadda obsessively remembers his youth as being thoroughly tormented, marked by continual frustration and the lack of affection. His father’s imprudent investments, especially the expenses involved in the construction and maintenance of a country villa at Longone (Brianza), drained the family’s financial resources, forcing it to the verge of bankruptcy. After the death of Francesco Ippolito in 1909, the Gadda family depended wholly on Adele’s earnings as a state school teacher.

Gadda’s early education was typical for someone of his social class and upbringing. In 1912, after taking his secondary school diploma at the Parini, he enrols in the then Istituto Tecnico Superiore in Milan, where he studies with the German physicist Max Abraham (1875-1922), remembered in La cognizione del dolore for his experiment of dropping a cat from the third floor of the villa to prove his theorem of impulse (RR I 598). In June of 1915, Gadda interrupts his second year in engineering to enlist in the army, sees action on several fronts, and, after Caporetto, is taken prisoner and sent to Celle Lager in Hannover, where he meets Ugo Betti and Bonaventura Tecchi. After the war, having retumed to Milan, he learns that his brother, Enrico, an aviator, has been killed in the final months of the conflict. The memory of Enrico will haunt Gadda throughout his life as a writer; its presence is felt in practically all of his texts, but especially in La cognizione del dolore, where it is overpowering.


In 1919, Gadda returns to the Politecnico to finish his university studies, taking his degree in Industrial Engineering with a specialisation in the design and application of electrical circuitry. As an electrical engineer, Gadda works in several Italian cities and abroad, spending more than a year in Argentina (December 1922 to February 1924), with the Compañia General de Fosforos. During his stay in South America, he begins to devote time to his literary pursuits, publishing a review of Ugo Betti’s Re pensieroso in the Buenos Aires daily Patria degli Italiani (20 April 1923). A year later, he is back in Milan writing, but not finishing, his first novel, the Racconto italiano di ignoto del novecento, returning meanwhile to the Accademia Scientifico-Letteraria to study in the faculty of philosophy where he completes all his exams, but not the thesis he plans to write on Leibniz’s Nouveaux essais. Financial difficulties force him to retum to his profession and, in 1925, he moves to Rome to work for the Società Ammonia Casale, where he remains until 1931. A year later, he accepts a position with the Sezione Tecnologica dell’Ufficio Centrale dei Servizi Tecnici del Vaticano and is entrusted with overseeing the circuitry of the newly planned hydroelectric complex. He resigns in 1934.

During this period, Gadda writes Meditazione milanese (1928), La meccanica (1928-29), and three short narratives that will appear in 1971 under the collective title of Novella seconda; in 1931 he publishes his first book, La Madonna dei Filosofi, and in 1934 Il castello di Udine for which he receives the Bagutta Prize and the praise of such authoritative critics as Gianfranco Contini and Giacomo Devoto.


With the death of his mother in 1936, Gadda begins writing La cognizione del dolore, first published in instalments in Letteratura (1938-41). With his financial situation becoming increasingly precarious, he contracts with L’Ambrosiano and Gazzetta del Popolo to write a series of articles on science and technology, some of which he includes in Le meraviglie d’Italia (1939). In 1940, he moves to Florence, then considered the country’s literary capital, where he makes the acquaintance of Montale, Vittorini, and Landolfi, among others. While in Florence, he publishes Gli anni (1943) and L’Adalgisa (1944), contributes to the weekly Il Mondo directed by Alessandro Bonsanti, and writes the initial chapters of Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, also serialised in Letteratura (1946).


From 1950 to his death in 1973, Gadda’s residence is Rome. Employed until 1955 as a literary journalist with the RAI’s Terzo Programma, he edits Dalla terra alla luna (1952) and Norme per la redazione di un testo radiofonico (1953), devoting himself almost exclusively to the management and publication of his works. He publishes Il primo libro delle Favole (1952) and Novelle dal Ducato in fiamme (1953); in 1955, he begins reworking Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana which he publishes two years later with Garzanti. I viaggi la morte appears in 1958 and Verso la Certosa in 1961. In 1963, Einaudi publishes La cognizione del dolore, for which Gadda is awarded in the same year the Prix International de Littérature. Two texts prepared for radio broadcast, I Luigi di Francia (1964), Il guerriero, l'amazzone, lo spirito della poesia nel verso immortale del Foscolo (1967), the anti-Fascist pamphlet Eros e Priapo (1967), and the new edition of La cognizione del dolore (1970), containing previously unpublished chapters, complete the list of principal works published during Gadda’s lifetime; the Meditazione milanese (1974), Le bizze del capitano in congedo (1981), and Racconto italiano di ignoto del novecento (1983) all appeared posthumously.

For a fuller account of Gadda’s life and works click here

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Published by The Edinburgh Journal of Gadda Studies (EJGS)

ISSN 1476-9859

Please note that the above excerpt is for on-line consultation only.
Reproduced here by kind permission of Toronto University Press, Toronto, 1997.

© 2000-2024 Robert S. Dombroski, Manuela Bertone & EJGS. Previously published in R.S. Dombroski and M. Bertone (eds), Carlo Emilio Gadda, Contemporary Perspectives (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1997), vii-ix.
artwork © 2000-2024 by G. & F. Pedriali
framed image: Sir Anthony van Dyck, The Ages of Man, c. 1625-27, Musei Civici, Vicenza.

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