Thursday, 2 August 2012
Requiems & Nightmares: Selected Short Fiction Of Guido Gozzano, Translated by Brendan and Anna Connell, Hieroglyphic Press
'A direct, unadorned style to express nostalgic memories' is the neat
English-translated line Britannica Online uses to describe Gozzano's
approach and one I wouldn't challenge.
Born in Turin in 1883, his delicate constitution from birth ensured a too
short life of thirty-two subsequent years. Perhaps harbouring a sense of
mortality throughout compelled him - paradoxically - to display a
physical amateur prowess across several sports. At heart, however, he
was a poet, which the bulk of his writings prove.
He had the advantages for doing so. Born to bourgeois, upper-middle
class parents, he initially studied law but soon found himself tempted
away by the irresistible, burgeoning love of literature and a course run by
tutor Arturo Graf, described in Brendan Connell's Introduction as 'an
exponent of rather dark, fantastic themes.'
(Oh, to have had such a master...).
In his sideline short fiction at least, it is this brought to the fore larding
romantic and psychological tales based around his well-healed Turin circle.
Of the eleven chosen here, my favourite is undoubtedly the last;
'A Dream.' A totally convincing evocation of the kind of nightmare
that numbs out all external sensation during only the deepest of sleeps.
Gozzano adds to the fear - the reader's as well as the main character's -
by manifesting a pernicious controller of one or another's making.
The prose style elsewhere is as beautiful as I'd hoped, if, on occasion, a
mite self-conscious. What avoids the dreaded purple passage
is Govanno's successful adherence to that 'direct, unadorned style'
There is stylised gossip between characters and fables reinterpreted
for a - then - modern audience. Intriguingly, while the subject matter
may be deemed very late 19th Century, his interpretation has the
economy of language, alongside present tenses, clearly engaging with
the early 20th.
Another of the eleven tales and one of the 'Requiems' - 'Pamela Films' -
features an embittered, nay-saying ageing sister of a successful, film
company-owning younger brother from whose fate she inadvertently
benefits. If not the very first short story about a film company, it is surely
from an Italian Symbolist. Gozzano's young manhood was bestriding the
cusp of changing times. It is also a comment upon the unbridgable gap
In 1911, Ambrosio Films released a picture directed by his cousin,
Roberto Omegna, entitled, in English, 'The Life Of Butterflies.'
Connell states; '...it seems Gozzano collaborated on it in some manner,
though he received no credit.' For the company five years later, he is
working on a script on the life of St. Francis of Assisi. He dies of TB,
leaving it unfinished.
Had he lived, might he have become a great Symbolist director himself? -
anticipating, and being feted by, the young Dali or Bunel?
It is another of those classic, unanswerable "what if?" scenarios.