Carlo Emilio Gadda is one of the great Italian writers of the 20th century. He belongs to the tradition of the language innovators, writers that played with the somewhat stiff standard pre-war Italian, and added elements of dialects, technical jargon and wordplay.
Another writer that did this was the nobleman Tommaso Landolfi.
Gadda was a practising engineer from Milan, and he both loved and hated his job. In this, it is interesting to compare him with other writers with a scientific background: Primo Levi, Robert Musil and Thomas Pynchon - much like in their works, the spirit of exactitude pervades some of Gadda's books.
Carlo Emilio Gadda was born in Milano in 1893, and he was always intensely milanese, although late in his life Florence and Rome also became an influence (Gadda's nickname is Il Gran Lombardo, The Great Lombard).
His father died, leaving the family in reduced echonomical conditions: Gadda's mother, however, never tried to adopt a cheaper style of life. The paternal business ineptitude and the maternal obsession for keeping "face" and appeareances turn up strongly in la cognizione del dolore.
He attended school in Milano, and while he was studying at the Politecnico (a traditional, excellent, school of Engineering and Architecture), he volunteered for Word War I. During the war, he was taken prisoner and his brother was killed - his brother's death features prominently in la cognizione del dolore, one of his most important works.
After the war, in 1920, Gadda finally graduated. He practiced engineering until 1935, spending also three years in Argentina. The country at that time was a boom echonomy, and Gadda used the experience for the fictional South American-cum-Brianza setting of La Cognizione del Dolore. After that, in the fortys, he dedicated himself to literature. These are the years of fascism, that find him a grumbling and embittered pessimist. With age, his bitterness and misanthropy somewhat intensified - one of his less amiable tracts was misery.
Gadda kept writing until his death, in 1973. The reference critic for Gadda is, without doubt, Gianfranco Contini.
La madonna dei filosofi, 1931
Il castello di Udine, 1934
Le meraviglie d'Italia, 1939
Gli anni, 1943
L'Adalgisa, 1944 short stories, set in Milan in the middle-high class environment
Il primo libro delle favole, 1952 This is a collection of Italian Renaissance and Medieval folk tales
Novelle dal ducato in fiamme, 1953
I sogni e la folgore, 1955
Giornale di guerra e di prigionia, 1955 this diary covers Gadda's years in World War I, including his military actions in the Passo Tonale area and his months as a prisoner in Austria.
Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, 1957 - translated as That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, this unfinished crime novel experiments heavily on the language with massive borrowings from the Roman dialect
I viaggi e la morte, 1958
Verso la Certosa, 1961
Accoppiamenti giudiziosi, 1963
La cognizione del dolore, 1963 translated as Acquainted with Grief. A large unfinished crime novel set in a fictitious South American country that is really the Brianza area close to Milano. This is the book you have to read to form an opinion of Gadda. It touches all of the author's obsessions - some parts will have you laughing out loud.
I Luigi di Francia, 1964 a curious summary of French history, through the distorting and corrosive outlook of the author
Eros e Priapo, 1967 this book is an analysis of Italian Fascism and of Italian fascination with Mussolini. It explains Fascism as an essentially bourgeois movement.
La meccanica, 1970 more milanese short stories, like the following books
Novella seconda, 1971
Meditazione milanese, 1974
Le bizze del capitano in congedo, 1981
Il palazzo degli ori, 1983
Racconto italiano di ignoto del novecento, 1983
Azoto e altri scritti di divulgazione scientifica, 1986 a collection of scientific prose
Taccuino di Caporetto, 1991
Gadda's complete works are available in the I Meridiani collection.