Guido Gozzano, was born in Turin in 1883, his father was a successful engineer and his mother was the daughter of Massimo Mautino, a Senator, patriot and supporter of Giuseppe Mazzini and Massimo D'Azeglio. Guido spent his life in Turin and in Agliè (in the Canavese area), where his family owned several buildings and a large estate: Villa Il Meleto. As a young man he read widely from Emile Zola to St Catherine of Siena, knew St Francis 0f Assisi’s Canticle of the sun by heart and also was well read in the works of Petrarch, Leopardi, da Vinci, Wilde & Goethe. As a young writer of poetry he started out heavily influenced by the writing of Gabriele D'Annunzio, publishing poetry in the Il venerdi della Contessa (The Fridays of the Contessa) in this style. Whilst studying law at Turin university, he became interested in the literature courses run by Arturo Graf, a professor, poet and short story writer. Graf, an exponent of rather dark, fantastic themes in literature (Il Diavolo, Trans: The Story of the Devil) whose writing style was the direct opposite of D’Annunzio’s, where D’Annunzio was full of bombast, Graf’s was simple. Graf would exhibit a major influence on Gozzano, by directing him “back to the sources" and to a thorough study of the poetry of Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarca, which helped refine his poetic sensibility, although his work would still to be flavoured by D’Annunzio, creating a strange hybrid of the exotic & mundane. He, together with a group of likeminded students, would form the The Crepuscolari (the poets of the Twilight) * whose work was a reaction against the content-poetry and rhetorical style of (Nobel Prize winning poet) Giosue Carducci and Gabriele D'Annunzio, preferring to write in a more direct unadorned style.
Gozzano swapped law for literature, associating with many writers/intellectuals of his day, reading the symbolist French poetry and studying the writings of Schopenhauer & Nietzsche, in 1907 his poetry collection La via del rifugio (Road to Shelter) was published and sold out in three months. At this time his health took a turn for the worse, a long time sufferer of tuberculosis this now reached a point where he was forced to travel to the mountains and seaside, having to wear an inhaler mask day and night. This, with his mother suffering a stroke, curtailed plans he had to to travel to America, Japan & Tierra del Fuego, although he did travel to India in 1912 with a fellow sufferer in the hope of better health (on return there was no improvement). He died in Turin (1916) at the age of thirty two, having published two of collections of poetry - La via del rifugio and I colloqui ("Conversations") which quickly became renown for their quietly perfect evocations of nature, melancholy, tenderness and nostalgia and on which his reputation in Italy is built.
Although during his lifetime he also wrote articles and short stories for several newspapers, the only book of prose published was Il tre talismani (The three talismans), a volume of children's fables, all his other work remained scattered in various places until they began to be collected and published posthumously. This has led to Guido Gozzano being known more for his poetry than his fiction in his homeland and outside Italy even that isn’t as well known as it should be.
Requiems & Nightmares, is a collection of his short stories that whilst showing the influence of writers such as Poe, Maupassant and Wilde, ably demonstrate why he was considered the finest representative of the Crepuscolari, as both a poet and a now hopefully as a short story writer. Tales such as The soul of the Instrument, a fabulous and haunting fairy tale described by the translators as “a Symbolist fairy tale after the manner of Lorrain and Wilde” or A Romantic Story, this melancholic tale has a charm that will win you over and then break your heart with its tragic beauty. Then there’s A Spiteful Day, which is the tale of an individual whose day is ruined by an insignificant event & now feels the need to spite others, this was a short, sharp and amusing tale of melancholia.
I recently exchanged comments with a fellow blogger concerning Poets who also write fiction, she was of the opinion that poets should stick to their art and not write fiction, Guido Gozzano’s tales are a perfect example of why I don’t personally follow that belief. His direct, deceptively simple prose style perfectly evoke the tragic, the melancholic. They have that absurdist sense of the tragic and encapsulate Baudelaire’s ideal
“Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, supple and staccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and sudden leaps of consciousness.” *
Requiems & Nightmares: Selected Short Fiction of Guido Gozzano, was translated by Brendan and Anna Connell, who have an obvious love of this writers work & want to see it acknowledged as “amongst the best in the Italian language” hence their reasoning to raise the profile of a writer relatively unknown outside his homeland and whose short stories deserve as much recognition as his poetry. Hopefully with this book now out, published by Hieroglyphic Press, this situation will change raising all Gozzano’s writings to a greater world wide appreciation.
The Real Face
A Spiteful Day
The Altar of the Past
The Handsome Hound
The Benefits of Zarathustra
A Romantic Story
The Soul of the Instrument
La Bela Madamin
* Dedication of Le Spleen de Paris
*crepuscolari torinesi (Twilight Turin)