Katrin Wehling-Giorgi

‘Questa forza nera, ineluttabile’: Carlo Emilio Gadda’s Mothers

The paper proposes to analyse the ambiguous portrayal of the mother and the prominent mother-son relationship in C.E. Gadda’s writings, with particular attention being given to his early short story ‘Novella seconda’ (1929) and his first major novel, La cognizione del dolore.[1] While on the one hand the male protagonist enjoys a close emotional bond with the maternal figure, the insistent emphasis on his matricidal desires, outbursts of rage and uncanny dream sequences reveal a darker side of maternity which has a profound effect on the son’s development of selfhood.

Using a theoretical framework based on the works of Julia Kristeva and Adriana Cavarero, the paper will assess to what extent Gadda challenges and subverts the stereotype of the nurturing ‘mamma’ (which is of course deeply embedded in the Catholic tradition) to express complex notions of fragmented subjectivity and masculine identity in his texts. The split portrayal of the mother being of central importance to feminist theory and post-Freudian psychoanalytical studies, the paper will explore the linkages between Gadda’s portrayal of maternity, the disintegrating self and the fragmentation of language.

Gadda’s texts will furthermore be situated in the relevant socio-historical context of the ventennio fascista, showing that the author (who is often criticised for his fascist views well into the 1940s) is in dialogue with and explicitly distances himself from the fascist ideal of motherhood in his narrative. While critics have often identified the source of Gadda’s literary ‘obsession’ with the maternal figure in the author’s complex relationship with his own mother, I will argue that his unsettling portrayal of maternity has much wider psychoanalytical and socio-historical implications.


[1] While the final version of La cognizione del dolore was only first published by Einaudi in 1963, the novel was written and published in 7 instalments in the literary journal Letteratura between 1938 and 1941.

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