Born into a well-established and wealthy family, Riccardo Bacchelli (bahk-KAYL-lee) labored for years before he began to receive recognition. His writing was outside the mainstream of Italian literature of his day, for while his contemporaries were producing works of delicate lyricism, Bacchelli was composing long historical romances rather in the manner of the great nineteenth century Italian novelist Alessandro Manzoni.
Bacchelli wrote only one lighthearted book, the relatively unsuccessful Love Town, the story of a paternalistic, Utopian city that true lovers finally see is impossible for them. In his other works Bacchelli’s social commentary was either direct or historical. An example of the first, The Devil at the Long Bridge, has for its subject matter the attempt of Mikhail Bakunin to establish socialism in Italy. The Mill on the Po, considered by many to be his best work, is a somewhat ponderous trilogy that was first published in serial form in Nuova antologia. In the United States the work appeared in two parts: The Mill on the Po and Nothing New Under the Sun. It presents a panorama of Bacchelli’s native district in Italy over the span of three generations, and in realistic treatment it presents the years from the decline of Napoleon to the Battle of Vittorio Veneto in World War I. The controlling theme of the book is the emergence of Italy as a unified nation, which, however, takes place not through the large issues and great figures of history but through the small, obscure lives of Italy’s common folk.
Though it cannot be said that Bacchelli ever achieved wide popularity, his scholarly approach to a romantic understanding of history did bring him great authority in his homeland. Within its range, Bacchelli’s work is not likely to be replaced, even though it remains a monument to an older style of writing. Later in life Bacchelli was made a member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lencie, the Accademia della Crusca of Florence, and, in 1953, a Grand Officer of the Italian Republic.