Bacchelli, Riccardo 1891–
Bacchelli is an Italian poet, novelist, dramatist, and critic. Along with six other writers, Bacchelli founded La Ronda, a literary magazine devoted to the preservation of traditional Italian writing. His first best-seller, The Mill on the Po, set in nineteenth-century Italy, is an important contribution to realist fiction. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 29-32, rev. ed.)
The Diavolo al Pontelungo [The Devil at the Long Bridge] is a long novel, the scene of which is laid partly in Switzerland and partly in Italy, around the figure of the aged Bakunin and the first internationalistic movements after the realization of Italian unity; and it is in manipulating such unexpected and uninviting materials that Bacchelli succeeds at last in reaping the harvest of a long and patient literary apprenticeship…. The atmosphere of those grey, uncertain times, of that dawn of the long peace which was to be concluded in the Dämmerung of the great war, is caught with an alert and sensitive intelligence, and with an art capable of individualizing all its multiple and confused elements in a crowd of sharply defined personalities and characters. The deterioration of the ideal in the daily uses of life is studied and represented against the idyllic background of Swiss landscape—a setting which constitutes a kind of continuous lyrical accompaniment to a story in itself sad and prosaic. But the whole first part of the novel is but a prologue to the second, in which Bakunin's voyage to Italy and the preparation and failure of the Bologna insurrection of 1873 are told. Being himself a Bolognese, Bacchelli is now truly at home and the characters which are already so clean cut in the first part acquire here a deeper relief, as if he had worked at them with love not only for his art, but with love for his native place, both intimate and...
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The Times Literary Supplement
["The Devil at the Long Bridge,"] written with immense vigour and spirit, is clearly the work of a born and prolific writer. Founded pretty closely on historical fact, it deals with a very interesting episode in the last year or two of the life of Michael Bakunin, perhaps the most engaging figure in the gallery of Russian philosophical anarchists….
There is some delicious comedy in [the] first part of the novel, and not comedy alone. The author collects an extremely varied company of revolutionaries …, all of them creatures of flesh and blood, sharply significant in their contrasts of political philosophy and type of experience. The giant Bakunin, frank, genial, energetic, courageous, astute—but impracticableness incarnate—towers over the others, who, however, are every whit as interesting as he. Then the mood changes from gay to grave…. Historically, the actual insurrection was a very small affair, but its very smallness allows the author to grasp each motive and play of emotion at work. After a brilliant little sketch of political conditions in Italy after the Risorgimento, he shows the pathetically inadequate preparations made by the conspirators for the revolution. Idealism is not absent from the scene, but its futility is summed up in the picture of Bakunin eternally smoking and drinking coffee while he manufactures his bombs. The story, which ends, as it begins, on a fine note of irony, is a clever and uncommonly...
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The New York Times Book Review
["The Devil at the Long Bridge"] is an imaginative novel based on Italian historical fact….
Perhaps the individualities of the persons involved may come alive to a reader already intimate with their place in Italian history; but to some one who meets them for the first time they seem decidedly incompetent to carry out anything demanding certainty of plan, action and execution, as does a social revolution. The author's verbosity may bring about this effect, or it may be what seemed to one reader, at least, poor book planning and structure. Whatever the cause, and though it may seem ludicrous to say it of revolutionists who actually played a part in Italian history, these people rarely reach conviction.
"Bakunin in Italy," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1929 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 9, 1929, p. 24.
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In "The Mill on the Po" Bacchelli's chief interest lies with the little people, those who somehow manage to survive, generation after generation, and who, in the author's words, "with tenacious humility, have kept faith in themselves and refused to be crushed by the almost overwhelming burden of their history." There are two distinct story elements in "The Mill on the Po," yet the author has blended them into one artistic whole, creating an epic novel on the largest and most satisfying scale, crowded with dramatic incident and superb character-portrayal, which holds the reader in its grip from beginning to end.
On the one hand, there is the story of these little people, symbolized in the Scacerni family and a wide variety of other profoundly human characters, and on the other, there is the genesis of modern Italy, as a unified and independent country….
No one who reads "The Mill on the Po" as fiction will be disappointed. And all who care to give it some further thought will find that in many ways much of its contents transcends the story of Italy, for it leaves one with the feeling that no one in this world is so small or unimportant that he does not in some manner or other, by his actions, contribute to or influence the destiny of others.
Robert Xnittel, "An Epic Novel of Little People," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1950 by The New York Times Company;...
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In "The Mill on the Po," which is regarded in Italy … as a national epic, the common man who is given the role of hero fails to demonstrate nobility; he survives, along with the other peasants of his community, the troubles of weather and politics which beset Northern Italy from 1812 to 1872, but he never cares about what is happening to fortunes other than his own, and he never realizes what is happening to his country, his church, or to Europe and Western civilization in general. He is a miller and a good one; he pays attention to his trade and expects nothing more than that other people pay attention to theirs; he is therefore not a focus for the events of his lifetime, nor does he give to these events a point of view or continuity. The long book … is therefore more like a peasant's journal than an epic; it gives a village view of history, but even the village is without dignity or importance in the lives of its inhabitants.
Very likely this curious achievement is what the author aimed at. (p. 19)
["The Mill on the Po"] is quite an old-fashioned book, actually. It is written on a straight line, with little depth or insight, and in a manner reminiscent of the century it describes…. [Altogether] it is the dulness of Scacerni and his fellow peasants which comes through rather than any heroic qualities they may have demonstrated while their country was being born from the little kingdoms and Papal States into...
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Nothing New Under the Sun is the last novel of Signor Bacchelli's trilogy The Mill on the Po,… the first two parts of which appeared in English, under that title…. The whole forms a work of fiction on the grand scale, and though Bacchelli may not himself be among the greatest masters, at any rate he constantly reminds us of them and is not dwarfed to insignificance in the process. It would indeed be difficult to find a contemporary novel to set beside his trilogy. In a sense he is off the beaten track of modern fiction…. [History] is the additional element in which Bacchelli's characters live, and there is in a sense no story in his trilogy, though it is the story of successive generations of the Scacerni, a family of millers on the Po, only history, of a river and the history of the making of a nation….
It is, I think, a weakness of Bacchelli's conception that his characters are not the makers of history, but those marginal to it, the peasants, whose relation to the disturbances of historic events is similar to that to the capricious behaviour of the river on whose surface or on whose banks they earn their livelihoods. They are, almost by definition of their condition, dumb oxen. Their lives as peasants and millers are rendered with a beautiful and humane sympathy, comprehensive and unsentimental; and considering their existences in relation to the rhythm of the seasons, Bacchelli combines poetic eloquence with...
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The French have coined an apt word, roman-fleuve—literally, "a river-like novel"—to define certain works of fiction which are peculiarly rich in subject-matter and longstretched in time. To no other Italian novel of our age could the term be applied more fittingly than to Riccardo Bacchelli's "A Mill on the Po," which is centered around the shores of a powerful river, and traces through three generations the life of a flour-miller's family….
"Nothing New Under the Sun," the third part of the trilogy, is a "choral" novel, with many voices, maybe too many. In a sense, its true heroes are the mills themselves, threatened by social change, as are all those who live around them. Villagers, shopkeepers or workers, they either resist hopelessly the current of history, or try, hopefully but vainly, to hasten it.
The background of the novel is Italy's most restless region—the Po Valley—the nation's cradle of anarchist utopias and socialist stirrings. The little community goes through trial after trial, yet public events are seen only as reflected in private lives. But crimes, dreams and loves are only apparently free, for they all fit into a pattern of which the people themselves are hardly conscious. The author, however, perhaps too much aware of that pattern, discloses faithfully to us the meaning of each personal fate.
Mr. Bacchelli is a traditional writer; that is, one who thinks that...
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The Times Literary Supplement
[Giorno per giorno dal 1922 al 1966 is the title of the collected essays of Riccardo Bacchelli,] the grand old man among Italian novelists and essayists….
It would be quite mistaken to dismiss Bacchelli as just another "bourgeois" novelist of the old self-satisfied school. His erudition is immense though easily carried. He is a stylist, a contemplative man, a happy writer, and his judgments are of a balanced, moderately conservative nature. He is as ready to quote Latin poets as Dante or Pascal or Baudelaire. His subject matter ranges from acute observations of European and American landscapes and institutions to reflections on [Benedetto] Croce, or that great Italian statesman, Alcide De Gasperi. His calm and commonsense is annoying or meaningless to writers whose formative years occurred in later, disorderly times. But Bacchelli represents all that is best in the old liberal Italy into which he was born. His productiveness, in its own field, has hardly been second to that of Croce himself.
"Grand Old Italian," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1968; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3463, July 18, 1968, p. 743.
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