Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420
Maradagal is a South American country based upon Carlo Emilio Gadda’s native Lombardy, specifically the Brianza region north of Milan. As Acquainted with Grief begins, Maradagal has recently ended a war with neighboring Parapagal, and both countries are experiencing modest economic recoveries. Gonzalo Pirobutirro de Eltino, a middle-aged engineer and writer,lives with his widowed seventy-three-year-old mother, Senora Pirobutirro, in their decaying villa outside the city of Pastrufazio. He has summoned the family doctor to the villa to have a checkup. Most of the first part of the novel is devoted to Doctor Higueroa’s thoughts about Gonzalo’s reputation in town as a stingy, temperamental misanthrope who is cruel to his ailing mother. This part also includes the physician’s conversations with the servant, Battistina, and with Gonzalo himself.
Gonzalo is tormented by what he imagines is his mother’s lack of affection for him; by her perpetual mourning for his brother, who was killed in the war with Parapagal; and by his late father’s having squandered most of the family’s money on their elaborate villa. Gonzalo believes that he suffered as a child because of his father’s excessive expenditures, and he continues to suffer by having to pay taxes on the estate. (All these elements of Gadda’s story are autobiographical.) Gonzalo is also disgruntled by his mother’s illusion that the family is still well-to-do and by her paternalistic attitude toward peasants. He suspects that she cares more for the servants than for him.
Acquainted with Grief was serialized in the Florentine literary review Letteratura between 1938 and 1941, but it was not published in book form until 1963 (with the inclusion of a fictitious dialogue between Gadda and his publisher about the “recovery” of the manuscript). The 1969 English translation and a 1970 Italian edition include two additional chapters. The first of these looks at Gonzalo’s efforts to write a novel, and the second offers a strong plot element. Gonzalo has refused the services of the Nistituo, a vigilante patrol hired by his neighbor, who fears thieves. On the night Gonzalo finally leaves home for good, the neighbor’s security men hear strange noises coming from the villa. They find Senora Pirobutirro critically wounded, stabbed by an intruder; she says that her son was not involved in the attack. Like Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana (1957; That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, 1965), Acquainted with Grief is incomplete, ending without resolving the identity or motives of the attacker, though he may be an agent of the Nistituo.
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