The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses

by Giorgio Bassani

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

Set in the bustling Italian city of Ferrara, The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses describes the fall of Dr. Athos Fadigati from social prominence and respectability to scandal and death. The work’s narrator, himself a member of Italy’s upper-middle class during the 1930s, describes the longevity and success of Fadigati’s medical practice as well as the prestigious post he occupies at the local hospital. Unfortunately for the doctor, in the context of the fascist regime he lives in, his sexuality means that these achievements are threatened.

Fadigati meets a group of university students, and in a series of conversations, he establishes lasting friendships with them that bridge the gap of years and social situations. He is able to offer valuable advice and support to several of the students, but he also meets Eraldo Deliliers among his new friends, who, while being the most handsome, is also the most cruel and self-confident among them. Upon arriving at his Adriatic resort in the summer of 1937, the narrator is shocked to hear that Fadigati has been seen with Eraldo Deliliers at a number of social functions and that the pair have been driving along the coast in a sports car. Fadigati is excluded from society due to his homosexuality, but he does form closer relationships with the narrator, who witnesses the doctor’s exploitation and ultimate abandonment by his devious young companion.

Socially and professionally ruined, Fadigati returns to Ferrara, where he and the narrator find comfort in one another’s society due to their shared sense of persecution. The narrator, who is Jewish, becomes increasingly disillusioned with his bourgeois friends and acquaintances, especially with the imposition of racial laws in 1938 granting legal legitimacy to the persecution of Jewish people—laws that respectable Italians had never believed would come into force.

The friends plan to meet for a coffee one weekend but are defeated by the rain, and on the Sunday of that weekend, the narrator finds out that the doctor’s body has been pulled from a local river. It is unclear whether he was murdered, had killed himself, or had been the victim of “an accident,” as the papers suggested.

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