Last Reviewed on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 359
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...
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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.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711
The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses is above all a precise reconstruction of the time and place that provide the background for all Giorgio Bassani’s major fiction: the middle class and professional world of Ferrara, as seen from the vantage point of a member of the city’s well-established Jewish community. Fascism was at its height during the last years of the 1930’s, a period marked by the cementing of the ties between Italy and Nazi Germany, and the passing of the Special Laws against the Jews. The mounting climate of intolerance takes its psychic and physical toll on the characters in the novel.
Dr. Athos Fadigati is a distinguished physician, with a flourishing practice in Ferrara, as well as being the head of the ear, nose, and throat department of the city’s main hospital. The children of most of the best families in Ferrara have been under his care, and even the narrator remembers having his tonsils removed by Fadigati. Since the early 1920’s (and coinciding with the new order imposed by the Fascist regime on Italian society), Fadigati’s life has been one of unruffled professional advancement. Nevertheless, Fadigati has a weakness that threatens his seemingly impregnable social status. He is to be found during the evening frequenting the stalls, and not the balconies, of the local cinemas, or favoring the more popular and lower-class areas of town rather than the cafes of the major boulevards; wherever, in short, groups of proletarian youths, soldiers, perhaps, or knots of soccer fans may be gathered. Imperceptibly, Bassani brings his respectable bourgeois chorus, which has hitherto been preoccupied with finding the doctor a suitable wife, to the conclusion that Fadigati prefers men to women.
In the second section of the novel, Fadigati comes to the fore, as he befriends a group of university students who take the early morning train from Ferrara to Bologna. He gradually establishes himself as an avuncular companion, a man of culture, and an occasional counselor. He manages to break down the reserve that naturally divides the generations, but on some of those train journeys, he must submit to the undisguised insults of Eraldo Deliliers, not only the most handsome member of the group but also the most arrogant and dangerous.
The summer of 1937, at Rimini, marks the decline and fall of Fadigati. On his arrival at the resort to spend his summer vacation with his family, the narrator learns that Fadigati and Deliliers are sharing a room at the Grand-Hotel, and that they have been seen at all the most fashionable resorts along the Adriatic coast, traveling in an Alfa Romeo sports car. This scandal naturally is the main topic of conversation among the respectable Ferraresi gathered on the Rimini beachfront, and Fadigati is ostracized by virtually everyone except the narrator and his family, with whom he establishes a close friendship. The relationship with Deliliers can only end in disaster. Fadigati is left more and more to his own devices, while Deliliers shamelessly exploits the older man’s good nature and imprudent generosity. Following a violent scene at the hotel, Deliliers finally leaves, taking with him the car and most of his benefactor’s money and valuables. The summer is over, the weather changes for the worse, and everyone returns to Ferrara.
In the last four chapters of the book, the destinies of Fadigati and the narrator are more closely intertwined. Fadigati loses his post at the hospital and almost all of his patients, and the narrator observes with mounting despair the government’s well-orchestrated anti-Semitic campaign (which culminated in the introduction of racial laws in 1938). He can hardly bear to have a cup of coffee in the cafes in the center of town or talk with his university companions. With Fadigati, he shares a sense of persecution: the unjust isolation of the innocent. Unlike his father, he refuses to be consoled by bland reassurances from well-placed acquaintances that no racial laws will ever come to pass in Italy. A meeting tentatively arranged between the two friends does not take place, probably as the result of a weekend of torrential rain, and on Sunday, the narrator reads that the Fadigati’s body was found in the river. He was the victim of an accident, according to the paper.