Last Updated on June 4, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 298
The narrator, a twenty-year-old Jewish man, has left his native Ferrara to study literature at the University of Bologna. Distracted from his studies by political unrest, he is forced to acknowledge that Fascism is increasingly affecting Italian Jews, especially his family. The narrator tries to anticipate the future repercussions of the rampant antisemitism. His sympathy for Dr. Fadigati helps him understand that the discrimination leveled by the Fascists extends beyond religion to all those considered opponents of the regime.
Dr. Athos Fadigati
Athos Fadigati, a surgeon in Ferrara who is originally from Venice, is a gay man living under Italy’s Fascist regime who becomes a victim of anti-gay discrimination, accused of being a sexual predator of underage boys.
Eraldo Deliliers, one of the narrator’s young friends, becomes Fadigati’s lover. However, Eraldo manipulates the doctor, stealing Fadigati’s money to finance his escape from Italy to live in Paris.
Signora and Signor Lavezzoli
Signora Lavezzoli, the wife of an attorney, supports Benito Mussolini, because she believes that Fascism will be a stabilizing influence that can staunch the chaotic state of Italian society. Signora Lavezzoli is not only antisemitic but also anti-gay, as evidenced by her treatment of the doctor. Signor Lavezzoli, in contrast, understands the danger that the regime presents; however, he wishes things were different and attempts to turn a blind eye to the government’s discriminatory practices.
The Narrator’s Father
The narrator’s father is a businessman who tries to keep his head in the sand rather than acknowledge the increasingly widespread violence that the government is inflicting. As he attempts to protect his business interests, he detaches himself from his own Jewish identity and tries to ignore the implications of official antisemitism. The narrator feels pity rather than contempt for his weak father.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492
The narrator, a young man of age twenty (at the time of the main events of the story), a member of a middle-class Jewish family of Ferrara and a student of literature at the University of Bologna. He is becoming aware of the impact of Fascism on his family and on all Jews. Sensitive and sympathetic to the trials of other Jews, yet barely grasping what the growing anti-Semitism of the Fascist regime may mean to Italian Jews, he witnesses the torments of Dr. Fadigati, who is in his own way just as much an outsider as the narrator is going to be in Italian Fascist society.
Dr. Athos Fadigati
Dr. Athos Fadigati (AHT-ohs fah-dee-GAH-tee), an ear, nose, and throat specialist who came from Venice and settled in Ferrara. Middle-aged and overweight, Fadigati became somewhat of a society doctor, for a time, until his penchant for young men became known. He takes one of the narrator’s friends to Riccione, on the Adriatic Sea, for a vacation, and is more or less despised by other families. As an outsider, he attracts the narrator’s pity, especially when the boy whom Fadigati takes to the seashore absconds with all of Fadigati’s money. The doctor by then has lost much of his fashionable clientele, and eventually he takes his own life.
Eraldo Deliliers (ehr-AHL-doh deh-lee-LEE-ehrz), a young schoolmate of the narrator, a handsome young boy who is admired by all of his classmates. There is a thread of opportunism to his character. When he takes up with Dr. Fadigati, that seems to seal his fate, and even though the narrator sympathizes with him and converses with him at Riccione, Deliliers is interested only in the best opportunities for his own welfare. He leaves Fadigati at Riccione, having stolen all the doctor’s money and papers, and ends up in Paris.
Signora Lavezzoli (lah-vehz-ZOH-lee), a leading member of the Lavezzoli family, vacationing at Riccione. Originally from Pisa, she is married to a lawyer who is an expert in civil law. She represents the kind of people who welcome and support the growth of the Fascist state in Italy and who approve of the increasingly severe measures of the Benito Mussolini regime. She despises Dr. Fadigati, and, although she is a friend of the narrator’s family, she seems to approve of the coming repression of Jews. Although her husband is no supporter of the Fascists, he says nothing as she praises Mussolini and the government.
The narrator’s father
The narrator’s father, a harried businessman of broad interests who pretends that the changes in Italian society cannot be too bad and who hopes that the Fascists will not be as dangerous as the Nazis in Germany. He treats Dr. Fadigati with respect, despite the contempt of others for the man. The narrator feels pity for his father, who is hoping against hope that all will be well.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 695
Like other men in his situation with a professional reputation to uphold, Fadigati must live a dual life, divided between day and night: by day, the concerned throat specialist; by night, a lonely man withdrawing into the shadows of the ill-lit popular quarters of the city and the cheaper seats at the cinema. It is when Bassani draws his tragic victim out of the nocturnal shadows of Ferrara, and even out of the discreet monotones of the winter train journeys, into the blinding summer sun that bakes the bathers at Rimini that the reader knows that Fadigati’s collapse is imminent. Light is the medium of exposure, and from exposure to public disgrace is but a step. Fadigati’s decision to appear openly at Rimini with Deliliers seems such a calculated affront to public opinion, and so out of character, that the narrator rightly attributes it to Fadigati’s shameless companion. The narrator also discerns in Fadigati’s nature another quality that leads to his demise. When Fadigati shows his young friend the curt note left by his departed lover, he seems to revel in his own humiliation. The exultant tone in his voice reveals a self-destructive desire, derived perhaps from a corrosive guilt that demands some kind of expiation.
The narrator of the story is not a distant bystander but a participant drawn into the action by moral compulsion. It is not only his reputation as a dreamer (a “poet”) that sets him apart from his companions. It is also the fact that he is a Jew. He shares this isolation with Fadigati, and this melancholy similarity of experience develops into the book’s central relationship and illuminates its major theme. Apart from Deliliers, the narrator is the only member of the crowd on the train who turns up at Rimini, and it is he and his family (his father is an amiable naif) who offer the only companionship Fadigati can find in his enforced solitude. This is to be the last summer of relative tranquillity. Winter announces darkness and despair, and the narrative tone grows bleaker with the change in the weather. It is significant that the narrator and Fadigati encounter each other at night in the fog, that rain prevents their final rendezvous, and that only the narrator seems to be aware of Fadigati’s suicide.
Deliliers is not so much a character as a nemesis, a destructive force whose single function is Fadigati’s downfall. Naturally, the young man combines demoniac calculation with Apollonian beauty. A perfect physical specimen, and an amateur middle-weight boxing champion, Deliliers is an extremist in both his decadent beauty and his cynicism, inspiring in others no mere love or affection but instead blind infatuation. He will use his physical beauty as a means of blackmail and seduction, with the pathetic Fadigati perhaps only the first of a long trail of victims. Deliliers is an exact product of his time, or any time that reveres the cult of the body without any corresponding dose of moral awareness. In his cynicism and brutality, and his exalted egotism, he is a born Fascist, but without the political affiliation.
A minor character, Nino Bottecchiari, the acknowledged intellectual of the group of students on the Bologna train, is also worth noting. Bottecchiari comes from a family of established Socialists (his uncle is an ex-Socialist deputy). When the narrator runs into Bottecchiari on his return from vacation, however, Bottecchiari informs him that he has been offered a job as chief cultural officer for the district by one of the leaders of the local Fascist Party. Should he accept? The narrator bitterly tells him to do so and without a moment’s hesitation. For the narrator, it is all of a piece: the humiliation of Fadigati, the anti-Semitic campaign, the brutality of Deliliers, the cynical ambition of this former student. Bottecchiari may pretend to despise his fellow Italians and the present political leadership, but while the Fascists are in power, they command the jobs. At the start of what promises to be a successful political career, Bottecchiari is a representative figure, a man prepared to jettison moral tradition when it suits his interests.
Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 44
Clay, G.R. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXV (October 9, 1960), p. 54.
Grillandi, Massimo. Invito alla lettura di Giorgio Bassani, 1972.
The New Yorker. Review. XXXVI (December 24, 1960), p. 61.
Pacifici, Sergio. Review in Saturday Review. XLIII (August 20, 1960), p. 16.
Trevelyan, R., ed. Italian Writing Today, 1967.