Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 468
Grazia Deledda (day-LEHD-dah) was born on September 27, 1871, in the primitive Sardinian village of Nuoro, which she utilized as the background for most of her fiction. In that backward community, she was forced largely to educate herself, and she found her amusement, even as a child, in reading and writing. Her first published article appeared in a fashion magazine; before long, she was contributing successfully to Sardinian literary and political papers and journals. Knowing no other environment than her island, she began to write stories about its people and their setting. Her first major publication of fiction appeared in La tribuna, published in Rome. Before she was twenty-five, she had published three novels, all dealing with Sardinian life, and a study of traditions in her native village.
Until the late twentieth century, very few of Deledda’s many novels had been translated into English. As a result, she remained relatively unknown in the United States and Great Britain, although she was widely read on the Continent. She was a shy and retiring, even timid woman, but fame came to her unsolicited when in 1926 she was elected to the Italian Academy and in the same year was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was the second woman to receive that award.
In 1900, at the age of twenty-nine, Deledda married an Italian named Palmiro Madesani, a civil employee of the Italian war ministry, and then left Sardinia. She and her husband took up residence in Rome, where they lived, except for short intervals, until the novelist’s death on August 15, 1936. Although famous, Deledda devoted herself to her home and her family. In addition to her considerable output of fiction—more than forty books—she wrote two plays and collaborated on a third, all successfully produced in Rome.
In her earlier writings, Deledda tended toward a sentimental picture of Sardinian life, but in her later novels she turned to moving tragedies of human experience. In Elias Portolu, she presented a convict who, though in love with his sister-in-law, refused to marry the woman even after she had become a widow. Ashes tells the story of a tragic relationship between a woman and her illegitimate child, with the son eventually driving his mother to suicide. L’edera (the ivy) presented an equally tragic theme in the relationship between a man and a woman servant who murdered for his sake and then found expiation in marriage to her master. In what is considered by many her greatest novel, The Mother, first translated into English as The Woman and the Priest, Deledda portrayed the shame of a mother who realized the dream of seeing her son become a priest and then had to watch him fail by falling victim to sin and lust. Her autobiographical novel Cosima was published the year after her death.