The Italian Almanac

Grazia Deledda

"Marianna Sirca"
(Excerpt from Novel)


Grazia Deledda
(1871 - 1936)

Italian novelist and short story writer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926. Deledda spent her childhood in a small isolated village, where the people spoke Logudorese, a dialect closely related to Latin. Her stories are usually set in Sardinia and depict the life and customs of simple folk - small landowners, servants, farmers, and shepherds. Often they must find their own solutions to complex moral problems, which connects her work to the tradition of Fyodor Dostoevsky. From 1900 until her death in 1936 Deledda resided in Rome.

"In Grazia Deledda's novels more than in most other novels, man and nature form a single unity. One might almost say that the men are plants which germinate in the Sardinian soil itself. The majority of them are simple peasants with primitive sensibilities and modes of thought, but with something in them of the grandeur of the Sardinian natural setting. Some of them almost attain the stature of the monumental figures of the Old Testament." (from the Nobel presentation by Henrik Schück).

Grazia Deledda was born in the Sardinian village of Nuoro into a middle-class family. Her her father was a prosperous landowner and served as a mayor of Nuoro for some time. Until the age of ten, Deledda attended the local elementary school. It was her only formal education, before she was privately tutored in French and Italian. Family responsibilities weighted particularly heavily on her, because only a few from her large family escaped the misfortune of illness or being involved in crime. She was an avid reader of Russian novelist, Cadrucci, D'Annunzio, and Giovanni Verga, but her reading was unsystematic. Deledda started early her career as a writer. At the age of 8 she began to write poems, and her first short stories appeared in 1888-89 in magazines published in Rome and Milan.

In 1900 she married Palmiro Madesani; they had two sons. Madesani was a civil servant from the region of Mantua, whom she had met in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. She moved with her husband to Rome, but Sardinia remained always for her the most important source for inspiration. She kept contact to her native region and made there frequent visits. For the remainder of her life, Deledda wrote novels at the rate about one a year, producing some 40 novels. She also translated Balzac's Eugénie Grandet into Italian in 1930. Benito Mussolini's fascist reign did not leave much traces on her work. - in Rome she lived a rather restricted life. Her only travel abroad she made in 1927, to Stockholm, when she attended the Nobel Prize ceremonies.

Among her most notable works are Dopo il divorzio (1902; After the Divorce); Elias Portolu (1903), the story of a mystical former convict in love with his brother's bride; Cenere (1904; Ashes; film, 1916, starring Eleonora Duse), in which an illegitimate son causes his mother's suicide; and La madre (1920; The Woman and the Priest; U.S. title, The Mother), the tragedy of a mother who realizes her dream of her son's becoming a priest only to see him yield to the temptations of the flesh. In these and others of her more than 40 novels, Deledda often used Sardinia's landscape as a metaphor for the difficulties in her characters' lives. The ancient ways of Sardinia often conflict with modern mores, and her characters are forced to work out solutions to their moral issues. Cosima, an autobiographical novel, was published posthumously in 1937.