Morselli, Guido 1912-1973

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MORSELLI, Guido 1912-1973

PERSONAL: Born April 15, 1912, in Bologna, Italy; committed suicide July 31, 1973; son of Giovanni Morselli, (a pharmaceutical company manager) and Olga Vincenzi. Education: University of Milan, law degree, 1935.

CAREER: Novelist, essayist, philosopher, newspaper writer, and farmer. Military service: Italian Army; served during World War II.


Proust o del sentimento (title means "Proust or Concerning Sentiment"), Garzanti (Milan, Italy), 1943.

Realismo e fantasia (title means "Realism and Imagination"), Bocca (Milan, Italy), 1947.

Roma senza papa: cronache romane di fine secolo ventesimo (title means "Rome without a Pope: Roman Chronicles at the End of the Twentieth Century"), Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1974.

Contro-passato prossimo: Un'ipotesi retrospettiva, Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1975, translated by Hugh Shankland as Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis, Chatto and Windus (London, England), 1989.

Divertimento 1889, Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1975, translated by Hugh Shankland, Dutton (New York, NY) 1986.

Il comunista (title means "The Communist"), Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1976.

Dissipatio H.G. (title means "The Dissolution of the Human Race"), Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1977.

Fede e critica (title means "Faith and Criticism"), [Milan, Italy], 1977.

Un dramma borghese (title means "A Bourgeois Drama"), Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1978.

Incontro col comunista (title means "Encounter with a Communist"), Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1980.

Diario, edited by Valentina Fortichiari, Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1988.

La felicità non è un lusso, edited by Valentina Fortichiari, Adelphi (Milan, Italy), 1994.

SIDELIGHTS: Guido Morselli's death defines him as much as the detailed intellectual terseness of his literary efforts. Morselli's fame has largely been posthumous following thirty years of constant publishing rejection and his suicide at age sixty-one. Morselli saw only two of his works published.

His mother's death in 1924, when Morselli was twelve, may have had, as Charles Fantazzi suggested in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "far-reaching effects on his already introverted character." A classical education at a Jesuit preparatory school and a law degree from the University of Milan did little to encourage him to enter Italian society. Instead of starting a legal practice, Morselli toured Europe, honing his command of European cultures and languages. During military service in World War II, Morselli spent three enforced, isolated years in Calabria, on Italy's southwest coast. In a cruel twist, Morselli's first book, Proust o del sentimento, was published while he was cut off from the main currents of Italian culture. Fittingly, the work concerns a struggling writer whom the Italian literary mainstream has neglected.

After the war Morselli returned to Varese, his affluent family's new home, and spent the following decade writing for various newspapers. The second and last book he would see published came out during this period. Realismo e fantasia is a philosophical text covering a range of subjects from religion to art. In 1958 Morselli moved to an isolated area at Sasso di Gavirate, near Lake Maggiore. He spent the next twenty-five years of his life in a house he built and named Santa Trinita. Though he faced numerous publishers' rejections, he continued writing and spent time horseback riding and tending to his small farm. Morselli moved back to the more urban surroundings of Varese in 1973. Several months and two returned manuscripts later he killed himself.

Morselli's work began to gain popularity shortly after his death, when his small circle of friends, led by critic Dante Isella, began promoting his works. Morselli's isolation, more than anything, may have contributed to his publishing failures. Although his writings are deeply philosophical, and about scholarly subjects, they are also rooted in Morselli's world. As Fantazzi wrote, "Morselli considered . . . [a philosopher] any individual endowed with good sense. His goal was not to offer solutions to transcendental inquiries, but to capture philosophical thought in its nascent state."

Morselli's obsession with religion and sexuality, for instance, would most certainly have appealed to a mid–twentieth-century European public, while his more specific inquiries about post–World War II communism and the de-Stalinization of Europe in the 1950s raised political hackles even in the 1970s, when they were eventually published. Italian critics cited these successes as they pointed an accusing finger at the publishing world of Morselli's time.

Un dramma borghese involves a recovering father and daughter—he from rheumatism, she from an appendectomy—landing in the same hospital room. Their interaction raises the danger of incest, prompted by the eighteen-year-old girl's blossoming sexual passions, and suicide, introducing a Browning pistol which surfaces later in Morselli's work and which the author used to kill himself eleven years later.

Il comunista is a political novel about an elected official wrestling with his party allegiance. Walter Ferranini, an up-and-coming Communist party member of the 1958 Rome parliament, finds himself opposing contemporary Marxist doctrine. The party investigates and sanctions him for his careful study of Marx and Engels, and the man/party philosophical split.

In Roma senza papa Morselli composes a satire about the condition of papal Rome thirty years into the future, in 1997. Confessionals are computerized, the papal residence is a motel complex, and the Vatican has allied with the Soviet government to oppose secularized schools and divorce while advocating birth control, euthanasia, and the mystical use of drugs. The pope himself is characterized as a snake-charmer, illustrating the deterioration of the religious hierarchy by claiming that "God is not a priest. And not even a friar." He actually holds court at one point with Jacqueline Kennedy. In Roma senza papa, Fantazzi wrote, Morselli clearly believes "religion belongs to the common man and not to age-old institutions."

Morselli looks backward in his next two efforts. Contro-passato prossimo, set in the war-ravaged Europe of 1915, sees the Allied victory as illogical. In Divertimento 1889 Umberto I, the reluctant second king of Italy, is followed to the Alps where he hopes to quietly abdicate his throne and have romantic affairs along the way. As the title suggests, Morselli offers the piece as essentially a mind-settling exercise in which he claims to "have found pleasure."

The manuscript for Morselli's Dissipatio H. G. was returned to the author shortly before his suicide. The text is somewhat autobiographical, following the suicide efforts of its protagonist and his discovery of a world without humanity. Morselli suggests that the end of all creation will, and should, happen peacefully.

Morselli, according to Fantazzi, could have succeeded more in his lifetime had he written in a more Italian style. "He had always been averse to the excesses of rhetoric and bombast, which he regarded as the chief bane of Italian writing, and was the fierce enemy of all forms of exaggerated romanticism and idealism." Morselli himself once claimed "Art stylizes reality, it does not reproduce it; it wants unity or concentration, while life by its very nature is many sided and disparate." Later critics have cited his intellect and diversity, adding that the snubbing he received while alive was unjustified.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 177: Italian Novelists since World War II, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1993.*

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