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MLN 119.1 (2004) 109-134

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Literature as the Experience of Boundary Crossing:
Gadda's Descent to Hell and the Solution to That Awful Mess of Via Merulana

Manuela Marchesini
University of California, Berkeley

per un "Gadda narratore (...) persino più temerario del Gadda stilista"
Gianfranco Contini,
Quarant'anni di amicizia
, 53.

I will attempt a reading of Carlo Emilio Gadda's second and last novel, Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana, published by Garzanti in 1957, through an interpretation of its vexata quaestio par excellence: Pasticciaccio's supposedly open ending. 1 Virtually everyone interested in Gadda, whose number has grown considerably during the last two decades on both sides of the Atlantic, has written on the subject I am addressing: Gadda's ending to That Awful Mess of Via Merulana. 2 My [End Page 109] analysis will focus mainly on the last three chapters of the novel and it will interlace with Dante's Comedy, but also with Alessandro Manzoni, Roberto Longhi, Virgil, and Homer. Joining a recent although varied critical effort, I will argue that my findings prompt a reassessment not only of Pasticciaccio but of the whole body of Gadda's work; the relation between Pasticciaccio and the rest of his works; the nature of Gadda's fascination with Fascism; his relation to Neorealism; the relation between creative and reflective prose and, last, but not least, [End Page 110] the issue of gender boundaries in the economy of Gadda's literary enterprise. 3

Pasticciaccio's famous incompleteness, the lack of solution to what after all is a detective story, has been its most discussed feature, along with the artful, "macaronic" (as Contini labeled it) quality of its language. Gianfranco Contini asserts that "il Pasticciaccio è, anche nell'ultima edizione, un libro incompiuto; ma, precisazione ben più importante, un libro, se non proprio così impostato intenzionalmente, accettato deliberatamente come incompiuto." 4 Gadda himself, perhaps tired of being repeatedly asked about the novel's open ending, would tell Dacia Maraini (in a 1968 interview) that Pasticciaccio is "letterariamente concluso": "il poliziotto capisce chi è l'assassino e questo basta." 5 I would like to embrace the risk implicit in taking Contini's assertion a step further, while at the same time accepting Gadda's at face value. In my view, Pasticciaccio—the book deliberately accepted as "incomplete"is, in all the senses I can think of, a completed work.

Pasticciaccio was published on two different occasions. First, between 1944 and 1946, it was serialized in the journal Letteratura, and later, in 1957, it was published in book form by Garzanti. 6 Between these two dates stands the so-called Palazzo degli ori, a cinematic script based on the earlier serialized Pasticciaccio and written for Lux Film, presumably in 1947-48. 7 No film would ever be realized from it. The main feature of Il palazzo degli ori is that it has been unequivocally designed to provide the culprits of the two crimes. In this respect, nothing could be more removed from Il palazzo degli ori than the 1957 book version of Pasticciaccio, the book we read nowadays. As a matter [End Page 111] of fact, in the last version Gadda did what he could in order to erase the many elements of the earlier serialized Pasticciaccio which could possibly take the reader in the direction of the script, namely towards the solution to the mystery. Gadda was aware that his audience longed for a closure to Pasticciaccio's twofold plot, one centered on a minor offense (a jewelry robbery) and the other one on a horrific crime (a murder), both perpetrated at 219, Via Merulana. He knew that his audience was looking forward to the fourth "tratto" of Pasticciaccio's serialized version, a chapter that was "desiderato dai lettori," as Gadda writes in a letter to his editor, because of its clear hint at the identification of the assassin. 8 But although he was, as for most of his life, in serious financial need ("per un'anima eletta...


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