The Game of Doubles

Written by  Guido Fink
Recollections of Giorgio Bassani (and of Bruno Lattes).
For reasons beyond my control, I was unable to attend Giorgio Bassani's funeral in the Jewish cemetery in Ferrara: the cemetery that in Gli occhiali d'oro gives the narrator a sense of "great sweetness, AND the dearest peace AND gratitude".

Of course, it is Bassani the man, alive, that we ought to be commemorating at this time. But I don't think it is possible to celebrate Giorgio Bassani, the man, by detaching him from the pages of a work that is none other than a long process of self discovery.

This is made clear in the closing pages of the 1980 edition of the Romanzo di Ferrara, entitled Laggiù in fondo al corridoio:"The fact that I practically do NOT appear IN Five Stories OF Ferrara certainly does NOT spring FROM aridity, quite the contrary, perhaps it was an attempt TO defend myself FROM an excess OF emotional involvement. IN telling the story OF others WITH a spirit that was even too fraternal AND sympathetic I had always taken care TO conceal myself behind a screen OF syntax AND rhetoric that ranged FROM the pathetic TO the ironic".

"The spotlights were ON me, FROM now ON, whether I was writing OR NOT: ON ALL OF me." It was fitting that the author of Lida Mantovani, La passeggiata prima di cena, Una lapide in via Mazzini, Gli ultimi anni di Clelia Trotti, and Una notte del '43 should also attempt to emerge from his den, say who he was, and dare, finally, to say "I". And this "I", the Jewish student from Ferrara who at a certain point in Gli occhiali d'oro distances himself from the crowd, was to be the protagonist and narrator of the Garden of the Finzi Continis, and was to play the same role with even more searing power in Behind the Door.

Something that has always aroused my curiosity is the relationship between the first person narrator, in the pages of this last book, and a clumsier sort of alter ego who appears for the first time in Clelia Trotti. This character, the narrator and protagonist of Clelia, is Bruno Lattes. Of course, characters that are a partial reflection of the author are no novelty: it suffices to recall David in Lida Mantovani. Bruno Lattes is the Jewish boy who in Clelia Trotti teaches (as Bassani did) at the Jewish school in via Vignatagliata and who (like Bassani) made contact with the last clandestine exponents of Ferrara's old socialist movement; while in the Garden, again like Bassani, he plays a good game of tennis at the exclusive "Eleanora d'Este" club in the palazzina Marfisa, until he is blackballed following the advent of the race laws and invited by Micol to play in the Finzi-Contini's private court.
On the other hand, and unlike both Bassani and the character he most directly resembles, the Bruno Lattes we see after the war, at the (non-religious) funeral of Clelia Trotti, looking on with ironic detchment - and doing so without Bassani's usual compassion - at the old world of Ferrarese socialism that used the occasion to celebrate pathetic past glories is, in the end, liquidated with a brusque and unusual inversion, albeit a hypothetical one, of the narrative point of view: "one DAY perhaps she would have known who Bruno Lattes was..."

Well, I still haven't understood. Let us not forget that, at the beginning of Clelia, Bruno Lattes has provisionally returned from America, from the university in which he is making a comfortable career for himself while his parents are being deported and killed by the Nazis: "AND he? He, ON the contrary, had always been running away FROM Ferrara. He had LEFT AT the RIGHT TIME (...) WITH the additional benefit, apart FROM HAVING saved his skin, OF finding himself by THEN well ON the way TO a dignified, tranquil university career." The sarcasm is obvious: and it will be recalled that, unlike Mr and Mrs Lattes, Giorgio's parents saved themselves: Bassani was very angry about the modifications made by Pirro and De Sica to the screenplay of the Garden and demanded that the credits contain the words "freely adapted FROM..." precisely because the Giorgio of the film coolly departs while his father is arrested and sent off on a journey of no return.
On the other hand, the reappearance of Bruno Lattes at the door of the Finzi Contini home, together with the narrator, who barely knows him, and a few other invited guests, is a sort of embarrassed "shock OF recognition", if nothing else for the "inevitable glance OF Jewish connivance" exchanged by the two. "Tall, spare, WITH a dark complexion", highly strung and skittish, Bruno Lattes does not resemble the narrator of the Garden, proud of his light blue eyes that Micol likes so much.

Yet Bassani was to feel the need to bring him back to life, in a late short story called Altre notizie su Bruno Lattes, in which he shows him, yet again, in a cemetery, where he has him re-evoke an unhappy love story with a beautiful Catholic girl from Ferrarese high society, a certain "Adriana Trentini" who had already appeared in the Garden. And on that occasion she was also given a "staunchly Catholic" mother, which is certainly not the wonderful Dora, but just happens to be called Marchi: like the grandmother who supplies the young author of Una città in pianura.

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