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Into the insular town of 1930s Ferrara, a new doctor arrives. Fadigati is hopeful and modern, and more than anything wants to fit into his new home. But his fresh, appealing appearance soon crumbles when the townsfolk discover his homosexuality, and the young man he pays to be his lover humiliates him publicly. As anti-Semitism spreads across Italy, the Jewish narrator Into the insular town of 1930s Ferrara, a new doctor arrives. Fadigati is hopeful and modern, and more than anything wants to fit into his new home. But his fresh, appealing appearance soon crumbles when the townsfolk discover his homosexuality, and the young man he pays to be his lover humiliates him publicly. As anti-Semitism spreads across Italy, the Jewish narrator of the tale begins to feel pity for the ostracized doctor, as the fickle nature of a community changing under political forces becomes clear. The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles is a gripping and tragic study of how lives can be destroyed by those we consider our neighbours.


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Into the insular town of 1930s Ferrara, a new doctor arrives. Fadigati is hopeful and modern, and more than anything wants to fit into his new home. But his fresh, appealing appearance soon crumbles when the townsfolk discover his homosexuality, and the young man he pays to be his lover humiliates him publicly. As anti-Semitism spreads across Italy, the Jewish narrator Into the insular town of 1930s Ferrara, a new doctor arrives. Fadigati is hopeful and modern, and more than anything wants to fit into his new home. But his fresh, appealing appearance soon crumbles when the townsfolk discover his homosexuality, and the young man he pays to be his lover humiliates him publicly. As anti-Semitism spreads across Italy, the Jewish narrator of the tale begins to feel pity for the ostracized doctor, as the fickle nature of a community changing under political forces becomes clear. The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles is a gripping and tragic study of how lives can be destroyed by those we consider our neighbours.

30 review for The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles

  1. 5 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    This is the second of Giorgio Bassani's novels about his home town of Ferrara, all written after he had left the town and settled in Rome. There are six in all, and as I make my way through them (I'm currently on the fifth), I'm realising that together they amount to quite a Proustian search for a lost time and a lost place: Ferrara between the wars. In the first book of his Ferrara cycle, 'Within the Walls', Bassani's narrators were a little mysterious. They revealed nothing of themselves not ev This is the second of Giorgio Bassani's novels about his home town of Ferrara, all written after he had left the town and settled in Rome. There are six in all, and as I make my way through them (I'm currently on the fifth), I'm realising that together they amount to quite a Proustian search for a lost time and a lost place: Ferrara between the wars. In the first book of his Ferrara cycle, 'Within the Walls', Bassani's narrators were a little mysterious. They revealed nothing of themselves not even their names. The narrator of this book is a lot more forthcoming. We still don't know his name but we know that he's about twenty, that he lives with his parents and two younger siblings, that he takes the train from Ferrara to Bologna each day to study literature at the university there. We know that he and his family live on via Scandiana, that a family friend, Doctor Fadigati (who resembles Proust's Baron Charlus quite a bit) lives nearby on via Gargadello, and that both the narrator's family and the doctor spend the summer months during the mid 1930s at the seaside resort of, not Balbec, but Riccione. We also know, if we've picked up anything at all about Giorgio Bassani's own life, that the unnamed narrator's profile matches the author's in the way Marcel Proust's narrator's profile matches his own. But having understood the author/narrator correspondence, the reader quickly sets it aside and focuses on the episode in the narrator's life that's being recounted here, and what it means in the context of the larger story that's being constructed over the course of the six volumes. For me, this episode is about awakening. As the sunlight sparkles on the sea, and on Fadigati's gold-rimmed spectacles, a dark cloud seems to have gathered over the narrator's head. In spite of his father's unwavering support for everything fascist, in spite of Fadigati's seeming insouciance for the opinion of others, the narrator is increasingly aware of the threat posed to minorities under fascist rule. What will the racial laws mean for the Jewish community of Ferrara? And what does the increasingly intolerant atmosphere bode for his friend, Doctor Fadigati.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kalliope

    I have been reading the cycle of the six Ferrara novels in the wrong order, and with too long an intermission in between. This is my third read but it is the second in the row. I am therefore considering restarting again, particularly since I have now visited Ferrara, the portrayed entity in this literary series, and can therefore savour better the definition, the pose, the background, the light and the mood. That the most famous novel of the cycle, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, would also s I have been reading the cycle of the six Ferrara novels in the wrong order, and with too long an intermission in between. This is my third read but it is the second in the row. I am therefore considering restarting again, particularly since I have now visited Ferrara, the portrayed entity in this literary series, and can therefore savour better the definition, the pose, the background, the light and the mood. That the most famous novel of the cycle, The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, would also stand out for me is of no originality. I had found the Cinque storie ferraresi: dentro le mura rather baffling in their open enclosures (which argues for a need to revisiting them) and felt somewhat sceptical. But I have enjoyed this one. I saw Ferrara in the 1930s quite clearly through these golden spectacles. By 'clearly' I mean that there is mistiness in the image that allows the reader to differentiate Bassani's Ferrara from the city one visits today and therefore obtain a more authentic image. This may be the process opposite from that sought by the 'Claude Lorrain Glass' - the ones which travellers in England used so as to deform reality and adjusted it to their own idealized representations. The main character, the city of Ferrara is portrayed in its resented submission to the more busy and intellectually fortified Bologna, where the University stands and draws the Ferrarese youth. It also stands in relation to the coast cities, and in particular to Riccione (view spoiler)[ a city where Bassani would spend his holidays and similar to the Rimini I visited (hide spoiler)] , where the bourgeois go to escape from the unhealthy humidity of its swamps. And the sections on the coastal city and beaches reminded me of Death in Venice. Gradually, though, this city becomes ill as the cancer of Fascism grows and metastasizes; its provinciality offers no defence against the ailing evil. The victim is an endearing orthodontist. And if one is not to judge a novel from the possible antipathy the characters draw from us, one ought to keep sentimental empathies also at bay. But in this novel of subtle tenderness it was not possible with Athos Fadigati, the man whose niceness and somewhat naive homosexuality develop the novel into a tragedy. He is what constitutes the amiable appeal of this book. One of the main reasons I am considering an orderly reread of the full cycle is to be able to shape more consistently in my mind the narrator, for this series takes more and more the tone of a Bildungsroman or coming-of-age novel, but one in which we guess the personality of the "I" through what he witnesses, rather than for what he does. The reader is left with a want for more. The skewed vision offered by those who are pushed out of its limits of a blocked society-the Jews and the homosexuals-calls for a correction. There is a film which I plan now to watch.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    A tiny unguarded moment had cost him very dear... little by little, without meaning to, almost all of us began to show him scant respect. The second part of Bassani's The Novel of Ferrara, this is slight in pages but so deeply ominous that I read it with that fluttery-butterfly feeling in my stomach for what we know has to happen. The economy of the writing is enhanced by the way Bassani keeps everything low key: the emotions sit beneath the surface, in the interstices of the words and senten A tiny unguarded moment had cost him very dear... little by little, without meaning to, almost all of us began to show him scant respect. The second part of Bassani's The Novel of Ferrara, this is slight in pages but so deeply ominous that I read it with that fluttery-butterfly feeling in my stomach for what we know has to happen. The economy of the writing is enhanced by the way Bassani keeps everything low key: the emotions sit beneath the surface, in the interstices of the words and sentences. But they're there, make no mistake. The occluded narrator of Within the Walls comes more into focus here: he's 20, studying literature at the university in Bologna. At times his voice shifts into fierce irony, at other times to stronger emotions ('the victim as usual forgave and gave his consent to the executioner. But not me: Fadigati was wrong about me. To hatred I could never respond in any other way than with hatred.') Along the way we learn about Italian politics under Mussolini (who makes a cameo appearance swimming at a local beach while the other bathers acclaim him) and the complicated positions of Italians Jews, integrated as the bourgeois backbone of Ferrara and members of the Italian Fascist party since the end of WW1. The foreground story of Dr Fadigati becomes intertwined with the announcement of Italy's Racial Laws (1938?), one a tale of private anguish and undeserved calumny, the other announcing the advent of a similarly poisonous arc on the public political stage. The beautiful, blond, young man, Deliliers, whose breathtaking malice and arrogance drive Fadigati's tragedy, becomes thus a kind of stand-in for the perpetrators and carriers of Mussolini's regime. Yet it's all so subtly done that it never becomes mere allegory or polemic, and Fadigati's story, understated in its pathos, can stand alone in its vision of pain. Throughout, the novel looks backwards to characters already met in Within The Walls (Sciagura, for example, whose future brutalities already infiltrate this story) and forwards to the Finzi-Continis of the next book in the cycle. And which I'll be reading next...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    Sunlight glints off the gold-rimmed spectacles of Dr. Fadigati, though he’s the last person who’d make a spectacle of himself—unlike the young man he vacations with, whose whims are catered to by the doctor in his quest for companionship. Other beachgoers shun Dr. Fadigati, but the reader’s sympathy is with the kindly doctor, as is the narrator’s and the narrator’s father’s, who utters the words: “Poor thing.” Unlike the doctor’s companion, the narrator is fairly unobtrusive, especially in the be Sunlight glints off the gold-rimmed spectacles of Dr. Fadigati, though he’s the last person who’d make a spectacle of himself—unlike the young man he vacations with, whose whims are catered to by the doctor in his quest for companionship. Other beachgoers shun Dr. Fadigati, but the reader’s sympathy is with the kindly doctor, as is the narrator’s and the narrator’s father’s, who utters the words: “Poor thing.” Unlike the doctor’s companion, the narrator is fairly unobtrusive, especially in the beginning of this novella, though we learn more of him, and his family, near the end. Perhaps because he is younger, he sees what is coming, unlike his parents, who view shards of the Racial Laws concerning “Israelites” through rose-colored glasses. * I read ‘The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles’ in this “collection:” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    Tiny perfection. A novella about a small town scandal (the doctor is gay!), which imperceptibly turns into a novella about Italian fascism, there's very little to say about this one, except that Bassani, like few authors before him, has taken a tiny plot of land and time, and written about it perfectly. Completely uninteresting for thinking about, philosophically (you know what's bad? Hating people for things they can't change about themselves); utterly gorgeous for reading. My only thought, in Tiny perfection. A novella about a small town scandal (the doctor is gay!), which imperceptibly turns into a novella about Italian fascism, there's very little to say about this one, except that Bassani, like few authors before him, has taken a tiny plot of land and time, and written about it perfectly. Completely uninteresting for thinking about, philosophically (you know what's bad? Hating people for things they can't change about themselves); utterly gorgeous for reading. My only thought, in fact, is that Fadagati (the gay doctor) is a perfect combination of Proust's Baron de Charlus and Mann's Gustav von Aschenbach. I'd like to know if there's more to that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    Bassani’s fog-bound Ferrara is up there with Joyce’s Dublin or Bely’s Petersburg as a city which was re-created and re-invented by the narrator in such a way that the two will forever be associated. ‘The Gold Rimmed Specatacles’ follows the story of Athos Fadigati, a cultured and kindly doctor whose place in society is destroyed by the revelation of his homosexuality. The novel is told from the perspective of a narrator-presumably the same one as the “The Garden of the Finzi-Cortinis” who is rem Bassani’s fog-bound Ferrara is up there with Joyce’s Dublin or Bely’s Petersburg as a city which was re-created and re-invented by the narrator in such a way that the two will forever be associated. ‘The Gold Rimmed Specatacles’ follows the story of Athos Fadigati, a cultured and kindly doctor whose place in society is destroyed by the revelation of his homosexuality. The novel is told from the perspective of a narrator-presumably the same one as the “The Garden of the Finzi-Cortinis” who is reminicing about the fall from grace of Dr Fadigati. The core theme of the novella is that of alienation; the narrator, who is Jewish, is drawn to Fadagati by his own sense of alienation following the creation of the racial laws in Fascist Italy and the creeping feeling of Anti-Semitism. Although the novel isn’t as bleak in its outcome as “The Garden of the Finzi Cortinis” it is set in the early days of the rise of anti-Semitism and explores the dynamics involved in creating social intolerance and the subtle, yet pervasive shifts in attitudes in society to persecuted individuals. In many ways Fadagati, whose homosexuality is over-looked so long as he keeps it secret, is symbolic of this-as soon as his homosexuality becomes public knowledge he is openly castigated and treated as a pariah. In many ways the novel explores how vital societal acceptance is for individuals; whereas Fadegati collapses beneath the sense of judgement and alienation placed on him by society, seeking the hide behind his empty masks of respectability, the narrator has the opposite reaction, as he chafes under the increasingly pervasive feeling of oppression and oppression which is creeping up on Ferrarese society. In many ways the novel highlights how easily, given the right circumstances, these feelings can develop. A tragic and haunting account of the collapse of a man beneath the weight of societal prejudices, although ‘The Gold-Rimmed Glasses’ lacks the brilliance of ‘The Garden of the Finzi Cortins’ is is nevertheless a wonderfully narrated story which captures society on the brink of intolerance

  7. 4 out of 5

    BrokenTune

    A gesture, a grimace was enough. It was enough even to say that Fadigati was ‘like that’, was ‘one of them’. There two main developments in this 1958 novella by Giorgio Bassani: one is the rise of anti-semitism in Italy in the late 1930s. The other is the betrayal and ruination of a respected man by a lover. Both elements of the story are heartbreaking - one because we can see people struggling to believe how society around them is changing to expel them and we know how it will end. The other, b A gesture, a grimace was enough. It was enough even to say that Fadigati was ‘like that’, was ‘one of them’. There two main developments in this 1958 novella by Giorgio Bassani: one is the rise of anti-semitism in Italy in the late 1930s. The other is the betrayal and ruination of a respected man by a lover. Both elements of the story are heartbreaking - one because we can see people struggling to believe how society around them is changing to expel them and we know how it will end. The other, because the story of the individual betrayal plays out as obvious as an impending crash in slow motion. If I could compare the story to anything, I would compare it to H. Mann's Professor Unrat (The Blue Angel), but with a main character who is genuinely deserving of sympathy because his motivation is not obsession but the longing for companionship. What an interesting novella. I will be sure to look out for more by Bassani. For him, it was true, there was no one in the world he had to look after … provide for; he had no immediate hardships as far as his finances were concerned … but was it possible to keep on living like this, in the most utter solitude, surrounded by general hostility?

  8. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Dr. Fadigati spends much of his time, and his life, picking up men in the back rows of cinemas and various other clandestine places. Nobody really pays much attention, it's that simple. But when he falls for the young and handsome Deliliers, rumors abound, and when the 2 of them stay in the same room at a hotel, "On the beach...they spoke of nothing else but them and their scandalous friendship." At first, I questioned that Dr. F. would give up all pretense, but then we must remember that millio Dr. Fadigati spends much of his time, and his life, picking up men in the back rows of cinemas and various other clandestine places. Nobody really pays much attention, it's that simple. But when he falls for the young and handsome Deliliers, rumors abound, and when the 2 of them stay in the same room at a hotel, "On the beach...they spoke of nothing else but them and their scandalous friendship." At first, I questioned that Dr. F. would give up all pretense, but then we must remember that millions and millions of people fell under the spell of Hitler and Mussollini without question at about the same time period. The most touching part of this story to me was when Dr. F. says to the narrator, "Goodbye, my dear friend...keep well...Good luck to you and to your family.." and we know where things are headed for most everyone in the story: downhill, and fast. This is a lovely and touching work. I picked it up this morning in bed and suddenly turned the final page without even making a pot of coffee! Mann's "Death in Venice" reads much the same but is perhaps a bit more substantial. Is it relativity speaking as I've read Mann's story several times before reading this? Still, "The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles" is a lovely/sad/ominous story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Howdle

    The reviews that describe this novella as shallow do it an injustice and rather miss the point of what its author has created. The novella isn't viewed by Bassani, but by a twenty year old literary student who struggles to bring the world into perspective. "The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles" is (as the title suggests) a work about vision: the gold-rimmed spectacles symbolise bourgeoise attitudes and the narrator who must come to terms with a rapidly changing and alarming vision. In subtle and elegant p The reviews that describe this novella as shallow do it an injustice and rather miss the point of what its author has created. The novella isn't viewed by Bassani, but by a twenty year old literary student who struggles to bring the world into perspective. "The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles" is (as the title suggests) a work about vision: the gold-rimmed spectacles symbolise bourgeoise attitudes and the narrator who must come to terms with a rapidly changing and alarming vision. In subtle and elegant prose, Bassani reveals how his young narrator shifts from mocking Dr Athos Fadigati and his homosexuality towards understanding, as a Jew, the suffering caused by ostracism. Bassani writes with a dramatist's eye and he captures Italy's march towards Fascism and Antisemitism through short and telling dialogue. The novella is a parable where the allegorical and literal are fused, is never heavy handed because it keeps its focus on human nature, not philosophical discussion. When Fadigati observes his all too human lover on an Italian beach and mentions the Lido in Venice it is impossible not to see Mann's Aschenbach in the act of studying Tadzio in "Death in Venice". "The Golden Rimmed Spectacles", however, is not an elevated view of Dionysian and Apollonian art-- it is a novella about the how the world dehumanises people at its own peril.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I'm not sure why this Penguin edition says it is Book 2 of The Novel of Ferrara. It was Bassani's first novel. Unless the action of the book take place later than a later novel? [Okay, I did some research and have discovered that Bassani repackaged many of his works into a grand volume called The Novel of Ferrara.] It absolutely stands on its own. I particularly appreciated the afterword by Jamie McKendrick.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    What do Jews and homosexuals have in common? These days I’d probably be forced to say, “Their place in the entertainment industry,” but let’s imagine we’re in Italy in the late 1930s. Actually the answer would be easier to get if it was Germany and the early 1940s but because of the setting and the timing it took me a while to pick up on what this book’s really about. Once I realised that the owner of the titular gold-rimmed spectacles was a middle-aged gay “pansy” from Venice it was hard not to What do Jews and homosexuals have in common? These days I’d probably be forced to say, “Their place in the entertainment industry,” but let’s imagine we’re in Italy in the late 1930s. Actually the answer would be easier to get if it was Germany and the early 1940s but because of the setting and the timing it took me a while to pick up on what this book’s really about. Once I realised that the owner of the titular gold-rimmed spectacles was a middle-aged gay “pansy” from Venice it was hard not to think this was going to be another Death in Venice (the review in The Guardian compares Bassani’s style to Mann’s early novellas) and, yes, there are some similarities which I’ll get to but that’s not it. Dr Athos Fadigati has established an elegant clinic in Ferrara just after the end of the First World War:He’d made it, as they say. No longer young, and with the air, even then, of never having been […] [h]is courteous, discreet manners were much appreciated, as were his evident disinterestedness and the fair-minded spirit of charity towards his poorer patients. But even more than for these reasons, he was appreciated for what he was: for those gold-rimmed spectacles that gleamed agreeably upon the dark earthen colour of his smooth, hairless cheeks, for the not at all off-putting chubbiness of that corpulent frame which belonged to someone with a congenital heart condition, who had miraculously outlived the crisis of puberty and was always, even in summer, wrapped up in thick English wool. […] Soon enough, going to Fadigati’s became more than a fashion, became a distinct pleasure. As a public figure he is, of course, the subject of much speculation, the main focus being: Why has he not found himself a wife? Eventually the rumour mill gets it right but because the good doctor is so discreet and so well-respected he is accepted as is:In the end – they exclaimed, shrugging – why should they not be able to acknowledge the sheer style of the man even in the most shameful of irregularities? What above all disposed them to indulgence towards Fadigati and, after the first recoil of alarmed dismay, almost to admiration, was precisely that, his style, and by style first and foremost they meant one thing: his discretion, the evident care he had taken and continued to take in concealing his tastes, so as not to cause scandal. His story is told by an unnamed literature student who first encounters Dr Fadigati on the six-fifty Ferrara–Bologna express train in the company of a number of fellow students. As the doctor is the only person travelling in the second class carriage he finds a way to ingratiate himself with the students in third class—who know full well he’s “an old queer”—and an odd kinship develops although never once does the doctor overstep the mark. That can’t be said of some of the male students who try to get a rise out of him. For example:Leaning forwards, Deliliers let fall on Fadigati a sidelong glance full of disdain. ‘Give the manure a rest, Doctor,’ he sneered, ‘and instead tell us about those two boys in the vegetable garden who you liked so much. What you all got up to together?’ Surprisingly the doctor tolerates the abuse. If anything he seems to appreciate it. The next thing we know our narrator is on holiday with his family in Riccione and who shows up? Why it’s Deliliers with Dr Fadigati in tow; the normally so discreet doctor seems to have come out or at least allowed himself to be outed. And here’s definitely where I see a comparison between Thomas Mann’s Aschenbach and Dr Fadigati. When Aschenbach learns of the cholera epidemic rather than flee he insists on risking everything to be near Tadzio even though he never once gets to touch or even speak to him. Deliliers, however, is far from being an innocent; he manipulates Dr Fadigati and basically takes him for all he can get before skipping town but not before leaving the doctor’s reputation in tatters. About the same time as this is happening Benito Mussolini, in order to curry favour with his new friend and ally, Adolf Hitler, is beginning to turn on the Jewish bourgeoisie of the city despite the fact many had been among his strongest supporters. Our young literature student can’t help but find himself empathising with Dr Fadigati. How easily—and unfairly (and quickly)—things can go awry. Bassani was both a Jew and a homosexual. His father was a doctor. Although not an autobiographical novel it clearly draws heavily on personal experiences and, more importantly, insights. The hard question to answer in this novel is: Why, after years of keeping his sexuality under wraps would he give everything up for the likes of Deliliers? Surely a man as clever as Fadigati could see what was going on? I’m not sure there is a rational answer. Nor should we look for one: there are no reasons for unreasonable things. To compare homophobia and anti-Semitism in this way also raises issues because Fadigati freely chooses his partner despite knowing (at least subconsciously—how could he not?) it won’t be well-received but to focus on that misses the point: just as no one chose to be born Jewish the prevalent thinking is no one chose to be born a homosexual. There are, however, Jews who practice their faith openly—think about the Hasidic Jews dressed in black with long beards and sidelocks—and those who don’t just as there are homosexuals who go out of their way to flaunt their sexuality—I suppose we could call them “flaming gays”—and those who’re still in, and have no intention of leaving, the closet. No one chooses to be born an anti-Semite or a homophobe either but they often do choose (or are pressed into choosing) to become one or both later in life. Clearly none of Fadigati’s neighbours really care what his sexual proclivities are, not really, just as they don’t much care if the book’s narrator’s distant ancestors killed Christ or not. But when backed into a corner, by peer pressure or government legislation, they inevitably choose what’s in their best interests. At first this looked like it was going to be a not too serious, slow-paced and slight novel—it reminded of the films of Merchant and Ivory—but by the end all the light has gone and we’re left in a very dark place especially knowing what the future holds for Jews (with the Manifesto of Race) and gays (with the Rocco Code which, although it didn’t mention it by name, treated homosexuality as an offense against “the personality of the state” and was used an excuse for the confinement and deportation of many despite the fact the Zanardelli Code had decriminalised sodomy as early as 1889).

  12. 5 out of 5

    [P]

    Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is one of the greatest Italian novels; more so it is one of the greatest holocaust novels, not because it documents or lingers over, as many of them do, the persecution suffered by certain groups of people at the hands of the Nazis, but because it presents a beautiful, elegiac story of adolescent romance and then points at it and says: this, this is what the Fascists were so hell bent on destroying. Being so impressed by that book [his most well Giorgio Bassani’s The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is one of the greatest Italian novels; more so it is one of the greatest holocaust novels, not because it documents or lingers over, as many of them do, the persecution suffered by certain groups of people at the hands of the Nazis, but because it presents a beautiful, elegiac story of adolescent romance and then points at it and says: this, this is what the Fascists were so hell bent on destroying. Being so impressed by that book [his most well-known] I was eager to read more of Bassani’s work; this one, The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, is not only considered to be one of his very best, if not the best, but is also part of the Ferrara Cycle, a series of loosely inter-linked novels to which The Garden of the Finzi-Continis also belongs. Without wishing to jump right in with the negatives I can certainly say that The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles is not the equal of Bassani’s most famous novel. It does, however, have much in common with it. First of all, the book has the same wistfully melancholic, nostalgic tone. While The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is centred around the title family, this one is concerned with Doctor Fadigati, a successful man, but a lonely man, and a homosexual. I really liked the opening of the book, which tells of his arrival in Ferrara and early lofty status amongst the locals, and, subsequently, the rumours concerning his private life. I especially enjoyed what Bassani had to say about how the people of Ferrara were none too concerned about his homosexuality, it being at least something, something concrete, after years of speculation. The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles is also like its more renowned bigger brother in that it appears to be about one thing – something local, domestic – but, in the background, there looms a larger, more politically-charged theme, which is its real focus. It is the point at which Fadigati makes friends with a group of students on a train that the novel starts to go awry for me. To some extent I can understand why the doctor moves from the empty second class carriage to the students’ third class carriage; it speaks, of course, of Fadigati’s loneliness. Here is a man who never got married, who hides his liaisons, if indeed there are any, from the general public and so, the implication is, he lacks company on a regular basis. Yet, I can’t help but find Fadigati’s behaviour creepy, although I am not convinced that is what the author intended. Earlier in the book, Bassani makes a point of explaining how Fadigati keeps himself to himself, so why does he, in effect, impose his company on a group mostly made up of young boys? I imagine some of you might be rolling your eyes, seeing in this some subtle form of homophobia. That is not the case. I have no issue with homosexuality, but I do have issues with anyone, male or female, straight or gay, hanging around a bunch of people half their age. As I said, I’m not sure this creepiness is intentional; you could argue that Bassani simply wanted to find a way to bring together the narrator and the doctor, and this was his solution. In any case, it has, for me, unfortunate consequences for the story, it takes it in a direction that does not sit well with the idea that Fadigati is a sympathetic character. An even bigger concern, for me, is that Fadigati takes one of the students as a lover. This is a problem in two ways. Firstly, it exacerbates the creepiness I spoke about in the previous paragraph; it makes, again I think unintentionally, Fadigati seem like some kind of sexual predator. Look, I’m not saying that the boy in question did not know his own mind, and he is legally of age, but, still, one cannot overlook the fact that it is Fadigati who forces his company on the group in the beginning [which is, in fact, something that he does more than once throughout the story, always with younger people] and seeks to ingratiate himself with them. The second problem I have with the relationship is that, according to the author, Fadigati was discreet, in terms of his private life, so much so that the locals in Ferrara found no evidence of who he was seeing despite him living amongst them for a decade. And yet we are meant to believe that this man, this paragon of discretion, will suddenly take up with a young boy and flaunt the affair in public, will take him on holiday and buy him a car etc. Fadigati’s character is way too inconsistent for him to be believable, and far too odd to be sympathetic. Perhaps the most fatal flaw in the work are the parallels the author invites us to draw between homosexuality and being a Jew under a Fascist government. Bassani was both a Jew and a homosexual so it is difficult to accuse him of making light of anti-semitism, and I can certainly understand his point, but for me there is really no comparison. Fadigati is whispered about and subtly ostracised, he is looked upon as something other, something not normal, and you can see how Jews in Ferrara are treated in a similar manner. However, that Fadigati is whispered about, and looked down upon, for dating a boy half his age, for essentially buying his affections, is hardly akin to persecuting someone on the basis of their race or religion. Whether you believe that Fadigati has done something wrong or not, and I think even these days many would find his behaviour distasteful, one cannot complain about being whispered and gossiped about, and even excluded by others, when you do something that is clearly, predictably, going to upset people. You cannot, for me, start an affair with someone significantly younger than yourself and pay for their company and not expect a backlash. I dunno, maybe I am being harsh, but the two situations seem completely different to me, because Fadigati freely chooses his partner [although he doesn’t, of course, choose his sexuality], and he is therefore at least partly responsible for what happens to him [which is not the same as saying he deserves it]. Having said all that, I did enjoy the book. It’s not great by any means, and I would struggle to recommend it, but Bassani was a stylish and evocative writer.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Frumenty

    One of the best structured novels I've ever read. Some critics (Mirna Cicioni) even write of it as if it were a 5 act play, and it is a useful way to get a handle on it. Dr Fadigati is a respected figure in 1920's Ferrara, and continues so even though his homosexuality is an open secret. His undoing is a beautiful but reckless young man with whom he flaunts a scandalous liaison on the beaches of the Adriatic. This affront the bourgeois of Ferrara cannot forgive. The narrator of these events is a One of the best structured novels I've ever read. Some critics (Mirna Cicioni) even write of it as if it were a 5 act play, and it is a useful way to get a handle on it. Dr Fadigati is a respected figure in 1920's Ferrara, and continues so even though his homosexuality is an open secret. His undoing is a beautiful but reckless young man with whom he flaunts a scandalous liaison on the beaches of the Adriatic. This affront the bourgeois of Ferrara cannot forgive. The narrator of these events is a young Jew. He begins his tale with all the assurance of a member of the heterosexual majority commenting on an outsider, but as the novel progresses the comfortably intregrated Jews of Ferrara are realizing that their position in Italian society is not assured. The 'insider' becomes 'outsider', closer to the status of the reviled Fadigati. Doctor Fadigati's ruin and suicide is a small event compared to those which were soon to befall the Jews of Ferrara, but the parallels are obvious and readers can reflect on issues without all the sound and fury that would surround a full-scale retelling of the genocide. The novel demonstrates the importance of language as the means of social cohesion and division, of inclusion and exclusion. This little novel is available in English (The gold-rimmed spectacles; translator Sarah Quigley) and it is very well worth reading. Recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

    My first Italian author and what a gem. This novella perfectly captures the period just before the Second World War. The setting of the town of Ferrara. Dr. Fadigati's slow persecution by the town when they find he is gay and the young man who begins the downfall of Dr. Fadigati is truly a nasty piece of work. In the background anti Semitic actions are slowly spreading across Italy and the young Jewish narrator writes of the fickleness of the community around him. I look forward to reading the o My first Italian author and what a gem. This novella perfectly captures the period just before the Second World War. The setting of the town of Ferrara. Dr. Fadigati's slow persecution by the town when they find he is gay and the young man who begins the downfall of Dr. Fadigati is truly a nasty piece of work. In the background anti Semitic actions are slowly spreading across Italy and the young Jewish narrator writes of the fickleness of the community around him. I look forward to reading the other novels by Bassani.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Bassani paints a beautiful if tragic picture of Fascist Italy which is engaging and thought-provoking. The text is minimalist but does an excellent job of giving a psychological portrait of the protagonists. No spoilers but given that it is barely over 100 pages, you don't have an excuse not to read it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Douglas

    "A tiny unguarded moment had cost him very dear... little by little, without meaning to, almost all of us began to show him scant respect." Book two of the "Novel of Ferrara", though the third of the six volumes that I've read. Ostensibly it is the story of a cheerfully naive doctor tormented into despair in Mussolini's pre-war Italy because he is gay. As with other novels in the set, however, Bassani is more concerned with exploring the origins of and bystander reactions to injustice than in do "A tiny unguarded moment had cost him very dear... little by little, without meaning to, almost all of us began to show him scant respect." Book two of the "Novel of Ferrara", though the third of the six volumes that I've read. Ostensibly it is the story of a cheerfully naive doctor tormented into despair in Mussolini's pre-war Italy because he is gay. As with other novels in the set, however, Bassani is more concerned with exploring the origins of and bystander reactions to injustice than in documenting the injustice itself. Thankfully gone here are the unwieldy sentences of "Within the Walls", and the narrative here is more straightforward. The depth comes from the carefully written nuances of human behaviour, and the increasing identification of the narrator (who is Jewish) with the doomed doctor. Though my rating suggests a positive impression - which, to be sure, I had - I regret that I read this just as school was beginning again and so in preparation my schedule became much more busy: it took me a week to read this sub-100 page novella. As much as I enjoyed it, and as much as I found myself thinking of it often when I was away from reading it, I can't help feeling that I lost some of the emotional impact of the writing because of the fragmented nature of my reading. With a second attempt I suspect I would find myself loving it much as I did "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis". 4/5

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ciaran Monaghan

    The Garden of the Finzi Continis was one of my favourites from last year so I wanted to try another Bassani. This one is shorter but still good in its own way. As with Finzi Continis, it is really easy to read (credit to the translator) and is really good at evoking time and place. There is a mirrored experience of isolation felt by both the Jewish narrator as Italy's racial laws approach and the respected doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated as long as he doesn't act on it. I found this to b The Garden of the Finzi Continis was one of my favourites from last year so I wanted to try another Bassani. This one is shorter but still good in its own way. As with Finzi Continis, it is really easy to read (credit to the translator) and is really good at evoking time and place. There is a mirrored experience of isolation felt by both the Jewish narrator as Italy's racial laws approach and the respected doctor whose homosexuality is tolerated as long as he doesn't act on it. I found this to be really effective. I will definitely look out for the other books in Bassani's Ferrara series.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Howard

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. An excellent short novel set in fascist Italy in the lead-up to WWII. I enjoyed the detached narrative that gradually grew more impassioned as the narrator found himself alienated in his home town. The focus first on Dr Fadigati’s homosexuality and society’s changing perception of him, and then the rise of antisemitism in fascist Italy, are two heavy but well-handled topics. There’s a feeling of inevitability about the ending. A sad and unsettling yet powerful story.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Reback

    This is a novelty of great subtlety with power that builds with the certainty of a flood. One of Bassani's cycle of novels set in Ferrara just before the war, this one has parallel stories of a gay doctor and a young bourgeois Jewish student whose lives become more and more constricted. It is slim in size but devastating in its effect.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    A very good short novel about alienation, identity and survival in the context of the rise of fascism.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    The ostracizing and fall of the respected Doctor Fadigati, after being exposed as gay, mirrors the slower, public and legal demonizing of Jews in late 1930s Italy.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Abbi

    This was interesting, although confusing at times. Many of the details that appeared irrelevant at first made sense to the story upon further reflection. I physically cringed as Deliliers mocked Dr Fadigati - his meek acceptance of people's intolerance actually upset me. The narrator wasn't my favourite - I didn't really understand or identify with him, and I felt his point of view wasn't exactly helpful in conveying Fadigati's character and feelings. I kind of felt like Deliliers would have bee This was interesting, although confusing at times. Many of the details that appeared irrelevant at first made sense to the story upon further reflection. I physically cringed as Deliliers mocked Dr Fadigati - his meek acceptance of people's intolerance actually upset me. The narrator wasn't my favourite - I didn't really understand or identify with him, and I felt his point of view wasn't exactly helpful in conveying Fadigati's character and feelings. I kind of felt like Deliliers would have been a better point of view to read from, if not infinitely more irritating. The narratives on intolerance in terms of homosexuality and Judaism worked well together, if not a little awkwardly. In terms of translation, it was decent, but I felt disconnected from the writing and I think it most probably reads much better in Italian - the translator had to keep making notes at the bottom of the page informing the reader of the effect a certain colloquialism carries in Italian to convey the full effect of the writing. Overall, I enjoyed reading this. Short and sweet, with important topics covered - my favourite.

  23. 4 out of 5

    James

    This book is no revolution. I am astonished by all the glowing reviews it has received. It does have a nice element of nostalgia to it, Italy, 1920s, pleasant train journeys as the students travel to university and the nice summer scenes on the Adriatic coast. In the background is a sub plot to do with fascism but apart from a fear in the background to add pace to the novel it never really seems to have any effect. There is a scandal with the older gay gentleman and a younger man. The character This book is no revolution. I am astonished by all the glowing reviews it has received. It does have a nice element of nostalgia to it, Italy, 1920s, pleasant train journeys as the students travel to university and the nice summer scenes on the Adriatic coast. In the background is a sub plot to do with fascism but apart from a fear in the background to add pace to the novel it never really seems to have any effect. There is a scandal with the older gay gentleman and a younger man. The character who narrates this novel openly despises the gay character which made for uncomfortable reading and I think it's just a bit old fashioned in that the homosexual has to die. Really?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karyn

    This short novel is set in the northern Italian town of Ferrara. It has a strong sense of place: the streets, the landmarks, the churches, the castle and the local football team are referred to throughout, so that the town itself becomes as important as any character in the story. Read more This short novel is set in the northern Italian town of Ferrara. It has a strong sense of place: the streets, the landmarks, the churches, the castle and the local football team are referred to throughout, so that the town itself becomes as important as any character in the story. Read more

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Schirmer

    Based on the two novellas I've read thus far, (this one, and "The Garden of the Finzi-Continis"), Bassani appears to have three great themes: the loss of innocence (youth), the persecution of the Italian Jewish community, and the town of Ferrara. To follow Hemingway's dictum, Bassani has written elegantly, tragically, irresistibly, whereof he knows. Skip "Death in Venice" and read this.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Hesseling

    By the time i finally got into this novel it was practically over. I dont know what it is about italian literature that just baffles me... But i'll keep trying to read it till i find something i like.

  27. 5 out of 5

    James

    A very well written book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have read several of Bassani's other novels, many of which are quick reads, and enjoyed them all. This book took a little bit of time to really draw me in, but this is something which I have encountered before with Bassani's writing style. In this particular instance I wonder whether it was more of a deliberate structural technique. The plot begins at a very slow pace, so that when the spectacle-clad Doctor Fadigati begins a very public aff A very well written book, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I have read several of Bassani's other novels, many of which are quick reads, and enjoyed them all. This book took a little bit of time to really draw me in, but this is something which I have encountered before with Bassani's writing style. In this particular instance I wonder whether it was more of a deliberate structural technique. The plot begins at a very slow pace, so that when the spectacle-clad Doctor Fadigati begins a very public affair with a much younger man the pace of the narrative can quicken to reflect the prejudice and gossip that occurs in the novels later stages. One of the most poignant aspects of the novel, which Bassani manages to convey in a very succinct but powerful manner, is the friendship and parallel drawn between that develops between the narrator, a young Jewish man during a time of increasing state-sponsored antisemitism, and Doctor Fadigati, a highly qualified Doctor rejected by society when his sexuality is made public. As social outcasts the two develop a close connection and Bassani uses this similarity, although caused by very different reasons, to create some very emotive and moving dialogue between the two. The translation itself was very fluid but not afraid to remind one occasionally that it is a translation and not the originally that we're reading- occasional footnotes explaining certain variations of northern Italian dialect that are used in the text force you to engage with the process of translation that has occurred. A very good, quick read, definitely something to consider after a longer novel just to cleanse the palate.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vel Veeter

    “Like Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Fadigati had two lives. But who doesn’t?” This is a short novel told by a young Italian Jew in between the wars. In this book, he profiles his friendship with a local doctor, well know in the town for being a caring, compassionate, intellectual, and interesting man. He’s also well-known for being gay. The novel picks up a lot from where the previous Bassani novel leaves off, a wide-spread rendering of the city in the time period from about 1919- “Like Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Fadigati had two lives. But who doesn’t?” This is a short novel told by a young Italian Jew in between the wars. In this book, he profiles his friendship with a local doctor, well know in the town for being a caring, compassionate, intellectual, and interesting man. He’s also well-known for being gay. The novel picks up a lot from where the previous Bassani novel leaves off, a wide-spread rendering of the city in the time period from about 1919-1960 as told through the eyes of surviving Jewish townsfolk who had to deal with becoming the pariah of the local Fascistic order, and how a figure like Doctor Fadigati became a kind of martyr. This is a very sad story because of the sense of betrayal at the heart of it, but also it’s a reminder of the sheer luck and fortune involved in surviving anything so horrible as this. In addition, it’s horrifying because of how cheap peace, order, civility, and citizenship really is. “Nothing so excited an indiscreet interest among the small circle of respectable society as that rightful impulse to keep the private and the public separate in one’s life. So what on earth did Athos Fadigati get up to after the nurse had shut the glass door behind the last patient? The far from evident or at least hardly normal use that the doctor made of his evenings added to the curiosity that surrounded his person. Oh yes, in Fadigati there was a hint of something hard to fathom. But even this, in him, had an appeal, was an attraction. Everyone knew how he spent his mornings, so no one had anything to say about them.”

  29. 4 out of 5

    Antonella

    4.5 I've just reread it and found it as melancholic as the first time. Bassani manages to convey perfectly the atmosphere of a small provincial town like Ferrara. Doctor Fadigati, once a respected member of the town élite, suffers a progressive emargination as his homosexuality becomes too open for the local bourgeoisie (thanks to a young lover exploiting him). At the same time fascist Italy's anti-Semitism is starting to emarginate the narrator, a Jewish university student, who befriends the doc 4.5 I've just reread it and found it as melancholic as the first time. Bassani manages to convey perfectly the atmosphere of a small provincial town like Ferrara. Doctor Fadigati, once a respected member of the town élite, suffers a progressive emargination as his homosexuality becomes too open for the local bourgeoisie (thanks to a young lover exploiting him). At the same time fascist Italy's anti-Semitism is starting to emarginate the narrator, a Jewish university student, who befriends the doctor. Fadigati reacts with resignation to the situation, the young Davide with rage, also against his father, who wants to believe that Italy will never have a race legislation. In fact anti-Semitism became law with the promulgation of the Racial Laws in October 1938: jewish children couldn't go to school/university, Jews couldn't have a professional position or marry non-Jews, and so on. Even though the persecution in Italy never reached the German level, for ex. exactly 75 years ago, on the 16th October 1943 1024 Jews from Rome were raided and deported to Auschwitz: 15 men and 1 woman came back.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    An elegant and elegiac novella set in Bassani's native Ferrara in the 1930s. Doctor Fadigati is a successful, modern doctor, who has moved to Ferrara to set up a new practice. However, Ferrara being a small city, rumours gradually circulate about his homosexuality, he's unmarried and the only visitors to his house appear to be male. The secret is tolerated, as long as it is discreet, however this is blown apart by a very indiscreet relationship. Fadigati's story is narrated by a young Jewish man An elegant and elegiac novella set in Bassani's native Ferrara in the 1930s. Doctor Fadigati is a successful, modern doctor, who has moved to Ferrara to set up a new practice. However, Ferrara being a small city, rumours gradually circulate about his homosexuality, he's unmarried and the only visitors to his house appear to be male. The secret is tolerated, as long as it is discreet, however this is blown apart by a very indiscreet relationship. Fadigati's story is narrated by a young Jewish man, who is also beginning to experience open prejudice in the run-up and subsequent publication of the Fascist Racial Laws and whilst, he rages against these laws, Fadigati meekly accepts his ostracism. The pathos of the novella builds as we realize that the perfect, little world of Ferrara is disappearing and the horrors of the war are about to engulf it.

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