Deledda, Grazia (1871-1936)

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Grazia Maria Cosima Damiana Deledda was born in Nuoro, Sardinia, to the respectable bourgeois parents Giovanni Antonio Deledda and Francesca Cambosu Pereleddu, on September 27, 1871. (Biographies of Deledda during her life generally list the year of her birth as 1875). She received only a few years of formal education, which ended when she was eleven; her schooling was then self-imposed and principally carried out through extensive reading of Italian, Russian, French, and English literature of the period, and through contact with people more learned than she. Deledda began publishing stories and novels at a very young age in local papers, despite the shocked reaction of the society of Nuoro and the opposition of her family. In Cagliari in 1899, Deledda met Palmiro Madesani, a civil servant for the Ministero delle Finanze; two months later, in January 1900, they married and moved to Rome, where Deledda lived the rest of her life. She had two sons, Franz and Sardus, and reportedly eschewed the world of Roman society for a tranquil domestic life. Her literary production remained fervid at almost a book a year. Her best and most known works are her novels and collections of short stories, but she also wrote poetry, essays, theatrical works, articles on folklore, and stories for children, and published a translation of Balzac's Eugenia Grandet. She received the 1926 Nobel Prize for Literature, although her accomplishment has long been tarnished by the suspicion that she won the prize over her compatriot Matilde Serao for political reasons. She died of breast cancer in Rome in 1936.

Deledda did not write in dialect, even though standard Italian would have been much more foreign to her than her native Sardinian dialect. Her works, however, are strongly flavored by Sardinian culture: the dialects, traditions, people, and landscape, and a pessimism born of centuries of oppression. Deledda's first novels adhere to the superficiality of the fauteuil novel (Stella d'Oriente, published under the pseudonym Ilia di Sant'Imael in 1890; Amore regale, 1891; Amori fatali, 1892; Fior di Sardegna, 1892), but subsequently mature to include a lyrical, but pessimistic, portrait of Sardinian life (Anime oneste, 1895; La giustizia, 1899; Dopo il divorzio, 1903 [subsequently Naufraghi in porto, 1920], Elias Portolu, 1903). Scholars usually liken her early works to the veristi, but criticize a folkloristic regionalism that was sometimes too pronounced. Her portrayal of Sardinian peasant life, however, with its primitive passions and protagonists, its lyrical and arcane natural backdrop, its moral dilemmas felt as ethnic fatalities, gave her works of this period a uniqueness that quickly made her famous in Italy and abroad (Cenere, 1904; Nostalgie, 1905; La via del male, 1906; L'edera, 1908; Colombi e sparvieri, 1912; Canne al vento, 1913; Marianna Sirca, 1915; L'incendio nell'oliveto, 1918). Her 1920 novel La Madre was translated into English in 1922, (The Woman and the Priest), with a subsequent edition of 1928 (with the more faithful title The Mother), that included an introduction by D. H. Lawrence; it is also considered to be the novel that won her the Nobel Prize.

Deledda's first international success, Elias Portolu, is typical of her preoccupation with the notion of transgression, and with fatally flawed characters torn between hope and despair, right and wrong, sin and redemption. Deledda eventually attenuated the regional character of her works, particularly in the last decade of her production, but without abandoning it altogether. Her later works include frequent depictions of a moral dilemma that leads to tragedy against the background of a mythical, primordial world (Il segreto dell'uomo solitario, 1921; Il Dio dei viventi, 1922; La fuga in Egitto, 1925; Annalena Bilsini, 1927; Il paese del vento, 1931). Her last work, Cosima (published posthumously in 1937 with the title Cosima, quasi Grazia) is also considered her most autobiographical.

It has proved difficult to critics to classify Deledda as a writer, and her position in the literary canon has remained ambiguous. Capuana claimed her for verismo, but scholars have pointed out the many Romantic influences in her works as well. Her sensibility to the psychology of her characters and her view of love as a violent and fatal passion have led some critics to liken her works, particularly her later works, to those of decadentismo. Marxist critics have pointed out her failure to illustrate and account for the harsh realities of Sardinian life (according to a Gramscian line), and at the same time, her view of the world as a place of sin, suffering, and remorse makes her seem archaic to some readers. Despite the maturation of her voice and the progressively more universal character of her works, the true object of her gaze remained always the same: the subject struggling between conflicting choices, sin and expiation, in the throes of a moral dilemma whose end is almost always fatalistically tragic.

She remains the only Italian woman to have won the Nobel Prize for Literature.


  • Cerina, Giovanna. "Prefazione" and "Nota biografica." In Grazia Deledda's Novelle. Vol. 1. Nuoro: Ilisso, 1996.
  • Dolfi, Anna. Grazia Deledda: Civiltà letteraria del Novecento. Milan: Mursia, 1979.
  • Kozma, Janice M. Grazia Deledda's Eternal Adolescents. Madison, N.J. : Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.
  • Migiel, Marilyn. "Grazia Deledda (1871-1936)." In Italian Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Rinaldina Russell. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994. 111-118.
  • s.v. "Deledda, Grazia." In Dizionario della letteratura italiana. 2 vols. Ed. E. Bonora. Milan: Rizzoli, 1997.
  • s.v. "Deledda, Grazia." In Dizionario enciclopedico italiano. Vol. 3 (Cat-Det). Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana fondata da G. Treccani, 1961.
  • s.v. "Deledda, Grazia." In Dictionary of Italian Literature. Revised, expanded edition. Ed. Peter Bondanella and Julia Conaway Bondanella. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996.
  • s.v. "Deledda, Grazia." In Enciclopedia Biografica e Bibliografica "Italiana." Serie 6: "Poetesse e scrittrici." 2 vols. Rome: E.B.B.I. Istituto Editoriale Italiano, 1941.
  • s.v. "Deledda, Grazia." In Enciclopedia italiana di scienza, lettere, ed ar ti. Vol. 12 (Croce-Dir). Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana fondata da G. Treccani, 1937.
  • Wood, Sharon. "Taboo and Transgression in Grazia Deledda (1871-1936)." In Italian Women's Writing 1860-1994. London: Athlone Press, 1995. 58-73.
Submitted by Margaret E. Kern, The University of Chicago, 2002.

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