Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Augusto De Angelis, a great italian mystery writer, during the Fascism Era




The detective story was already born a time before, but it was around the 20's, it began to engage acclaim and attract the masses, with A.Christie, S.S. Van Dine, E.Wallace, J.J.Connington, and others. And also in fascist Italy of Futurist movements , of the great national works, and of political assassinations, one day came the Crime novel; and so great was then the success that this literary genre was receiving in every part of Europe, which, even in Italy, was founded in Italy the series of “The Yellow Mondadori”, novel with target by yellow colour, in 1929; for some reason the Fascist Italy, despite the success that was propitious to Philo Vance, Poirot and Ellery Queen, did not love this new genre:  if anything, it initially tolerated the mystery.
The fact was that the fascism was looking in a very targeted manner to the mass communication, and before radio and cinema, were the books the mass media in Italy, primarily and initially popular among the middle classes and into the cities. The explosion of the police literature involved soon the masses: the fascism did not look kindly  this type of literature, considered immoral for content (the creation of a criminal act), but also for provenance (the origin was predominantly the Anglo-Saxon world, whose way of life was seen as the corrupter of the "healthy youth fascist"). That's because more or less in the mid-thirties of the twentieth century, the fascism imposed limitations and political and cultural directives: accepted or tolerated the mystery, was demanded that the publishers inserted at least 20% of its fleet of share, titles of mysteries created by Italian writers; and also were given directives to which it could not be waived: it was imposed that the crimes happened in exotic environments if not cosmopolitan; that were not represented criminals "Italic" but foreigners, and that criminal acts happened in a vicious environment when not depraved; that the suicide was not allowed , and that the happy ending was required to demonstrate that the resolution of the crime should be identified in a return to the order of things.
So, now, the publishing house Mondadori showed a large group of authors from Spagnol to  Mariotti, from Vailati to Varaldo. Two authors, emerged in particular, and their novels are still read with pleasure: Augusto De Angelis, who created the Commissioner De Vincenzi; Ezio d'Errico, who created the Commissioner Richard. Two Italian authors, two different figures, but both attracted and seduced by the myth of Simenon: Inspector Maigret.
Why Maigret? He was the example of the detective to follow, most of his colleagues overseas, neighbors to the Sherlockian example, because Simenon, more than others, had created the bourgeois detective novel, realizing all through two characters who will become the peculiar characteristics of all Maigret novels: the humanity of the Commissioner and the realism of the situations. Such characteristics as opposed to the superman detective, investigation purely circumstantial and the resulting abductive logic necessary to restore order in the disorder of the crime, conquered the Italian writers. Consequently, the characters of the writers who voted to make up what might be called a "school of Simenon," shunned by the aristocrat for sensationalism instead shine in everyday life, in which the crime is almost always banal as the life that surrounds us, and not instead almost a work of genius, as De Quincey preached .

De Angelis wanted to move in the narrow space of our country: in some ways, his choice was brave, despite his hero met some success in those years. The first adventure is in fact in 1935, and in nine years, until the fateful 1944 when De Angelis died after a fascist beating, he gave his legacy to the detective genre.
It must be said that literary criticism had tried to stigmatize  - in some sense driven - the choice of the masses to resort to writing a "degenerate" as the Mystery, which could weigh heavily on the minds of young fascists.

The series of Commissioner De Vincenzi, consists of 14 novels: the first is from 1935, the last from 1942, all mysteries to be fully ascribed to GAD:


- Il banchiere assassinato, 1935

- Sei donne e un libro, 1936

- Giobbe Tuama & C., 1936

- La barchetta di cristallo, 1936

- Il canotto insanguinato, 1936

- Il candeliere a sette fiamme, 1936

- L'albergo delle tre rose, 1936

- Il do tragico, 1937

- Il mistero della Vergine, 1938

- La gondola della morte, 1938

- L'impronta del gatto, 1940

- Le sette picche doppiate, 1940

- Il mistero di Cinecittà, 1941

- Il mistero delle tre orchidee, 1942


Il banchiere assassinato (The Murdered Banker)  from 1935,  is the first novel in the series: here De Angelis, man of letters lent to the detective, reveals his deepest nature, attributing to his character his love for poetry and literature: Commissioner De Vincenzi  is an anonymous figure, which looks somewhat disenchanted and even atarassic the unfolding of life. He hides a deep and gloomy pessimism, a decadence that could be called by D'Annunzio, almost nihilistic, to see the world no in colour but according to various shades of gray; and gives to his character, even the interest in the ideas and Freudian theories, "the involuntary psychological insight and observation from which emerges the secret clue."

Some people might turn up their noses: decadence by D’Annunzio and filiation by Simenon? According to me the two things can coexist: at the bottom of the Decadence by D'Annunzio is the son of an era and beyond the way you write, he is an expression of a way of seeing things in black and white and not in colour: the Milan by De Angelis is not dark as the Paris of Balzac, but foggy, gloomy, a Milan that through its climate also expressed the disaffection of  De Angelis; at the same time Simenon's novel is essentially the triumph of the bourgeoisie, of humanity, and reality: you want to say that the novels of De Angelis are not bourgeois, human and realistic? They are the same in which the most famous Maigret moves: concierge, bars, smoky, deserted streets at night, the misty atmosphere of the sleepy town; "Apartments, clubs, hotels, craft shops, markets, fairs, industrial firms, offices, banks." And the subjects, also similar: boys, clerks, waiters, porters, ladies, dealers, gangsters, housewives, orders, telephone operators, have-nots, rich people bored.
The tragic death of De Angelis gives us a track to retrospectively analyze his work: very often you can see, even in the usual round of platitudes and languages ​​acquired his net away from the fascist regime, very dangerous, so much to do keep an eye on censorship; and moreover, the creation of a Commissioner for nothing celebratory of the regime and so little commitment to enhance the positive Italic virtues, so little physical, even so anonymous from appearing in his first novel, of course, as if he was a friend already known, and not explaining anything to the appearance, but only hidden virtues, love for literature, just what would be enough to question his identity fascist or not. Especially since fascism was always very suspicious of the so-called elite literary culture, and then the Mystery, though it was not just the product that would be expected to advocate, ended up being still a mass product.

His not to feel intimately fascist, that in the aftermath of the September 1943 earned him the accusation of anti-fascism, the internment at prison of Como (apparently for the prosecution to him by a woman) and then death took place at Bellagio in 1944 after being severely beaten (it seems that she was the woman who accused him, seeing him very emaciated, she apologized and that he had dismissed an apology from her with disdain, causing the reaction of the companion of her, a fascist, which massacred him ), it is already manifest in Il Candeliere a sette fiamme (The Candlestick with seven flames).

Here the crime matures in a seedy hotel, and in the milieu in which the Commissioner must investigate, we find  the usual foreign elements: it’s a true spy story in which elements Jews have a prominent role in the fledgling Palestinian issue. But in outlining them, De Angelis waivers in some way to the propaganda of the regime and even in common places (the jew is a subject with reliefs physical well-defined), he is on their side, takes the side of the Jews and makes them the heroes in his novel.

The novels by De Angelis, are first and foremost "mood", because they have to indicate areas of life that are the basis of criminal events. They are also rich in life sometimes, rhythm, but the Commissioner will participate in almost phlegmatically: like a placid river flowing under the arches of the bridge, the inspector is there, that connects the various insights and various clues, waiting to have the 'right insight: then he must not to lose sight of, and, if anything, he must connect it to the rest, to solve the mystery criminal event; he is a fine poet, but unlike other investigators type Philo Vance, he never boasts; despite being him, he  does not embody the figure of the Commissioner like Maigret, as if it did not interest him that much; he is well versed in the arts, he notes, but it does not stand out ever-depth knowledge; is as taciturn and closed in its own sphere of interiority, and analyzes the reality with rare psychological insight.

In the analysis never purely circumstantial, De Angelis reveals an aspect that characterizes him peculiarly: the commissioner, melancholy figure and always detached from the clamor of the world in which he moves, is a subject that makes existential reflections, and is therefore in some sense in a critical position respect to what surrounds him, no trace in any way the models proposed by other detectives of success.

And the Commissioner De Vincenzi which is basically embodied the image of the imaginary world by De Angelis, moves his investigations starting from characteristics typical of the romantic decadence that he embodies: with romantic sensibility, intuition, psychology, the police investigation becomes for him the "consideration of the psychological climate of the crime and the people who move in and around the drama." De Vincenzi, to catch the offender, must get inside his head, think like him, to become for a moment he the murderer, according to a way of doing that is typical of detectives overseas.
It is interesting to point out that still, despite the attempt to privilege the psychological investigation at the expense of circumstantial evidence, he assumes also something else from Mystery overseas: the tendency to "final explanation" typical of  Classic Anglo-Saxon Mystery witnesses it , which in him becomes, in his first Mystery, "The murdered banker ", "the Conference of De Vincenzi".
Besides his work as a writer, De Angelis was also involved in promoting the culture of the detective genre, directing some publishing houses. It 's the case here to mention, his work as Editor of the Publishing House Aries of Milan, born and disappearing during the 1938.

Between the output we can find some beautiful novels of production over-ocean: C.D.King: Il dramma della carlinga (Obelists Fly High, 1932), C.Knight: Il mistero del granchio scarlatto (The Affair of the Scarlet crab, 1937), H.Landon: Il dito rivelatore (Haunting fingers, 1930), and the only issue to date of a novel by Virgil Markham: La danza del diavolo (The Devil Drives, 1932).


Pietro De Palma

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