Humour doubles

On the role of the two selves in Giovannino Guareschi’s journalistic fiction

Humour Doubles : On the Role of the Two Selves in Giovannino Guareschi’s Journalistic Fiction 1

The “leitmotif of doubling” (Perry, 2007 : x) is central to the poetics of Giovannino Guareschi (1908-1968), journalist and creator of the Don Camillo saga, and the most translated Italian author of the past century (Perry, 2007 : 3) 2. This article considers selected pieces from the satiric weekly Candido and the popular magazine Oggi 3, in which Guareschi’s doubled persona becomes an emblem of the transformation of postwar Italy. My goal is to understand how the humorous split self is used as a tool to discuss delicate social and political issues from a polemist’s point of view and to relate Guareschi’s use of the double self to a canonical theory of humour.

Guareschi’s fiction provides a striking illustration of the theory of humour developed by Freud in his 1927 article “Der Humor.” To Freud, in an unbearable situation, the superego soothes the ego to help it overcome the ordeal. The presence of internal divisions of the self is thus a constitutive element of humour, that Freud distinguishes from Witz (jokes) or the comic. In this article, I use Freud’s theory as a starting point to understand Guareschi’s fiction, and in turn Guareschi’s fiction to point at some blind spots of Freud’s theory, especially the hierarchical positioning of the instances of the selves implied in his framework. I look at two main configurations of the double in Guareschi’s work : the selves that evolve in parallel, and the synecdochical selves, inserted into one another. This distinction is not always clear-cut and the two types of configurations are interconnected in the corpus, but it is nevertheless an essential distinction that calls for a reconsideration of the power dynamics of the two selves in Freud’s “On Humor.” The first case will be illustrated by an analysis of the piece “Addio, Giovannino,” published in Candido in 1946 4, in the wake of the Italian constitutional referendum. To discuss the second configuration, I will look at a recurring image in Guareschi’s postwar production : the moustache. A symbolic intrusion of wartime Giovannino in postwar bourgeois Guareschi, the moustache serves as a reminder of his experience in German camps (1943-45) that led to his discovery of humour.

Defining Humour : The Freudian and the Guareschian Frameworks

Freud’s theory of humour is distinct from his theory of jokes (Witz) and the comic. Freud devotes his 1905 book Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious, also translated as Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious, mostly to jokes proper, but he also discusses the subjects of the comic and humour, dedicating a few pages to the latter at the very end of the book (Freud, 1905 : 228-35). The two core concepts of the theory are those of “economy” and “pleasure” : jokes, the comic and humour are means to derive pleasure from different types of savings of psychic expenditure. Whereas the pleasure of jokes comes from a saving of expenditure in inhibition and necessitates the involvement of three people (a producer, an object and a spectator), the pleasure of the comic derives from a saving of expenditure of thought and minimally involves two people (a producer and an object of the comic). The pleasure of humour, finally, comes from a saving of expenditure in feeling, and is “a means of obtaining pleasure in spite of the distressing affects that interfere with it ; it acts as a substitute for the generation of these affects, it puts itself in their place” (Freud, 1905 : 228). Being the most self-sufficient form of the humorous modes, humour does not necessarily need the presence of a second or third party. 5 Whereas jokes and the comic necessarily pertain to the social realm, humour is first of all an individual psychic process. It can nonetheless be perceived as a dialogue but, as I will make clear, it constitutes a dialogue between two parts of one’s self.

A more detailed account of the inner workings of humour is given in Freud’s 1927 article “Der Humor” that leaves aside jokes and the comic to concentrate on humour. In his introduction to Jokes, James Strachey explains how “Der Humor” incorporates Freud’s “newly propounded structural view of the mind to throw a fresh light on an obscure problem” (Strachey, 1960 : 6). The article opens with the joke of a prisoner walking to the gallows on a Monday and exclaiming : “Well, the week’s beginning nicely” (Freud, 1927 : 425), an example he also used in the 1905 book. It illustrates his argument that, in a frightening or unbearable situation, the super-ego interacts with the ego to soothe it. As he makes clear, the part of the self that soothes the other part has a position of superiority that grants it authority and thus the capacity to reinforce the distance between itself and the inferior part. Indeed, the two instances are compared to a father and a son, where the father smiles at the triviality of the suffering of his child (Freud, 1927 : 430). This is a development from the 1905 book where Freud already hinted at the relationship between humour and the infantile :

It is even conceivable that once again it may be a connection with the infantile that puts the means for achieving this [transforming the energy of the possible negative affects into pleasure] at its disposal. Only in childhood have there been distressing affects at which the adult would smile to-day—just as he laughs, as a humorist, at his present distressing affects. The exaltation of his ego, to which the humorous displacement bears witness, and of which the translation would no doubt be “I am too big (too fine) to be distressed by these things”, might well be derived from his comparing his present ego with his childish one. (Freud, 1905 : 233-34)

In 1927, the relationship between the two parts of the self is given clear familial correlatives and structured into a hierarchical relationship.

Genetically the super-ego is the heir to the parental agency. It often keeps the ego in strict dependence and still really treats it as the parents, or the father, once treated the child, in its early years. We obtain a dynamic explanation of the humorous attitude, therefore, if we assume that it consists in the humorist’s having withdrawn the psychical accent from his ego and having transposed it on to his super-ego. To the super-ego, thus inflated, the ego can appear tiny and all its interests trivial ; and, with this new distribution of energy, it may become an easy matter for the super-ego to suppress the ego’s possibilities of reacting. (Freud, 1927 : 430-31)

This framework helps to understand the frequent presence of split selves and double figures in a “humoristic” corpus 6. Reading Guareschi, whose importance as a thinker and writer of humour has been overlooked for decades and only recently given some critical attention, can shed new light on the particular configurations of double selves in fiction. Indeed, although the division between two selves is constitutive of much of his fiction, their positioning cannot be fixed under the restrictive “father and son” image. The interaction between the humorous doubles takes on multiple shapes and is negotiated in diverse ways in the narrative.

The prominence of the motif of the doubling of the self in Guareschi’s work is discussed by Alan R. Perry in the only English-language monograph on the author : The Don Camillo Stories of Giovannino Guareschi. A Humorist Portrays the Sacred. Perry traces the presence of the motif not only in the Don Camillo series, made famous by their movie adaptations 7, but also in Guareschi’s theorization of humour and in various other writings especially from the Second World War onwards. The critic sheds light on the role of Guareschi’s war imprisonment in the appearance of the “leitmotif of doubling” (2007, x). In September 1943, Guareschi, as artillery lieutenant, was captured by the German army and, refusing to adhere to the newly founded Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI, also known as Repubblica di Salò), was sent to internment camps, as one of the six hundred thousand Internati Militari Italiani (Italian Military Internees—from now on IMI). From September 1943 to April 1945, he was imprisoned in four different Lagers (Czestokowa and Beniaminowo in Poland, and Bremerwörde-Sandbostel and Wietzendorf-Bergen in Germany ; see Gnocchi and Palmaro, 2008 : 49-50), where he repeatedly refused offers to collaborate with the German state and where he continued to write and draw.

As Perry remarks, the short piece “Finalmente libero,” read aloud in the Lagers, dated 29 November 1944 and published in Diario clandestino in 1949, best represents the author’s new awareness of his divided self (Perry, 2007 : 47). In it, Guareschi reverses the notion of the imprisoned self, locating it not in his bodily but his inner self before the experience of the Lager. The piece begins with the description of the “prisoner” :

C’era qualcuno che era prigioniero di me stesso. Stava chiuso entro di me come in uno scafandro, e io lo opprimevo con la mia carne e con le mie consuetudini. Egli si affacciava ai miei occhi per vedere, e i suoi occhi erano acuti, ma il cristallo dei miei era appannato dai grassi vapori del vivere convenzionale. C’era qualcuno che era prigioniero di me stesso, e la mia spessa cotenna lo opprimeva : ma ora egli è evaso dal suo carcere. (142)

There was someone who was a prisoner of myself. He was shut inside of me like in a protective suit, and I oppressed him with my flesh and with my habits. He showed himself at the window of my eyes in order to see, and his eyes were piercing, but the glass of my own eyes was clouded by the greasy vapours of conventional living. There was someone who was a prisoner of myself, and my thick rind oppressed him ; but now he has escaped from his prison. (my translation)

In the following sections, in a chiasmic fashion typical of Guareschi’s style, the short piece inverts the terms of imprisonment, and locates true freedom in the self imprisoned in the Lagers, and imprisonment in the “fleshly shell” that Guareschi is afraid to find once he comes back after the war :

Ritroverò l’altro me stesso ? Mi aspetta forse fuori del reticolato per riprendermi ancora ? Ritornerò laggiù oppresso sempre dal mio involucro di carne e di abitudini ?
Buon Dio, se dev’essere così, prolunga all’infinito la mia prigionia. Non togliermi la mia libertà. (143)

Will I find my other self again ? Is he waiting for me on the other side of the fence to take me again ? Will I go back down there forever oppressed by my shell of flesh and habits ?
Good Lord, if it has to be so, prolong my imprisonment indefinitely. Do not take away my freedom. (my translation)

The splitting of the self thus enables Guareschi to reconceptualize the freedom-imprisonment relationship. It also has a crucial impact on his understanding of the role of humour. Guareschi’s satirical production was already well under way prior to the Second World War, most of all with his writing and illustrations in the humorous journal Bertoldo. In the camps, both his practice and his conception of humour shift from that of humour as a literary genre to that of humour as a way of life 8. In his lecture “Umorismo Razionato,” Guareschi also draws a distinction between the comic mode and humour proper, specifying that only the comic is necessarily associated with the response of laughter :

Non fissiamoci che umorismo e comicità siano due termini equivalenti. Comicità è una faccenda puramente accessoria. Escludo che l’umorismo debba far ridere, come escludo che un uomo, per essere tale, debba—ad esempio—avere il capelli biondi e gli occhi azzurri. Come un uomo può essere biondo o con gli occhi azzurri, così l’umorismo può essere comico. (Guareschi, 1989 : 66)

Let us not insist that humour and comedy are two equivalent terms. Comedy is a purely secondary matter. I rule out that humour must make one laugh, just like I rule out that a man, to be a man, must—for example—have blond hair and blue eyes. Just like a man can be blond or have blue eyes, humour can be comical. (my translation).

Guareschi’s comment recalls Freud’s distinction between humour and the comic. Freud also pictures humour as not likely to produce “hearty laughter,” whereas jokes and the comic can do so 9. Humour might be more likely to raise a smile than to provoke laughter. According to this framework, Guareschi’s pre-war humour can best be described as generally “comic,” whereas the post-war production presented in this article is closer to a Freudian understanding of humour and does not necessarily strike the reader as “comical.” 10

Parallel doubles – “Addio, Giovannino”

The recourse to the motif of the split self in Guareschi’s postwar writings is partly motivated by the political climate which the author navigated as a satirical journalist. Guareschi’s choice of “voluntary imprisonment” 11 during the Second World War was strongly motivated by his fidelity to the Italian monarchy. This political inclination remains a central orientation for the author in the aftermath of the war. In the year following the Liberation and leading to the June 1946 constitutional referendum, Guareschi positions himself publicly in favour of the monarchy in the newly founded independent weeklyCandido12

The outcome of the referendum—and most of all the divided picture of Italy it highlights—contributes to Guareschi’s postwar disillusion, which should be read in contrast to the democratic ideal he built during his experience in the camps :

Il periodo del lager in Polonia, in cui Guareschi fu rinchiuso come internato militare (1943-1945), è uno dei momenti più drammatici della vita dello scrittore ; nello stesso tempo è il periodo al quale egli tornerà per tutta la vita con nostalgia per l’immagine realistica e utopica della “Città Democratica”. […] Il dopoguerra fu una bruciante delusione ; Guareschi coltivò da allora il confronto tra l’amaro presente e quel passato concentrazionario che paradossalmente divenne un simbolo di felicità civile. (Ruozzi, 2009 : 304-05)

The period of the lager in Poland, in which Guareschi was imprisoned as a military internee (1943-45), was one of the most dramatic moments in the author’s life ; at the same time, it is the period on which he will look back for the rest of his life with nostalgia for the realistic and utopian image of the “Democratic City.” […] The postwar period was a scorching disappointment ; Guareschi cultivated from then on the comparison between the bitter present and this concentrationary past that paradoxically became a symbol of civil happiness. (my translation)

The sharp contrast between the “utopian” past and the disappointing present partly explains the power of the image of an “altro me stesso” (“another myself”) that is not only an intangible, freer self, but also the self of a past that cannot find a place in post-war Italy, and especially post-referendum Italy. To this effect, the short piece “Addio, Giovannino” published on Candido illustrates the recourse to the split selves as a polysemic tool to describe a disturbing social, political, historical and personal situation.

“Addio, Giovannino” appears on the front page of the June 8, 1946 edition of Candido 13, a week after the Italian constitutional referendum that resulted in the victory of the republican choice by 54.3%. Both Guareschi and his colleague Giovanni Mosca, who defended the monarchy, express their disappointment with the results, and most of all with the very slight margin with which the republican option won. The heading of the issue, a short untitled and unsigned text 14, that appears at the very top of the front page, makes this second aspect very clear :

Da queste stesse colonne, anzi, da queste stesse righe, tre mesi or sono abbiamo spiegato che la nostra vera preoccupazione nei riguardi del referendum era che si arrivasse—dall’una o dall’altra parte—a una vittoria con poco scarto di voti. La qual cosa, considerando le opposte tendenze del nord e del sud, avrebbe potuto portare a una maggior frattura fra il settentrione e il meridione. Ma chi, in Italia, dà retta ai giornali umoristici ? Oggi le cifre ci hanno dato ragione, ma ci guardiamo bene dall’essere soddisfatti.

From these very columns—rather, from these very lines, three months ago we explained that our true preoccupation with regards to the referendum was that we would come to—from one side or the other—a victory with little disparity in votes. This is something that, considering the opposing tendencies of the North and South, could have led to a greater fracture between the Northern part and the Southern part [of Italy]. But who, in Italy, heeds to humorous newspapers ? Today the numbers prove us right, but we are careful to not be satisfied. (my translation)

The heading insists on this geographical division and uses two very simple images to illustrate its point : the man cut in two, and the cart led by two horses :

Il nord ha imposto al sud il fascismo, la guerra e adesso gli impone la repubblica. Il sud—checché ne dica il signor Nitti—la accetterà, perché il sud è la patria del ragionamento e ragionando si capisce che sud e nord sono lo stesso ometto visto dal basso e visto dall’alto, e gli ometti tagliati in due parti fanno poca strada. Siamo due cavalli aggiogati allo stesso carro sgangherato, e la strada è piena di rottami e di crateri. E bisogna tirare tutt’e due altrimenti le ruote s’impantanano e non si va più avanti.

The North imposed Fascism and the war on the South, and now it is imposing the republic on it. The South—no matter what Signor Nitti says—will accept it, because the South is the home land of reasoning and, through reasoning, one understands that the South and the North are the same little man seen from below and seen from above, and little men cut in two do not go far. We are two horses yoked to the same cart, and the road is full of junk and craters. And we both have to pull together ; otherwise, the wheels get stuck and we can’t go forward. (my translation)

The divided “little guy” (ometto) is not the typical Guareschian double self, but rather one of the multiple personifications of countries used by the author 15. Despite these distinctions, it sets the ground, along with the image of horses, for another metaphor of division that is the basis of “Addio, Giovannino” : the two Giovanninos walking side by side until their parting.

The opening paragraphs of “Addio, Giovannino” prepare the intrusion of the Giovannino of the past, but without recalling it yet. Rather, Guareschi opens with a development on the signification of numbers in the context of a vote, and focuses on his vision of the situation now that the referendum results are known. His persona quickly becomes the centre of the illustration, positioned as a lone individual walking on the road of the political present. Then, at the closing of the second paragraph, comes the second Giovannino :

Io cammino in una strada costeggiata da venti milioni di crocette rosse e azzurre. Dieci milioni di crocette azzurre sulla destra, dieci milioni di crocette rosse sulla sinistra, e ad ogni crocetta rossa fa riscontro, puntuale, una crocetta azzurra. Questa è la strada dell’ambiguità, poi, a un tratto le crocette azzurre finiscono e continuano le crocette rosse sulla sinistra, e qui – dopo la lunga strada ambigua – comincia la breve repubblica. E qui giunti ci dividiamo, Giovannino.
Io continuo per la strada segnata dalle crocette rosse, e tu vai dove ti conduce il mio cuore, Giovannino.

I walk on a road flanked by twenty million little red and blue crosses. Ten million little blue crosses on the right, ten million little red crosses on the left, and each little red cross corresponds, precisely, to a little blue cross. This is the road of ambiguity ; then, all of a sudden, the little blue crosses stop and the little red crosses continue on the left, and here—after the long ambiguous road—the brief republic starts. And at this point we split up, Giovannino.
I continue on the road marked by the little red crosses, and you go where my heart leads you, Giovannino.(my translation)

After explaining that the new flag, with its bare white middle strip (from which the crest of Savoia has been evacuated), cannot be the flag of that other “Giovannino,” Guareschi plunges into his past of Italian Military Internee and comments on the role played in the past by his other self, that he addresses with an informal “you” (tu). Guareschi then bids farewell to his other self and explains why he has to remain in the Republic for the sake of his children of flesh, allowing his former self to evade this unbearable situation.

The piece insists on the core idea of division, introduced in the first third and reiterated until the end : “Ci dividiamo, Giovannino : tu nel regno delle ombre, sotto la vecchia bandiera : io nella repubblica dei sopravvissuti, sotto la nuova bandiera.” “We split up, Giovannino : you, in the reign of shadows, under the old flag ; and I, in the republic of the survivors, under the new flag.” The split is reinforced by contrast with the insistence on the former togetherness of the Giovanninos :

Io e Giovannino siamo tornati assieme dalla volontaria prigionia in terra nemica dove assieme—il corpo e l’anima—avevamo lottato con la fame e la nostalgia per mantener fede alla nostra bandiera.
Assieme abbiamo camminato per le strade della patria ritrovata,assieme abbiamo pianto e sperato sulle rovine delle case.
Assieme ci siamo arrampicati sul ripido sentiero del referendum fiancheggiato dalle crocette rosse e azzurre, e tu mi guidasti la mano, Giovannino, quando anche io piantai sulla riva una crocetta azzurra. Ma ora le crocette azzurre sono finite ed è giunta l’ora di dividerci […] (corsivo aggiunto)

Giovannino and I returned together from the voluntary prison in enemy land where together—the body and the soul—we had fought with our hunger and nostalgia to keep faith in our flag.
Together we walked the streets of the recovered homeland, together we cried and hoped upon the ruins of the houses.
Together we climbed the steep path of the referendum flanked by little red and blue crosses, and you guided my hand, Giovannino, when I too planted a little blue cross on the shore. But now the little blue crosses are finished and it is time for us to split up […]” (my translation ; emphasis added)

The opening and internal anaphoras—a feature common in Guareschi’s writing—reinforce the conclusion, and “assieme” and “dividerci” echo each other throughout the piece.

In contrast to the heading of the issue, in “Addio, Giovannino,” the division of the referendum results is personalized and embodied in Guareschi’s persona. As is the case in a great deal of Guareschi’s journalistic writings, the political is illustrated through the individual, just like the abstract is always boiled down to the concrete :

Alla storia dei grandi eventi Guareschi oppone quella dei piccoli avvenimenti familiari, con l’obiettivo sarcastico e polemico di erodere la retorica della politica. Alla genericità spesso vuota e pomposa dei proclami egli risponde con la concretezza delle “storie,” che sono personali, reali, uniche. (Ruozzi, 2009 : 288)

To the history of great events Guareschi opposes that of small domestic events, with the sarcastic and polemical objective of eroding the rhetoric of politics. To the often empty and pompous generality of proclamations, he responds with the concreteness of “stories,” which are personal, real, unique. (my translation)

“Addio, Giovannino” is no exception : the country’s situation is illustrated through Giovannino’s personal story, through his own character(s) used as metaphor(s) for the country. While a collective and indefinite “noi 16” is used in both the heading and Mosca’s article on the same front page, “Addio, Giovannino” concretizes this “noi” into two entities : “io” and “Giovannino.”

The splitting of the paths of the two Giovanninos does not only illustrate the political opposition between Monarchists and Republicans. The series of oppositions that it opens up extends through space and time, and goes from the personal, through the familial and the social, to the political. The story of the narrator (the representation of Guareschi’s social being) and of Giovannino (his internal self-representation) dramatizes and partly contests the image of the ometto seen from the top or the bottom. Contrary to this little man, who “[fa] poca strada” (“do[es] not go far”), Guareschi’s narrativized selves show how it is possible, and indeed necessary, for a Monarchist to accept progressing along the road chosen by the (slight) majority, while acknowledging the part of himself that cannot accept the decision. Since the two characters of the story, the narrator and Giovannino alike, emerge from the same narrative persona, their separation is constantly negotiated. Although dramatized in “Addio, Giovannino,” the split is indeed not entirely effected : Guareschi will recall “Giovannino” in later writings 17. This negotiation between the narrativized selves also reflects Guareschi’s own reason for having to progress alongside the Republicans : the survival of his “children of flesh.” Guareschi’s bond to his children, and by extension the old generation’s tie to the new Italian generation that is going to be raised republican no matter what, justifies the narrator’s paradoxical attitude : “Io debbo rimanere qui, debbo camminare per la strada della breve repubblica perché la fame dei miei figli è repubblicana, e la fame dei figli è l’avvenire della patria.” “I must stay here, I must walk on the road of the brief Republic, because the hunger of my children is republican, and the hunger of children is the future of the nation.” (my translation)

“Addio, Giovannino” concretizes the humorous split selves, thematizing the psychic process of humour through literary creation. In a similar way as “Finalmente libero,” the portrayal of two parts of one’s self in distinct literary characters is a form of jest created out of a highly distressing situation. As in Freud’s explanation, the communication between the two figures is not a real dialogue. Indeed, in “Addio, Giovannino,” unlike in other pieces (“Colloquio nel bagno,” for example), the character “Guareschi” addresses himself unidirectionally to the character “Giovannino.” Similarly to Freud’s use of the image of father and son, “Guareschi” appears as the figure of authority who makes the decision and calms the other part of the self.

However, the positioning of the two characters is not as simple as that. Here as in other stories, “Giovannino” is perceived as the highest moral figure, literally compared to the soul, and it is precisely for this reason that “Guareschi” wishes to save him. Indeed, if an equivalence with the Freudian framework should be given, we would have to relate “Guareschi” to the ego and “Giovannino” to the super-ego, and their conflict to the one between the external and internal worlds : “Whereas the ego is essentially the representative of the external world, of reality, the super-ego stands in contrast to it as the representative of the internal world, the id. Conflicts between the ego and the ideal will, as we are now prepared to find, ultimately reflect the contrast between what is real and what is psychical, between the external world and the internal world.” (Freud, 1923 : 26) Even more importantly, and although this appears to come to an end in this story, the two characters are seen as complementary and at the same level, walking parallel to each other. They are (“il corpo e l’anima” ; the body and the soul, as Guareschi makes clear), inseparable. Of course, “Giovannino” is both a past self, and an internal presence within Guareschi, that somehow speaks through “Guareschi”’s public voice. Still, the author makes a point of representing his social persona and “Giovannino” as parallel selves moving side by side. The internal relationship is hinted at and motivates the movement of the characters and the parting of their ways at the end of the story, but the external representation of both selves dominates in this story.

Synecdochical Selves – Giovannino and His Moustache

Other Guareschian narratives of doubles feature a clear embodiment of the two selves in distinct characters, albeit not progressing in parallel directions. In many cases, an immaterial Giovannino is materialized in the shape of a character that the narrator can address and that can reply in turn. 18 However, there is a more subtle form of co-habitation of selves that also materializes the immaterial but that does not embody the two selves in two distinct characters. This situation often uses the synecdoche of the moustache to give shape to the other self. A passage from a late text gives an idea of this pervasive use.

In Vita con Gio’, an anthology edited by Carlotta and Alberto Guareschi, that collects stories published in the magazine Oggi from 1964 to 1968, Guareschi uses the character of Gio’, the “giovane collaboratrice familiare,” 19 to contrast his point of view with the one of the new generation. In the story “Era giovane, bellissimo…” (“He was young, beautiful…) 20, the characters of Guareschi and his fictional wife Margherita recount Giovannino’s prewar youth, when he used to chase young women, something that Gio’ has a hard time believing :

Gio’ scoppiò in una risata :
“Lui 21 correva dietro alle ragazze ?” domandò ululando.
“Sì” spiegai : “ma non era una gran fatica perché io marciavo sempre in bicicletta.”
“Con quei baffi lì” gridò la ragazza.
“No” intervenne Margherita. “Allora non li aveva. Se li è fatti crescere in campo di concentramento per avere qualcosa cui aggrapparsi quando la fame gli toglieva la forza dalle gambe.” “Io non me lo so immaginare senza baffi !” disse Gio’. (Vita con Gio’ 431-32 22)

Gio’ burst into laughter :
“You ran after the girls ?” she asked, howling.
“Yes,” I explained, “but it wasn’t too much of an effort since I always got around by bicycle.”
“With that moustache,” shrieked the girl.
“No,” Margherita intervened. “He didn’t have it then. He grew it in concentration camps to have something to grab onto when hunger took the strength out of his legs.”
“I can’t imagine him without a moustache !” said Gio’. (my translation ; emphasis added)

The dialogue between Giovannino, Margherita and Gio’ gives us an entry point into the use of the trope of the moustache. The first thing to note is that the moustache immediately opens up a temporal breach. In terms of Giovannino’s personal past, it indicates how the war imprisonment has been a turning point that left a permanent trace in the protagonist’s life—a trace that is made visible by the moustache. Through it, Giovannino’s personal life can thus enter the social sphere. It is thanks to this bodily trace that Gio’, for whom the moustache is associated with a bourgeois, unattractive lifestyle, highlights the clash of generations that is at the core of the Oggi pieces. Gio’s remark can be read as a statement on Italy’s history, or rather on the postwar perception of this recent history. To Gio’, her boss cannot be anything but a moustachioed middle-aged bourgeois who has had no past as a fetching young man, and even less as a prisoner of war. “Io non me lo so immaginare senza baffi !” illustrates the new generation’s incapacity to imagine Italy “without a moustache,” that is prewar and wartime Italy, ungraspable epochs to the “collaboratrice familiare.” 23

A feature of the passage is also the role of the character of Margherita. Indeed, the passage differs from many of the author’s reflections on his past in that it is not a direct self-reflection between Guareschi’s persona of the present and his persona of the past. The remark on the moustache is mediated by the character of Margherita, who has known both “Giovannino senza baffi” 24 in prewar Milan, and “Giovannino con baffi” after the return from the camps in 1945. As an external observer, she is able to have a clear picture of the transformation. Unlike Giovannino, however, Margherita has not been there to witness the moment of the growth itself, and her construction of her husband’s transformation must be built without access to the process of transformation itself. This absence from Guareschi’s story in those two years thus stresses the gender division of the experience of the war, that Margherita spent in Italy, waiting for the uncertain return of her husband and giving birth in the meantime to their second child. This experience is at times acknowledged by Guareschi :

Una settimana dopo, il 9 settembre del 1943, partivo in vagone-bestiame alla volta di un Lager in Polonia. Tornai a casa esattamente due anni dopo, nel settembre 1945, agile come una gazzella e con due meravigliosi baffi : ero quarantasei chili, però Margherita, che era ancora più magra di me, si limitò a rallegrarsi per il mio bell’aspetto. (Vita con Gio’ : 118) 25

A week later, on September 9, 1943, I left on a livestock wagon in the direction of a Lager in Poland. I came back home exactly two years later, in September 1945, agile like a gazelle and with a magnificent moustache : I weighed forty-six kilograms, but Margherita, who was even skinnier than I was, limited herself to cheering up at my nice look. (my translation)

The two characters share the bodily imprint of the hardships of the war. While the imprint on Margherita’s body remains enclosed within the domestic sphere, the imprint on Giovannino’s becomes a social and political symbol forever recalling his choice of “voluntary imprisonment.” In the context of the lack of recognition given to the IMI’s role as another form of resistance, reclaiming the imprint left by one’s decision becomes another political choice. The “magnificent moustache” is even depicted as a war medal, earned through military valour and to be worn proudly—it becomes a visual mark of a recognition that the Italian state has refused to the IMI :

Costretto per due mesi nel Lager a non potermi radere e guardandomi alla fine in uno specchio, scopro di possedere una pessima barba da venditore ambulante e due ottimi baffi da “Romanzo di un giovane povero.” 26 Detestando il vagabondaggio e adorando tutto ciò che è romantico, elimino—appena possibile—la barba e mi tengo i baffi curandoli con amore perché, mentre senza baffi mi detestavo, con i baffi mi sono simpatico… Me li sono guadagnati onorevolmente e ho il diritto di portarli a naso alto. 27

Forced not to shave for two months in the Lager and looking at myself in a mirror at the end, I discovered I possessed an awful peddler’s beard and an excellent moustache worthy of theRoman d’un jeune homme pauvre. Detesting vagrancy and adoring everything that is romantic, I removed—as soon as was possible—the beard, and I kept the moustache, nursing it with love because, while without a moustache I detested myself, with a moustache I like myself… I earned it honourably and I have the right to wear it with my nose held high. (my translation)

Speaking through Giovannino’s body is this other Giovannino forever represented by the trace and only waiting to emerge again. Going back to Margherita’s comment (“He grew it in concentration camps to have something to grab onto when hunger took the strength out of his legs”), we can see how the moustache becomes a leitmotiv illustrating inner strength. 28 The paradoxical image created by Margherita—of a man relying on a part of his body at the moment when his body itself is failing—is made possible by the split enacted within the self through the humorous process. The image, both realistic (a man is grabbing his moustache in despair) and surrealistic (a man is suspending himself on his moustache when his legs grow too weak), juxtaposes two incompatible conceptions of the body : one that is unifying, and one where the moustache and the man pertain to two different yet inseparable realms.

The humorous image therefore underlines the liminal status of the moustache, pictured as almost outside one’s body yet central to it. An external tool to sustain oneself, the moustache is also an expression of interiority, the externalization of an internal self. From the moment of the camps onwards, the moustache acts as a ventriloquist, expressing itself from inside a Giovannino-puppet. Recalling “Finalmente libero,” the moustache concretizes the inner self trapped within the bourgeois crust. Going back to the role of political imprisonment in Guareschi’s development of humour, I read the moustache as the trace that remains from the process of humour that has split the self in two. If, as Freud posits, humour arises when the super-ego addresses itself to the ego to soothe it, we can read Guareschi’s use of this trope both as a reminder of this past process, and as a tool to externalize again the inner prisoner. In the fiction, there is thus an extension of the humorous process in time ; it is not considered only as an instantaneous event but can reverberate through time. In the trifold conversation between Giovannino, Gio’ and Margherita, humour displaces the inner transformation on the social and political levels, while creating a comic clash between the perspective of the young and of the mature.


In the texts analyzed, “Giovannino” and the moustache can be read as fictionalized super-egos. The relationship between “Guareschi” and “Giovannino” (or the moustache synecdoche), enacts the process of humour, where the super-ego soothes the ego to help it live in the real world without being broken by painful affects. Some differences between the Freudian framework and the Guareschian use of the double image however arise.

First, as I have underlined in the initial analysis, the relationship between the split selves is one of complicity rather than domination. In The Ego and the Id, the super-ego is described as a “tyrant,” giving “dictatorial” imperatives, a severe and aggressive master to the ego (Freud, 1923 : 43 ; 45 ; 46). This relationship of power gives rise to the ego’s sense of guilt (Freud, 1923 : 41). It is true that the super-ego has a more comforting role in “Der Humor,” something that indeed puzzles Freud : “If it is really the super-ego which, in humour, speaks such kindly words of comfort to the intimidated ego, this will teach us that we have still a great deal to learn about the nature of the super-ego.” (433) The relationship between the Guareschian doubles retains a form of hierarchy in that the figure of “Giovannino” and the image of the moustache are given moral supremacy. This supremacy, however, does not come with a diminishing of the other part of the double. The persona Guareschi is not a representation of an “intimidated ego” (Freud, 1927 : 433). The Guareschian dynamic thus removes the guilt or intimidation present in the Freudian system. The role of Guareschi’s Catholic faith in his literary creation can explain the positioning of the super-ego figure as a form of internal guide. 29 Freud also points to the connection between the super-ego and religion (Freud, 1962 : 27), but once again, the development of religion is put into relation with the role of authority figures and not that of a moral guide as is the case for Guareschi. By giving the role of collaborator to the thematized “super-ego,” Guareschi gives a positive value to this psychic instance, transforming the negative image of the “dictator,” “master,” or controlling ventriloquist into one of a non-paternalistic, internal beacon that works with the bodily self to survive hardships through humour.

The different quality of the relationship in Guareschi is intimately related to the second major difference with the Freudian theory : the shift in temporal framework. For Freud, the super-ego is a memorial trace of the past, an ideal image of the ego (the “ego ideal” or “ideal ego” is the other name of the super-ego) formed before the constitution of the ego as a definite entity (Freud, 1923 : 38). In temporal terms, the humorous process is thus the intrusion of the past, ideal self in the present life of the ego. The weight of the past explains the weight of the authority of the super-ego, always associated with past figures of authorities in the Freudian framework. For Guareschi, “Giovannino” is also, as I have made clear, a trace of the past, a memorial, as well as a guide. The moustache can be read, as does Torelli, as a “vade mecum” (Torelli, 2006 : 10). However, the weight of the past does not make of “Giovannino” a master figure. Contrarily to Freud’s, the temporal framework of Guareschian humour gives a prominent place to another component : the future. Both the “children of flesh” of “Addio, Giovannino” and the “new generation,” incarnated in the character of Gio’ of “Era giovane, bellissimo,” propel the figure of the past into the future. 30 One of Guareschi’s definitions of a humorist, that we find in “Umorismo razionato,” is indeed : “chi sa retrodatare le sue azioni e le sue sensazioni” ; “one who can backdate his actions and his sensations” (Guareschi 1989 : 64, my translation), that is, one who is able to relativize one’s present self by imagining a future self looking at it. The impact of the split part of the self that represents the past in Guareschi is thus given a new dimension thanks to this intrusion of the future. Seen under this new light, Guareschi’s humour transforms the father-son dyad of Freud’s theory into a new, triadic relationship. The figure of the son (ego) has to be considered, in turn, as a father figure. The new relation is one of father-son(father)-son. Yet, the extension of the past into the future is not a smooth process that erases the particularities of the past. On the contrary, Guareschi’s work stresses the importance of the materiality of the body of the present self, which constitutes the link between the past and the future. Guareschi’s past self and Giovannino’s moustache that shines through him refuse to be fully integrated and overtaken. The materialization of the past in the moustache shows the resistance against a notion of the passing of time as a smooth linear progression. The process of humour and the coexistence of divided selves that it necessitates thus make possible a reconfiguration of the temporal framework that leads to the juxtaposition of temporal periods within the humorist’s body and work.

  1. 1I want to thank Alberto Guareschi and the late Carlotta Guareschi for their warm welcome and their invaluable help during my visit at the Archivio Guareschi in September 2014 and in all our correspondence. I thank Natasha Hay and Élise Couture-Grondin for their comments on drafts of this article, and Christina Vani for her help with the translations from Italian (all remaining mistranslations are mine). My gratitude goes to the Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, the Jackman Humanities Institute, the Centre for Comparative Literature and the Government of Ontario for fellowships and grants that made this research possible. The material presented in this article is the subject of a section of my PhD thesis in preparation at the University of Toronto under the co-direction of Pascal Michelucci and Luca Somigli.
  2. 2Perry refers to Giorgio Bocca. “Trapezisti e mentitori,” La Repubblica, 6 March 1991 : 34 and Giorgio Dossena. “Oggi sono i giovani a scoprire Guareschi e Mosca,” La Stampa, 22 March 1986 : 25.
  3. 3Collected in Giovannino Guareschi. Vita con Gio’. Vita in famigli e altri racconti. Milano : BUR Rizzoli. 2011.
  4. 4Giovannino Guareschi. “Addio, Giovannino,” Candido, no.23, 8 June 1946 : 1. The front page of this edition of Candido is reproduced by Guareschi on page 89 of Italia provvisoria. Part of “Addio, Giovannino” can also be found on page 256 of Chi sogna nuovi gerani ? autobiographia, an “autobiography” of the author constituted of writings of the author compiled and completed by Alberto and Carlotta Guareschi. In this article, I will be quoting the text as it appears in Italia provvisoria. All translations of “Addio” are mine.
  5. 5“Humour is the most easily satisfied among the species of the comic. It completes its course within a single person ; another person’s participation adds nothing new to it.” (Freud, 1905 : 229)
  6. 6The role of the split self in relation to the development of humour or the comic was present in Baudelaire’s seminal essay De l’essence du rire et généralement du comique dans les arts plastiques (first published in 1855 in Le Portefeuille) : “Le comique, la puissance du rire est dans le rieur et nullement dans l’objet du rire. Ce n’est point l’homme qui tombe qui rit de sa propre chute, à moins qu’il ne soit un philosophe, un homme qui ait acquis, par habitude, la force de se dédoubler rapidement et d’assister comme spectateur désintéressé aux phénomènes de son moi. Mais le cas est rare.”(Baudelaire, 1962 : 251) Baudelaire returns to this aspect in his conclusion : “[…] pour qu’il y ait comique […] il faut qu’il y ait deux êtres en présence ; […] cependant, relativement à cette loi d’ignorance, il faut faire une exception pour les hommes qui ont fait métier de développer en eux le sentiment du comique et de le tirer d’eux-mêmes pour le divertissement de leurs semblables, lequel phénomène rentre dans la classe de tous les phénomènes artistiques qui dénotent dans l’être humain l’existence d’une dualité permanente, la puissance d’être à la fois soi et un autre.” (262). On that, see also Newmark 246-47.
  7. 7There have been five movie adaptations, starring Fernandel as the priest Don Camillo and Gino Cervi as the communist mayor Peppone : Julien Duvivier’s Don Camillo (1952) and Il ritorno di don Camillo (1953), Carmino Gallone’s Don Camillo e l’onorevole Peppone (1955) and Don Camillo, Monsignore… ma non troppo (1961) and Luigi Comencini’s Il compagno don Camillo (1965).
  8. 8In the Lagers, Guareschi writes : “l’umorismo non è un genere letterario ma un modo particolare d’intendere la vita”–“humour is not a literary genre but a way of understanding life” (“Umorismo razionato” in Ritorno alla base, 62). See also Perry, 2002, especially p.42.
  9. 9In Jokes, Freud notes that humour does not make us laugh when our admiration is too great. Giving an example of a passage from Victor Hugo’s Hernani where a character who will have his head cut off exclaims “Nos têtes ont le droit / De tomber couvertes devant de toi,” he explains that : “This is humour on the grand scale, and if when we hear it we do not laugh, that is because our admiration covers the humorous pleasure.” (230) Here, laughter is an unnecessary aspect of humour, that might be present or not. In “Der Humor,” Freud goes further and adds that “humorous pleasure never reaches the intensity of the pleasure in the comic or in jokes”. (166)
  10. 10Since the writing of this article, L’ora d’oro has published a collection of Guareschi’s writings on humour. See Guareschi, Giovannino. L’umorismo. Ed. Andrea Paganini. Poschiavo : L’ora d’oro, 2015.
  11. 11On this concept, see “Istruzioni per l’uso,” Guareschi’s introduction to Diario clandestino 1943-1945.
  12. 12Candido is created in December 1945, with Guareschi as editor-in-chief. He will remain in this position until 1957, and continue to collaborate until 1961. The newspaper will close almost immediately after Guareschi announces his resignation. See Conti, 2008 : 320-40 ; 510-20.
  13. 13All quotes from “Addio, Giovannino” refer to this page.
  14. 14It was written by Guareschi.
  15. 15In pieces written during the Second World War or about it, Guareschi uses feminine personifications of Italy and Germany on several occasions, such as “Signora Germania,” Diario clandestino. 45-6 ; “L’Italia,” Ritorno alla base. 105-6 ; “Arrivederci, signorina Germania,” Ritorno alla base. 278-87.
    I would argue that this fictional practice is likely to stem from the common use of personifications to illustrate nations in political cartoons. This is most striking in Guareschi’s visual production for Candido. For instance, we find a dozen of personifications of Italy in the first volume of the collection Mondo Candido. 1946-1948. 30 ; 126 ; 127 ; 137 ; 138 ; 143 ; 147 ; 158 ; 216 ; 217 ; 286 ; 442. This practice continues well into the 1950s, as clearly appears in the other volumes of Mondo Candido.
  16. 16Mosca uses the collective “noi” through his whole piece, from “Dunque, siamo stati battuti” (“So, we have been defeated”) through “E abbiamo perduto” (“And we have lost”) until “la nostra rabbia” (“our anger”). Only the last sentence reverts to Mosca’s personal point of view : “Almeno a me, che ci sono rimasto veramente male” (“At least for me, who was really upset about it”).
  17. 17For example in “Colloquio nel bagno,” first published in Candido in 1955 and collected by Alberto and Carlotta Guareschi in Ritorno alla base : 206-13.
  18. 18As in “Colloquio nel bagno,” for example. See note 15.
  19. 19Gio’ (short for Gioconda), is the Guareschis’ hired help.
  20. 20The text is illustrated in the anthology by a self-portrait of an angry-looking Guareschi displaying an enormous, ruffled moustache (Vita con Gio’ : 428).
  21. 21Gio’ ungrammatically uses “Lui” instead of the formal, gender-neutral “Lei” when addressing her male boss.
  22. 22Originally published in Oggi 30, 1967.
  23. 23Guareschi’s use of a singular character to stand in for a whole generation is frequent and at times explicit. In the stories of Ritorno alla base, the narrator (again, Guareschi’s persona), nicknames his son Albertino “la nuova generazione” (See for example Ritorno alla base : 221, 225, 243, 244).
  24. 24This expression has now become a common way to indicate the prewar period of Guareschi’s life and works. See for example Torelli, 2006 : 8 or the collected new volume L’umorismo di Giovannino senza baffi. Milan : Rizzoli, 2013.
  25. 25Originally published in Oggi 28, 1965, p.72.
  26. 26Guareschi refers to Octave Feuillet’s 1858 Le Roman d’un jeune homme pauvreor, possibly, to one of its movie adaptations, more likely Guido Brignone’s 1942 film.
  27. 27Originally in Candido 3, 1945 : 4. Quoted in Chi sogna nuovi gerani ? Autobiografia : 231 and Torelli : 7.
  28. 28As Perry remarks in his analysis of the piece “No, niente appello,” “Guareschi relies on his personal mystique of the prisoner-of-war camp as a font of strength” (Perry, 2007 : 45).
  29. 29Others have extensively worked on the place of religion in Guareschian poetics (see particularly the works of Perry and Gnocchi).
  30. 30The importance of archiving and the insistence on the process of memorialization by Guareschi paradoxically reveal the importance he gives to the future. As Krzysztof Pomian has rightly noted, the process of archiving is primarily “future-oriented” : “Aujourd’hui, les archives conservent, trient, classent et inventorient les documents du présent pour pouvoir, le moment venu, les communiquer aux historiens de demain, d’après-demain et d’un temps aussi éloigné que l’on veut. […] [L]es archives ne sont nullement une institution constitutivement passéiste. Le lien qu’elles maintiennent avec le passé est subordonné à leur orientation vers l’avenir. Contrairement aux apparences, les archives modernes sont, comme les musées, une institution futurocentrique.” (Pomian 225 ; emphasis added)
    On the importance of the archive for Guareschi, see 100 Anni Di Guareschi : Letteratura, Cinema, Giornalismo, Grafica : Atti Del Convegno Internazionale 100 Anni Di Guareschi, Parma, 21-22 Novembre 2008. Parma : Monte Università Parma, 2009.