Novels of the Great War: "Contro-passato prossimo" ("Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis") by Guido Morselli

Today novel is one of the few Guido Morselli’s books that has been translated into English. People outside Italy cannot count on a full range of translations from this writer who lived between 1912 and 1973, the year when he committed suicide after many rejections of his manuscripts. Contro-passato prossimo. Un'ipotesi retrospettiva was first released by the Italian publisher Adelphi. An English translation by Hugh Shankland is available with the tiltle Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis. Incidentally we would like to inform our French readers that the novel was translated also into French (Le Passé à venir, translation by Dominique Hauser). This is an atypical World War I novel, so distant from the ones we wrote about in the past months. Why atypical? Before leaving you with some insights on the plot, we would like to list a series of key points that no other novel, as far as we know, can show. 1) It is a book generated decades after the end of the war and far from the anniversary mood that can distort the real artistic result of a work of fiction (still today we can think that some novels appearing in these years suffer from their fulsome "anniversary mood"); 2) like the subtitle states, it’s a “retrospective hypothesis”, that is like saying that is something extremely far from what happened in the reality of warfare (but not so far from what could have happened); 3) the counterfactual strategy is full of consequences and has a great impact on the study of history (it’s not true, like everybody here in Italy keeps on saying, that is not possible to approach history with a counterfactual narration; beside of that the new story starting with a strong and big “if” and by turning upside down the facts can be full of consequences for our reasoning); 4) what can the result of such strategy be in the hands (in the pen) of one of the 20th century highest talented Italian writers?

So, what happens if the war was won by the Central Empires and not by the Triple Entente plus the disloyal Italy? This is basically the plot of Past Conditional: A Retrospective Hypothesis
What is the masterpiece of engineer that allows the Austrians to flood rapidly the northern Italian valleys and the rest of the country changing forever the evolution of war and the future development of European politics? Where does this strategy come from? In other words, who is the author of this ingenious logistic plan called Edelweiss Expedition? And what comes later in a new European scenario where Walther Rathenau is the leader? And what about Russia and Lenin, Italy and Giolitti? As far as we know, this novel by Guido Morselli is an almost unique case of counterfactual history applied to the First World War years and able to enlarge its heuristic value to history itself. We can read it is as a totally renewed strategy and a deep revision of the historical novel which goes straight against fatalism, determinism and, at the end, against historicism.