Cesare De Marchi has never limited his interests to narrative prose, but has often dedicated himself to essays. After first essays dealing with the history of philosophy, his main interest was literature, and his first significant translation was Irrungen Wirrungen by that great German realist Theodor Fontane, preceded by a copious introduction, rich in personal comments, and published by Mondadori in 1982. It contained a careful study of the «narrating» functions of Fontane's dialogues and of the dramatisation of the plot of the novel. In this study, we see De Marchi's critical attitude in the reflections he makes about the character of the protagonist, Botho von Rienäcker, when he analyses the episode of the ride to Hinckeldey's tomb in chapter 14 of the novel.
In more recent years De Marchi has been able to direct his studies to what he once in an interview defined as «diachronic literary criticism». He analysed narrative outcomes in relation to their subject and to its preceding literary treatment, as well as the dramatic problems posed in the development of the plot and the figures. This diachronic criticism was prompted by two comparative studies. The first was on the Fieschi plot: this literary subject, published as an introduction to his translation of Cardinal de Retz' La conjuration du comte Jean-Louis de Fiesque (Palermo 1990), where particular attention is paid to analysing the above mentioned and to comparing it with another short but extraordinary seventeenth century exposé of the affair, that of Agostino Masardi. The second is the most celebrated affair of Romeo & Juliet, and in the introduction to his critical edition of Luigi da Porto's Giulietta (Florence 1994) on the merely literary sources, De Marchi examines various versions during four centuries of European literature up to the early twentieth century. One delicate moment in this «history of the story» is the progress from Da Porto's original short novel to Matteo Bandello's adaptation, a version that will transcend the borders of Italy resulting in enormous popularity and widespread dissemination (nor will Shakespeare's pen be the last).
Between these two essays, and in addition to his first two novels, De Marchi published the translation of Franz Grillparzer's comedy Weh dem, der lügt! (Milan 1991) with a lengthy introductory essay Disordine e sconfitta degli eroi di Grillparzer.
However, the fascinating attempt to reconstruct the essay on beauty that Schiller repeatedly announced in his letters without ever managing to write it down appeals more to the aesthetic than to literary interest. That was the intention of De Marchi's well documented introduction to his translation of Kallias, oder über die Schönheit (Milan 1993.) In his essay Schiller e la bellezza preceding the translation, De Marchi reconstitutes the scattered and fragmentary attempts made by Schiller to explain how poetry can portray the individual, using words which are themselves coloured by universal concepts. In 1993-4 De Marchi was asked by De Agostini to translate Tonio Kröger and Tristan and to write an introduction on early Thomas Mann. The text was already completed and the galley proofs ready for press, when the new law on authors' rights forced the editor to renounce publication. De Marchi's essay Vita, arte e morte. La genesi del mondo poetico di Thomas Mann, is a study of the origins and characteristics of Mann's narrative based on his early tales and novels, and initiates an analysis of Tonio Kröger and of Tristan, in which he traces the themes that Mann later expressed both in them and in Buddenbrooks.
De Marchi's clear, precise translation of Balzac's Père Goriot (Milan 2004) is preceded by a lengthy, closely argued introduction that evaluates the qualities, but also the undeniable limits of Balzac's narrative, calling into question his supposed and generally recognised realism.
His translation of the Letters of Obscure Men (Milan 2004; new edition 2014), the chef d'oeuvre of German humanism (virtually unknown in Italy), renders the dog-Latin of the original as an exhilarating pastiche of 16th century and demotic Italian. A long introduction accompanies the critical analysis of the text, furnishing information about the cultural and social background of Germany at the brink of the Lutheran Reformation with all its tragic developments. We here reproduce the meeting between Johannes Reuchlin and Pfefferkorn, the converted Jew, which could almost be a scene taken from a novel.