Natalia Ginzburg

Friday, August 04, 2006

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1991) - Original surname Levi

Italian novelist, essayist, translator and playwright, who has written of her unconventional family and its opposition in Turin to Fascist oppression. Ginzburg's novels are a mixture of reminiscence, observation, and invention. Much of her fiction is written in the first person in a plain style, and constructed almost entirely of dialogue.

"A un certo punto della vita, tutto quello su cui posiamo gli occhi per la prima volta ei è estraneo. Lo guardiamo da turisti con intresse ma freddamente. Appartiene agli altri." (from La città e la casa, 1984)

Natalia Ginsburg was born in Palermo into a middle-class family, Jewish from her father's side, who was professor of anatomy, and Catholic, from her mother's side. However, Ginzburg was brought up an atheist, and this separated her from other children. In 1919 her father accepted a professorship at the University of Turin, where Ginzburg grew up in a cultural milieu. The Levi household became a meeting place for many intellectuals who opposed Benito Mussolini. "... my father was an old-style Socialist, but, well, he had no idea how to oppose Fascism," said Ginzburg in an interview later. After her brother Mario escaped to Switzerland, her father was arrested for some weeks.

Ginzburg studied at the University of Turin (1935). In 1938 she married the editor and political activist Leone Ginzburg; they had three children. Leone Ginzburg, born in Odessa, was a brilliant Slavist and he helped introduce Russian literature into Italy. In 1933 he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Fascism, and could not continue his career as a teacher. On account of Leone's anti-Fascist activities the Ginzburgs spent some years in "confinement" in a village in the Abruzzi, but went then into hiding to Rome and Florence. Leone Ginzburg was arrested again, and he died after torture in the Regina Coeli prison in 1944. After Allied Liberation Ginzburg returned to Rome.

Ginzburg started her career as a writer publishing short stories in the distinguished Florentine periodical Solaria. Ginzburg's first 'real' story, 'Un'assenza', appeared in Solaria when she was seventeen. The story centers on an unhappy, anguished individual who suffers from boredom. Ginzburg's first novella, LA STRADA CHE VA IN CITTÁ (1942) was published under the pseudonym Alessandra Tornimparti. It was followed in 1947 by È STATO COSÌ, which depicted as in her previous work an unhappy marriage. TUTTI I NOSTRI IERI (1952) was a story of two families, one rich, one not. Through their intertwined histories Ginzberg portrays a generation that lived through Fascism, war, the German invasion, resistance, and the Allied victory. LE VOCI DELLA SERA (1961) was set in Piedmont around the time of World War II. The humorous, autobiographical LESSICO FAMIGLIARE (1963) was an account of Ginzburg's childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood through the "family lexicon", words and phrases of the various members of her family.

In 1944 Ginzburg worked as an editorial consultant for the new publishing house of Giulio Einaudi in Rome and from 1945 to 1949 in Turin. The publishing house introduced such writers as Cesare Pavese, Elio Vittorini and, a little later, Elsa Morante and Italo Calvino. In 1950 she married Gabriele Baldini, a professor of English literature at the university of Rome; he died in 1969. She lived from the 1950s mostly in Rome, where she worked in publishing. From 1959 to 1961 she lived in London.

Ginzburg was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1983 as an independent left-wing deputy. Ginzburg has published memoirs, several dramas, essays, translations from such authors as Marcel Proust and Flaubert, and a biography of the poet and essayist Alessandro Manzoni, which reveals the failure of the great author as a father. - She died of cancer on October 7, 1991.
In her earliest writings Ginzburg consciously rejected any autobiographical style or elements, which she saw as characteristic of what she called 'feminine' writing. She soon discovered that it was through writing her personal experiences in a fictionalized form that she succeeded best in expressing herself. Many of her works rely on memories of her childhood and youth in Turin. Recurrent characters are frustrated intellectuals and women living static lives.

"Too many descriptions; I can't bear descriptions in novels," Ginzburg stated in the novel LA CITTÀ E LA CASA (1984, The City and the Housen). As an essayist Ginzburg has explored a wide variety of subjects from current movies to books and art, and from pedagogy to morals and individual rights. "At the center of our life is the question of human relations," she crystallized in one essay. Ginzburg's style is sparse, melancholic, but relieved by occasional flashes of humor. Her major collections were LE PICCOLE VIRTÚ (1962), MAI DEVI DOMANDARMI (1970) and VITA IMMAGIRIA (1974). In 'Il mio mestiere' (1949) she wrote: 'I prefer to think that no one has ever been like me, however small, however much mosquito or a flea of a winter I might be.'
For further reading: Maternal Desire: Natalia Ginzburg's Mothers, Daughters, and Sisters by Teresa Picarazzi (2002); Natalia Ginzburg: A Biography by Maja Pflug (2001); Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, ed. by Angela M. Jeannet (2000); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 2, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Natalia Ginzburg by Giancarlo Borri (1999); Natalia Ginsburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World by Allan Bullock (1991); Invito alla lettura di Natalia Ginzburg by E. Clementelli (1972); Le voci della sera by S. Pacifici (1971); A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature by S. Pacifici (1962) - Note: Natalia Ginzburg's son Carlo (1939-) became a professor of modern history at the University of Bologna. He has published books on sixteenth-century religious radicalism and witchcraft. His first major work was The Night Battles (1966). Other works include Il nicodemismo (1970), The Cheese and the Worms (1976), and The Enigma of Piero (1981)

Selected works:

LA STRADA CHE VA IN CITTÀ, 1942 (as Alessandra Tornimparti) - The Road to the City
È STATO COSI, 1947 - The Dry Heart
TUTTI NOSTRI IERI, 1952 - A Light for Fools / All Our Yesterdays
LA MADRE, 1957
LE VOCI DELLA SERA, 1961 - Voices in the Evening
LE PICCOLE VIRTÚ, 1962 - The Little Virtues
LESSICO FAMIGLIARE, 1963 - Family Sayings
TI HO SPOSATO PER ALLEGRIA, 1966 - I Married You for the Fun of It
L'INSERZIONE, 1968 - The Advertisement
MAI DEVI DOMANDARMI, 1970 - Never Must Ask Me
CARO MICHELE, 1973 - No Way
VITA IMMAGINARIA, 1974 - Never Must You Ask Me
FAMIGLIA, 1977 - Family
LA FAMIGLIA MANZONI, 1983 - The Manzoni Family
LA CITTÀ E LA CASA, 1984 - The City and the House - Kotina ystävyys
L'INTERVISTA, 1988 - Haastattelu
SERENA CRUZ, O LA VERA GIUSTICA, 1990 - Serena Cruz, or True Justice
The Road to the City: Two Novellas, 1990
É DIFFICILE PARLARE DI SÉ, 1999 - It's Hard to Talk about Yourself (ed. by Cesare Garboli and Lisa Ginzburg, trans. by Louise Quirke)
A Place to Live: And Other Selected Essays, 2002 (trans. by Lynn Sharon Schwartz)


Blogger massimoborgi said...

Nice about Natalia Ginzburg!

7:41 AM  

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