Critical Context

Natalia Ginzburg had already established an authorial voice in her earliest stories: “Un’assenza” (an absence), “Casa al mare” (house by the sea), and “La madre” (the mother). In All Our Yesterdays her style is even more firmly defined, as she outdistances her previous work in breadth and ambition.

The relationship of Ginzburg’s voice to the post-nineteenth century tradition of the Italian novel is made clear in two respects in the novel. First, Ginzburg’s polished control of indirect speech (which she prefers over direct dialogue) as the single means of narration places her in a direct line from the Sicilian novelist Giovanni Verga. Verga’s cultivation of this device allowed the characters to speak for themselves, the author to absent himself from the novel, and for an appearance of objectivity. Ginzburg grants her characters autonomy by the same means, while staying closer to them in their sufferings and struggles. Second, she is more Manzonian than she might admit. Indeed, she has written a comprehensive biography of Alessandro Manzoni, chronicling the domestic life of the Milanese novelist. Since the publication of Manzoni’s I promessi sposi (1827, revised 1840-1842; The Betrothed, 1828, revised 1951), Italian novelists have regularly explored the impact of history on individuals. Ginzburg’s instinct is to limit herself to the vicissitudes of private life, but here, in what might be called her contribution to the resistance novel, she explicitly deals with the effects of Fascism and the war on those who find themselves unable to avoid the flood of history. In All Our Yesterdays, as in the works of Ignazio Silone and Alberto Moravia, history is a constant reminder of the individual’s responsibility to his community—a challenge to which some are equal, while others are not. Seen in this light, history is the crucible of character, and thus the ally of the novelist.