Critical Context

The City and the House continues Ginzburg’s fascination with the institution of the family. Her depiction of the disintegration of the patriarchal family, as well as her insights into the family life of Italy’s greatest novelist of the nineteenth century, Alessandro Manzoni, can be seen in her other works of the 1970’s and 1980’s: Caro Michele (1973; No Way, 1974; also as Dear Michael, 1975), Famiglia (1977; family), and La famiglia Manzoni (1983; the Manzoni family). Her early novels such as La strada che va in citta (1942; The Road to the City, 1949) and E stato cosi (1947; The Dry Heart, 1949) present first-person female narrators whose destructive social conditioning constitutes an explicit condemnation of the traditional family. In her mature fiction, however, she moves beyond these perspectives to develop a pessimistic vision of modern society which suffers from a lack of parental authority. Her later works express a profound nostalgia for the stability that the traditional family once provided. Like Giuseppe and Lucrezia in The City and the House, the characters of her narrative works of the 1970’s and 1980’s are eternal adolescents engaged in a continual search for surrogate fathers.

More successful than her previous epistolary novel, No Way, The City and the House exploits the letter as a stylistic device well suited to Ginzburg’s sparse, unadorned style, which is intended to reproduce the rhythms of speech. Divided between Italy and the United States, the cosmopolitan setting of the novel reflects the evolving interrelationship of social patterns throughout the West. One of the most important novelists of the second half of the twentieth century, Natalia Ginzburg provides an Italian perspective on an issue of great moment. The City and the House, her bleak depiction of domestic failures, is a fitting companion to her earlier highly acclaimed works.