History Morante Essay - Critical Context

Elsa Morante

Critical Context

Morante’s History follows and extends her earlier work in L’isola di Arturo (1957; Arturo’s Island, 1959) and Menzogna e sortilegio (1948; House of Liars, 1951). It takes its place in the larger postwar Italian movement termed neorealism, but with a clear attempt to transcend the bounds of any particular school or style. Morante in History wishes to write using a transparency of style that will make the novel’s content immediately accessible.

As the title of the work indicates, Morante’s novel also represents an attempt to rethink the very concept of history. From a background that is clearly dialectical and historical, Morante moves to establish a position where one might realize that history is not only, or even primarily, a collection of facts concerning large-scale geopolitical events. Rather she seems to urge a reorientation of thinking and writing about history in such a way as to be able to see the suffering of the individual. From an eclectic blend of Jewish background, Christian symbolism, and leftist political orientation, Morante seeks to discover the meaning of history in individual lives along with the need to resist all large-scale political forces or entities.

Morante’s work has long been prized and respected in Italian and European critical circles. In the United States it may well be that feminist literary approaches which share her distrust of male-dominated power structures and her belief in the necessity to concentrate on human values will succeed in integrating her vision into the critical canon. The power of Morante’s vision in portraying the central tragedy of the twentieth century clearly succeeds in the only task that truly matters to her—bearing witness to human history.