Ginzburg, Natalia (Short Story Criticism)
Natalia Ginzburg 1916–-1991
(Has also written under the pseudonym of Alessandra Tournimparte) Italian novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, biographer, autobiographer, journalist, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Ginzburg's short fiction career through 2000.
A major Italian author of the post-World War II era, Ginzburg explores the challenges of maintaining interpersonal relationships in contemporary society in her short fiction. Writing in reserved, understated prose, she often utilizes small but significant details to develop the crises of her characters. Her early stories depict individuals whose ambitions are stifled by marriage and familial restrictions, while her later writings explore problems caused by the disintegration of the family unit.
Ginzburg was born on July 14, 1916, in Palermo, Italy. At the age of three, her family moved to Turin when her father, a university professor, was appointed chair of the anatomy department at the University of Turin. In 1935 she enrolled in the university, but she never completed her studies. She married anti-Fascist activist Leone Ginzburg in 1938; two years into their marriage, he was arrested for subversive activities and imprisoned in the town of Pizzoli. In 1940 she moved to Pizzoli with their two children. After Leone's release from prison in July 1943, he moved his family to Rome. In November 1943 he was arrested again, this time for editing the anti-Fascist newspaper L'Italia libera. On February 5, 1944, he died of torture wounds while in prison. For the next two years, Natalia and her children hid in Rome. After the end of the war, she moved back to Turin to work as a translator and editor for the publishing firm Einaudi. During this time she became acquainted with several major Italian authors, such as Italo Calvino, Cesare Pavese, and Elio Vittorini. In 1952 she moved back to Rome and became a professor of literature at Magistero, a prominent teachers' college. She wrote articles and reviews for periodicals and published novellas, novels, and plays. She was very active in politics during her life, and in 1983 she was elected deputy to the Italian parliament. Ginzburg died of cancer on October 7, 1991.
Ginzburg's stories focus on marriage, domestic life, and the breakdown of the traditional Italian family in the post-World War II era. Several of her early novellas and short stories present a bleak, yet often humorous, view of domestic life. For example, Valentino (1951) concerns a promising young man who disappoints his family by marrying an unattractive but wealthy woman. In “Mio marito” (1941) a woman's husband commits suicide after his mistress dies in childbirth. In the novella Sagittario (1957; Sagittarius), a young woman describes her mother's unhappy life and her sister's loveless marriage; in the end, the narrator's mother is cheated and robbed by a friend and her sister dies in childbirth. Famiglia (1977; Family) concerns the deterioration of a loveless marriage in which both husband and wife are unfaithful to one another. While Ginzburg's early works portray the family as a source of personal suppression, they also emphasize its importance as a stabilizing social force. Her later writings decry the effects of divorce and the growing alienation between generations.
Ginzburg's simple, spare style of writing has impressed critics, while her intimate explorations of domestic life have been praised for their authenticity and concern for traditional values. Moreover, commentators have commended the use of humor, irony, and detail in her work and further describe her style as laconic, subdued, and direct. Stylistically, reviewers have noted Ginzburg's use of a first-person narrator in her stories. The characterization of women and children has been another area of critical study, and there have been several feminist interpretations of her plays, fiction, and essays. In general, commentators view Ginzburg's prose work as a perceptive reflection of social and historical events in Italy during the tumultuous years during and after World War II. Her minimalist style and compassionate evocation of the frustrated lives of her protagonists have elicited comparisons to the works of Anton Chekhov.
La strada che va in città [The Road to the City] 1942; enlarged as La strada che va in città, e altri racconti (novella) 1945
È stato così [The Dry Heart] (novella) 1947
*Valentino [Two Novellas: Valentino and Sagittarius] (novellas) 1957
Le voci della sera [Voices in the Evening] (novellas) 1961
Cinque romanzi brevi [Five Short Novels] (novellas) 1964
†Famiglia [Two Novellas: Family and Borghesia; also translated as Family: Two Novellas] (novellas) 1977
Opere, raccolte e ordinate dall'autore 2 vols. (novellas, memoir, essays, dramas) 1986-1987
Tutti i nostri ieri [A Light of Fools; also translated as Dead Yesterdays and All Our Yesterdays] (novel) 1952
Le piccole virtú [The Little Virtues] (essays) 1962
Lessico famigliare [Family Sayings] (memoir) 1963
L'inserzione [The Advertisement] (play) 1965
Fragnola e panna (play) 1966
Ti ho sposato per allegria e altre commedie (plays) 1966
La segretaria (play) 1967
Mai devi domandarmi [Never Must You Ask Me] (essays) 1970
(The entire section is 225 words.)
SOURCE: Bowe, Clotilde Soave. “The Narrative Strategy of Natalia Ginzburg.” The Modern Language Review 68 (1973): 788-95.
[In the following essay, Bowe investigates the function of the first-person narrator in Ginzburg's short fiction.]
‘In realtà chi scrive non ha diritto di chiedere, per la sua opera, nulla a nessuno.’
With the publication of Mai devi domandarmi (Milan, 1970) the enigma of Natalia Ginzburg's literary personality as it presents itself to critic and reader has come no closer to a solution. The book was a collection of thirty-one pieces in prose (four of which had not previously been published in periodicals or newspapers) which only served to confirm the impression of a diffident, fugitive writer who has at different times condemned every feature of her narrative (reliance on memory, frankness and simplicity of tone) and seemingly placed herself outside the reach of critical discussion. In essay after essay of Mai devi domandarmi, we have a celebrated novelist stripping down her own intellect in the characteristic succession of flat, functional sentences which caused Pavese to call her style a ‘lagna’ and invite the reader to feel superior and at the same time unaccountably ignored. Placidly, yet with considerable evocative skill, she recalls the little girl who could not...
(The entire section is 4799 words.)
SOURCE: Clark, Alison. “Negative Insight: A Study of Narrative Perspective in Three Stories by Natalia Ginzburg.” In Altro Polo: A Volume of Italian Studies, edited by Silvio Trambaiolo and Nerida Newbigin, pp. 181-92. Sydney: University of Sydney, 1978.
[In the following essay, Clark discusses Ginzburg's use of narrative voice in her stories “La madre,” Valentino, and Sagittario.]
Negative insight may well appear to be an uninstructive paradox. The term represents an attempt to encompass the contradictory impressions I receive from the works of Natalia Ginzburg, a writer I greatly admire. With reference to three stories, “La madre” (1948), Valentino (1951), Sagittario (1957), from the collection Cinque romanzi brevi,1 I shall try to account for the way—within the relatively narrow range of the known (‘quello che si conosce dal di dentro’), the often sterile modes of urban Italian middle class life—Ginzburg is able to convey so strong a sense of compassionate humourous intelligence.
Her stories are about ordinary people incapable of living successfully or articulately, their metaphorical or actual poverty in part predicated (implicitly) by their cultural values and environment. But the real theme of my essay turns out to be the presentation of these stories, the narrative angle, for it is here that the insights and...
(The entire section is 3805 words.)
SOURCE: O'Healy, Anne-Marie. “Natalia Ginzburg and the Family.” Canadian Journal of Italian Studies 9, no. 32 (1986): 21-36.
[In the following essay, O'Healy discusses the theme of family in Ginzburg's work.]
Natalia Ginzburg has been described by Cesare Garboli as “la scrittrice più femminile e meno femminista che esista.”1 If we accept the traditional assumption that one of the typical characteristics of women writers is an absorbing preoccupation with family relationships, then Garboli's statement about the strikingly “female” quality of the author's work can be accepted. With regard to the more complex and controversial question of feminism, however, his contention is debatable. Although in recent years Natalia Ginzburg has declared herself opposed to the women's movement2, there is a contrast between her current denial of feminist sympathies, and the sensitive portrayal of the alienation of women found in her early novels. Few writers have described as poignantly as Ginzburg the situation of women as “outsiders” in the traditional Italian family, and the feminine internalization of patriarchal norms. This inspiration which dominates her first six novels, has, however, been discarded in recent years. It is the purpose of this study to investigate the radical shift in thematic preoccupation which occurred in the middle of the author's career.
(The entire section is 5260 words.)
SOURCE: Bullock, Alan. “Some Thoughts on Internal and External Monologue in the Writings of Natalia Ginzburg.” In Moving in Measure: Essays in Honour of Brian Moloney, edited by Judith Bryce and Doug Thompson, pp. 229-42. North Yorkshire: Hull University Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Bullock traces Ginzburg's use of internal and external monologue in her work.]
In 1963 Natalia Ginzburg was interviewed for the magazine L'Europeo by the well-known journalist Oriana Fallaci, whose report appeared in print on 14 July of that year under the title ‘Parole in famiglia’. In it Ginzburg describes how she emerged from a period of creative impotence or writer's block by discovering the novels of Ivy Compton-Burnett during the three years she spent in London, from 1959 to 1961. Her return to creative writing with renewed vigour and a desire to make full use of a new ability to produce dialogue of her own—an ability which according to some critics she indulged to excess in 1961 in Le voci della sera—inevitably draws attention to her narrative technique in her earlier work, where alongside what we may describe as a conventional use of dialogue between characters involved in the action we also find an extensive use of internal monologue and individual pronouncements which are in themselves sufficient to give us the measure of what would in real life be an exchange between two people....
(The entire section is 5627 words.)
SOURCE: Kakutani, Michiko. “Two Italian Heroines Torn by Loyalties.” The New York Times (17 April 1990): C17.
[In the following positive review, Kakutani describes Ginzburg's writing style in The Road to the City as rhythmic, economical, and, ultimately, translucent.]
Like many of Natalia Ginzburg's other heroines, the narrators of these two luminous novellas [collected in The Road to the City] are articulate women torn between family loyalties and their own yearnings for independence—avid yet dispassionate observers of life around them. Both leave the stultifying provinces for the big city. Both enter into ill-advised marriages out of need instead of love. And both give birth to babies who unexpectedly alter the direction of their lives.
There, however, the similarities end. While Delia, the narrator of The Road to the City, is one of life's survivors, someone capable of moving on and living carelessly in the present, the nameless narrator of The Dry Heart is one of those unfortunates irredeemably scarred by all that happens to her, someone unable or unwilling to forget the past.
The Dry Heart (originally published in Italian in 1947) begins with this narrator soberly announcing that she has just shot her husband. She has taken his revolver out of the desk drawer and shot him between the eyes. “For a long time already,” she...
(The entire section is 915 words.)
SOURCE: Lobner, Corinna del Greco. “A Lexicon for Both Sexes: Natalia Ginzburg and the Family Saga.” In Contemporary Women Writers in Italy: A Modern Renaissance, edited by Santo L. Aricò, pp. 27-42. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Lobner explores Ginzburg's representation of gender and familial roles in her fiction.]
Natalia Levi Ginzburg is a writer who demands absolute honesty. Her rejection of literary commonplaces and her refusal to subordinate the reality of life to fictional truth compel the reader to take a serious look at daily rituals conceived and enacted in the name of family unity. Ginzburg's outlook hides a deep disenchantment with contemporary mores that affect the family and other human institutions. Her narrative and stylistic evolution reflects this attitude of disillusionment. Her position, especially noticeable in such recent fiction as Caro Michele and Famiglia, offers little hope for the future of the family. What saves members of this traditional institution from total destruction is a refreshing honesty that forbids useless hypocrisy. People must face their nakedness daily to remind themselves that “coverups” are more obscene than their bodies stripped of all illusions.
Ginzburg neither advocates new trends nor claims to represent feminist voices in literature. Her goal is simple enough: she wants...
(The entire section is 6981 words.)
SOURCE: Katz, Giuliana Sanguinetti. “Sagittarius: A Psychoanalytic Reading.” In Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, edited by Angela M. Jeannet and Giuliana Sanguinetti Katz, pp. 122-52. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Katz offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Sagittarius and asserts that the novella is a story about the difficulties women experience in developing a sense of individual identity.]
The short novel Sagittarius has often played the part of the unwanted child among Ginzburg's books. It was bitterly criticized by the author herself in the introduction she wrote to the 1964 Einaudi edition of Cinque romanzi brevi (Five Short Novels), where she republished the novel that had first appeared in 1957 in Valentino. In this introduction Ginzburg complained that Sagittarius had two main defects: its plot was too thick and tight and its story too contrived. Ginzburg remembered that she had to work and think too hard in order to compose the story, which therefore lacked the necessary spontaneity (Opere I [Opere, raccolte e ordinate dall'autore], 1131). She concluded by stating: ‘E' necessario scrivere e pensare col cuore e col corpo, e non già con la testa e col pensiero’ (‘It is necessary to write and think with heart and body and not with head and mind’).1...
(The entire section is 12924 words.)
Bullock, Alan. Natalia Ginzburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991, 261 p.
Full-length critical study.
Picarazzi, Teresa. Maternal Desire: Natalia Ginzburg's Mothers, Daughters, and Sisters. London: Associated University Presses, 2002, 234 p.
Discusses female relationships in Ginzburg's work.
Additional coverage of Ginzburg's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85–88, 135; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 33; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 5, 11, 54, 70; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 177; Drama for Students, Vol. 14; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; European Writers, Vol. 13; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; and Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3.
(The entire section is 108 words.)