Ginzburg, Natalia (Twentieth-Century Literary 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 playwright.
The following entry provides criticism on Ginzburg's works from 1990 through 2000. For criticism prior to 1990, see CLC, Volumes 5, 11, 54, and 70.
A major Italian novelist of the post-World War II era, Ginzburg examines the difficulties of maintaining interpersonal relationships in contemporary society. Writing in reserved, understated prose, she often utilizes small but significant details to develop the crises of her characters. Her early works 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 July 14, 1916, in Palermo, Italy. At the age of three, her family moved to Turin when her father, an anatomy 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. Her first novel, La strada che va in città (1942; The Road to the City), was written during this time. 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 under torture 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 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 October 7, 1991.
Ginzburg's first major works of fiction are narrated by young women who are disappointed in love. The heroine of The Road to the City, which Ginzburg published under the pseudonym of Alessandra Tournimparte, successfully manipulates a wealthy young man into marrying her but realizes afterward that she has sacrificed her relationship with the man she really loves. Several of Ginzburg's early novellas present a bleak yet often humorous view of domestic life. For example, Valentino (1957) concerns a promising young man who disappoints his family by marrying an unattractive but wealthy woman. 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. In the novel Caro Michele (1973; No Way, also published as Dear Michael), Ginzburg centers on the last days in the life of an exiled activist through a series of letters written by his estranged parents and friends.
Ginzburg's autobiographical and biographical writings have earned critical recognition. Lessico famigliare (1963; Family Sayings), a memoir of Ginzburg's life from the 1920s through the 1950s, features a laconic, conversational style reminiscent of her fictional narratives. La famiglia Manzoni (1983; The Manzoni Family) chronicles two hundred years in the family history of eighteenth-century Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni. The book's eight sections focus on the experiences of a particular family member through the transcription of actual letters and a novelistic recreation of events. In addition to her fiction and biographical writings, Ginzburg has published numerous articles and critical essays. These pieces are collected in Le piccole virtù (1962; The Little Virtues), Mai devi domandarmi (1970; Never Must You Ask Me), and Vita immaginaria (1974). She has also written several plays, including Fragola e panna (1966), La segretaria (1967), and L'inserzione (1968; The Advertisement).
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. The characterization of women and children has been another area of critical study, and there have been several feminist perspectives on 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 WWII. 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] (novella) 1942
È stato così [The Dry Heart] (novella) 1947
Tutti i nostri ieri [Dead Yesterdays] (novel) 1952; revised as All Our Yesterdays, 1985
Valentino [Two Novellas: Valentino and Sagittarius] (novellas) 1957
Le voci della sera [Voices in the Evening] (novella) 1961
Le piccole virtù [The Little Virtues] (essays) 1962
Lessico famigliare [Family Sayings] (memoir) 1963
Cinque romanzi brevi (novels) 1964
Fragola e panna (play) 1966
Ti ho sposato per allegria e alter commedie (play) 1966
La segretaria (play) 1967
L'inserzione [The Advertisement] (play) 1968
Mai devi domandarmi [Never Must You Ask Me] (essays) 1970
Caro Michele [No Way] (novel) 1973; also published as Dear Michael, 1975
Vita immaginaria (essays) 1974
Famiglia [Family: Two Novellas] (novellas) 1977
La famiglia Manzoni [The Manzoni Family] (biography) 1983
La città e la casa [The City and the House] (novel)...
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SOURCE: Anderlini, Serena. “The Advertisement: Homoeroticism and Gender in Natalia Ginzburg's Drama.” Esperienze Letterarie 15, no. 2 (April 1990): 67-82.
[In the following essay, Anderlini asserts that the relationship between the two female characters in The Advertisement provides insight into the Italian feminist movement of the 1960s.]
The Advertisement is a pre-new feminist Italian drama by Natalia Ginzburg, a part-Jewish female writer prominent in the national, post world war two literary scene; the play premiered in London in 1968 and is symbolic of the writer's concern with the new feminism and the intersubjective rapports among women that it brought about. The play occupies a central position in Ginzburg's dramaturgy: the homoerotic complicity of the two female characters reflects Ginzburg's effort to refocus her attention from the women of her own generation to those of the following one, who, born during the ‘baby-boom’, in the seventies became the rank and file of Italian Femminismo. Formally anchored to the dynamics of the ‘theatre of the absurd’, The Advertisement foreshadows the thematics of new feminist drama.
Natalia Ginzburg had been through a lot when the women's movement became a prominent force in the Italian scene in the mid-seventies. She was born in 1916, before the dawn of Fascism, the youngest child of a...
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SOURCE: Bullock, Alan. “Female Alienation: Childhood and First Youth.” In Natalia Ginzburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World, pp. 64-91. New York: Berg, 1991.
[In the following essay, Bullock explores the impact Ginzburg's childhood had on her work.]
Melancholy … is the prime characteristic of Ginzburg's fiction …1
The overwhelming sadness which led Natalia Ginzburg to compose her poem on the death of love at the age of twelve is the first known indication of her most striking characteristic: a preference for themes and situations that are elegiac if not uncompromisingly pessimistic. Once consciously identified five years later as a major stimulus for her creative writing it has rarely been abandoned, becoming something of a leit-motif, freely acknowledged by Ginzburg in her admission over forty years on that ‘As a rule I create while immersed in sadness’,2 and leading her to focus her attention almost exclusively on the difficulties implicit in establishing and maintaining satisfactory human relationships, both within the restricted confines of the family unit (where parents and children seem to be inhibited rather than encouraged by their literal and metaphorical closeness) and in the area more traditionally associated with the art of the novelist: sexual passion.
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SOURCE: Boyers, Peggy. “An Introduction: Natalia Ginzburg in Her Essays.” Salmagundi, no. 96 (fall 1992): 54-84.
[In the following essay, Boyers surveys the diverse subject matter of Ginzburg's essays and praises her nonfiction work as concise, perceptive, and lucid.]
In an autobiographical essay on “Childhood” Natalia Ginzburg wrote of her family the following: “We were ‘nothing’, my brothers had told me; we were ‘mixed’, that is, half Jewish and half Catholic, but in fact neither one thing nor the other: nothing. This being ‘nothing’ in religion seemed to me to pervade our whole way of life: we were neither really rich, nor really poor: excluded from both these worlds, relegated to some neutral, amorphous, indefinable, nameless area.” In her childhood Ginzburg experienced “this being ‘nothing’” as a source of anguish, but in her adult years she valued it more than anything else. The inability to classify herself, her family, or her experience early prepared her for the unfettered, ideologically free approach that was to become her critical trademark.
When Ginzburg looks back on her education she finds most important “the inattention, the incoherence, the absurdity and the absolute absence of any definite or precise ideology.” It is as the product of this haphazard and chaotic education that she flung herself into the task of clarifying for herself...
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SOURCE: Goldensohn, Lorrie. “Natalia Ginzburg: The Days and Houses of Her Art.” Salmagundi, no. 96 (fall 1992): 96-129.
[In the following essay, Goldensohn traces the thematic and stylistic development of Ginzburg's work.]
Natalia Ginzburg published her first novel at 26 in 1944, her last in 1985. Her books, including a memoir and collections of essays, embrace a succession of crowded decades that stretch from fascist Italy to postwar anomie. Politics and history suffuse a work that often turns its face away from overt political analysis: “My political thinking is pretty rough and tangled, elementary and confused,” she once said. At the near edges of her writing on the postwar period, glinting once or twice in a novel, a saturated political object like a flag or a black shirt or a Roman salute emerges occasionally, is impersonally inspected, and held up to the passing daylight like an object from an archaeological dig. In the world of Voices in the Evening, Aunt Ottavia says of the young protagonist's uncle:
He was just an honourable man. He did join the Fascists, yes, but as for the black shirt he never put it on. He had one, but he never put it on.
And the text closes quickly over “our poor brother,” never to be mentioned again. Similarly, a terrorist's rusted machine gun appears wrapped in cloth in the barrel...
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SOURCE: Giorgio, Adalgisa. “Natalia Ginzburg's ‘La madre’: Exposing Patriarchy's Erasure of the Mother.” Modern Language Review 88, no. 4 (October 1993): 864-80.
[In the following essay, Giorgio examines “La madre” to illustrate “how Ginzburg succeeds in putting forward a powerful criticism of society's oppression of a mother, without directly expressing any such criticism.”]
In the course of a writing career spanning almost sixty years, Natalia Ginzburg (1916-91) focused exclusively on the representation of the Italian family, the relationships between its members, and women's alienation within it. With reference to the latter theme, it has become customary for critics to emphasize how Ginzburg's declared opposition to feminism did not prevent her, especially in the early part of her career, from producing powerful representations of the condition of women in our society.1 In order not to make her say what she did not intentionally put into her novels, it is often remarked how her depiction of the condition of women is part of her pessimistic vision of human relationships and life in general. In 1977, she described her task as a writer as that of writing about the ‘sventurata e maledetta condizione umana’, a predicament in which all individuals find themselves, independently of their sex.2 Her belief that the feminist movement failed to separate ‘le...
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SOURCE: Pastore, Judith Laurence. “The Sounds of Silence: The Absence of Narrative Presence in Natalia Ginzburg's La cittá e la casa.” Italian Culture 11 (1993): 311-22.
[In the following essay, Pastore discusses Ginzburg's use of a narrative absence approach in her fiction, especially in La cittá e la casa.]
Natalia Ginzburg has done well to “rely on her own ear for the dramatic transcript of a language within which resides the secret of her narrative powers and beneath which one senses the presence of something unsaid.”
Masterpiece Theatre's adaptation of Samuel Richardson's one-million-word, nine-volume epistolary novel Clarissa (1747-8)—the longest in the English language—into a three-part television series may generate renewed interest in this seldom read classic. But it probably does not herald a widespread revival of a writing technique which took literate Europe by storm in the second half of the eighteenth century. “Writing to the moment” was the label the shy, former printer Samuel Richardson gave his method of telling realistic stories about everyday people in letter form. His first attempt Pamela (1740), which became as beloved as the Beatles and Elvis in our century, employed a single narrator, thus limiting Richardson's ability to demonstrate his astounding...
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SOURCE: Wilde-Menozzi, Wallis. “Anchoring Natalia Ginzburg.”1Kenyon Review 16, no. 1 (winter 1994): 115-30.
[In the following essay, Wilde-Menozzi discusses the defining characteristics of Ginzburg's work.]
An actress offered me the tapes of a two-hour interview with Natalia Ginzburg made in April 1991 six months before her death at age seventy-five. The brown, magnetic scrolls unwound a much-mourned presence: Natalia Ginzburg's voice. Robust, weathered and warm, her laughter revealed wisdom. I think I could also hear (perhaps because so many people had mentioned it to me) signs of Ginzburg's mask: pain that had not been given in to.
Apparent in the crunchy bits of verisimilitude is Natalia Ginzburg's fascination: complexity, although she was characterized as simple; disarming openness, while labeled shy; “officially” lazy, although her production belies this. Both Catholic and Jew, a nonideologue who followed her instincts, an independent who was an elected communist MP, a declared nonfeminist although her subject was family, maternity, the dispossessed. A cat lover who perpetually chose practical shoes and blue suits is a quick snapshot: she had the emotional depth and strength of ego to live beyond fixed moral schemes. Tolerant but decided, she said:
Family is a necessity. It can be repressive, obsessive, but in some way it is...
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SOURCE: Masland, Lynn. “In Her Own Voice: An Irigarayan Exploration of Women's Discourse in Caro Michele (Natalia Ginzburg) and Lettere a Marina (Dacia Maraini).” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 21, no. 3 (September 1994): 331-40.
[In the following essay, Masland utilizes aspects of Luce Irigaray's theory of women's discourse to compare Ginzburg's Caro Michele and Dacia Maraini's Lettere a Marina.]
Can She speak? Does She have a voice? If She could speak, what would She say?
In this paper, I will apply some aspects of Luce Irigaray's theory of women's discourse to two works of fiction by contemporary Italian women writers. Specifically, I will consider these two works in the light of Irigaray's motifs of the tactile, including her “lips” metaphor; her privileging of a non-logical, non-linear syntax; and her use of images of fluidity, based upon an “economy of fluids.” Subtending my discussion of these motifs from Irigaray's parler femme is the controversy over Irigaray's perceived essentialist bias and whether or not this essentialism is regressive and counter-productive. Like Fuss (1989) and Whitford (1991), I argue that Irigaray's essentialism is useful in the broader effort to articulate a feminine imaginary. Her critique of patriarchal discourse's domination of philosophical discourse (and thus virtually every other Western discourse...
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SOURCE: Wood, Sharon. “Women and Theater in Italy: Natalia Ginzburg, Franca Rame, and Dacia Maraini.” RLA: Romance Languages Annual 5 (1994): 343-48.
[In the following essay, Wood asserts that the diverse works of Ginzburg, Franca Rame, and Dacia Maraini share connections in feminist roots.]
In 1954 the American writer and theater critic Eric Bentley commented that “Italy, ever as poor in drama as she is rich in theatricality, is finding that a profession of playwrights cannot be legislated into existence even with the help of subsidies.”1 Bentley was echoing the despair expressed by Luigi Pirandello in Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore some thirty years previously: in the absence of good new writing in Italy what was there for a company to put on if not a translation of a foreign play or something by the incomprehensible Pirandello himself? And forty years on from Bentley's own essay there are those who will say that not much has changed: the theater in Italy continues to surprise by its failure to foster new writing, and to alarm by its dependence on state subsidy to the point where political allegiance rather than artistic merit stands as guarantor for both jobs and productions. In the arguments about public funding of the arts Italy in some ways plays the part of the devil's advocate in suggesting that it simply does not work, and there are those who would dearly love to see...
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SOURCE: Woolf, Judith. “Silent Witness: Memory and Omission in Natalia Ginzburg's Family Sayings.” Cambridge Quarterly 25, no. 3 (1996): 243-62.
[In the following essay, Woolf elucidates the role of silence and omission in Family Sayings.]
I have written only what I remember, so if this book is read as a chronicle it could be objected that it is full of gaps. Even though I am dealing with real life, I think it ought to be read as a novel; in other words, without asking either more or less of it than a novel can give.1
Natalia Ginzburg belonged to that remarkable generation of women writers whose talents were shaped by a late nineteenth or early twentieth-century childhood. That shaping often involved strains and repressions such as Virginia Woolf portrays in To the Lighthouse, and for Ginzburg, growing up in Mussolini's Italy, it also involved an exposure to violently conflicting political ideologies. Reaching maturity at that point in the history of female emancipation when the feeling of constriction and stifled potential was at its most painful precisely because escape was in sight for a few, these writers were often intensely preoccupied with the family and the past. Aware of the need to invent a new and female language for fiction and poetry, they economically pieced it together from fragments of that past. Few did so...
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SOURCE: Riviello, Tonia Caterina. “From Silence to Universality in Le piccole virtù by Natalia Ginzburg.” Forum Italicum 33, no. 1 (spring 1999): 185-99.
[In the following essay, Riviello considers the major thematic concerns of the essays in Le piccole virtù.]
In Natalia Ginzburg's book Le piccole virtù it is evident that the European sociological disruptions she has witnessed during the last fifty years have crucially influenced her writing. Expressing many of the same concerns as several of her contemporaries, Ginzburg offers commentary on the changing face of society as a result of World War II. Essentially, she evokes in her personal essays the post-war disillusionment that swept Europe as survivors became emotionally paralyzed. From her retrospective account it is apparent that many moral and spiritual effects of this period have lingered up through the present day. In the view of Ginzburg the most devastating consequence is the destruction of the family unit. Seen particularly in part two of Le piccole virtù, the moral erosion of society is specifically illustrated in “Silenzio” and “I rapporti umani”.1 Containing some of her most provocative insights into the human character2, these essays enunciate many of the themes that figure repeatedly throughout her book. She addresses in various forms the following subjects: death and killing, in...
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SOURCE: Ward, David. “Natalia Ginzburg's Early Writings in L'Italia libera.” In Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, edited by Angela M. Jeannet and Giuliana Sanguinetti Katz, pp. 46-62. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Ward notes the optimism and the militant tone of Ginzburg's writing around the end of World War II.]
Rome's Traforo, the tunnel which connects via del Tritone and via Nazionale, is not usually considered one of the consecrated sites of Italian political life. Yet, for Natalia Ginzburg and her close friend Carlo Levi, it has a significant if highly personal history. For both, the Traforo has intimate connections with their years of militancy in the Partito d'azione (Action Party), the short-lived Liberal-Socialist Party co-founded by Leone Ginzburg, Natalia's first husband. As did many other young Italians, both Levi and Natalia Ginzburg equate the brief life of the party with the equally brief period of optimism about Italy's future that pervaded the whole country following the fall of fascism and the end of World War II. After more than twenty years of a Fascist regime and a traumatic, divisive war which had not only pitted Italian against Italian, but had also seen Italy invaded twice and reduced to a battleground in someone else's war, many Italians were convinced that out of the ruins of history a unique opportunity had...
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SOURCE: Wienstein, Jen. “The Eloquence of Understatement: Natalia Ginzburg's Public Image and Literary Style.” In Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, edited by Angela M. Jeannet and Giuliana Sanguinetti Katz, pp. 179-96. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Wienstein investigates Ginzburg's public image as evinced through her essays.]
In her essay ‘Moravia,’ which appears in the 1974 collection of essays and articles Vita immaginaria, Natalia Ginzburg discusses her famous friend Alberto Moravia and bitterly complains about the untruthful nature of his public image. According to Ginzburg, Moravia's public image, which portrays him as cool, detached, and condescending, distorts and denies his true self:
Lo conosco da molti anni … Però è molto famoso, e allora uno che non lo conosce di persona, oppure uno che sta a lungo senza vederlo, ha davanti la sua immagine pubblica. Questa immagine pubblica spesso mi infastidisce e non mi piace … In particolare, per quanto riguarda Moravia, mi sembra che la sua immagine pubblica risulti esattamente il contrario di quella che è la sua persona reale. La sua immagine pubblica appare altezzosa, autoritaria, sprezzante e compiaciuta di sé. Nell'avvicinarlo, uno si trova davanti di colpo la sua grande innocenza, la sua profonda e candida serietà....
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Simborowski, Nicoletta. “Music and Memory in Natalia Ginzburg's Lessico famigliare.” Modern Language Review 94, no. 3 (July 1999): 680-90.
Considers the role of music and memory in Lessico famigliare.
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; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; and Short Story Criticism, Vol. 65.
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