Ginzburg, Natalia (Vol. 11)
Ginzburg, Natalia 1916–
Ginzburg is an Italian novelist, short story writer, essayist, dramatist, and translator. In work that is characterized by simple vocabulary and unadorned prose style, Ginzburg creates powerful and deeply moving fiction, deceptive in its simplicity and subtlety. (See also CLC, Vol. 5.)
Because of her immature urge to be a Russian or some kind of foreign writer, [Natalia Ginzburg's] early work is curiously abstract; the setting is placeless and timeless and the characters have no surnames. As it develops her fiction becomes gradually more specific and personal and the same time less fictitious; she moves from imitations of Chekhov to a fiction that is indistinguishable from autobiography. Yet from the beginning all her narrative is recounted by the same voice. The voice is feminine and fundamentally that of the author, even though it is attributed in the early fiction to narrators very different from Natalia Ginzburg and simultaneously expressive of these characters. The voice plays over and defines the surface of the narrative, and breaking through to this surface, interwoven with it, are the voices of other characters who are soon perceived as recurring from one story to the next, in a kind of modal counterpoint. Almost without exception her writing is about families. There is a recurrent note of ending; families are fragile things, dispersed by war and deteriorating of their own accord through death, through marriage, through the desire of the children for freedom…. She is particularly a specialist on relations between parents and children, on the affections that hold them together and are at the same time balanced by the antagonisms and struggles that hold them apart, and on the complicated, ambivalent, quasi-sexual and yet...
(The entire section is 1105 words.)
Clotilde Soave Bowe
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…. [Regarding her article on old age], we finish reading a plot dealing with an unfortunate love affair between a grey, unstriking woman and a grey, unsuccessful man, and the book may then remain in our memory as ill-defined and unsatisfying because it has depicted the twilight world of fractured relationships and unheroic encounters only too exactly: it has borrowed the language and atmosphere of the effect which it aimed to produce. Ginzburg sets out, like Flaubert in Madame Bovary, to reproduce the colour grey and will always run the risk of being accounted a failure because she succeeds in depicting greyness absolutely. (pp. 788-89)
There is an initial soporific effect in all Ginzburg's fiction: its delimitation of the fictional territory to the family. The plots of her main novels and stories all involve one or more family units into which the reverberations of political and historical events in the exterior world are filtered through by reportage of its members as they return centripetally from outside. The reader is thus at once presented with a context that is familiar and undisturbing. No surprise or alarm is...
(The entire section is 1888 words.)
There is little point in saying what happens to Natalia Ginzburg's characters, so haphazard does it appear. Everything happens, and nothing—or nearly nothing. So it has been in all her writing over the past thirty years, memoirs as well as fiction. The style never varies, nor do the characters; nor does the treatment she gives them (though the social world they move in has changed drastically). Birth and death, love, relationships, separations, the large matters of personal life, are given the same amount of space on the page, the same weight in the telling, as the supposed trifles….
Is she a comic writer? Well, Lessico famigliare is one of the most memorably funny books about family life in Italy or anywhere else. Yet sad, too, her characters … doomed to an everlasting melancholy that has little to do with circumstances or even, in a sense, with unhappiness; a sort of low-spiritedness, a sense of fatality, a weather of greyness lit by very occasional moments of tender remembrance and longing, as relationships, mostly unsatisfactory, are lit by impulses of warmth, affection and loyalty directed towards the unlikeliest people. Flicked rather than buffeted not so much by fate as by their own limitations, these people centrally set in a shifting society—always bourgeois, always familiar to their creator, who never strays from the world she knows so well—take on an emblematic character; if only as symbols of the...
(The entire section is 460 words.)