Historical Context

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Mussolini and Fascism in Italy Ginzburg’s life and works were profoundly affected by Italian history, particularly the era of fascism. Italy’s fascist era began with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, who had been an ardent socialist journalist, broke away from socialism and formed the Fighting Leagues brigade...

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Mussolini and Fascism in Italy
Ginzburg’s life and works were profoundly affected by Italian history, particularly the era of fascism. Italy’s fascist era began with the rise to power of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, who had been an ardent socialist journalist, broke away from socialism and formed the Fighting Leagues brigade in 1919. His squads of militant Blackshirts, as his followers were called, soon began taking over cities and provinces in Italy. In 1921 Mussolini organized his followers to form a political party known as the National Fascist Party. In 1922 he held a fascist convention in Naples in order to concentrate his Blackshirt brigades for an armed march into Rome, known historically as the famous March on Rome. King Victor Emmanuel III was asked to declare a state of siege and call in military troops to put down the threat of armed insurrection. The King, however, refused to order any resistance to the advance of Mussolini’s troops. Instead, the King invited Mussolini to become Prime Minister of Italy. Thus, before the fascist brigades even reached Rome, Mussolini had triumphantly taken over the Italian government, without violence and without resistance.

For the next five years, Mussolini worked at consolidating his power as the head of state and leader of the fascist party. He took on the title of the duce, which means leader. In 1932 he publicly declared his intention to make Italy a world power through imperialist expansion. He began to see Nazi Germany under Hitler as a useful ally and made an official visit to Berlin in 1936 to meet with Hitler. In 1938 Hitler visited Mussolini in Italy, thus securing their alliance. Influenced by the policies of Nazi Germany, Mussolini instituted severe restrictions on the Jews of Italy in 1938. These anti-Semitic laws declared Jews to be ‘‘unpatriotic’’ and banned them from holding government jobs, teaching, and publishing. This last ruling profoundly affected Ginzburg’s life, as her husband was a publisher and she a writer. In 1939 the Italian-German military alliance was formalized by the signing of the Pact of Steel between Hitler and Mussolini.

Italy in World War II
Germany began World War II in 1939 and was joined by Italy in 1940. But Italy did not fare well in the war due to inferior military resources, and Mussolini soon became subordinate to Hitler’s military command. In 1942 the Allied troops invaded Sicily, signaling the beginning of the end of Italy’s partnership with Germany and Mussolini’s stranglehold over Italian politics. In 1943 his own fascist followers held a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council, at which they voted to ask the king to remove Mussolini from office. The king obliged, and Mussolini was arrested the following day when he showed up at his office in defiance of this decision. Mussolini was in prison less than two months before a German military operation successfully carried out his escape. The Germans allowed him to set up a puppet government, although he remained completely under their command. Meanwhile, the Allies were advancing through Italy defeating German forces. Mussolini was caught by Italian Communist supporters while trying to escape to Switzerland, and was shot and killed.

Italy in the Postwar Years
In 1944 Allied troops successfully liberated Rome from German control. World War II ended in 1945. By 1946 public sentiment in Italy leaned toward the dissolution of the monarchy in favor of a republic. King Emmanuel III had remained in power since the ousting of Mussolini but now abdicated the throne, naming his son, Umberto II, the new monarch. However, the monarchy was voted down, and both father and son were sent into exile. For the first time in Italian history, universal suffrage was instituted, allowing for women, as well as men, to vote on a Constituent Assembly. The result was the formation of a Constitution of the Republic of Italy, with a parliamentary system of government. The Italian constitution was set up in response to fascism, allowing for a weak central government and extensive civil liberties. The first parliamentary elections were held in 1948.

Italy enjoyed outstanding economic growth in the postwar years, adopting the phrase ‘‘economic miracle’’ to describe this postwar boom. By the mid-1960s, however, the economy began to slow down, resulting in the so-called ‘‘hot autumn’’ of 1969, during which labor unrest and general strikes were widespread.

Reproductive Rights and Marriage Laws in Italy
Ginzburg’s play addresses concerns over the status of women in marital relationships during the 1960s. Although some changes in the status of women in Italy took place during the postwar years, significant changes did not occur until the period soon after The Advertisement was first produced. Women in Italy were granted the right to vote with the first elections of the new Italian Republic in 1948. However, most girls in Italy did not have the opportunity to receive a secondary (high school) education until the 1960s. Major changes in reproductive rights and divorce laws were instituted during the 1970s. Divorce became legal in Italy for the first time in 1970. Contraception became readily available after 1971. Many other traditional laws regarding marriage and family were abolished or liberalized in 1975. A referendum in 1978 legalized abortion by almost 68 percent of the Italian vote. The practices of both civil (non-religious) marriage and couples living together without being married became more common throughout the 1970s.

Literary Style

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Throughout The Advertisement, Ginzburg makes use of recurring similes in order to describe and characterize the relationship between Teresa and Lorenzo. A simile is a figure of speech in which one thing is described as being like something else in order to illustrate a particular quality or set of qualities.

Teresa and Lorenzo both describe their marriage in disparaging terms, using several recurring similes to portray the negative qualities of their relationship. At one point, their marriage is described as a monster. Teresa says that they would sometimes quarrel over a single word she might have used unthinkingly, upon which, she says, ‘‘he’d drag out all the possible hidden meanings, so that word would grow and grow till it was like a monster.’’ Likewise the negative elements of their marriage grow and grow to the point that the relationship becomes like a monster—an evil, violent, destructive thing that is out of their control.

Lorenzo and Teresa both discuss their marriage using imagery of dirt and cleanliness in combination with similes comparing their relationship to the experience of drowning or suffocating.

Lorenzo compares his marriage to Teresa to the experience of drowning in order to express the feeling that the relationship is threatening to stifle his sense of individuality. According to Teresa, Lorenzo says that, with her, he ‘‘always felt he was sinking into a well full of black, muddy, stinking water; he was gradually losing himself, bit by bit.’’ Lorenzo’s image of sinking into a well is repeated when he meets Elena and tells her that his marriage to Teresa made him feel like he was ‘‘sinking into a black, muddy well.’’ The comparison of their relationship to the experience of drowning is echoed in Lorenzo’s repeated assertion that being married to Teresa was a stifling, smothering experience. He tells her, ‘‘I can’t breathe in your world!’’

The image of dirty well water is contrasted with Lorenzo’s description of his friendship with Mario as ‘‘extremely delicate and pure and deep.’’ The ‘‘pure’’ deep well of his feelings for Mario is thus contrasted favorably to his ‘‘muddy’’ feelings for Teresa. He claims that he refuses to let the fact that Mario slept with his wife ‘‘poison’’ their friendship, an image that continues the idea of well water as something pure that could potentially be poisoned.

Teresa picks up on Lorenzo’s use of the terms ‘‘pure’’ and ‘‘muddy’’ to complain that he views his relationship with her as dirty, whereas his friendship with Mario is considered clean. She asks him:

What about me? I betrayed you, too. Your friendship with Mario has been washed and cleaned and rinsed, and now it’s just as good as new. That’s what you said. Your feelings about me can’t be washed and cleaned, and rinsed, I suppose? Those feelings were dirtied forever, I suppose, and you’ve chucked them away? . . . I suppose your feelings for me weren’t delicate and deep.

In addition to the figurative language of simile, Ginzburg makes use of symbolic imagery to characterize the relationship between Teresa and Lorenzo.

They first meet on a movie set, where Teresa worked as an extra. She comments that, working at the film studio, she was ‘‘never more than an extra.’’ Her status as an extra in the movies is symbolic of her status in Lorenzo’s life: she remains on the periphery of his world, an insignificant ‘‘extra,’’ who never captures his full attention.

When they first met, a strong gust of wind blew up the sand from the set, a desert, into an artificial sandstorm. The tumult and violence of a sandstorm becomes a symbol of their marriage; Teresa comments, ‘‘Lorenzo says with me it was always like living in a sandstorm.’’

Further, the movie set on which they met depicted the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. This symbolizes what is to become of their relationship and Teresa’s place in it. Just as Teresa sits among the ruins of an ancient city on the movie set, so she also dwells in the past throughout the play, ruminating endlessly over the remains of a relationship long since fallen into ruin. At one point, when she argues with him over an incident that occurred earlier in their marriage, Lorenzo tells her to ‘‘stop digging up ancient history.’’

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Ackerman, Robert J., and Susan E. Pickering, Abused No More: Recovery for Women from Abusive or Co-Dependent Relationships, TAB Books, 1989.

Faustini, Giuseppe, ‘‘Natalia Ginzburg,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 177: Italian Novelists Since World War II, edited by Augustus Pallotta, Gale Research, 1997, pp. 141–49.

Ginzburg, Natalia, The Advertisement, translated by Henry Reed, in Plays By and About Women: An Anthology, edited by Victoria Sullivan and James Hatch, Random House, 1973, pp. 295–344.

Sullivan, Victoria, and James Hatch, ‘‘Introduction,’’ in Plays By and About Women: An Anthology, edited by Victoria Sullivan and James Hatch, Vintage Books, 1973, p. xii.

Further Reading
Bullock, Alan, Natalia Ginzburg: Human Relationships in a Changing World, St. Martin’s Press, 1991. Bullock provides critical discussion of the works of Ginzburg in terms of her thematic focus on the experiences of women in modern relationships and the modern family.

Burke, Frank, Fellini’s Films: From Postwar to Postmodern, Prentice Hall International, 1996. Burke offers an historical account and critical analysis of the films of the celebrated Italian director Frederico Fellini, whose works were popular during the period in which Ginzburg’s play was written.

Jeannet, Angela M., and Giuliana Sanguinetti Katz, eds., Natalia Ginzburg: A Voice of the Twentieth Century, University of Toronto Press, 2000. Jeannet and Katz introduce a collection of critical essays on the works of Ginzburg in terms of her representations of modern life.

Ridley, Jasper Godwin, Mussolini, St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Ridley provides a biographical account of the life and career of Benito Mussolini in the context of twentiethcentury Italian history.

Stille, Alexander, Benevolence and Betrayal: Five Italian Jewish Families Under Fascism, Summit Books, 1991. Stille provides accounts of the experiences of five Jewish families in fascist Italy.

Zuccotti, Susan, Under His Very Windows: The Vatican and the Holocaust in Italy, Yale University Press, 2000. Zuccotti offers a critical historical account of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the persecution of Italian Jews during the Holocaust.

Compare and Contrast

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1960s and 1970s: During the early 1960s, Italy continues to enjoy the postwar era ‘‘economic miracle’’ of unprecedented growth and prosperity. By the mid-1960s, however, the Italian economy suffers a downturn. With the economy in decline, Italy, during the 1970s, is in the throes of political instability. The years 1969–1982 are characterized by acts of domestic terrorism.

1980s and 1990s: By the mid-1980s, economic conditions in the north of Italy have greatly improved, whereas in the south the economy is still weak. Mafia business practices and clandestine dealings with government officials dominate Italian politics and economy. Italian politics during the 1990s is characterized by scandal and turmoil. Widespread government corruption, particularly regarding the use of bribery, is brought to light in 1992. ‘‘Operation Clean Hands’’ results in the arrest and conviction of thousands of politicians, businessmen, and public officials for corruption and bribery, some in association with the Mafia. Many political parties are dissolved amidst the scandal, and new parties include a strong showing of neofascists in positions of power.

1960s and 1970s: In the 1960s, the second Vatican Council meeting of 1962–1965 inaugurates the era of the Roman Catholic Church known as Vatican II, characterized by the liberalizing of many Church policies. In the 1970s, Italian society becomes increasingly secularized. In opposition to the dictates of the Catholic Church, divorce is made legal in 1970, and abortion is made legal in 1978. Civil marriage, unsanctioned by the Catholic Church, becomes increasingly common. In 1976, television and radio broadcasting is no longer a state monopoly regulated according to the values of the Catholic Church, and the new, privatized broadcasting companies air programs critical of traditional values.

1980s and 1990s: By the mid-1980s, only 30 percent of Italian citizens regularly attend church (as compared to 70 percent in the 1950s). Pope John Paul II describes Italian society as ‘‘de- Christianized.’’ The Concordat of 1985, agreed upon between the Vatican and the Italian government, rules that Roman Catholicism is no longer the state religion of Italy. Religious education is no longer compulsory in Italian schools. In the 1990s, the secularization of Italian culture and society as a result of the 1985 concordat and the liberalization of laws regarding marriage and reproductive rights continue to characterize Italian culture.

Media Adaptations

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The Advertisement was performed via radio broadcast in 1968 by the British Broadcasting Company.

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