Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Giuseppe Guaraldi

Giuseppe Guaraldi (jew-SEHP-peh gwah-RAHL-dee), a writer and scholar, approaching age fifty, who has just ended a long love affair with Lucrezia, a married woman. He sells his apartment against the advice of his friends, leaves his job, and moves to Princeton, New Jersey, to live with his older brother. He imagines an idyllic life with his brother that will provide him with the security he needs after the end of his affair. Instead, he finds that, shortly before his arrival in Princeton, his brother has married Anne Marie, a colleague from the scientific institute where he works. Giuseppe views the marriage as an intrusion and begins writing a novel to keep himself from being lonely. At first, he dislikes Anne Marie immensely, but, upon the sudden death of his brother, he begins to feel an affinity for her that eventually leads to marriage. Although he and Lucrezia had a child together, Giuseppe has never acknowledged his son and concentrates on the child of his previous marriage, Alberico, and on Anne Marie’s daughter, Chantal, and her husband, Danny. When Alberico is murdered by drug dealers, Giuseppe returns to Italy for the funeral and realizes how little he has been connected to his life there.


Lucrezia (lew-KREH-zee-ah), Giuseppe’s former lover. Although she has been married to Piero for many years and they have five children together, Lucrezia has had a number of affairs. At the end of her relationship with Giuseppe, she begins an affair with Ignazio Fegiz, an annoying know-it-all with whom she becomes obsessed. She feels restless after her long-term relationship with Giuseppe and uses Ignazio as the means to extricate herself from the country house her friends have used as a symbol of stability in their relatively rootless lives. She is an unsatisfied woman for whom the role of wife and mother has paled, although, in the eyes of her friends, she has performed it beautifully. After she leaves Piero, she finds a dark and...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Ginzburg’s characters are an odd group of lonely, suffering individuals who take comfort in friendship. The letters that they exchange allow the reader to see them from a number of vantage points. Their changing relationships, which form the heart of the novel, come through clearly in the epistolary format.

At the center of this group of prolific letter-writing friends, Giuseppe Guaraldi is a quirky and confused Italian male in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Unlike most Italians, who might be motivated to take up residence in the United States in a spirit of adventure, Giuseppe comes to America seeking shelter from life’s difficulties. He relies on his older brother for both financial protection and guidance.

In their characterization of Giuseppe, his friends portray a man with a great capacity for friendship who lacks the backbone to be a strong husband and father. Giuseppe is somewhat afraid of life and describes himself as a weak person, a man always destined to lose. Because he is unable to play the role of the father, his relationship with his son, Alberico, is not a happy one. Giuseppe would have preferred a different life-style for his son. At the same time, he realizes that his son would have profited from a more capable and interested father.

The chief female character, Lucrezia, is a classical figure in the Ginzburgian repertoire. Her personal problems demand much attention. Her father died when she was very young and her relationship with her mother was overly dependent. Her lack of a father leads her to seek a surrogate father in the men with whom she comes into contact. Lucrezia’s devotion to childbearing is not matched by a commensurate devotion to motherhood. She is fond of being pregnant but is not capable of providing a stable home life for her many children. She divorces Piero and leaves Le Margherite for a crowded and inhospitable apartment in Rome. Like many of Ginzburg’s female protagonists, Lucrezia is lured by the attractions of life in the city. Her ensuing disillusionment forces her to realize that she is partly to blame for her unhappiness.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bowe, Clotilde S. “The Narrative Strategy of Natalia Ginzburg,” in Modern Language Review. LXVIII (1973), pp. 788-795.

Heiney, Donald. “Natalia Ginzburg: The Fabric of Voices,” in The Iowa Review. I (Fall, 1970), pp. 87-93.

O’Healy, Anne Marie. “Natalia Ginzburg and the Family,” in Canadian Journal of Italian Studies. IX (1986), pp. 21-36.

Piclardi, Rosetta D. “Forms and Figures in the Novels of Natalia Ginzburg,” in World Literature Today. LIII (1979), pp. 585-589.