The youngest of five siblings, Eugenio Montale was born in Genoa on October 12, 1896, to Giuseppina Ricci and Domingo Montale, a well-to-do businessman who shared with two first cousins the ownership and management of a firm for the importation of turpentine and other chemicals. Poor health forced Montale to withdraw from school as a ninth-grader; henceforth, only his insatiable curiosity for books and the unfailing assistance of his sister Marianne—a philosophy student—were to sustain him in the pursuit of a broad culture, ranging from Italian, French, and English literature to modern philosophy. Entering the family firm or a bank, as his brothers did, was out of the question from the start for the dreamy adolescent, who, sharing with his family a great love for opera, soon began to train for baritone singing with Ernesto Sivori. This fine teacher’s death in 1916 put an end to Montale’s plans for an operatic career but not to his lifelong interest in musical theater. In 1917, Montale joined the army and soon was serving as an infantry officer on the Trentino front against the Austrians.
During the years immediately following World War I, Montale’s contributions to literary journals and the limited if solid success of Cuttlefish Bones were not enough to earn a living, and in 1927, he moved to Florence, where he found work first with Bemporad, a publishing firm, and then as curator of the Vieusseux rare books library in the employ of the...
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