Characters

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 243

Micol Finzi-Contini is a wealthy, 23-year-old Jewish woman and graduate student. She is accustomed to a life of luxury, but the anti-Semitic propaganda and regulations in Italy force her to mingle with other Jews of a lower economic status. Micol is secretly having an affair with Giampiero Malnate , whom...

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Micol Finzi-Contini is a wealthy, 23-year-old Jewish woman and graduate student. She is accustomed to a life of luxury, but the anti-Semitic propaganda and regulations in Italy force her to mingle with other Jews of a lower economic status. Micol is secretly having an affair with Giampiero Malnate, whom she meets at night in a secluded area of the family estate.

Malante is a large man and a chemist who works in the rubber factory. He is also a communist, and he befriends the narrator, with whom he discusses this ideology.

The narrator is a young Jewish man, also in graduate school. He has been fascinated by the Finzi-Contini family for most of his life, and he comes to know the children after the fascists take over Italy and the Jewish community is isolated. He is taken into their luxurious life and becomes infatuated with Micol.

Alberto Finzi-Contini is Micol's brother, a dull young man who lacks self-confidence. His passivity becomes worse when he is diagnosed with lung cancer. His only pleasure in life is building furniture. He begins to doubt the idea that he is superior to other people because of his family's status.

Professor Ermanno is Micol and Alberto's father, who always wears a suit and a panama hat. Eager to pass on his knowledge, he allows the narrator to access his expansive library in order to do research. Ermanno turns to books to escape the political turmoil of fascist Italy.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 712

Micòl Finzi-Contini

Micòl Finzi-Contini (mee-KOHL FEEN-zee-kohn-TEE-nee), a young and wealthy Jewish woman of twenty-three, accustomed both to the adoration of her family and friends and to having her own way. She is unenthusiastically working on a graduate thesis about Emily Dickinson. Anti-Semitic feelings, propaganda, and regulations in her hometown of Ferrara, Italy, force her to socialize with other Jews, rather than with Gentiles of her own social and economic station. She lives with her parents, brother, and grandmother on the large ancestral estate belonging to her father’s family. Micòl is having an affair with Giampiero Malnate. Although she speaks publicly about Malnate as boring and unattractive, she secretly meets him at night in a farmer’s hut in the park of the estate.

The narrator

The narrator, a young, middle-class Jewish man who has decided to take an advanced university degree. He finds himself involved, at a transitional phase in his life, with the wealthy Finzi-Contini family. They have fascinated him since his childhood, when he watched them during Sabbath services at the local synagogue. When the Fascists come to power and restrictions are placed on the Jewish population of Ferrara, the narrator becomes friendly with the Finzi-Contini children. He has never socialized with them because they have been tutored at home and have kept apart from the less wealthy Jews in town. What begins for the narrator as a pleasant interlude of tennis and camaraderie grows into an obsession with Micòl and the subsequent realization that she does not love him. Micòl’s father offers him the free run of his large Renaissance library in which to do research. The narrator accepts because it places him in daily contact with Micòl. As he learns the distressing fact that she will never return his love, he also discovers the manifestations of economic and racial prejudice that exist within the Jewish community.

Alberto Finzi-Contini

Alberto Finzi-Contini, Micòl’s brother, a young man in his early twenties. He is passive and unsure of himself; bored with his existence, he is too much of a follower to risk interest in anything. He has a materialistic bent and shows some talent in reproducing antique furniture. He takes little pleasure in his possessions or designs beyond showing them off to others. Although he has been led to believe that he is superior to others by virtue of his family position, he suspects that this may not be true. He develops a malignant lymphogranuloma during the year and becomes more passive and quiet as the disease takes its course.

Giampiero Malnate

Giampiero Malnate (jee-ahm-pee-EHR-oh mahl-NAH-teh), a twenty-five-year-old Gentile. He is tall, hairy, and overweight. He wears glasses with thick lenses and has steel-gray eyes. He is the oldest of the group of tennis players invited to play at the Finzi-Contini estate after the Ferrara tennis club is closed to Jews. An acquaintance of Alberto from Milan, he has recently been certified as a chemist and works at a factory producing synthetic rubber. Malnate is a Communist, which leads him to believe that he is hard-boiled and practical. In reality, he is trusting and uncomplicated. After Micòl forbids the narrator to come to the estate because of his obvious obsession with her, Malnate becomes his friend and discusses Communist ideas with him. When he finds out about the narrator’s infatuation with Micòl, he shows a brotherly concern for him.

Professor Ermanno

Professor Ermanno (ehr-MAHN-noh), the father of Alberto and Micòl, a gentleman and a scholar. He is considerably shorter than his wife and wears light-colored linen suits and a panama hat with a black ribbon. He has a great love of literature, and he quotes from great works while peering through his pince-nez. He believes that he has a mission to pass along his knowledge, which makes him generous enough to allow the narrator the use of his library. He is a historian of Italian Jewry and wants to maintain his ancestral way of life. He is blind to the actual political conditions in Ferrara and takes refuge in his books. He depends on Micòl to deal with the everyday household chores. He is disappointed in his children, whom he wishes were more like the narrator.

The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 387

The unnamed narrator of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis shares several important characteristics with the author, Giorgio Bassani. Both were born in 1916 to Jewish fathers who had studied medicine, both grew up in Ferrara, and both were imprisoned during the Nazi Holocaust.

As a young boy, the narrator stands in awe of the Finzi-Continis. As a literate, sensitive young man, he is invited into their private world, but for him, the relationship means only heartache. His obsessive love for Micol leads him into nightmares of jealousy. He also seems paralyzed by the same stasis that engulfs the Finzi-Continis; after he receives his degree from the university in Bologna, he seems neither to write nor to look for a job, although the latter would have been very difficult considering the rampant anti-Semitism in Ferrara at the time.

Micol, a kind of Jewish Scarlett O’Hara, encourages the narrator by selecting him to give tours of the grounds, by encouraging him to develop a relationship with her brother while she is away in Venice, and by inviting him into her bedroom. Then she torments her young lover by pretending to have become engaged in Venice and by talking about the non-Jewish students with whom she has flirted.

In relation to Micol, the Finzi-Contini men seem lifeless. Once the racial laws are passed, Alberto never leaves the family grounds except to go to the synagogue. He never returns to Milan to finish his degree, he seems to know nothing about the family business, he shows no interest in women, and he takes no part in the heated political discussions between the narrator and Malnate. Although Alberto’s father, Professor Ermanno, shows great kindness to the narrator by inviting him to use the Finzi-Contini private collection when the city library closes its doors to the young man, the professor does not teach or do research, excepting two thin pamphlets written years before.

In contrast to the dreamy, impractical Jewish characters in the novel is the no-nonsense Giampiero Malnate, who has come to Ferrara to work as a chemist in the local synthetic rubber factory. He satisfies his lust by visiting brothels instead of getting entangled in romantic relationships. It is he who warns of the treachery of the Fascists while his Jewish friends try to remain faithful to the Italian government.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 75

De Charmant, Elizabeth. “Bassani Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini,” in European Patterns: Contemporary Patterns in European Writing, 1964. Edited by T.B. Harward.

Lavorato, Rachele Longo. “Thematic Aspects of the Works of Giorgio Bassani,” in Dissertation Abstracts International. XLIV (March, 1984), p. 2784.

Mitgang, Herbert. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXX (August 1, 1965), p. 4.

Newsweek. Review. LXVI (August 30, 1965), p. 83.

Radcliff-Umsted, Douglas. “Bassani: The Motivation of Language,” in Italica. LXII (Summer, 1985), pp. 116-125.

Time. Review. LXXXVI (August 6, 1965), p. 86.

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