The Garden of the Finzi-Continis Characters

Giorgio Bassani

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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...

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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.


(Great Characters in Literature)

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.