Natalia Ginzburg 1916–-1991
(Has also written under the pseudonym of Alessandra Tournimparte) Italian novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, biographer, autobiographer, journalist, and dramatist.
The following entry presents an overview of Ginzburg's short fiction career through 2000.
A major Italian author of the post-World War II era, Ginzburg explores the challenges of maintaining interpersonal relationships in contemporary society in her short fiction. Writing in reserved, understated prose, she often utilizes small but significant details to develop the crises of her characters. Her early stories depict individuals whose ambitions are stifled by marriage and familial restrictions, while her later writings explore problems caused by the disintegration of the family unit.
Ginzburg was born on July 14, 1916, in Palermo, Italy. At the age of three, her family moved to Turin when her father, a university professor, was appointed chair of the anatomy department at the University of Turin. In 1935 she enrolled in the university, but she never completed her studies. She married anti-Fascist activist Leone Ginzburg in 1938; two years into their marriage, he was arrested for subversive activities and imprisoned in the town of Pizzoli. In 1940 she moved to Pizzoli with their two children. After Leone's release from prison in July 1943, he moved his family to Rome. In November 1943 he was arrested again, this time for editing the anti-Fascist newspaper L'Italia libera. On February 5, 1944, he died of torture wounds while in prison. For the next two years, Natalia and her children hid in Rome. After the end of the war, she moved back to Turin to work as a translator and editor for the publishing firm Einaudi. During this time she became acquainted with several major Italian authors, such as Italo Calvino, Cesare Pavese, and Elio Vittorini. In 1952 she moved back to Rome and became a professor of literature at Magistero, a prominent teachers' college. She wrote articles and reviews for periodicals and published novellas, novels, and plays. She was very active in politics during her life, and in 1983 she was elected deputy to the Italian parliament. Ginzburg died of cancer on October 7, 1991.
Ginzburg's stories focus on marriage, domestic life, and the breakdown of the traditional Italian family in the post-World War II era. Several of her early novellas and short stories present a bleak, yet often humorous, view of domestic life. For example, Valentino (1951) concerns a promising young man who disappoints his family by marrying an unattractive but wealthy woman. In “Mio marito” (1941) a woman's husband commits suicide after his mistress dies in childbirth. In the novella Sagittario (1957; Sagittarius), a young woman describes her mother's unhappy life and her sister's loveless marriage; in the end, the narrator's mother is cheated and robbed by a friend and her sister dies in childbirth. Famiglia (1977; Family) concerns the deterioration of a loveless marriage in which both husband and wife are unfaithful to one another. While Ginzburg's early works portray the family as a source of personal suppression, they also emphasize its importance as a stabilizing social force. Her later writings decry the effects of divorce and the growing alienation between generations.
Ginzburg's simple, spare style of writing has impressed critics, while her intimate explorations of domestic life have been praised for their authenticity and concern for traditional values. Moreover, commentators have commended the use of humor, irony, and detail in her work and further describe her style as laconic, subdued, and direct. Stylistically, reviewers have noted Ginzburg's use of a first-person narrator in her stories. The characterization of women and children has been another area of critical study, and there have been several feminist interpretations of her plays, fiction, and essays. In general, commentators view Ginzburg's prose work as a perceptive reflection of social and historical events in Italy during the tumultuous years during and after World War II. Her minimalist style and compassionate evocation of the frustrated lives of her protagonists have elicited comparisons to the works of Anton Chekhov.