Natalia Ginzburg 1916-1991
(Has also written under the pseudonym of Alessandra Tournimparte) Italian novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, biographer, autobiographer, journalist, and playwright.
The following entry provides criticism on Ginzburg's works from 1990 through 2000. For criticism prior to 1990, see CLC, Volumes 5, 11, 54, and 70.
A major Italian novelist of the post-World War II era, Ginzburg examines the difficulties of maintaining interpersonal relationships in contemporary society. Writing in reserved, understated prose, she often utilizes small but significant details to develop the crises of her characters. Her early works 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 July 14, 1916, in Palermo, Italy. At the age of three, her family moved to Turin when her father, an anatomy 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. Her first novel, La strada che va in città (1942; The Road to the City), was written during this time. 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 under torture 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 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 October 7, 1991.
Ginzburg's first major works of fiction are narrated by young women who are disappointed in love. The heroine of The Road to the City, which Ginzburg published under the pseudonym of Alessandra Tournimparte, successfully manipulates a wealthy young man into marrying her but realizes afterward that she has sacrificed her relationship with the man she really loves. Several of Ginzburg's early novellas present a bleak yet often humorous view of domestic life. For example, Valentino (1957) concerns a promising young man who disappoints his family by marrying an unattractive but wealthy woman. 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. In the novel Caro Michele (1973; No Way, also published as Dear Michael), Ginzburg centers on the last days in the life of an exiled activist through a series of letters written by his estranged parents and friends.
Ginzburg's autobiographical and biographical writings have earned critical recognition. Lessico famigliare (1963; Family Sayings), a memoir of Ginzburg's life from the 1920s through the 1950s, features a laconic, conversational style reminiscent of her fictional narratives. La famiglia Manzoni (1983; The Manzoni Family) chronicles two hundred years in the family history of eighteenth-century Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni. The book's eight sections focus on the experiences of a particular family member through the transcription of actual letters and a novelistic recreation of events. In addition to her fiction and biographical writings, Ginzburg has published numerous articles and critical essays. These pieces are collected in Le piccole virtù (1962; The Little Virtues), Mai devi domandarmi (1970; Never Must You Ask Me), and Vita immaginaria (1974). She has also written several plays, including Fragola e panna (1966), La segretaria (1967), and L'inserzione (1968; The Advertisement).
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. The characterization of women and children has been another area of critical study, and there have been several feminist perspectives on 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 WWII. Her minimalist style and compassionate evocation of the frustrated lives of her protagonists have elicited comparisons to the works of Anton Chekhov.