Tommaso Landolfi

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 625

The biographical facts pertaining to Tommaso Landolfi (lan-DAWL-fee) can be briefly stated. His life was without major incidents, and he chose to live in obscurity, away from the glare of publicity. Landolfi is known for consciously establishing barriers between himself and any would-be biographer. This jealously guarded privacy amounted to something of an obsession.

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He was born in Pico (in the province of Frosinone) in 1908. His mother died in his second year; as a young adolescent, he was sent away to boarding school. He later attended the University of Florence, from which he was graduated having specialized in Russian literature. He spent most of the 1930’s in Florence, participating in the literary activities of the time, publishing his early fiction. On the eve of World War II, he was arrested and spent some time in prison for activities deemed inappropriate by the regime. Landolfi’s political demeanor, however, took the form of a rather generic anti-Fascism rather than that of an overt militancy. During the war, he lived with his father in his ancestral home in Pico, which at different times during the war was occupied both by German forces and by Moroccan troops of the Free French Army. Landolfi married later in life, fathered two children, and devoted himself to literature. He divided the years after the war between Pico and Rome, where he died in 1979.

Landolfi was a unique and eccentric writer who fits into no obvious category of Italian literature, past or present. Italian fiction in the twentieth century follows the tradition laid down by the nineteenth century masters Alessandro Manzoni and Giovanni Verga, both of whom dealt directly with the historical forces at work on human society and who emphasized realistic description of the social backdrop. Landolfi appears to have had no interest in dealing overtly with the historical crises of his time that had such a formative influence on his own generation (fascism and World War II). Instead, Landolfi’s cosmopolitanism is reflected in his continuous output as a translator—mainly from Russian, but also from French and German literature, which always paralleled his literary production. In the 1930’s, Landolfi was associated with the hermetic movement in Italian poetry and prose, as a part of that generation of writers who, in response to the pressures of the Fascist regime, turned in upon themselves to rediscover a poetic voice or simply to maintain private integrity, while they also looked to foreign traditions in search of stylistic and thematic mentors. In those years, Landolfi, with his degree in Russian literature, continued to reside in Florence and published his early fiction in reviews such as Letteratura and Campo di Marte. The hermetics made their anti-Fascist comments obliquely, never attacking the regime directly, but rather withdrawing from its vulgarity, militancy, and stridency.

The hermetics had attracted Landolfi most, not for their political attitude but rather for their exploration of the metaphysical, especially as expressed in the humble and the mundane. Increasingly obsessed with the spiritual and existential, Landolfi became more and more isolated during the postwar period, when the intellectual climate became intensely political, with mounting claims made on writers for commitment and partisan allegiance. He consciously neglected issues he deemed outside his own art, and an important consequence of his withdrawal from fashion was the delayed recognition of his work. His columns in the Corriere della Sera, however, earned him a wider audience, and he won repeated recognition in Italy for his achievements over a broad area of the literary landscape. To list only a few of his awards: the Premio Viarregio for fiction (1958); the Bagutta (1964) and Elba (1966) awards; the Premio D’Annunzio (1968, 1974); the Pirandello Theater Award (1968, for Faust ’67); the Premio di poesia Fiuggi (1972); and the Strega Prize for fiction (1975, for A caso).

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