TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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Western Literature
 
 
  The Beginnings of Literature. Myths and Legends

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Modern Italian Literature
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The Restoration

The Rise of the Novel

Cervantes and Spanish literature

The Enlightenment

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Classicism and Naturalism

The 19th century - Prose

The 20th century - Modernism

The 20th century - The Political Novel
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Modern Italian literature

 
 


17th-century literature


The 17th century in Italian literature was traditionally described as a period of “decadence” in which writers who were devoid of sentiment resorted to exaggeration and tried to cloak the poverty of their subject matter beneath an exuberance of form. (In this period, it is said, freedom of thought and expression was fettered by the Counter-Reformation, by the political supremacy of Spain, and by the conservatism of the Accademia della Crusca, whose aim it was to ensure the hegemony of Florence by promoting the “purity” of the Tuscan language. The “baroque” style of writing was not, however, simply an Italian phenomenon. It was at this time that Gongorism (the ingenious metaphorical style of the poet Luis de Góngora) flourished in Spain and the witty “conceits” of the Metaphysical poets were popular in England. Far from being exhausted, indeed, this was an extremely vital period, so much so that in the last decades of the 20th century a new and more comprehensive understanding of the literature of the Italian Baroque has been formulated by scholars conversant with the changing attitude toward this phase of civilization in Germany, France, and England.

 

Poetry and prose

The popularity of satire was a reaction against prevailing conditions. Prominent in this genre was the Neapolitan Salvator Rosa, who attacked in seven satires the vices and shortcomings of the age. The Modenese Alessandro Tassoni acquired great fame with La secchia rapita (1622; The Rape of the Bucket), a mock-heroic poem that is both an epic and a personal satire.

The most serious poet of the period was Tommaso Campanella, a Dominican friar, who spent most of his adult life in prison as a subversive. Campanella is perhaps less well known for his rough-hewn philosophical verse than for the Città del sole (1602; Campanella’s City of the Sun), a vision of political utopia, in which he advocated the uniting of humanity under a theocracy based on natural religion.

The most successful and representative poet during this period was Giambattista Marino, author of a large collection of lyric verse (La lira [1608–14; “The Lyre”] and La sampogna [1620; “The Syrinx”]) and a long mythological poem, Adone (1623), in which the Ovidian myth of the love of Venus and Adonis, told by Shakespeare in 200 stanzas, is inflated by Marino to more than 8,000. Marino derived inspiration from the poetry of the late 16th century, but his aim—typical of the age—was to excite wonder by novelty. His work is characterized by “conceits” of fantastic ingenuity, far-fetched metaphor, sensuality, extreme facility, and a superb technical skill. His imitators were innumerable, and most 17th-century Italian poets were influenced by his work.

Gabriello Chiabrera, soberer in style than Marino, was successful in imitating the metres of classical poetry (especially of the Greek Pindar) and excelled in the composition of musical canzonette (rhymed poems with short lines modeled on the French Pléiade’s adaptation of the Greek verse form known as the anacreontic). Toward the end of the century a patriotic sonneteer, Vincenzo da Filicaia, and Alessandro Guidi, who wrote exalted odes, were hailed as major poets and reformers of the excesses of the Baroque. Though they retained much of the earlier bombast, their consciousness of the need for rational reform led to the foundation of the Accademia dell’Arcadia.

Among prose writers of the period, the satirist Traiano Boccalini stood out with Ragguagli di Parnasso (1612–13; Advertisements from Parnassus) in the fight against Spanish domination. A history of the Council of Trent (which defined Catholic doctrines in reaction to the Reformation) was written by Paolo Sarpi, an advocate of the liberty of the Venetian state against papal interference, and a history of the rising of the Low Countries against Spain was written by Guido Bentivoglio. The Venetian novels of Girolamo Brusoni are still of interest, as are the travels of Pietro della Valle and the tales of the Neapolitan Giambattista Basile. All the restless energy of this period reached its climax in the work of Galileo, a scientist who laid the foundations of mathematical philosophy and earned a prominent place in the history of Italian literature through the vigour and clarity of his prose.

Music drama and the Accademia dell’Arcadia With the rise of the music drama and the opera, Italian authors worked to an increasing extent with the lyric stage. Librettos written by poets such as Ottavio Rinuccini were planned with dramatic and musical artistry. During the 17th century a popular spirit entered the opera houses: intermezzi (short dramatic or musical light entertainments) were required between the acts, a practice that undermined the dramatic unity of the performance as a whole, and toward the end of the century every vestige of theatrical propriety was abandoned. The spread of Marino’s influence was felt by many to be an abuse. In 1690 the Accademia dell’Arcadia was founded in Rome for the express purpose of eradicating “bad taste.” The purpose of the academy was in tune with a genuinely felt need. Many of its members were rationalist followers of René Descartes with severe classical sympathies, but their reaction consisted mainly in imitating the simplicity of the nymphs and shepherds who were supposed to have lived in the Golden Age, and thus a new artifice replaced an old one. A typical exponent of the Arcadian lyric was Pietro Metastasio, the 18th-century reformer of the operatic libretto.

Giovanni Pietro Giorgetti
Anthony Oldcorn


Salvator Rosa
 

Salvator Rosa, (b. June 20, 1615, Arenella, Sicily, Spanish Habsburg domain [now in Italy]—d. March 15, 1673, Rome, Papal States [Italy]), Italian Baroque painter and etcher of the Neapolitan school remembered for his wildly romantic or “sublime” landscapes, marine paintings, and battle pictures. He was also an accomplished poet, satirist, actor, and musician.

Rosa studied painting in Naples, coming under the influence of the Spanish painter and engraver José de Ribera. Rosa went to Rome in 1635 to study, but he soon contracted malaria. He returned to Naples, where he painted numerous battle and marine pictures and developed his peculiar style of landscape—picturesquely wild scenes of nature with shepherds, seamen, soldiers, or bandits—the whole infused with a romantic poetic quality.

His reputation as a painter preceded his return to Rome in 1639. Already famous as an artist, he also became a popular comic actor. During the Carnival of 1639 he rashly satirized the famous architect and sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, thereby making a powerful enemy. For some years thereafter the environment of Florence was more comfortable for him than that of Rome. In Florence he enjoyed the patronage of Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici. Rosa’s own house became the centre of a literary, musical, and artistic circle called the Accademia dei Percossi; here also Rosa’s flamboyant personality found expression in acting. In 1649 he returned and finally settled in Rome. Rosa, who had regarded his landscapes more as recreation than as serious art, now turned largely to religious and historical painting. In 1660 he began etching and completed a number of successful prints. His satires were posthumously published in 1710.
 

 

 


Tommaso Campanella


Tommaso Campanella, original name Giovanni Domenico Campanella (b. Sept. 5, 1568, Stilo, Kingdom of Naples [Italy]—d. May 21, 1639, Paris, France), Italian philosopher and writer who sought to reconcile Renaissance humanism with Roman Catholic theology. He is best remembered for his socialistic work La città del sole (1602; “The City of the Sun”), written while he was a prisoner of the Spanish crown (1599–1626).

Entering the Dominican order in 1583, at which time he adopted the name Tommaso, he was influenced by the work of Italian philosopher Bernardino Telesio, an opponent of Scholastic Aristotelianism. Without permission from his order, Campanella went in 1589 to Naples, where his Philosophia sensibus demonstrata (1591; “Philosophy Demonstrated by the Senses”) was published. Reflecting Telesio’s concern for an empirical approach to philosophy, it stressed the necessity for human experience as a basis for philosophy. The work resulted in his arrest, trial, and brief imprisonment for heresy. On his release, he went to Padua, where he was arrested, charged with sodomy (1593), acquitted, and then charged with having engaged a Jew in a debate over matters of Christian faith. Sent to Rome for trial, he renounced in 1596 the heresy of which he had been accused.

Campanella’s interest in pragmatism and in political reform were already evident in such early writings as De monarchia Christianorum (1593; “On Christian Monarchy”) and Dialogo politico contra Luterani, Calvinisti ed altri eretici (1595; “Political Dialogue Against Lutherans, Calvinists, and Other Heretics”), in which he asserted that sinful humanity can be regenerated through a religious reformation founded on establishment of a universal ecclesiastical empire. These abstractions yielded to a more limited, though still utopian, plan of reform after his return to Stilo in 1598, where the misery of the people moved him deeply. In accordance with this plan, Campanella became in 1599 the spiritual leader of a plot to overthrow Spanish rule in Calabria. The plot was discovered, and he was arrested and taken to Naples. Forced under torture to confess his leadership in the plot, he feigned madness to escape death and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In prison Campanella reverted to Roman Catholic orthodoxy and wrote his celebrated utopian work, La città del sole. His ideal commonwealth was to be governed by men enlightened by reason, with every man’s work designed to contribute to the good of the community. Private property, undue wealth, and poverty would be nonexistent, for no man would be permitted more than he needed.

During Campanella’s prison term of 27 years, he also wrote lyric poems, of which only a few survive—in Scelta (1622; “Selections”). Considered by some critics to be the most original poetry in Italian literature of the period, the collection includes madrigals, sonnets, conventional love poems, and metaphysical hymns. His Metafisica (1638) expounds his theory of metaphysics based on a trinitarian structure of power, wisdom, and love. In the 30 books of the Theologia (1613–14), he reconsidered Roman Catholic doctrines in the light of his metaphysical theory.

One month after his release in 1626, Campanella was imprisoned in Rome on charges of heresy. He used flattery and his reputation as an astrologer to gain the favour of Pope Urban VIII, and he was freed in 1629. He tried in vain to get his new ideas accepted by Rome, but discovery of his complicity in an anti-Spanish plot in Naples in 1634 caused him to flee to France, where he was welcomed by King Louis XIII and Cardinal de Richelieu.

 

 

 


Giambattista Marino


Giambattista Marino, Marino also spelled Marini (b. Oct. 18, 1569, Naples—d. March 25, 1625, Naples), Italian poet, founder of the school of Marinism (later Secentismo), which dominated 17th-century Italian poetry. Marino’s own work, praised throughout Europe, far surpassed that of his imitators, who carried his complicated word play and elaborate conceits and metaphors to such extremes that Marinism became a pejorative term. His work was translated all over Europe.

Marino trained for the law because of parental pressure but refused to practice his profession. His life after 1590 consisted of wild living, wandering between Italian and French courts, frequent money problems, brushes with the law, and immense success with the poetry that he managed to get published despite censorship. Much of his early work was circulated, with great acclaim, in manuscript and published later in his life. In 1596 he wrote La sampogna (“The Syrinx”), a series of sensual idylls using mythological and pastoral subjects, but he was unable to publish it until 1620.

After serving for a while as secretary to a Neapolitan prince, Marino was arrested in 1598 and 1600 for immorality, each time obtaining release through powerful admirers. He went to Rome and attached himself to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, a nephew of the Pope. Together they visited several Italian cities. Marino tried to publish some of his voluptuous poems in Parma but was halted by the Inquisition. Finally he was able to publish his early poetry as Le rime (1602; “The Rhymes”) and under the title La lira, 2 vol. (1608 and 1614; “The Lyre”).

At Torino (Turin) from 1608 to 1615 he enjoyed the patronage of the duke of Savoy but was resented for his satirical poems against a rival poet, Gaspare Murtola (La Murtoleide, 1619; “The Murtoliad”). Murtola had him imprisoned for this offense and others; and, though his friends secured his release, Marino left Torino for Paris in 1615, where he stayed until 1623 under the patronage of Marie de Médicis and Louis XIII.

Before leaving Paris Marino published his most important work, a labour of 20 years, Adone (1623; definitive ed. by R. Balsamo-Crivelli, 1922; Adonis [selections]). Adone, an enormous poem (45,000 lines), relates, with many digressions, the love story of Venus and Adonis and shows the best and worst of Marino’s style. The best is found in brilliant passages, written in a masterly style; the worst, in excessive conceits and metaphors, word play, and hyperbole. On returning to Italy in 1623, Marino encountered new difficulties with censorship, but he stayed in Naples until his death.

Other works for which Marino is remembered are La galeria (1620; “The Gallery”), an attempt to recreate works of art poetically, and La strage degli innocenti (1632; The Slaughter of the Innocents). His correspondence was published as Lettere (“Letters”) in 1627.

 

 

 

Gabriello Chiabrera



Gabriello Chiabrera, (b. June 18, 1552, Savona [Italy]—d. Oct. 14, 1638, Savona), Italian poet whose introduction of new metres and a Hellenic style enlarged the range of lyric forms available to later Italian poets.

Chiabrera studied philosophy in Rome, lived for a time in the household of a cardinal, and then returned to Savona, where civic and diplomatic posts and the protection of several princes gave him the leisure to write a prodigious amount of poetry in various forms: lyrics, narrative poems, eclogues, epitaphs, epics, tragedies, and satires. His canzones (lyrics derived from Provençal poetry) introduced stylistic innovations. His best works, however, are his graceful, musical canzonettas; these are lighthearted compositions, apparently influenced by the 16th-century French Pléiade poets, in which he experiments with the introduction of 4-, 5-, 6-, 8-, and 9-syllable lines (rather than the 11- and 7-syllable lines of previous practice) and with varieties of syllabic stress. Because of the success of Chiabrera’s experiments, subsequent poets had a choice of many new lyric types. His work was imitated by the 18th-century Italian Arcadian poets and was admired by the 19th-century Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who translated some of his epitaphs.

 

 

 

 


Giambattista Vico


Italian philosopher

born June 23, 1668, Naples [Italy]
died Jan. 23, 1744, Naples

Main
Italian philosopher of cultural history and law, who is recognized today as a forerunner of cultural anthropology, or ethnology. He attempted, especially in his major work, the Scienza nuova (1725; “New Science”), to bring about the convergence of history, from the one side, and the more systematic social sciences, from the other, so that their interpenetration could form a single science of humanity.

Early life and career.
Vico was the son of a poor bookseller. In his family’s home everyone was miserably huddled together in a mud-floored, ground-level room used simultaneously as a bookshop, living room, and kitchen. When he was scarcely seven, Vico injured his head falling from the ladder that led to the small second-floor attic that served as the sleeping room. The injury appeared so serious that the doctor predicted that it would lead to death or imbecility. Although the injury healed, he became stern and melancholy in nature. Vico later acknowledged this in his autobiography and observed: “such a nature do men with profound and active spirits possess.”

He attended various schools, including a Jesuit college, for short periods but was largely self-taught. He had to study by candlelight in a miserable room crowded with a large family. He often skipped his classes, because his mediocre teachers could offer him nothing more than an arid Scholasticism, the system of Western Christian philosophy that flourished from the 11th to the 15th century but had declined greatly by the time of Vico. Despite his life of poverty, he was able to escape occasionally to the countryside; these excursions opened immense horizons beyond his limited early environment. In fact, personal experience, rather than reading, was the primary source of Vico’s unique genius, although his reading was extensive, varied, and always distinguished by a personal interpretation.

In the course of his reading Vico encountered his first master, the Greek philosopher Plato. A critical spirit quickly intervened, and he turned to Tacitus, a Roman historian, and to Machiavelli, an Italian statesman and political philosopher, who portrayed men not as they should be but as they unfortunately are. Thus, contrasts soon became an important element in his thought: between nature and spirit; between the body, as “this sombre prison,” and the soul; between the high aspirations of the imprisoned soul and the fall that awaits it when it yields to the desires of the senses.

Vico’s thought became increasingly independent, and he preferred to meditate in solitude; but, at the same time, he frequented the fashionable salons, where he met several scholars of the time, such as Thomas Corneille, a French dramatist, and Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni, a literary historian, with whom he debated. Gradually, this circle of scholars became attracted by the ideas of René Descartes, Benedict de Spinoza, and John Locke, which were penetrating Naples at the end of the 17th century. Although Vico was distantly involved in the controversies, he continued to depend more upon the course of his own self-instruction.

Following an attack of typhus, Vico left Naples and accepted a tutoring position in the home of the Duca della Rocca at Vatolla, south of Salerno, where he wrote his most authentic, and most despondent, poetry. There, secretly infatuated with his pupil, the young Giulia della Rocca, he discovered the pain of “social barriers”—barriers that were insuperable, because they were the vestige of entrenched ancient structures. Giulia, who admired Vico, died at the age of 22, shortly after her marriage to a young man “of her sphere.” Although Vico always had a longing for a peaceful world, he felt that the discord that governs the individual spreads and that history itself only partially obeys the designs of Providence.

After his return to Naples, Vico found the next few years less difficult. He recovered from his ill-fated passion and in December 1699 married a childhood friend, Teresa Destito, who was well intentioned but almost illiterate and incapable of understanding him. In the same year he obtained a chair of rhetoric at the University of Naples. One of the duties of the professor of rhetoric was to open the academic year with a Latin oration, and Vico carried out this responsibility by giving the introductory lectures between 1699 and 1708. The last one, printed in 1709 under the title De Nostri Temporis Studiorum Ratione (“On the Method of the Studies of Our Time”), is rich with his reflections about pedagogical methods. This work was followed almost immediately by the publication of Vico’s great metaphysical essay De Antiquissima Italorum Sapientia (“On the Ancient Wisdom of the Italians”), which was a refutation of the Rationalistic system of Descartes.

This tranquil interval, during which he brought his aging father to live with him, did not last. Three of his eight children died at an early age, and another, Ignazio, caused his parents grave anxiety and was even imprisoned for his debts. Vico was also disappointed in his own career, which had initially appeared promising. He failed to obtain the more prestigious and better paid chair of law that he actively sought. When a notice contemptuous of his work appeared in one of the scholarly publications, his fiery temper was sparked, and he wrote his pamphlet “Vici Vindiciae” (“The Vindications of Vico”) in reply. It was distressing for him to see so many mediocre thinkers favoured and to be unable to ensure publication of his most important work.

Period of the “Scienza Nuova.” The outline of the work that he planned to call Scienza nuova first appeared in 1720–21 in a two-volume legal treatise on the “Universal Law.” The outline was written in Latin and appeared in a chapter entitled “Nova Scientia Tentatur” (“The New Science Is Attempted”). The ideas outlined here were to be fully developed in a version that the powerful cardinal Corsini, the future pope Clement XII, agreed to sponsor. According to contemporary practice, this meant that he would assume the costs of publication. At the last moment the Cardinal withdrew, pleading financial difficulties. It is probable, however, that the Cardinal was alarmed by certain of Vico’s propositions, which were bold for that period, such as the notion that human society went through a “bestial” stage and that it is possible for society to revert to this primitive barbarism in which men possess only an obscure form of reason.

According to his autobiography, since he lacked money to publish the full text of his work, Vico sold the only jewel he possessed—a family ring—and reduced his book by two-thirds. It appeared in 1725 under the title Scienza nuova but was unsuccessful. Vico complained bitterly of the virtually universal indifference that his masterpiece evoked. He quickly regained his confidence, however, and returned to his work with energy. His mind was crowded with ideas, but ordering and systematizing them was a trying task for him. He thought as a poet, not as a dialectician. Nevertheless, he began a total revision and restructuring of his work.

In his autobiography Vico revealed that a vain hope had been born in him when Jean Leclerc, an encyclopaedist and one of the greatest scholars of the time, had written to him from Amsterdam in 1722 asking for information about him. Vico had sent his two-volume legal treatise to him, and Leclerc had devoted 17 two-column pages in the 1722 edition of his Bibliothèque ancienne et moderne (“Ancient and Modern Library”) to Vico. This, however, was a trifle in comparison with the 70 pages devoted to Paola Mattia Doria, a friend of Vico from the salons of Naples. His hope was further betrayed when the Scienza nuova was not mentioned in subsequent volumes of the celebrated Bibliothèque.

Vico’s effort to restructure his masterpiece was completed as the second edition of the Scienza nuova. It was actually the fourth edition, if the outline contained in the legal treatise and the “fragments” written between 1729 and 1732 are taken into account. The definitive edition that appeared posthumously in 1744, however, was marked terza impressione (“third edition”) and was conceived according to a very different and greatly revised plan.

Vico’s contemporaries portray him, in his old age, awakening intermittently from his exhaustion to dash off prophetic lines or to comment on a text from some classical author for the few pupils remaining to him. He found satisfaction in the fact that his eldest son, Gennaro, succeeded him in his chair at the university. Surrounded by the three survivors of his once numerous family (Ignazio had died shortly after his release from prison), Vico died. Since the stairway of his house was too narrow to permit passage of his coffin, it had to be lowered through a window, and then it was unceremoniously borne to the church of the Oratorian priests, where his remains are still kept.


Vico’s vision.
Vico had his own vision of man and the universe, and, in a time when the deductive method brought into fashion by Descartes was much employed, he posed the modern problem of sense: the sense of life and of history. He discovered the irrational, the small flame that at certain times grows imperceptibly in the heart of reason. His philosophy recognized the aspirations of humanity, its obsessions and dreams, its precarious achievements, and its frustrations and defeats. He described human societies as passing through stages of growth and decay. The first is a “bestial” condition, from which emerges “the age of the gods,” in which man is ruled by fear of the supernatural. “The age of heroes” is the consequence of alliances formed by family leaders to protect against internal dissent and external attack; in this stage, society is rigidly divided into patricians and plebeians. “The age of men” follows, as the result of class conflict in which the plebeians achieve equal rights, but this stage encounters the problems of corruption, dissolution, and a possible reversion to primitive barbarism. Vico affirmed that Providence must right the course of history so that humanity is not engulfed in successive cataclysms.

According to Vico, the origin of unequal social classes, which often retain the rigidity of primitive castes, must be attributed to imperfect forms of religion, not to technological progress. All of Vico’s anthropology is based on the affirmation of the absolute primacy of religion, which was no doubt suggested to him by the thought of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, an Italian Renaissance philosopher. Vico observed that three principles are dominant in the birth and regeneration of nations: “All the people have a religion; official marriages are celebrated among them; and the burial of the dead is a properly human and universal custom.” Modesty and piety are the basic moral sentiments, the pillars on which the family is built. When they crumble, the descent toward the bestial state of man accelerates. Without expressly saying so, Vico thought that the degeneration that struck down the idolatrous religions of ancient times could even overtake what for him was the true religion—Christianity, which had established monasteries as refuges from the world and had secured the purity of sentiments and morals.

A second basic notion of Vico is that man has a mixed nature: he remains closer to the beast than to the angel. For Vico the second stage of barbarism, which closes the age of men, arises from an excess of reflection or from the predominance of technology. This stage heralds an imminent new beginning of history. The fundamental perversity of the second stage of barbarism makes it, in fact, more dangerous than the first, which in its excess of strength contains noble impulses that need only to be brought under control. Man becomes a coward, an unbeliever, and an informer, hiding his evil intentions behind “flattery and hypocritical wheedling.” Families live huddled together in tentacled cities, veritable “deserts of souls.” These degenerate peoples do not hesitate to rush into the worst of slaveries to find shelter and protection. Money becomes the only value. This dissolution from the age of men to the bestial state exposes humanity to a fate far worse than arrests or regressions of civilizations. Vico hoped to serve warning to men of the evils that could overtake them if they became worshippers of a materialist ideology or the servants of a science uninformed by conscience.


Influence.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great German writer, received a copy of the second edition of Scienza nuova from an enthusiastic student of Vico whom he visited in Naples in 1787. In an article published that same year, Goethe spoke of the dead writer whose “wisdom is now endlessly praised by Italian legal writers.” He said that the work had been handed to him “as though it were a sacred thing” and that it contained “prophetic insights on the subject of the good and the just that we shall or must attain in the future, insights based on sober meditation about life and about the future.” Convinced by the strength of Vico’s demonstration, Goethe henceforth believed that the evolution of humanity should be represented not by a continually ascending line but by a spiral. Nevertheless, it appears that Vico’s work was not widely read during the 18th century.

In the 19th century, Jules Michelet, a great nationalist and romantic historian of France, called Vico “his own Prometheus,” his intellectual forerunner. Michelet eventually abandoned the idea of recourse to Providence but continued to cite Virgil and Vico as his authorities. Auguste Comte, the French Positivist philosopher, hailed Vico as an influence in the formulation of his law of the three states, or ages, of mankind. Karl Marx, who developed an economic interpretation of history, owed a great deal more to Vico than he himself acknowledged; in fact, there was a close relationship of dependence. They were separated, however, by their major difference over religion. Today, many scholars see in Vico the forerunner of the sciences of anthropology and ethnology. In fact, in recent times, despite the obscurity of his style, Vico has been increasingly recognized as one of the important figures in European intellectual history, and Scienza nuova has been accepted as one of the landmark works in that history.

Jules-Marie Chaix-Ruy

 




18th-century developments


Reform of the tragic theatre

In 1713 Francesco Scipione Maffei, an antiquary of Verona, produced Merope—a tragedy that met with great success and pointed the way toward reform of the Italian tragic theatre. Between 1726 and 1747 Antonio Conti—an admirer of Shakespeare—wrote four Roman tragedies in blank verse. It was not until 1775 and the success of his Cleopatra, however, that an important Italian tragedian finally emerged in the person of Vittorio Alfieri. In strong contrast with Metastasio’s and Paolo Rolli’s melodrammi—librettos set to music or sometimes performed as plays in their own right—Alfieri’s tragedies are harsh, bitter, and unmelodious. He chose classical and biblical themes, and through his hatred of tyranny and love of liberty he aspired to move his audience with magnanimous sentiments and patriotic fervour. He is at his most profound in Saul (1782) and Mirra (1786). Alfieri’s influence in the Romantic period and the Risorgimento was immense, and, like Carlo Goldoni, he wrote an important autobiography, which gives a revealing account of his struggles to provide Italy with a corpus of drama comparable to that of the other European nations.

 

Goldoni’s reform of the comedy

Metastasio’s reform of the operatic libretto was paralleled in the mid-18th century by Goldoni’s reform of comedy. Throughout the 17th century the commedia dell’arte—a colourful pantomime of improvisation, singing, mime, and acrobatics, often performed by actors of great virtuosity—had gradually replaced regular comedy, but by the early 18th century it had degenerated into mere buffoonery and obscenity with stereotyped characters (maschere, “masks”) and mannerisms. The dialogue was mostly improvised, and the plot—a complicated series of stage directions, known as the scenario—dealt mainly with forced marriages, star-crossed lovers, and the intrigues of servants and masters. Goldoni succeeded in replacing this traditional type of theatre with written works whose wit and vigour are especially evident when the Venetian scene is portrayed in a refined form of the local dialect. Perhaps because of his prolific output his work has sometimes been thought of as lacking in depth. His social observation is acute, however, and his characters are beautifully drawn. La locandiera (1753; “The Innkeeper”; Eng. trans. Mirandolina), with its heroine Mirandolina, a protofeminist, has things to say about class and the position of women that can still be appreciated today. Goldoni’s rival and bitter controversialist, fellow Venetian Carlo Gozzi (the reactionary brother of the more liberal journalist Gasparo), also wrote comedies, satirical verse, and an important autobiography. His Fiabe teatrali (1772; “Theatrical Fables”) are fantastic and often satirical. Among them are L’amore delle tre melarance (The Love for Three Oranges), later made into an opera by Sergey Prokofiev, and the original Turandot, later set to music by Giacomo Puccini.
 


Carlo Goldoni


Carlo Goldoni, (b. Feb. 25, 1707, Venice—d. Feb. 6, 1793, Paris), prolific dramatist who renovated the well-established Italian commedia dell’arte dramatic form by replacing its masked stock figures with more realistic characters, its loosely structured and often repetitive action with tightly constructed plots, and its predictable farce with a new spirit of gaiety and spontaneity. For these innovations Goldoni is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy.

The precocious son of a physician, Goldoni read comedies from his father’s library when young and ran away from school at Rimini in 1721 with a company of strolling players. Back in school at the papal college in Pavia, Goldoni read comedies by Plautus, Terence, and Aristophanes. Later he studied French in order to read Molière.

For writing a satire on the ladies of the town, Goldoni was expelled from the Ghislieri College in Pavia, and he reluctantly began law studies at the University of Pavia. Although he practiced law in Venice (1731–33) and Pisa (1744–48) and held diplomatic appointments, his real interest was the dramatic works he wrote for the Teatro San Samuele in Venice.

In 1748 Goldoni agreed to write for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company of the Venetian actor-manager Girolamo Medebac. Although Goldoni’s early plays veer between the old style and the new, he dispensed with masked characters altogether in such plays as La Pamela (performed 1750; Eng. trans., Pamela, a Comedy, 1756), a serious drama based on Samuel Richardson’s novel.

During the 1750–51 season Goldoni promised defecting patrons 16 new comedies and produced some of his best, notably I pettegolezzi delle donne (“Women’s Gossip”), a play in Venetian dialect; Il bugiardo (The Liar, 1922), written in commedia dell’arte style; and Il vero amico (“The True Friend”), an Italian comedy of manners.

From 1753 to 1762 Goldoni wrote for the Teatro San Luca (now Teatro Goldoni). There he increasingly left commedia dell’arte behind him. Important plays from this period are the Italian comedy of manners La locandiera (performed 1753; Eng. trans., Mine Hostess, 1928) and two fine plays in Venetian dialect, I rusteghi (performed 1760; “The Tyrants”) and Le baruffe chiozzote (performed 1762; “Quarrels at Chioggia”).

Already engaged in rivalry with the playwright Pietro Chiari, whom he satirized in I malcontenti (performed 1755; “The Malcontent”), Goldoni was assailed by Carlo Gozzi, an adherent of the commedia dell’arte, who denounced Goldoni in a satirical poem (1757), then ridiculed both Goldoni and Chiari in a commedia dell’arte classic, L’amore delle tre melarance (performed 1761; “The Love of the Three Oranges”).

In 1762 Goldoni left Venice for Paris to direct the Comédie-Italienne. Subsequently, he rewrote all of his French plays for Venetian audiences; his French L’Éventail (performed 1763) became in Italian one of his finest plays, Il ventaglio (performed 1764; The Fan, 1907).

Goldoni retired in 1764 to teach Italian to the princesses at Versailles. In 1783 he began his celebrated Mémoires in French (1787; Eng. trans., 1814, 1926). After the French Revolution his pension was cancelled, and he died in dire poverty.

 

 


Carlo Gozzi



Carlo, Conte Gozzi, (b. Dec. 13, 1720, Venice—d. April 4, 1806, Venice), poet, prose writer, and dramatist, a fierce and skillful defender of the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte form against the dramatic innovations of Pietro Chiari and Carlo Goldoni. Admired in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, Gozzi’s dramas became the basis of many subsequent theatrical and musical works.

Born into a noble but poor family, the younger brother of Gasparo Gozzi, Carlo joined the army. On his return to Venice in 1744, he wrote satires and miscellaneous prose and joined the reactionary Accademia dei Granelleschi, a group determined to preserve Italian literature from being corrupted by foreign influences. Gozzi’s own crusade was to revive the traditional commedia dell’arte. He began by attacking Carlo Goldoni, author of many fine realistic comedies, first in a satirical poem, La tartana degli influssi (1747), and then in an exotic commedia dell’arte play, L’amore delle tre melarance (performed 1761; “The Love of the Three Oranges”), in which he personified Goldoni as a magician and Pietro Chiari as a wicked fairy.

Following the huge success of this play, Gozzi wrote nine other fiabe (fantastic plays; literally, “fairy tales”), based on puppet plays, Oriental stories, popular fables, fairy stories, and the works of such Spanish dramatists as Tirso de Molina, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and Miguel de Cervantes. Outstanding among these fiabe are Il re cervo (performed 1762; The King Stag), Turandot (performed 1762), La donna serpente (performed 1762; “The Snake Woman”), and L’augellin belverde (performed 1765; “The Pretty Little Green Bird”).

Gozzi’s fiabe were popular for a time in Italy and had an even more lasting influence elsewhere in Europe, particularly in Germany, where they were published in 1777–78. Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, and the Schlegels all admired them: Schiller turned Turandot into a serious play, and Friedrich von Schlegel compared Gozzi to William Shakespeare. Turandot was used later as the basis for operas by Ferruccio Busoni (performed 1917) and Giacomo Puccini (performed 1926); L’amore delle tre melarance provided the basis for Sergey Prokofiev’s opera The Love for Three Oranges (performed 1921).

Gozzi also wrote a vivid, if immodest, autobiography, Memorie inutili (1797; The Memoirs of Carlo Gozzi).
 



The world of learning

Giambattista Vico, Ludovico Antonio Muratori, Apostolo Zeno, and the already mentioned Scipione Maffei were writers who reflected the awakening of historical consciousness in Italy. Muratori collected the primary sources for the study of the Italian Middle Ages; Vico, in his Scienza nuova (1725–44; The New Science), investigated the laws governing the progress of the human race and from the psychological study of man endeavoured to infer the laws by which civilizations rise, flourish, and fall. Giovanni Maria Mazzuchelli and Gerolamo Tiraboschi devoted themselves to literary history. Literary criticism also attracted attention; Gian Vincenzo Gravina, Vico, Maffei, Muratori, and several others, while advocating the imitation of the classics, realized that such imitation should be cautious and thus anticipated critical standpoints that were later to come into favour.




The Enlightenment (Illuminismo)


With the end of Spanish domination and the spread of the ideas of the Enlightenment from France, political reforms were gradually introduced in various parts of Italy. The new spirit of the times led men—mainly of the upper middle class—to enquire into the mechanics of economic and social laws. The ideas and aspirations of the Enlightenment as a whole were effectively voiced in such organs of the new journalism as Pietro Verri’s periodical Il Caffè (1764–66; “The Coffeehouse”). A notable contributor to Il Caffè was the philosopher and economist Cesare Beccaria, who in his pioneering book Dei delitti e delle pene (1764; On Crimes and Punishments) made an eloquent plea for the abolition of torture and the death penalty.

More than anyone else, Giuseppe Parini seems to embody the literary revival of the 18th century. In Il giorno (published in four parts, 1763–1801; “The Day”), an ambitious but unfinished social satire of inherited wealth and nobility, he describes a day in the life of a young Milanese patrician and reveals with masterly irony the irresponsibility and futility of a whole way of life. His Odi (1795; “Odes”), which are imbued with the same spirit of moral and social reform, are among the classics of Italian poetry.

The satire in the Sermoni (1763; “Sermons”) of Gasparo Gozzi (elder brother of Carlo) is less pungent, though directed at similar ends, and in his two periodicals—La Gazzetta veneta and L’Osservatore—he presented a lively chronicle of Venetian life and indicated a practical moral with much good sense. Giuseppe Baretti—an extremely controversial figure who published a critical journal called La Frusta letteraria (“The Literary Whip”), in which he castigated “bad authors”—had learned much through a lengthy sojourn in England, where his friendship with Samuel Johnson helped to give independence and vigour, if not always accuracy, to his judgments. The Viaggi di Enrico Wanton (1749–64; “Travels of Enrico Wanton”), a philosophical novel by the Venetian Zaccaria Seriman, which tells of an imaginary voyage in the manner of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, was the most all-embracing satire of the time.

Anthony Oldcorn



Literary trends of the 19th century


The 19th century was a period of political ferment leading to Italian unification, and many outstanding writers were involved in public affairs. Much of the literature written with a political aim, even when not of intrinsic value, became part of Italy’s national heritage and inspired not only those for whom it was written but all who valued freedom.

 

Romanticism

Foremost among writers in the early struggles for his country’s unity and freedom from foreign domination was Ugo Foscolo, who reconciled passionate feeling with a formal perfection inspired by classical models. His Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (1802; The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis) was an epistolary story, reminiscent of Goethe’s Werther, of a young man forced to suicide by frustrated love for both a woman and his fatherland. It was extremely moving and popular, as was a poem, “Dei sepolcri” (1807; “On Sepulchres”), in which, in fewer than 300 lines, he wrote lyrically on the theme of the inspiration to be had from contemplating the tombs of the great, exhorting Italians to be worthy of their heritage. This poem influenced the Italian Risorgimento, or national revival, and a passage in which Florence was praised because it preserved in the church of Santa Croce the ashes of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Galileo is still very popular in Italy. Two odes celebrating the divine quality of beauty, 12 sonnets ranking with the best of Petrarch’s and Tasso’s, and an unfinished poem, “Le grazie” (“The Graces”), also testified to Foscolo’s outstanding poetic merit. As an exile in England from 1816 until his death in 1827, he wrote remarkable critical essays on Italian literature for English readers.

In Foscolo patriotism and classicism united to form a single fixed passion, but the eclectic Vincenzo Monti was outstanding for mobility of feeling. He saw danger to his country in the French Revolution and wrote Il pellegrino apostolico (1782; “The Apostolic Pilgrim”) and In morte di Ugo Bassville (1793; The Penance of Hugo), usually known as La bassvilliana; Napoleon’s victories aroused his praise in Prometeo (c. 1805; “Prometheus”), Il bardo della selva nera (1806; “The Bard of the Dark Wood”), and La spada di Federico II (1806; “The Sword of Frederick II”); in Il fanatismo and La superstizione (1797) he attacked the papacy; later he extolled the Austrians. Thus every great event made him change his mind, through lack of political conviction, yet he achieved greatness in La bellezza dell’universo (1781; “The Beauty of the Universe”), in the lyrics inspired by domestic affections, and in a translation of the Iliad, a masterpiece of Neoclassical beauty.




Opposing movements

Melchiorre Cesarotti occupied a prominent position in the world of learning at the end of the 18th century, and his translations of James Macpherson’s Ossian poetry, Poesie di Ossian (1763–72), influenced Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi, and others by their mysterious and gloomy fantasy, so alien to the classical inspiration; Saggio sulla filosofia delle lingue (1785; “Essay on the Philosophy of Languages”) was an important essay in the dispute on the Italian language. The trend was toward pedantic classicism as a reaction against an excessive Gallicism favoured by some 18th-century writers. Among the purists was Antonio Cesari, who brought out a new enlarged edition of the Vocabolario della Crusca (the first Italian dictionary, published by the Accademia della Crusca in 1612). He wrote Sopra lo stato presente della lingua italiana (1810; “On the Present State of the Italian Language”) and endeavoured to establish the supremacy of Tuscan and of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio as models. But a Lombard school opposed this Tuscan supremacy. Monti, its leader, issued Proposta di alcune correzioni ed aggiunte al vocabolario della Crusca (1817–26; “Proposal for Some Corrections and Additions to the Crusca Dictionary”), which attacked the Tuscanism of the Crusca. By contrast, the patriot Pietro Giordani—for a time a journalistic colleague of Monti—was a great exponent of purismo. His views did not stem from literary pedantry, however, but from a concern that all social groups throughout Italy should have a common means of communication. In this respect he was linguistically opposed to the great Romantic poet Carlo Porta, who lampooned the aristocracy and clergy and expressed sympathy with the humble and wretched in narrative poems composed not in Italian but in a lively Milanese dialect. All Italy took part in the disputes about language, literature, and politics.

An artificial form of classicism was associated with the Napoleonic domination of Italy, so that when Napoleon fell, forces antagonistic to classicism arose. Literary Romanticism had already won favour with the French, who erroneously thought themselves akin to the German Romantics. Between 1816 and 1818 a battle was fought for Romanticism, particularly in Milan, where a Romantic periodical, Il Conciliatore (1818–19; “The Peacemaker”), was published. Giovanni Berchet (patriotic poet whose Lettera semiseria di Grisostomo al suo figliuolo [1816; “Half-Serious Letter from Grisostomo to His Son”] is an important manifesto of Italian popular romanticism), Silvio Pellico, Ludovico di Breme, Giovita Scalvini, and Ermes Visconti were among its contributors. Their efforts were silenced in 1820 when several of them were arrested by the Austrian police because of their liberal opinions; among them was Pellico, who later wrote a famous account of his experiences, Le mie prigioni (1832; My Prisons).

Alessandro Manzoni (grandson of reformer Cesare Beccaria) was the chief exponent of Italian Romanticism, but perhaps an even higher claim to fame was his contribution to the resolution of the language problem. In 1821 he started working on a panoramic novel about the lives of simple people placed against a background of major historical events, and, in order that this should be accessible to a wide readership, he decided to write it in an idiom as close as possible to modern educated Florentine speech. This was a formidable enterprise for someone whose first languages were French and Milanese dialect—and to whom spoken Florentine was virtually a foreign tongue—and for the first draft (completed in 1823) he had to resort to Francesco Cherubini’s Italian-Milanese dictionary. The second draft was published in 1825–27 under the title I promessi sposi (The Betrothed); and the final definitive edition came out in 1840–42 after a long, painstaking process of revision aimed at making the text conform more closely with colloquial Florentine usage. The result of this effort was clear, expressive prose—neither pretentious nor provincial—and the way in which the novel caught the public’s imagination attested to Manzoni’s success in addressing the sort of people to whom conventional literary Italian was almost as remote as Latin. Ironically, Manzoni the innovator became, in his turn, the model for a new kind of purism, with “Manzonians” composing works in an affected Tuscan, and it required authors with fresh ideas—not poor imitators—to continue the task of disencumbering and modernizing written Italian.

Manzoni’s genius as a poet showed in the odes Il cinque maggio (1821; “The Fifth of May”), written on the death of Napoleon, and Marzo 1821 (1821; “March 1821”) and in passages of his Inni sacri (1812–22; Sacred Hymns), five poems in celebration of church holy days, describing human affections. His tragedies, Il conte di Carmagnola (performed 1820; “The Count of Carmagnola”) and Adelchi (1822), about the Frankish conquest of Italy, marked a victory of Romanticism over classicism; they contained passages of great lyrical beauty but lacked strong dramatic power.

The foremost Italian poet of the age was Giacomo Leopardi, an outstanding scholar and thinker whose philological works together with his philosophical writings, Operette morali, would alone place him among the great writers of the 19th century. Embittered by solitude, sickness, and near penury, he realized from age 20 the vanity of hope. Though he developed a doctrine of universal pessimism, seeing life as evil and death as the only comfort, the poetry based on these bitter, despairing premises was far from depressing. Most of Leopardi’s poems were contained in one book, I canti (“Songs”; Eng. trans. The Poems of Leopardi), first published in 1831. Some were patriotic and were once very popular; but the most memorable came from deeper lyrical inspiration. Among them were “L’infinito,” a meditation on infinity; “A Silvia,” on the memory of a girl who died when he was 20; Le ricordanze, an evocation of his childhood; “Il passero solitario,” comparing the lonely poet with the bird that sings in isolation; and “La quiete dopo la tempesta” and “Il sabato del villaggio,” two pictures of village life. They balance depth of meaning and formal beauty, simplicity of diction, intensity, and verbal music.
 


Alessandro Manzoni

Alessandro Manzoni, (b. March 7, 1785, Milan—d. May 22, 1873, Milan), Italian poet and novelist whose novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed, 1952) had immense patriotic appeal for Italians of the nationalistic Risorgimento period and is generally ranked among the masterpieces of world literature.

After Manzoni’s parents separated in 1792, he spent much of his childhood in religious schools. In 1805 he joined his mother and her lover in Paris, where he moved in radical circles and became a convert to Voltairian skepticism. His anticlerical poem “Il trionfo della libertà” demonstrates his independence of thought. When his mother’s lover and his father died, the former left him a comfortable income, through his mother.

In 1808 he married Henriette Blondel, a Calvinist, who soon converted to Roman Catholicism, and two years later Manzoni himself returned to Catholicism. Retiring to a quiet life in Milan and at his villa in Brusiglio, he wrote (1812–15) a series of religious poems, Inni sacri (1815; The Sacred Hymns), on the church feasts of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, and a hymn to Mary. The last, and perhaps the finest, of the series, “La pentecoste,” was published in 1822.

During these years, Manzoni also produced the treatise Osservazioni sulla morale cattolica (1819; “Observations on Catholic Ethics”); an ode on the Piedmontese revolution of 1821, “Marzo 1821”; and two historical tragedies influenced by Shakespeare: Il conte di Carmagnola (1820), a romantic work depicting a 15th-century conflict between Venice and Milan; and Adelchi (performed 1822), a richly poetic drama about Charlemagne’s overthrow of the Lombard kingdom and conquest of Italy. Another ode, written on the death of Napoleon in 1821, “Il cinque maggio” (1822; “The Napoleonic Ode”), was considered by Goethe, one of the first to translate it into German, as the greatest of many written to commemorate the event.

Manzoni’s masterpiece, I promessi sposi, 3 vol. (1825–27), is a novel set in early 17th-century Lombardy during the period of the Milanese insurrection, the Thirty Years’ War, and the plague. It is a sympathetic portrayal of the struggle of two peasant lovers whose wish to marry is thwarted by a vicious local tyrant and the cowardice of their parish priest. A courageous friar takes up the lovers’ cause and helps them through many adventures to safety and marriage. Manzoni’s resigned tolerance of the evils of life and his concept of religion as the ultimate comfort and inspiration of humanity give the novel its moral dimension, while a pleasant vein of humour in the book contributes to the reader’s enjoyment. The novel brought Manzoni immediate fame and praise from all quarters, in Italy and elsewhere.

Prompted by the patriotic urge to forge a language that would be accessible to a wide readership rather than a narrow elite, Manzoni decided to write his novel in an idiom as close as possible to contemporary educated Florentine speech. The final edition of I promessi sposi (1840–42), rendered in clear, expressive prose purged of all antiquated rhetorical forms, reached exactly the sort of broad audience he had aimed at, and its prose became the model for many subsequent Italian writers.

Manzoni’s wife died in 1833; his second wife and most of his children also predeceased him. These calamities deepened rather than destroyed his faith. Revered by the men of his time, he was made a senator of Italy in 1860. A stroke followed the death of his oldest son in 1873, and he died that same year and was buried with a state funeral.
 

 

 


Giacomo Leopardi

Giacomo Leopardi, (b. June 29, 1798, Recanati, Papal States—d. June 14, 1837, Naples), Italian poet, scholar, and philosopher whose outstanding scholarly and philosophical works and superb lyric poetry place him among the great writers of the 19th century.

A precocious, congenitally deformed child of noble but apparently insensitive parents, Giacomo quickly exhausted the resources of his tutors. At the age of 16 he independently had mastered Greek, Latin, and several modern languages, had translated many classical works, and had written two tragedies, many Italian poems, and several scholarly commentaries. Excessive study permanently damaged his health: after bouts of poor vision, he eventually became blind in one eye and developed a cerebrospinal condition that afflicted him all his life. Forced to suspend his studies for long periods, wounded by his parents’ unconcern, and sustained only by happy relationships with his brother and sister, he poured out his hopes and his bitterness in poems such as Appressamento della morte (written 1816, published 1835; “Approach of Death”), a visionary work in terza rima, imitative of Petrarch and Dante but written with considerable poetic skill and inspired by a genuine feeling of despair.

Two experiences in 1817 and 1818 robbed Leopardi of whatever optimism he had left: his frustrated love for his married cousin, Gertrude Cassi (subject of his journal Diario d’amore and the elegy “Il primo amore”), and the death from consumption of Terese Fattorini, young daughter of his father’s coachman, subject of one of his greatest lyrics, “A Silvia.” The last lines of this poem express the anguish he felt all his life: “O nature, nature, / Why dost thou not fulfill / Thy first fair promise? / Why dost thou deceive / Thy children so?”

Leopardi’s inner suffering was lightened in 1818 by a visit from the scholar and patriot Pietro Giordani, who urged him to escape from his painful situation at home. At last he went to Rome for a few unhappy months (1822–23), then returned home for another painful period, brightened only by the 1824 publication of his verse collection Canzoni. In 1825 he accepted an offer to edit Cicero’s works in Milan. For the next few years he travelled between Bologna, Recanati, Pisa, and Florence and published Versi (1826), an enlarged collection of poems; and Operette morali (1827; “Minor Moral Works”), an influential philosophical exposition, mainly in dialogue form, of his doctrine of despair.

Lack of money forced him to live at Recanati (1828–30), but he escaped again to Florence through the financial help of friends and published a further collection of poems, I canti (1831). Frustrated love for a Florentine beauty, Fanny Targioni-Tozzetti, inspired some of his saddest lyrics. A young Neapolitan exile, Antonio Ranieri, became his friend and only comfort.

Leopardi moved to Rome, then to Florence, and finally settled in Naples in 1833, where, among other works, he wrote Ginestra (1836), a long poem included in Ranieri’s posthumous collection of his works (1845). The death that he had long regarded as the only liberation came to him suddenly in a cholera epidemic in Naples.

Leopardi’s genius, his frustrated hopes, and his pain found their best outlet in his poetry, which is admired for its brilliance, intensity, and effortless musicality. His finest poems are probably the lyrics called “Idillii” in early editions of his poetry, among which is “A Silvia.” One English translation of his prose works is James Thomson’s Essays, Dialogues, and Thoughts (1905). Among many translations of Leopardi’s poetry are R.C. Trevelyan’s Translations From Leopardi (1941) and J.-P. Barricelli’s Poems (1963).
 


 

The Risorgimento and after

Circumstances made it inevitable that Italian Romanticism should become heavily involved with the patriotic myths of the Risorgimento; yet, while this served a useful civic purpose at the time, it did not encourage literature of consistent artistic merit or enduring readability. Of the writings produced by figures associated in some way with Italy’s struggle for nationhood, it tends to be the less typical ones that attract attention today: the dialect poetry of Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli describing the life of contemporary papal Rome; compositions by Giuseppe Giusti satirizing petty tyrants, political turncoats, and coarse parvenus; or the works of the republican Roman Catholic from Dalmatia, Niccolò Tommaseo. The undoubted masterpiece of Risorgimento narrative literature is Ippolito Nievo’s Confessioni di un italiano (published posthumously in 1867; “Confessions of an Italian”; Eng. trans. The Castle of Fratta), which marks Nievo as the most important novelist to emerge in the interval between Manzoni and Giovanni Verga. Giuseppe Mazzini’s letters can still be studied with profit, as can the memoirs of Luigi Settembrini (Ricordanze della mia vita [1879–80; “Recollections of My Life”]) and Massimo D’Azeglio (I miei ricordi [1868; Things I Remember]). D’Azeglio’s historical novels and those of Francesco Guerrazzi now have a rather limited interest; and Mazzini’s didactic writings—of great merit in their good intentions—are generally regarded as unduly oratorical. Giovanni Prati and Aleardo Aleardi, protagonists of the “Second Romanticism,” wrote poetry of a sentimentality that helped to provoke a variety of reactive movements, including scapigliatura and verismo.

Giosuè Carducci was an outstanding figure whose enthusiastic support for the national cause during the struggle of 1859–61 was changed to disillusionment by the difficulties in which the new kingdom was involved. The bitterness of some of his poetry revealed frustration and rebelliousness. Rime nuove (The New Lyrics) and Odi barbare (The Barbarian Odes), both of which appeared in the 1880s, contained the best of his poetry: memories of childhood, evocations of landscape, laments for domestic sorrows, an inspired representation of historical events, an ambitious effort to resuscitate the glory of Roman history, and an anachronistic but sincere cult of pagan civilization. He tried to adapt Latin prosody to Italian verse, which sometimes produced good poems, but his opposition to Romanticism and his rhetorical tirades provoked a strong reaction, and his metrical reform was short-lived. He was also a scholarly historian of literature, and his literary essays had permanent value, although philosophical criticism such as that of Francesco De Sanctis was uncongenial to him. Both his poetry and his criticism were cited when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1906.

De Sanctis himself was connected politically with the Risorgimento, but he is remembered chiefly for his critical writings. His most important works were various critical essays and Storia della letteratura italiana (1870–71; History of Italian Literature). His main tenet was that literature was to be judged not on its intellectual or moralistic content so much as by the spirit of its “form,” and the role of the critic was to discover how this form had been unconsciously and spontaneously conceived by studying its creator’s temperament and background and the age in which he lived. De Sanctis was not properly appreciated in his day but came into his own at the turn of the century when Benedetto Croce rescued his works from oblivion.

While Carducci was still alive, Giovanni Pascoli acquired a reputation and succeeded him in the chair of Italian literature at the University of Bologna. His art was often impressionistic and fragmentary, his language occasionally laborious, but his lyricism, at first timid in inspiration in Myricae (1891; “Tamarisks”), rose to fuller tones when he attempted the loftier themes of antiquity: Roman heritage and greater Italy. His original vein still found expression in Canti di Castelvecchio (1903; “Songs of Castelvecchio”) and in the classicism of Poemi conviviali (1904; “Convivial Poems”). Later he produced—both in humanistic Latin and in self-consciously elaborate Italian—heroic hymns in honour of two sacred cities, Rome and Turin.
 


Giosuè Carducci
 

Giosuè Carducci, (b. July 27, 1835, Val di Castello, near Lucca, Tuscany [now Italy]—d. Feb. 16, 1907, Bologna, Italy), Italian poet, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1906, and one of the most influential literary figures of his age.

The son of a republican country doctor, Carducci spent his childhood in the wild Maremma region of southern Tuscany. He studied at the University of Pisa and in 1860 became professor of Italian literature at Bologna, where he lectured for more than 40 years. He was made a senator for life in 1890 and was revered by the Italians as a national poet.

In his youth Carducci was the centre of a group of young men determined to overthrow the prevailing Romanticism and to return to classical models. Giuseppe Parini, Vincenzo Monti, and Ugo Foscolo were his masters, and their influence is evident in his first books of poems (Rime, 1857; later collected in Juvenilia [1880] and Levia gravia [1868; “Light and Serious Poems”]). He showed both his great power as a poet and the strength of his republican, anticlerical feeling in his hymn to Satan, “Inno a Satana” (1863), and in his Giambi ed epodi (1867–69; “Iambics and Epodes”), inspired chiefly by contemporary politics. Its violent, bitter language reflects the virile, rebellious character of the poet.

Rime nuove (1887; The New Lyrics) and Odi barbare (1877; The Barbarian Odes) contain the best of Carducci’s poetry: the evocations of the Maremma landscape and the memories of childhood; the lament for the loss of his only son; the representation of great historical events; and the ambitious attempts to recall the glory of Roman history and the pagan happiness of classical civilization. Carducci’s enthusiasm for the classical in art led him to adapt Latin prosody to Italian verse, and his Odi barbare are written in metres imitative of Horace and Virgil. His research in Italian literature was warmed by his poetic imagination and style, and his best prose works equal his poetry.

 

 


Giovanni Pascoli
 

Giovanni Pascoli, (b. Dec. 31, 1855, San Mauro di Romagna, Kingdom of Sardinia—d. April 6, 1912, Bologna, Italy), Italian classical scholar and poet whose graceful and melancholy Italian lyric poems, perfect in form, rhythmic in style, and innovative in wording, were an important influence on the crepuscolari (“twilight poets”; see crepuscolarismo).

Pascoli had an extremely painful childhood: his father was mysteriously assassinated when he was 12, his mother died when he was 13, and five other children in the family died by the time he reached adulthood. He also experienced a long period of psychological duress while studying on a scholarship at the University of Bologna under the great poet Giosuè Carducci. Pascoli was arrested and imprisoned for a few months in 1879 for preaching political anarchy. Following his imprisonment he took his younger siblings to live with him, and from 1882 began a career of teaching, first in secondary schools and then in various Italian universities, as professor of Greek, Latin, and Italian literature. In 1905 he was appointed to the chair of Italian literature at the University of Bologna.

Pascoli’s first literary work, a great success, was Myricae (1891; “Tamarisks”), a volume of short, delicate, musical lyrics inspired by nature and domestic themes and reflecting the psychological unrest of his student years. Some easing of inner turmoil is apparent in his next volume, usually considered his best, Canti di Castelvecchio (1903, definitive ed., 1907; “Songs of Castelvecchio”), a collection of moving evocations of his sad childhood and celebrations of nature and family life. Subsequent volumes include the classically inspired and more formal Poemi conviviali (1904) and two collections influenced by Virgil’s Georgics, Carducci’s work, and the French Symbolists: Primi poemetti (1904, originally published as Poemetti, 1897) and Nuovi poemetti (1909). Pascoli’s Latin poems won poetry prizes and exhibited a fluent skill; Gabriele D’Annunzio considered him the finest Latin poet since the Augustan age. During his later years Pascoli wrote several nationalistic and historic poetic works, notably Poemi del Risorgimento (1913). English translations of his poems were published in 1923 and 1927. He also translated poems of Wordsworth, Shelley, and Tennyson. An Italian literary award, the Pascoli Prize, was established in 1962 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death, and his birthplace was named San Mauro Pascoli.
 


 

The veristi and other narrative writers

The patriotic niceties and sentimental Romanticism of much Risorgimento writing inevitably provoked a reaction. The first serious opposition came from the scapigliati (literally, “disheveled,” or “bohemians”), adherents of an antibourgeois literary and artistic movement that flourished in the northern metropolises of Milan and Turin during the last four decades of the 19th century and whose declared aim was to link up with the most advanced Romantic currents from abroad. Unfortunately the movement—perhaps by its very nature—lacked intellectual cohesion and tended to cultivate the eccentric as an end in itself. The scapigliati, however, made a useful contribution in social criticism and in their informal linguistic approach. Among the foremost scapigliati were Giuseppe Rovani, whose monumental novel about Milanese life, I cento anni (The Hundred Years), was issued in installments (1856–58 and 1864–65); Emilio Praga, a poet tormented by contradictions; and Arrigo Boito, poet, musician, and librettist for Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff and Otello.

A more lasting and fruitful successor to conventional Italian Romanticism was verismo (“realism”; first theoretically expounded by Luigi Capuana in 1872), a movement initially inspired by the French Naturalist writers and influenced by positivist and determinist ideas. The veristi were not concerned with sermons or noble sentiments but with observable phenomena. When they dealt with the Italy of the Risorgimento, they showed it warts and all. The greatest of verismo narrators was without a doubt Giovanni Verga, who explained in a preamble to a short story, “L’amante di Gramigna” (1880; Eng. trans. “Gramigna’s Lover” ), that in a perfect novel the sincerity of its reality would be so evident that the hand of the artist would be absolutely invisible and the work of art would seem to have matured spontaneously without any point of contact with its author. At times Verga almost seems to have achieved this unattainable goal, and in his two great narrative works dealing with the victims of social and economic change, I Malavoglia (1881; “The Malavoglia Family”; Eng. trans. The House by the Medlar Tree) and Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889), the reader often has the sensation of being put down in an unfamiliar milieu and—as would happen in real life—left to pick up the threads from gossip and chance remarks. Another verista, Federico De Roberto, in his novel I vicerè (1894; The Viceroys), has given a cynical and wryly funny account of an aristocratic Sicilian family that adapted all too well to change. Capuana, the founder of verismo and most rigorous adherent to its impersonal method of narration, is known principally for his dramatic psychological study, Il marchese di Roccaverdina (1901; “The Marquis of Roccaverdina”).

In their search for documentary exactitude the veristi paid close attention to regional background. For Verga, De Roberto, and Capuana, this was Sicily. Matilde Serao, on the other hand, has given a detailed and colourful reportage of the Neapolitan scene, while Renato Fucini conveyed the atmosphere of traditional Tuscany. Emilio De Marchi, another writer in the realist mold, has Milan for his setting and in Demetrio Pianelli (1890) has painted a candid but essentially kindly portrait of the new Milanese urban middle class. Antonio Fogazzaro was akin to the veristi in his powers of observation and in his descriptions of minor characters; but he was strongly influenced by Manzoni, and his best narrative work, Piccolo mondo antico (1895; The Little World of the Past), is a nostalgic look back to a supposedly less individualistic age when inner tranquillity was seemingly achieved by devotion to a shared ideal. The veristi had a leavening effect on Italian literature generally, and their influence can be discerned, for example, in the early novels of the Sardinian Grazia Deledda (awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for 1926) and to some extent in the narrative works of the Sienese writer Federigo Tozzi, including Con gli occhi chiusi (1919; “With Closed Eyes”) and Tre croci (1920; Three Crosses). Tozzi, however, belongs psychologically and stylistically to the 20th century.

Giovanni Carsaniga
Anthony Oldcorn


Giovanni Verga

 

Giovanni Verga, (b. Sept. 2, 1840, Catania, Sicily—d. Jan. 27, 1922, Catania), novelist, short-story writer, and playwright, most important of the Italian verismo (Realist) school of novelists (see verismo). His reputation was slow to develop, but modern critics have assessed him as one of the greatest of all Italian novelists. His influence was particularly marked on the post-World War II generation of Italian authors; a landmark film of the Neorealist cinema movement, Luchino Visconti’s Terra trema (1948; The Earth Trembles), was based on Verga’s novel I malavoglia.

Born to a family of Sicilian landowners, Verga went to Florence in 1869 and later lived in Milan, where the ideas of other writers much influenced his work. In 1893 he returned to Catania.

Starting with historical and patriotic novels, Verga went on to write novels in which psychological observation was combined with romantic elements, as in Eva (1873), Tigre reale (1873; “Royal Tigress”), and Eros (1875). These sentimental works were later referred to by Verga as novels “of elegance and adultery.” Eventually he developed the powers that made him prominent among the European novelists of the late 19th century, and within a few years he produced his masterpieces: the short stories of Vita dei campi (1880; “Life in the Fields”) and Novelle rusticane (1883; Little Novels of Sicily), the great novels I malavoglia (1881) and Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889), and Cavalleria rusticana (1884), a play rewritten from a short story, which became immensely popular as an opera (1890) by Pietro Mascagni.

Verga wrote with terse accuracy and an intensity of human feeling that constitute a distinctively lyrical Realism. His realistic representations of the life of the poor peasants and fishermen of Sicily are particularly notable, and indeed, his strong feeling for locale helped start a movement of regionalist writing in Italy. His stories most commonly treated man’s struggle for material betterment, which Verga saw as foredoomed. D.H. Lawrence translated several of his works into English, including Cavalleria rusticana and Mastro-don Gesualdo. Another notable English translation is The House by the Medlar Tree (1953), Eric Mosbacher’s version of I malavoglia.

 

 


Grazia Deledda

 

Grazia Deledda, (b. Sept. 27, 1871, Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy—d. Aug. 15, 1936, Rome), novelist who was influenced by the verismo (“realism”) school in Italian literature. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1926.

Deledda married very young and moved to Rome, where she lived quietly, frequently visiting her native Sardinia. With little formal schooling, at age 17 Deledda wrote her first stories, based on sentimental treatment of folklore themes. With Il vecchio della montagna (1900; “The Old Man of the Mountain”) she began to write about the tragic effects of temptation and sin among primitive human beings.

Among her most notable works are Dopo il divorzio (1902; After the Divorce); Elias Portolu (1903), the story of a mystical former convict in love with his brother’s bride; Cenere (1904; Ashes; film, 1916, starring Eleonora Duse), in which an illegitimate son causes his mother’s suicide; and La madre (1920; The Woman and the Priest; U.S. title, The Mother), the tragedy of a mother who realizes her dream of her son’s becoming a priest only to see him yield to the temptations of the flesh. In these and others of her more than 40 novels, Deledda often used Sardinia’s landscape as a metaphor for the difficulties in her characters’ lives. The ancient ways of Sardinia often conflict with modern mores, and her characters are forced to work out solutions to their moral issues. Cosima, an autobiographical novel, was published posthumously in 1937.




The 20th century


Gabriele D’Annunzio’s nationalism

After unification the new Italy was preoccupied with practical problems, and by the early 20th century a great deal of reasonably successful effort had been directed toward raising living standards, promoting social harmony, and healing the split between church and state. It was in this prosaic and pragmatic atmosphere that the middle classes—bored with the unheroic and positivist spirit of former decades—began to feel the need for a new myth. Thus, it is easy to understand how imaginations across the political spectrum came to be fired by the extravagant personality of aesthete Gabriele D’Annunzio—man of action, nationalist, literary virtuoso, and (not least) exhibitionist—whose life and art seemed to be a blend of Jacob Burckhardt’s “complete man” and the superman of Friedrich Nietzsche. At a distance from those times, it should be possible to evaluate D’Annunzio more clearly. There is, however, no critical consensus about his writings, although he is generally praised for his autobiographical novel, Il piacere (1889; The Child of Pleasure); for the early books of his poetic Laudi del cielo, del mare, della terra, e degli eroi (1904–12; “Praises of the Sky, of the Sea, of the Earth, and of the Heroes”), especially the book titled Alcyone (1903; Halcyon); for the impressionistic prose of Notturno (1921; “Nocturne”); and for his late memoirs.
 


Gabriele D’Annunzio
 

Gabriele D’Annunzio, (b. March 12, 1863, Pescara, Italy—d. March 1, 1938, Gardone Riviera, on Lake Garda), Italian poet, novelist, dramatist, short-story writer, journalist, military hero, and political leader, the leading writer of Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The son of a politically prominent and wealthy Pescara landowner, D’Annunzio was educated at the University of Rome. When he was 16 his first poems, Primo vere (1879; “In Early Spring”), were published. The poems in Canto novo (1882; “New Song”) had more individuality and were full of exuberance and passionate, sensuous descriptions. The autobiographical novel Il piacere (1898; The Child of Pleasure) introduces the first of D’Annunzio’s passionate Nietzschean-superman heroes; another appears in L’innocente (1892; The Intruder). D’Annunzio had already become famous when his best-known novel, Il trionfo della morte (1894; The Triumph of Death), appeared. It and his next major novel, Le vergini delle rocce (1896; The Maidens of the Rocks), featured viciously self-seeking and wholly amoral Nietzschean heroes.

D’Annunzio continued his prodigious literary production until World War I. His major poetic work is the lyrical collection Laudi del cielo del mare della terra e degli eroi (1899; “In Praise of Sky, Sea, Earth, and Heroes”). The third book in this series, Alcyone (1904), a re-creation of the smells, tastes, sounds, and experiences of a Tuscan summer, is considered by many his greatest poetic work.

In 1894 D’Annunzio had begun a long liaison with the actress Eleonora Duse and had turned to writing plays for her, notably the tragedies La Gioconda (performed 1899) and Francesca da Rimini (performed 1901). He eventually broke off the relationship and exposed their intimacy in the erotic novel Il fuoco (1900; The Flame of Life). D’Annunzio’s greatest play was La figlia di Iorio (performed 1904; The Daughter of Jorio), a powerful poetic drama of the fears and superstitions of Abruzzi peasants.

New plays and a novel followed, but these failed to finance D’Annunzio’s extravagant lifestyle, and his indebtedness forced him to flee to France in 1910. When World War I broke out, he returned to Italy to passionately urge his country’s entry into the war. After Italy declared war he plunged into the fighting himself, seeking out dangerous assignments in several branches of the service, finally in the air force, where he lost an eye in combat. D’Annunzio was fond of bold, individual military actions. Two of his best known came in 1918: his flight over Vienna (volo di Vienna), where he dropped thousands of propaganda leaflets over the city, and his prank at Buccari Bay (beffa di Buccari), a daring surprise attack on the Austrian fleet with power boats.

In 1919 D’Annunzio and about 300 supporters, in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles, occupied the Dalmatian port of Fiume (Rijeka in present-day Croatia), which the Italian government and the Allies were proposing to incorporate into the new Yugoslav state but which D’Annunzio believed rightly belonged to Italy. D’Annunzio ruled Fiume as dictator until December 1920, at which time Italian military forces compelled him to abdicate his rule. Nevertheless, by his bold action he had established Italy’s interest in Fiume, and the port became Italian in 1924. D’Annunzio subsequently became an ardent Fascist and was rewarded by Benito Mussolini with a title and a national edition of his works, but he exercised no further influence on Italian politics and was marginalized by the regime. He retired to Gardone Riviera in Lombardy and wrote some memoirs and confessions. There D’Annunzio built a stadium and displayed a ship half-buried in the hillside. After his death, a large mausoleum was constructed there to contain his remains. Gardone Riviera became not only his monument but a monument to Italian nationalism and one of Italy’s most visited tourist sites.

D’Annunzio’s colourful career, his scandalous amours, his daring in wartime, his eloquence and political leadership in two national crises, all contributed to make him one of the most striking personalities of his day. D’Annunzio’s literary works are marked by their egocentric perspective, their fluent and melodious style, and an overriding emphasis on the gratification of the senses, whether through the love of women or of nature. Apart from certain interesting autobiographical works such as Notturno (1921; published in Nocturne and Five Tales of Love and Death), D’Annunzio’s prose is somewhat tedious; he was too receptive of contemporary thought and style, so that his work is liable to indiscriminately reflect the influences of other writers. The same can be said of most of his plays, with the exception of La figlia di Iorio, which has powerful and vivid characterizations.

As a poet D’Annunzio derived much of his power from his great emotional susceptibility. Already in Primo vere and Canto novo, he had shown an astonishing gift for rendering with precision and power the healthy exuberance and youthful intensity of a boy in love with nature and women. Though he then turned to morbid and decadent themes in his subsequent poems, he recovered the vitality of his inspiration and found a new, more musical form for its expression in the great work of his maturity, the Laudi, and especially its third book, Alcyone. Some of the poems in this book, in which D’Annunzio proclaims his sensuous, joyful feeling of communion with nature, are among the masterpieces of modern Italian poetry.
 


 

Benedetto Croce’s criticism

Although D’Annunzio’s fame was worldwide, the function of modernizing intellectual life fell mainly to Benedetto Croce in almost 70 books and in the bimonthly review La Critica (1903–44). Perhaps his most influential work was his literary criticism, which he expounded and continually revised in articles and books spanning nearly half a century.

Croce’s beliefs implied condemnation of fascism’s ideology, but he was not seriously molested by the fascist regime, and through the darkest days La Critica remained a source of encouragement to at least a restricted circle of freedom-loving intellectuals. Unfortunately, his highly systematized approach to criticism led to a certain rigidity and a refusal to recognize the merits of some obviously important writers, and this was undoubtedly one reason why after World War II his authority waned. His monumental corpus of philosophical, critical, and historical works of great scholarship, humour, and common sense remains, however, the greatest single intellectual feat in the history of modern Italian culture.
 


Benedetto Croce
 

Benedetto Croce, (b. Feb. 25, 1866, Pescasseroli, Italy—d. Nov. 20, 1952, Naples), historian, humanist, and foremost Italian philosopher of the first half of the 20th century.

Early life.
Croce belonged to a family of landed proprietors with estates in the Abruzzi region of central Italy but chiefly resident in Naples. His background was religious, monarchical, and conservative. Croce spent almost his whole life in Naples, becoming intimately identified with and a keen observer of its life and a biographer of its heroes. His life, of which he left a too-modest record in his autobiography, falls roughly into four phases; each develops the dual theme of his intellectual and moral growth and his gradual, ever-deepening identification with the moral character and destiny of the Italian nation.

The first period of Croce’s life (until about 1900) was the period of Croce’s agony. Orphaned (with his brother, Alfonso) by the earthquake of Casamicciola in 1883, his life became, in his words, a “bad dream.” The stable world of childhood and youth was shattered, leaving him forever marked. Henceforth, he was a solitary figure, despite his considerable activity in the world.

His salvation lay in work. Disillusioned with the university, he set out upon an austere course of study, to become one of the great self-taught students of history. His writings of this period are universally alert, intelligent, and engaging; although limited in scope, they show a fine sobriety of style, as well as wit, irony, and a fiery polemical spirit, although lyricism, which he eulogized, eluded him. Ostensibly, he had little taste for politics; actually, several basic attitudes were forming. Disillusioned with the nationalistic liberal leaders of the period following the Risorgimento (the 19th-century movement for Italian unity), he began to develop his own convictions on how an ethical, democratic, liberal government should be structured. He “coquetted”—according to his autobiography—with socialism and Marxism, eventually discarding these views after a thorough examination and severe criticism of both positions. Nevertheless, he was subject to a constant and profound malaise. Subliminally, he desired but saw no public relevance for his activity; the limited world of erudition palled on him.


Founding of La Critica.
He was delivered from this malaise, and the second period of his life was opened in 1903 by the founding of La Critica, a journal of cultural criticism, in which, during the course of the next 41 years, he published nearly all his writings and reviewed all of the most important historical, philosophical, and literary work that was being produced in Europe at the time. At this same time he began the systematic exposition of his “Philosophy of the Spirit,” his chief intellectual achievement. This term designates two distinct, but related, aspects of his thought: (1) In the first aspect, philosophy of spirit designates the construction of a philosophical system on the remote pattern of the Rationalism of classical Romantic philosophy. Its principle is the “circularity” of spirit within the structure of the system and in historical time. The phases, or moments, of spirit in this system are theoretical and practical; they are distinguished, respectively, into aesthetic, logical, and economic and ethical. The circular dynamic moves between both the lesser and the greater moments. The law of this circularity is that of absolute immanence. This system is documented in the volumes Estetica come scienza dell’espressione e linguistica generale (1902; Aesthetic as Science of Expression and General Linguistic), Logica come scienza del concetto puro (1909; “Logic as the Science of Pure Conception”; Eng. trans. Logic), Filosofia della pratica: economia ed etica (1909; Philosophy of the Practical: Economic and Ethic), and Teoria e storia della storiografia (1917; History: Its Theory and Practice). (2) Croce gradually abandoned, without explicitly renouncing, this schematism in response primarily to methodological considerations in history. Its moments are not dissolved but are concretized into the flow of historical action and thought. History becomes the unique mediational principle for all the moments of spirit, while spirit—i.e., human consciousness—is completely spontaneous, without a predetermined structure. This change is signaled by the publication of La storia come pensiero e come azione (1938; “History as Thought and Action”; Eng. trans. History as the Story of Liberty). To this period some have attached the term historical positivism, but Croce himself has called it absolute historicism and identified it as the definitive form of his thought. The philosophy of spirit in its asystematic form produced the effective method of Croce’s later work, as in the anthology Filosofia, poesia, storia (1951; Philosophy, Poetry, History).

According to Croce, “The foundation of La Critica marked the beginning of a new period in my life, the period of maturity or harmony between myself and reality.” Through this journal he found the larger public theatre he sought. “La Critica was the most direct service I could render to Italian culture. . . . I was engaged in politics in the broad sense . . . uniting the role of a student and of a citizen.” Through La Critica Croce’s public role as teacher of modern Italy emerged. Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the prime minister who presided over the formation of a unified Italy, had said, “Having made Italy, we must make Italians.” La Critica took up this task.

The image of the Italian which animates this work is severe and beautiful. Creative effort, a passion for freedom united to a profound sense of civic duty, a life-style purged of all rhetoric and sentimental romanticism, unambiguous norms of public and private truth, a sense of history united to an obligation to the future, unceasing but constructive self-criticism: these were its elements. This image strongly reflected the personal ideal that Croce had gradually formed for himself. But history was preparing to put this ideal to the test.


Struggle with fascism.
The test was to be fascism, the political attitude that places the nation or race at the centre of life and history and disregards the individual and his rights. So gradual was this preparation that Croce himself did not at once perceive it. He confessed that he first saw in fascism a movement to the right of the political spectrum that might restrain and counteract the leftist tendencies toward unrestricted individual freedom released by World War I. But as the character of the Benito Mussolini regime revealed itself, his opposition hardened, becoming absolute, beyond compromise. He became, within and without Italy, the symbol of the opposition to fascism, the rallying point of the lovers of liberty. In fascism Croce saw not merely another form of political tyranny. He saw it as the emergence of that other Italy, in which egoism displaced civic virtue, rhetoric dislodged poetry and truth, and the pretentious gesture replaced authentic action.

His consciousness of his role as the moral teacher of Italy was strengthened. Instruction now took the form of the composition of the great histories—a history of Europe in the 19th century, of Italy from 1871 to 1915, and of the Kingdom of Naples. Their didactic character was unmistakable; in them Croce pointed out how the historical path of Italy had become la via smarrita (“the lost way”). Moreover, the lesson was intended for Europe and for the entire Western world as well.

In the maelstrom of conflict and ambiguity that followed Italy’s defeat in World War II, a voice of moral authority that could speak for the true Italy was demanded. Croce’s was unanimously recognized as that voice. And with authority that voice recalled Italy to the inner spiritual resources through which it might renew itself. It matters little that Croce’s own project for the rebuilding of Italy—the retention of the monarchy with certain dynastic changes, the return to the principles of a revived Liberal Party in government—was not the one realized in history. More important is the fact that the new Italy, in its democratic form, was inspired by his spirit.

This last public duty fulfilled, Croce returned to his studies. In his own library—one of the finest collections in Europe within its own scope—he established the Italian Institute for Historical Studies as a research centre. Asked his state of health, he replied with true stoic equanimity, “I am dying at my work.” He died at age 86.

A. Robert Caponigri
 


 

Literary trends before World War I

While Croce was starting his arduous task, literary life revolved mainly around reviews such as Leonardo (1903), Hermes (1904), La Voce (1908), and Lacerba (1913), founded and edited by relatively small literary coteries. The two main literary trends were Crepuscolarismo (the Twilight School), which, in reaction to the high-flown rhetoric of D’Annunzio, favoured a colloquial style to express dissatisfaction with the present and memories of sweet things past, as in the work of Guido Gozzano and Sergio Corazzini, and Futurismo, which rejected everything traditional in art and demanded complete freedom of expression. The leader of the Futuristi was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, editor of Poesia, a fashionable cosmopolitan review. Both Crepuscolari and Futuristi were part of a complex European tradition of disillusionment and revolt, the former inheriting the sophisticated pessimism of French and Flemish Decadents, the latter a fundamental episode in the history of the western European avant-garde as it developed from the French poets Stéphane Mallarmé and Arthur Rimbaud to Guillaume Apollinaire and the Cubist, Surrealist, and Dada movements. Both trends shared a feeling of revulsion against D’Annunzian flamboyance and magniloquence, from which they attempted to free themselves. Paradoxically, both also derived many elements of their style from D’Annunzio: the “crepuscular” mood of D’Annunzio’s Poema paradisiaco (1893; “Paradisiacal Poem”) can be found in each movement, and most Futuristic “new theories”—the identification of art with action, heroism, and speed; the free use of words—were implied in D’Annunzio’s Laus Vitae (1903; “In Praise of Life”).
 


Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
 

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in full Filippo Tommaso Emilio Marinetti (b. Dec. 22, 1876, Alexandria—d. Dec. 2, 1944, Bellagio, Italy), Italian-French prose writer, novelist, poet, and dramatist, the ideological founder of Futurism, an early 20th-century literary, artistic, and political movement.

Marinetti was educated in Egypt, France, Italy, and Switzerland and began his literary career working for an Italian–French magazine in Milan. During most of his life his base was in France, though he made frequent trips to Italy and wrote in the languages of both countries. Such early poetry as the French Destruction (1904) showed the vigour and anarchic experimentation with form characteristic of his later work.

Futurism had its official beginning with the publication of Marinetti’s “Manifeste de Futurisme” in the Paris newspaper Le Figaro (Feb. 20, 1909; see the Manifesto of Futurism). His ideas were quickly adopted in Italy, where the writers Aldo Palazzeschi, Corrado Govoni, and Ardengo Soffici were among his most important disciples.

Marinetti’s manifesto was also endorsed by Futurist painters, who published a manifesto of their own in 1910. Such painters and sculptors as Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla, and Gino Severini carried out Marinetti’s ideas.

Marinetti’s later works reiterated the themes introduced in his 1909 manifesto. In 1910 he published a chaotic novel (entitled Mafarka le Futuriste in France and Mafarka il futurista in Italy), which illustrated and elaborated on his theory. He also applied Futurism to drama in such plays as the French Le Roi bombance (performed 1909; “The Feasting King”) and the Italian Anti-neutralità (1912; “Anti-Neutrality”) and summed up his dramatic theory in a prose work, Teatro sintetico futurista (1916; “Synthetic Futurist Theatre”).

In a volume of poems, Guerra sola igiene del mundo (1915; “War the Only Hygiene of the World”), Marinetti exulted over the outbreak of World War I and urged that Italy be involved. He became an active Fascist, an enthusiastic backer of Mussolini, and argued in Futurismo e Fascismo (1924), that Fascism was the natural extension of Futurism. Although his views helped temporarily to ignite Italian patriotism, Marinetti lost most of his following by the second decade of the 20th century.
 




The "return to order"

The end of World War I saw a longing for the revival of tradition, summed up in the aims of the review La Ronda, founded in 1919 by the poet Vincenzo Cardarelli and others, which advocated a return to classical stylistic values. This led to an excessive cult of form in the narrow sense—as exemplified by the elegant but somewhat bloodless essays (elzeviri) published in Italian newspapers on page three—and obviously fitted in with the stifling of free expression under fascism. The sterility of this period, however, should not be exaggerated. The 20 years of fascist rule were hardly conducive to creativity, but in the dark picture there were a few glimmers of light. With 1923 came the publication of Italo Svevo’s Coscienza di Zeno (The Confessions of Zeno), a gem of psychological observation and Jewish humour, which a few years later was internationally “discovered” in Italy by Eugenio Montale and in France through the mediation of James Joyce. The surreal writings of Massimo Bontempelli (Il figlio di due madri [1929; “The Son of Two Mothers”]) and of Dino Buzzati (Il deserto dei Tartari [1940; The Tartar Steppe]) were perhaps in part an escape from the prevailing political climate, but they stand up artistically nonetheless. Riccardo Bacchelli, with Il diavolo a Pontelungo (1927; The Devil at the Long Bridge) and Il mulino del Po (1938–40; The Mill on the Po), produced historical narrative writing of lasting quality. Aldo Palazzeschi, in Stampe dell’Ottocento (1932; “Nineteenth-Century Engravings”) and Sorelle Materassi (1934; The Sisters Materassi), reached the height of his storytelling powers. Meanwhile, the Florentine literary reviews Solaria, Frontespizio, and Letteratura, while having to tread carefully with the authorities, provided an outlet for new talent. Carlo Emilio Gadda had his first narrative work (La Madonna dei filosofi [1931; “The Philosophers’ Madonna”]) published in Solaria, while the first part of his masterpiece, La cognizione del dolore (Acquainted with Grief), was serialized between 1938 and 1941 in Letteratura. Novelists such as Alberto Moravia, Corrado Alvaro (Gente in Aspromonte [1930; Revolt in Aspromonte]), and Carlo Bernari had to use circumspection in stating their views but were not completely silenced. The controversial Ignazio Silone, having chosen exile, could speak openly in Fontamara (1930). Antonio Gramsci, an unwilling “guest” of the regime, gave testimony to the triumph of spirit over oppression in Lettere dal carcere (1947; Letters from Prison).

 


Italo Svevo
 

Italo Svevo, pseudonym of Ettore Schmitz (b. Dec. 19, 1861, Trieste, Austrian Empire [now in Italy]—d. Sept. 13, 1928, Motta di Livenza, Italy), Italian novelist and short-story writer, a pioneer of the psychological novel in Italy.

Svevo (whose pseudonym means “Italian Swabian”) was the son of a German-Jewish glassware merchant and an Italian mother. At 12 he was sent to a boarding school near Würzburg, Ger. He later returned to a commercial school in Trieste, but his father’s business difficulties forced him to leave school and become a bank clerk. He continued to read on his own and began to write.

Svevo’s first novel, Una vita (1892; A Life), was revolutionary in its analytic, introspective treatment of the agonies of an ineffectual hero (a pattern Svevo repeated in subsequent works). A powerful but rambling work, the book was ignored upon its publication. So was its successor, Senilità (1898; As a Man Grows Older), featuring another bewildered hero. Svevo had been teaching at a commercial school, and, with Senilità’s failure, he formally gave up writing and became engrossed in his father-in-law’s business.

Ironically, business frequently required Svevo to visit England in the years that followed, and a decisive step in his life was to engage a young man, James Joyce, in 1907 as his English tutor in Trieste. They became close friends, and Joyce let the middle-aged businessman read portions of his unpublished Dubliners, after which Svevo timidly produced his own two novels. Joyce’s tremendous admiration for them, along with other factors, encouraged Svevo to return to writing. He wrote what became his most famous novel, La coscienza di Zeno (1923; Confessions of Zeno), a brilliant work in the form of a patient’s statement for his psychiatrist. Published at Svevo’s own expense, as were his other works, this novel was also a failure, until a few years later, when Joyce gave Svevo’s work to two French critics, Valéry Larbaud and Benjamin Cremieux, who publicized him and made him famous. In Italy his reputation grew more slowly, though the poet Eugenio Montale wrote a laudatory essay on him in a 1925 issue of L’Esame.

While working on a sequel to Zeno, Svevo was killed in an automobile accident. Among posthumously published works are two short-story collections, La novella del buon vecchio e della bella fanciulla, e altre prose inedite e postume (1930; The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl), with a preface by Montale, and Corto viaggio sentimentale e altri racconti inediti (1949; Short Sentimental Journey and Other Stories); as well as Saggi e pagine sparse (1954; “Essays and Scattered Pages”); Commedie (1960), a collection of dramatic work; and Further Confessions of Zeno (1969), an English translation of his incomplete novel. Svevo’s correspondence with Montale was published as Lettere (1966). Svevo ultimately has been recognized as one of the most important figures in modern Italian literary history.

 

 


Alberto Moravia
 

Alberto Moravia, pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle (b. Nov. 28, 1907, Rome, Italy—d. Sept. 26, 1990, Rome), Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist known for his fictional portrayals of social alienation and loveless sexuality. He was a major figure in 20th-century Italian literature.

Moravia contracted tuberculosis of the bone (a form of osteomyelitis usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis) at the age of 8, but, during several years in which he was confined to bed and two years in sanatoriums, he studied French, German, and English; read Giovanni Boccaccio, Ludovico Ariosto, William Shakespeare, and Molière; and began to write. Moravia was a journalist for a time in Turin and a foreign correspondent in London. His first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; Time of Indifference), is a scathingly realistic study of the moral corruption of a middle-class mother and two of her children. It became a sensation. Some of his more important novels are Agostino (1944; Two Adolescents); La Romana (1947; The Woman of Rome); La disubbidienza (1948; Disobedience); and Il conformista (1951; The Conformist), all on themes of isolation and alienation. La ciociara (1957; Two Women) tells of an adaptation to post-World War II Italian life. La noia (1960; The Empty Canvas) is the story of a painter unable to find meaning either in love or work. Many of Moravia’s books were made into motion pictures.

His books of short stories include Racconti romani (1954; Roman Tales) and Nuovi racconti romani (1959; More Roman Tales). Racconti di Alberto Moravia (1968) is a collection of earlier stories. Later short-story collections include Il paradiso (1970; “Paradise”) and Boh (1976; The Voice of the Sea and Other Stories).

Most of Moravia’s works deal with emotional aridity, isolation, and existential frustration and express the futility of either sexual promiscuity or conjugal love as an escape. Critics have praised the author’s stark, unadorned style, his psychological penetration, his narrative skill, and his ability to create authentic characters and realistic dialogue.

Moravia’s views on literature and realism are expressed in a stimulating book of essays, L’uomo come fine (1963; Man as an End), and his autobiography, Alberto Moravia’s Life, was published in 1990. He was married for a time to the novelist Elsa Morante
 



Luigi Pirandello

Drama, which a few playwrights and producers were trying to extricate from old-fashioned realistic formulas and the more recent superhuman theories of D’Annunzio, was increasingly dominated by Luigi Pirandello. His own experience of the “unreal,” through his calamitous family life and his wife’s insanity, enabled him to see the limitations of realism. From initial short-story writing, in which he explored the incoherence of personality, the lack of communication between individuals, the uncertain boundaries between sanity and insanity or reality and appearance, and the relativity of truth, he turned to drama as a better means of expressing life’s absurdity and the ambiguous relationship between fact and fiction.

To multiply the fragmentation of levels of reality, Pirandello tried to destroy conventional dramatic structures and to adopt new ones: a play within a play in Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1921; Six Characters in Search of an Author) and a scripted improvisation in Questa sera si recita a soggetto (1930; Tonight We Improvise). This was a way of transferring the dissociation of reality from the plane of content to that of form, thereby achieving an almost perfect unity between ideas and dramatic structure. Pirandello’s plays, including perhaps his best, Enrico IV (1922; Henry IV), often contain logical arguments: several critics, including Croce, were misled into thinking that he intended to express in this way a coherent philosophy, whereas he used logic as a dramatic symbol. Pirandello was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize for Literature.
 


Luigi Pirandello
 

Luigi Pirandello, (b. June 28, 1867, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy—d. Dec. 10, 1936, Rome), Italian playwright, novelist, and short-story writer, winner of the 1934 Nobel Prize for Literature. With his invention of the “theatre within the theatre” in the play Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1921; Six Characters in Search of an Author), he became an important innovator in modern drama.

Pirandello was the son of a sulfur merchant who wanted him to enter commerce. Pirandello, however, was not interested in business; he wanted to study. He first went to Palermo, the capital of Sicily, and, in 1887, to the University of Rome. After a quarrel with the professor of classics there, he went in 1888 to the University of Bonn, Ger., where in 1891 he gained his doctorate in philology for a thesis on the dialect of Agrigento.

In 1894 his father arranged his marriage to Antonietta Portulano, the daughter of a business associate, a wealthy sulfur merchant. This marriage gave him financial independence, allowing him to live in Rome and to write. He had already published an early volume of verse, Mal giocondo (1889), which paid tribute to the poetic fashions set by Giosuè Carducci. This was followed by other volumes of verse, including Pasqua di Gea (1891; dedicated to Jenny Schulz-Lander, the love he had left behind in Bonn) and a translation of J.W. von Goethe’s Roman Elegies (1896; Elegie romane). But his first significant works were short stories, which at first he contributed to periodicals without payment.

In 1903 a landslide shut down the sulfur mine in which his wife’s and his father’s capital was invested. Suddenly poor, Pirandello was forced to earn his living not only by writing but also by teaching Italian at a teacher’s college in Rome. As a further result of the financial disaster, his wife developed a persecution mania, which manifested itself in a frenzied jealousy of her husband. His torment ended only with her removal to a sanatorium in 1919 (she died in 1959). It was this bitter experience that finally determined the theme of his most characteristic work, already perceptible in his early short stories—the exploration of the tightly closed world of the forever changeable human personality.

Pirandello’s early narrative style stems from the verismo (“realism”) of two Italian novelists of the late 19th century—Luigi Capuana and Giovanni Verga. The titles of Pirandello’s early collections of short stories—Amori senza amore (1894; “Loves Without Love”) and Beffe della morte e della vita (1902–03; “The Jests of Life and Death”)—suggest the wry nature of his realism that is seen also in his first novels: L’esclusa (1901; The Outcast) and Il turno (1902; Eng. trans. The Merry-Go-Round of Love). Success came with his third novel, often acclaimed as his best, Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904; The Late Mattia Pascal). Although the theme is not typically “Pirandellian,” since the obstacles confronting its hero result from external circumstances, it already shows the acute psychological observation that was later to be directed toward the exploration of his characters’ subconscious.

Pirandello’s understanding of psychology was sharpened by reading such works as Les altérations de la personnalité (1892), by the French experimental psychologist Alfred Binet; and traces of its influence can be seen in the long essay L’umorismo (1908; On Humor), in which he examines the principles of his art. Common to both books is the theory of the subconscious personality, which postulates that what a person knows, or thinks he knows, is the least part of what he is. Pirandello had begun to focus his writing on the themes of psychology even before he knew of the work of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. The psychological themes used by Pirandello found their most complete expression in the volumes of short stories La trappola (1915; “The Trap”) and E domani, lunedì . . . (1917; “And Tomorrow, Monday . . . ”), and in such individual stories as “Una voce,” “Pena di vivere così,” and “Con altri occhi.”

Meanwhile, he had been writing other novels, notably I vecchi e i giovani (1913; The Old and The Young) and Uno, nessuno e centomila (1925–26; One, None, and a Hundred Thousand). Both are more typical than Il fu Mattia Pascal. The first, a historical novel reflecting the Sicily of the end of the 19th century and the general bitterness at the loss of the ideals of the Risorgimento (the movement that led to the unification of Italy), suffers from Pirandello’s tendency to “discompose” rather than to “compose” (to use his own terms, in L’umorismo), so that individual episodes stand out at the expense of the work as a whole. Uno, nessuno e centomila, however, is at once the most original and the most typical of his novels. It is a surrealistic description of the consequences of the hero’s discovery that his wife (and others) see him with quite different eyes than he does himself. Its exploration of the reality of personality is of a type better known from his plays.

Pirandello wrote over 50 plays. He had first turned to the theatre in 1898 with L’epilogo, but the accidents that prevented its production until 1910 (when it was retitled La morsa) kept him from other than sporadic attempts at drama until the success of Così è (se vi pare) in 1917. This delay may have been fortunate for the development of his dramatic powers. L’epilogo does not greatly differ from other drama of its period, but Così è (se vi pare) began the series of plays that were to make him world famous in the 1920s. Its title can be translated as Right You Are (If You Think You Are). A demonstration, in dramatic terms, of the relativity of truth, and a rejection of the idea of any objective reality not at the mercy of individual vision, it anticipates Pirandello’s two great plays, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Enrico IV (1922; Henry IV). Six Characters is the most arresting presentation of the typical Pirandellian contrast between art, which is unchanging, and life, which is an inconstant flux. Characters that have been rejected by their author materialize on stage, throbbing with a more intense vitality than the real actors, who, inevitably, distort their drama as they attempt its presentation. And in Henry IV the theme is madness, which lies just under the skin of ordinary life and is, perhaps, superior to ordinary life in its construction of a satisfying reality. The play finds dramatic strength in its hero’s choice of retirement into unreality in preference to life in the uncertain world.

The production of Six Characters in Paris in 1923 made Pirandello widely known, and his work became one of the central influences on the French theatre. French drama from the existentialistic pessimism of Jean Anouilh and Jean-Paul Sartre to the absurdist comedy of Eugène Ionesco and Samuel Beckett is tinged with “Pirandellianism.” His influence can also be detected in the drama of other countries, even in the religious verse dramas of T.S. Eliot.

In 1920 Pirandello said of his own art:

I think that life is a very sad piece of buffoonery; because we have in ourselves, without being able to know why, wherefore or whence, the need to deceive ourselves constantly by creating a reality (one for each and never the same for all), which from time to time is discovered to be vain and illusory . . . My art is full of bitter compassion for all those who deceive themselves; but this compassion cannot fail to be followed by the ferocious derision of destiny which condemns man to deception.

This despairing outlook attained its most vigorous expression in Pirandello’s plays, which were criticized at first for being too “cerebral” but later recognized for their underlying sensitivity and compassion. The plays’ main themes are the necessity and the vanity of illusion, and the multifarious appearances, all of them unreal, of what is presumed to be the truth. A human being is not what he thinks he is, but instead is “one, no one and a hundred thousand,” according to his appearance to this person or that, which is always different from the image of himself in his own mind. Pirandello’s plays reflect the verismo of Capuana and Verga in dealing mostly with people in modest circumstances, such as clerks, teachers, and lodging-house keepers, but from whose vicissitudes he draws conclusions of general human significance.

The universal acclaim that followed Six Characters and Henry IV sent Pirandello touring the world (1925–27) with his own company, the Teatro d’Arte in Rome. It also emboldened him to disfigure some of his later plays (e.g., Ciascuno a suo modo [1924]) by calling attention to himself, just as in some of the later short stories it is the surrealistic and fantastic elements that are accentuated.

After the dissolution, because of financial losses, of the Teatro d’Arte in 1928, Pirandello spent his remaining years in frequent and extensive travel. In his will he requested that there should be no public ceremony marking his death—only “a hearse of the poor, the horse and the coachman.”

John Humphreys Whitfield


 

The Hermetic movement

Poetry in the fascist period underwent a process of involution, partly influenced by French Symbolism, with its faith in the mystical power of words, and partly under the stress of changed political conditions after World War I, during which literature had declined. Many poets of the wartime generation, weary of tradition and rhetoric, had been seeking new expression: some, like the Futuristi, had tried to work rhetoric out of their system by letting it run amok; others, such as Camillo Sbarbaro (Pianissimo [1914], Trucioli [1920; “Shavings”]), cultivated a style purified of unessential elements. Out of those efforts grew a poetry combining the acoustic potentialities of words with emotional restraint and consisting mainly of fragmentary utterances in which words were enhanced by contextual isolation and disruption of syntactic and semantic links. The resultant obscurity compensated poets for loss of influence in a society subservient to dictatorship by turning them into an elite and allowed some, notably Eugenio Montale (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975), to express their pessimism covertly. The name of this movement, Ermetismo (“Hermeticism”), hinted at both its aristocratic ambitions and its esoteric theory and practice.

The model for these poets was Giuseppe Ungaretti. Born, like the Futurist Marinetti, of Italian parents in the cosmopolitan Egyptian seaport of Alexandria, Ungaretti studied in Paris, where among his friends were the avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire and the painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. He came of age in the trenches of World War I, and in his first book of poems, L’Allegria (1914–19; “Joie de Vivre”), he confronted that harrowing experience in verse that is stripped of all its traditional amenities. In these poems each word is pronounced in isolation, as if a petrified, shell-shocked language had to be invented from scratch. In Sentimento del tempo (1933; “Sentiment of Time”) Ungaretti exhibited what is considered his second Symbolist manner; it is, in contrast with his earlier work, luxuriant, rich, and strange. This allusive and hieratic poetry recovers many elements of the tradition and couches them in a splendid but opaque diction. Thus, what in the 1920s had appeared revolutionary proved later to be only another facet of the formalistic Petrarchan tradition. Against this background of refinement, obscurity, and unreality, only the simple and moving poems of the Triestine poet Umberto Saba preserved an immediate appeal.
 


Eugenio Montale
 

Eugenio Montale, (b. October 12, 1896, Genoa, Italy—d. September 12, 1981, Milan), Italian poet, prose writer, editor, and translator who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975.

As a young man, Montale trained as an opera singer. He was drafted to serve in World War I, and, when the war was over, he resumed his music studies. Increasingly he became involved in literary activity. He was cofounder in 1922 of Primo tempo (“First Time”), a literary journal; worked for the publisher Bemporad (1927–28); served as director of the Gabinetto Vieusseux Library in Florence (1929–38); was a freelance translator and poetry critic for La fiera letteraria (1938–48; “The Literary Fair”); and in 1948 became literary editor and later music editor for the Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera (“Evening Courier”).

Montale’s first book of poems, Ossi di seppia (1925; “Cuttlefish Bones”), expressed the bitter pessimism of the postwar period. In this book he used the symbols of the desolate and rocky Ligurian coast to express his feelings. A tragic vision of the world as a dry, barren, hostile wilderness not unlike T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land inspired Montale’s best early poems.

The works that followed Ossi di seppia included La casa dei doganieri e altre poesie (1932; “The House of the Customs Officer and Other Poems”), Le occasioni (1939; “The Occasions”), and Finisterre (1943; “Land’s End”), which critics found progressively more introverted and obscure. Montale’s later works, beginning with La bufera e altro (1956; The Storm, and Other Poems), were written with increasing skill and a personal warmth that his earlier works had lacked. His other collections of poems include Satura (1962), Accordi e pastelli (1962; “Harmony and Pastels”), Il colpevole (1966), and Xenia (1966), the last work a gentle and evocative series of love poems in memory of his wife, who died in 1963. Diario del ’71 e del ’72 was published in 1973. Montale published three volumes of collected Poesie in 1948, 1949, and 1957.

Montale was considered in the 1930s and ’40s to be a Hermetic poet. Along with Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo, he was influenced by French Symbolists such as Stéphane Mallarmé, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Valéry and sought to convey experiences through the emotional suggestiveness of words and a symbolism of purely subjective meaning. In his later poetry, however, Montale often expressed his thoughts in more direct and simple language. He won many literary prizes and much critical acclaim. In 1999 a volume of Montale’s work entitled Collected Poems: 1920–1954, translated by Jonathan Galassi, was published; in addition to its English translations it offers helpful annotations, a chronology, and an essay on the poet.

Montale also rendered into Italian the poetry of William Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as prose works by Herman Melville, Eugene O’Neill, and other writers. His newspaper stories and sketches were published in La farfalla di Dinard (1956; The Butterfly of Dinard).

 

 


Giuseppe Ungaretti
 

Giuseppe Ungaretti, (b. Feb. 10, 1888, Alexandria—d. June 1, 1970, Milan), Italian poet, founder of the Hermetic movement (see Hermeticism) that brought about a reorientation in modern Italian poetry.

Born in Egypt of parents who were Italian settlers, Ungaretti lived in Alexandria until he was 24; the desert regions of Egypt were to provide recurring images in his later work. He went to Paris in 1912 to study at the Sorbonne and became close friends with the poets Guillaume Apollinaire, Charles Péguy, and Paul Valéry and the then avant-garde artists Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger. Contact with French Symbolist poetry, particularly that of Stéphane Mallarmé, was one of the most important influences of his life.

At the outbreak of World War I, Ungaretti enlisted in the Italian Army, and while on the battlefield he wrote his first volume of poetry, each poem dated individually as if it were to be his last. These poems, published in Il porto sepolto (1916; “The Buried Port”), used neither rhyme, punctuation, nor traditional form; this was Ungaretti’s first attempt to strip ornament from words and to present them in their purest, most evocative form. Though reflecting the experimental attitude of the Futurists, Ungaretti’s poetry developed in a coherent and original direction, as is apparent in Allegria di naufragi (1919; “Gay Shipwrecks”), which shows the influence of Giacomo Leopardi and includes revised poems from Ungaretti’s first volume.

Further change is evident in Sentimento del tempo (1933; “The Feeling of Time”), which, containing poems written between 1919 and 1932, used more obscure language and difficult symbolism.

Ungaretti went to South America for a cultural conference and from 1936 to 1942 taught Italian literature at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. His nine-year-old son died in Brazil, and Ungaretti’s anguish over his loss as well as his sorrow over the atrocities of Nazism and World War II are expressed in the poems Il dolore (1947; “Grief ”). In 1942 Ungaretti returned to Italy and taught contemporary Italian literature at the University of Rome until his retirement in 1957. Important volumes published during this time are La terra promessa (1950; “The Promised Land”) and Un grido e paesaggi (1952). Among his later volumes were Il taccuino del vecchio (1960; “An Old Man’s Notebook”) and Morte delle stagioni (1967; “Death of the Seasons”).
 




Social commitment and the new realism

During World War II the walls of the Hermetic ivory tower began to crumble. Ungaretti’s style became so intricate as to be almost unrecognizable as his own. Salvatore Quasimodo adopted a new engagé, or committed, style, which won critical admiration, including the 1959 Nobel Prize for Literature, and others followed suit in a drift toward social realism.

This development had been foreshadowed by some writers under fascism. In 1929 Alberto Moravia had written a scathing indictment of middle-class moral indifference, Gli indifferenti (1929; Time of Indifference). Carlo Bernari wrote a novel about the working classes, Tre operai (1934; “Three Workmen”); Cesare Pavese produced Paesi tuoi (1941; “Your Lands”; Eng. trans. The Harvesters); and Elio Vittorini wrote Conversazione in Sicilia (1941; Conversation in Sicily); all definitely promised a new literary development. From these and from the discovery of American literature (William Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, and Ernest Hemingway, translated mainly by Elio Vittorini and Pavese), postwar writing took its cue. Certain English authors, the homegrown veristi, and the ideas of Marxism were also an influence on postwar authors, to whom in varying degrees the rather imprecise label of Neorealism (applied also to postwar Italian cinema) was attached. It was a stimulating time in which to write, with a wealth of unused material at hand.

There were the social and economic problems of the south, described by Carlo Levi in his poetic portrait of Lucania, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli), and by Rocco Scotellaro (Contadini del sud [1954; “Peasants of the South”]) and Francesco Jovine (Le terre del Sacramento [1950; “The Lands of the Sacrament”; Eng. trans. The Estate in Abruzzi]). Vivid pictures of the Florentine working classes were painted by Vasco Pratolini (Il quartiere [1945; “The District”; Eng. trans. The Naked Streets] and Metello [1955; Eng. trans. Metello]) and of the Roman subproletariat by Pier Paolo Pasolini (Ragazzi di vita [1955; The Ragazzi] and Una vita violenta [1959; A Violent Life]). There were memories of the north’s struggle against fascist and Nazi domination from Vittorini and from Beppe Fenoglio (I ventitrè giorni della città di Alba [1952; The Twenty-three Days of the City of Alba]).

There were sad tales of lost war by Giuseppe Berto (Il cielo è rosso [1947; The Sky Is Red] and Guerra in camicia nera [1955; “A Blackshirt’s War”]) and by Mario Rigoni Stern (Il sergente nella neve [1952; The Sergeant in the Snow]). By contrast, there were humorous recollections of provincial life under fascism—for example, Mario Tobino’s Bandiera nera (1950; “Black Flag”) and Goffredo Parise’s Prete bello (1954; “The Handsome Priest”; Eng. trans. The Priest Among the Pigeons). In contrast to the more topical appeal of these writings, the great virtue of Pavese’s narrative was the universality of its characters and themes. Among his finest works may be numbered La casa in collina (1949; The House on the Hill) and La luna e i falò (1950; The Moon and the Bonfires). Also of lasting relevance is
Primo Levi’s moving account of how human dignity survived the degradations of Auschwitz (Se questo è un uomo [1947; If This Is a Man]).
 


Cesare Pavese
 

Cesare Pavese, (b. Sept. 9, 1908, Santo Stefano Belbo, Italy—d. Aug. 27, 1950, Turin), Italian poet, critic, novelist, and translator, who introduced many modern U.S. and English writers to Italy.

Born in a small town in which his father, an official, owned property, he moved with his family to Turin, where he attended high school and the university. Denied an outlet for his creative powers by Fascist control of literature, Pavese translated many 20th-century U.S. writers in the 1930s and ’40s: Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner; a 19th-century writer who influenced him profoundly, Herman Melville (one of his first translations was of Moby Dick); and the Irish novelist James Joyce. He also published criticism, posthumously collected in La letteratura americana e altri saggi (1951; American Literature, Essays and Opinions, 1970). His work probably did more to foster the reading and appreciation of U.S. writers in Italy than that of any other single man.

A founder and, until his death, an editor of the publishing house of Einaudi, Pavese also edited the anti-Fascist review La Cultura. His work led to his arrest and imprisonment by the government in 1935, an experience later recalled in “Il carcere” (published in Prima che il gallo canti, 1949; in The Political Prisoner, 1955) and the novella Il compagno (1947; The Comrade, 1959). His first volume of lyric poetry, Lavorare stanca (1936; Hard Labor, 1976), followed his release from prison. An initial novella, Paesi tuoi (1941; The Harvesters, 1961), recalled, as many of his works do, the sacred places of childhood. Between 1943 and 1945 he lived with partisans of the anti-Fascist Resistance in the hills of Piedmont.

The bulk of Pavese’s work, mostly short stories and novellas, appeared between the end of the war and his death. Partly through the influence of Melville, Pavese became preoccupied with myth, symbol, and archetype. One of his most striking books is Dialoghi con Leucò (1947; Dialogues with Leucò, 1965), poetically written conversations about the human condition. The novel considered his best, La luna e i falò (1950; The Moon and the Bonfires, 1950), is a bleak, yet compassionate story of a hero who tries to find himself by visiting the place in which he grew up. Several other works are notable, especially La bella estate (1949; in The Political Prisoner, 1955). Shortly after receiving the Strega Prize for it, Pavese committed suicide in a hotel room.

A Pavese Prize for literature was established in 1957, and some of Pavese’s most significant work was published after his death, notably a volume of love lyrics that is thought to contain his best poetry, Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (1951; “Death Will Stare at Me out of Your Eyes”); the story collection Notte di festa (1953; Festival Night and Other Stories, 1964); and the striking chronicle of his inner life, Il mestiere di vivere, diario 1935–1950 (1952; London, This Business of Living, New York, The Burning Brand: Diaries 1935–1950, both 1961).

Many collections of Pavese’s work have appeared, including Racconti (1960; Told in Confidence and Other Stories, 1971), a collection of much of his best fiction; Poesie edite e inedite (1962), edited by Italo Calvino; and Lettere (1966), which covers the period from 1924 to 1950. A poetry collection in English, A Mania for Solitude, Selected Poems 1930–1950, was published in 1969.

 

 


Elio Vittorini



Elio Vittorini, (b. July 23, 1908, Syracuse, Sicily, Italy—d. Feb. 13, 1966, Milan), novelist, translator, and literary critic, the author of outstanding novels of Italian Neorealism mirroring his country’s experience of fascism and the social, political, and spiritual agonies of 20th-century man. With Cesare Pavese he was also a pioneer in the translation into Italian of English and American writers.

The son of a railroad employee, Vittorini left school when he was 17, and six months later he became a road-construction worker in northern Italy. He then moved to Florence, learned English while working as a proofreader, and began to publish short stories in the journal Solaria. He made his living until 1941 by translating the works of such American and English writers as William Saroyan, D.H. Lawrence, Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkner, Daniel Defoe, and Ernest Hemingway, in addition to the British poets T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Louis MacNeice.

Vittorini’s first major novel, Il garofano rosso (written 1933–35, published 1948; The Red Carnation), while overtly portraying the personal, scholastic, and sexual problems of an adolescent boy, also conveys the poisonous political atmosphere of fascism. In 1936 Vittorini began writing his most important novel, Conversazione in Sicilia (1941, rev. ed. 1965; Eng. trans., Conversation in Sicily; U.S. title In Sicily), the clearest expression of his anti-fascist feelings. The action of the book is less important than the emotional agony of its hero, brought on by his constant consciousness of fascism, war, and the plight of his brothers.

Recognizing the novel’s power, the fascist government censored its serialization in Letteratura in 1936–38 and even withdrew an entire issue of that periodical from circulation. In 1942, after publication of the book, Vittorini was called in for questioning and finally was imprisoned in 1943. Released after the German occupation, he continued to fight fascism through the Resistance movement.

After the war Vittorini published the influential politico-cultural periodical Il Politecnico (1945–47) and later edited the Milan literary quarterly Il Menabò with Italo Calvino. He then became head of the foreign-literature section of a major Italian publishing house.

 

 

 


Carlo Levi


Carlo Levi, (b. Nov. 29, 1902, Turin, Italy—d. Jan. 4, 1975, Rome), Italian writer, painter, and political journalist whose first documentary novel became an international literary sensation and enhanced the trend toward social realism in postwar Italian literature.

Levi was a painter and a practicing physician when he was exiled (1935–36) to the southern district of Lucania for anti-Fascist activities. His Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli) reflects the visual sensitivity of a painter and the compassionate objectivity of a doctor. Quickly acclaimed a literary masterpiece, it was widely translated.

Though Levi’s first novel is unquestionably his masterpiece, he wrote other important nonfiction works. His Paura della libertà (1947; Of Fear and Freedom) proclaims the necessity of intellectual freedom despite an inherent human dread of it. L’orologio (1950; The Watch) deals with a postwar Cabinet crisis in Rome; Le parole sono pietre (1955; Words Are Stones) is a study of Sicily; and La doppia notte dei tigli (1959; The Linden Trees, or The Two-Fold Night) is a presentation of postwar Germany.

Levi directed a periodical in Florence for a time and contributed to several other magazines. Later he devoted himself to painting.

 

 

 


Vasco Pratolini



Vasco Pratolini, (b. Oct. 19, 1913, Florence, Italy—d. Jan. 12, 1991, Rome), Italian short-story writer and novelist, known particularly for compassionate portraits of the Florentine poor during the Fascist era. He is considered a major figure in Italian Neorealism.

Pratolini was reared in Florence, the setting of nearly all his fiction, in a poor family. He held various jobs until his health failed. His illness forced his confinement in a sanatorium from 1935 to 1937. He had no formal education but was an incessant reader, and during his confinement he began to write.

Pratolini went to Rome, where he met the novelist Elio Vittorini, who introduced him into literary circles and became a close friend. Like Vittorini, Pratolini rejected fascism; the Fascist government shut down Pratolini’s literary magazine, Campo di Marte, within nine months of its founding in 1939.

His first important novel, Il quartiere (1944; The Naked Streets), offers a vivid, exciting portrait of a gang of Florentine adolescents. Cronaca familiare (1947; Two Brothers) is a tender story of Pratolini’s dead brother. Cronache di poveri amanti (1947; A Tale of Poor Lovers), which has been called one of the finest works of Italian Neorealism, became an immediate best-seller and won two international literary prizes. The novel gives a panoramic view of the Florentine poor at the time of the Fascist triumph in 1925–26. Un eroe del nostro tempo (1949; A Hero of Today, or, A Hero of Our Time) attacks fascism.

Between 1955 and 1966 Pratolini published three novels under the general title Una storia italiana (“An Italian Story”), covering the period from 1875 to 1945. The first, Metello (1955), considered the finest of the three, follows its working-class hero through the labour disputes after 1875 and climaxes with a successful building masons’ strike in 1902. The second, Lo scialo (1960; “The Waste”), depicts the lassitude of the lower classes between 1902 and the mid-1920s preparatory to the Fascist takeover. The final volume, Allegoria e derisione (1966; “Allegory and Derision”), deals with the triumph and fall of Fascism, focusing on the moral and intellectual conflicts of the Florentine intelligentsia.

 

 

 


Pier Paolo Pasolini


Pier Paolo Pasolini, (b. March 5, 1922, Bologna, Italy—d. Nov. 2, 1975, Ostia, near Rome), Italian motion-picture director, poet, and novelist, noted for his socially critical, stylistically unorthodox films.

The son of an Italian army officer, Pasolini was educated in schools of the various cities of northern Italy where his father was successively posted. He attended the University of Bologna, studying art history and literature. Pasolini’s stay of refuge among the oppressed peasantry of the Friuli region during World War II led to his later becoming a Marxist, albeit an unorthodox one. His poverty-stricken existence in Rome during the 1950s furnished the material for his first two novels, Ragazzi di vita (1955; The Ragazzi) and Una vita violenta (1959; A Violent Life). These brutally realistic depictions of the poverty and squalor of slum life in Rome were similar in character to his first film, Accattone (1961), and all three works dealt with the lives of thieves, prostitutes, and other denizens of the Roman underworld.

Pasolini’s best known film, Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (1964; The Gospel According to Saint Matthew), is an austere, documentary-style retelling of the life and martyrdom of Jesus Christ. The comic allegory Uccellacci e Uccellini (1966; The Hawks and the Sparrows) was followed by two films attempting to re-create ancient myths from a contemporary viewpoint, Oedipus Rex (1967) and Medea (1969). Pasolini’s use of eroticism, violence, and depravity as vehicles for his political and religious speculations in such films as Teorema (1968; “Theorem”) and Porcile (1969; “Pigsty”) brought him into conflict with conservative elements of the Roman Catholic Church. He then ventured into medieval eroticism with Il Decamerone (1971) and The Canterbury Tales (1972). In addition to his motion pictures, Pasolini published numerous volumes of poetry and several works of literary criticism.
 

 

 


Primo Levi




Primo Levi, (b. July 31, 1919, Turin, Italy—d. April 11, 1987, Turin), Italian-Jewish writer and chemist, noted for his restrained and moving autobiographical account of and reflections on survival in the Nazi concentration camps.

Levi was brought up in the small Jewish community in Turin, studied at the University of Turin, and graduated summa cum laude in chemistry in 1941. Two years later he joined friends in northern Italy in an attempt to connect with a resistance movement, but he was captured and sent to Auschwitz. While there, Levi worked as a slave labourer for an I.G. Farbenindustrie synthetic-rubber factory. Upon the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviets in 1945, Levi returned to Turin, where in 1961 he became the general manager of a factory producing paints, enamels, and synthetic resins; the association was to last some 30 years.

Levi’s first book, Se questo è un uomo (1947; If This Is a Man, or Survival in Auschwitz), demonstrated extraordinary qualities of humanity and detachment in its analysis of the atrocities he had witnessed. His later autobiographical works, La tregua (1963; The Truce, or The Reawakening) and I sommersi e i salvati (1986; The Drowned and the Saved), are further reflections on his wartime experiences. Il sistema periodico (1975; The Periodic Table) is a collection of 21 meditations, each named for a chemical element, on the analogies between the physical, chemical, and moral spheres; of all of Levi’s works, it is probably his greatest critical and popular success. He also wrote poetry, novels, and short stories. His death was apparently a suicide.
 




Other writings

Literary tastes gradually became less homogeneous. On the one hand, there was the rediscovery of the experimentalism of Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose best works had been written between 1938 and 1947. On the other, there was the runaway success of Giuseppe Iomasi di Lampedusa’s Il gattopardo (1958; The Leopard), an old-fashioned historical novel that presents a soft-focused, flattering view of a family similar to the one described so pitilessly by Federico De Roberto in I vicerè. For this reason, it is easier to see Italian writing in terms of individual territory rather than general trends.

Carlo Cassola’s most memorable novels use the stillness of rural Tuscany as a background to the interior reality of its inhabitants, and in this his lineage can be traced to other Tuscan writers such as Romano Bilenchi (La siccità [1941; “The Drought”]) and Nicola Lisi (Diario di un parroco di campagna [1942; “Diary of a Country Priest”]) or in some respects back to Federigo Tozzi. Especially typical of Cassola’s works are Il taglio del bosco (1953; The Felling of the Forest), Un cuore arido (1961; An Arid Heart), and Un uomo solo (1978; “A Man by Himself”).

Giorgio Bassani’s domain is the sadly nostalgic world of Ferrara in days gone by, with particular emphasis on its Jewish community (Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini [1962; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis]).

ltalo Calvino concentrated on fantastic tales (Il visconte dimezzato [1952; The Cloven Viscount], Il barone rampante [1957; The Baron in the Trees], and Il cavaliere inesistente [1959; The Nonexistent Knight]) and, later, on moralizing science fiction (Le cosmicomiche [1965; Cosmicomics] and Ti con zero [1968; t zero]). Paolo Volponi’s province is the human consequences of Italy’s rapid postwar industrialization (Memoriale [1962], La macchina mondiale [1965; The Worldwide Machine], and Corporale [1974]).

Leonardo Sciascia’s sphere is his native Sicily, whose present and past he displays with concerned and scholarly insight, with two of his better-known books—in the format of thrillers—covering the sinister operations of the local Mafia (Il giorno della civetta [1963; The Day of the Owl] and A ciascuno il suo [1966; “To Each His Own”; Eng. trans. A Man’s Blessing]). After a Neorealistic phase, Giuseppe Berto plunged into the world of psychological introspection (Il male oscuro [1964; “The Dark Sickness”] and La cosa buffa [1966; “The Funny Thing”; Eng. trans. Antonio in Love]). Natalia Ginzburg’s territory is the family, whether she reminisces about her own (Lessico famigliare [1963; Family Sayings]), handles fictional characters (Famiglia [1977; Family]), or ventures into historical biography (La famiglia Manzoni [1983; The Manzoni Family]). Giovanni Arpino excelled at personal sympathies that cross cultural boundaries (La suora giovane [1959; The Novice] and Il fratello italiano [1980; “The Italian Brother”]). Fulvio Tomizza also tackled this theme in L’amicizia (1980; “The Friendship”).

Meanwhile, Alberto Moravia and Mario Soldati defended their corners as never less than conspicuously competent writers. Moravia generally plowed a lone furrow. Of his mature writings, Agostino (1944; Eng. trans. Agostino), Il conformista (1951; The Conformist), and La noia (1960; “The Tedium”; Eng. trans. Empty Canvas) stand out as particular achievements. Soldati, in works such as Le lettere da Capri (1953; The Capri Letters) and Le due città (1964; “The Two Cities”)—and in a later novel, L’incendio (1981; “The Fire”), which takes a quizzical look at the modern art business—showed himself to be a consistently skilled and entertaining narrator. There are many other accomplished authors who could be classified in this way, including Elsa Morante, who with L’isola de Arturo (1957; Arturo’s Island) and La storia (1974; History) carved a unique niche for herself. Set in Rome during the years 1941–47, the combination of fact and allegory is a tour de force and one of the most remarkable narrative works that came out of Italy after World War II.

Calvino’s fascinating later works, Le città invisibili (1972; Invisible Cities), Il castello dei destini incrociati (1973; The Castle of Crossed Destinies), Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (1979; If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler), and Palomar (1983; Eng. trans. Mr. Palomar), continue to explore the possibilities and limitations of literature and its attempt to represent our world. An ironic, detached, but deeply responsible rationalist, analyzing and recombining the elements of fiction in a rigorously precise “classical” prose style (which lends itself to translation into other languages), Calvino is without a doubt the most important Italian writer of the second half of the 20th century.
 

 


Giuseppe Iomasi di Lampedusa
 

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, (b. Dec. 23, 1896, Palermo, Sicily, Italy—d. July 23, 1957, Rome), Italian author, duke of Palma, and prince of Lampedusa, internationally renowned for his only completed novel, Il gattopardo (1958; The Leopard).

Born into the Sicilian aristocracy, Lampedusa served as an artillery officer during World War I. After his capture and imprisonment in Hungary, he escaped and returned to Italy on foot. After a nervous breakdown precluded the diplomatic career to which he had aspired, he devoted himself to an intensely private life of intellectual activity, reading in several languages, discussing literature with a small group of friends, and writing for his own enjoyment.

In 1955 Lampedusa began writing the novel that, although rejected by publishers during his lifetime, brought him world acclaim with its posthumous publication. The novel is a psychological study of Don Fabrizio, prince of Salina (called the Leopard, after his family crest), who witnesses with detachment the transfer of power in Sicily from the old Bourbon aristocracy to the new Kingdom of Italy and the grasping, unscrupulous liberal bourgeoisie during the 1860s. Don Fabrizio’s nephew, by contrast, participates opportunistically in the revolution and marries into the new class.

While adhering to the Don’s conservative viewpoint, the novel unfolds in a series of compelling dramatic scenes, matched by richness of literary style. The character of Don Fabrizio is one of the most striking in 20th-century Italian literature, and the book, despite the ideological controversies it stimulated, is widely recognized as a masterpiece.

Lampedusa’s posthumously published Racconti (1961; “Stories”) includes the first chapter of an unfinished novel as well as a brief memoir. It was translated into English in part as Two Stories and a Memory (1962). The Siren, and Selected Writings (1995) corrects and expands material published in Two Stories and a Memory and also includes several essays by Lampedusa on literature.
 

 

 


Carlo Cassola
 

Carlo Cassola, (b. March 17, 1917, Rome, Italy—d. Jan. 29, 1987, Monte Carlo, Monaco), Italian Neorealist novelist who portrayed the landscapes and the ordinary people of rural Tuscany in simple prose. The lack of action and the emphasis on detail in his books caused him to be regarded as a forerunner of the French nouveau roman, or antinovel.

After studying at the University of Rome, Cassola fought with the Resistance during World War II. The period formed the background of some of his best-known works, among them the short-story collection Il taglio del bosco (1955; “Timber Cutting”) and the novel Fausto e Anna (1952; Fausto and Anna), both semiautobiographical. In 1960 Cassola won the Strega Prize for La ragazza di Bube (Bebo’s Girl; film, 1964). These austere novels portray with sympathy and restraint individuals—especially women—whose lives are bleak and unfulfilled. Cassola’s later concern with the environment and the threat of nuclear war was reflected in essays and in the novel Il paradiso degli animali (1979; “Animals’ Paradise”).

 

 


Giorgio Bassani
 

Giorgio Bassani, (b. March 4, 1916, Bologna, Italy—d. April 13, 2000, Rome), Italian author and editor noted for his novels and stories examining individual lives played out against the background of modern history. The author’s Jewish heritage and the life of the Jewish community in Ferrara, where he lived most of his life, are among his recurrent themes.

In 1938 Bassani was studying literature in Bologna when racial laws were passed in Italy that restricted the activities of Jews, including banning them from universities. Bassani, who had to publish his early works under a pseudonym (Giacomo Marchi), became involved in the antifascist movement in the early 1940s and was briefly arrested in 1943. After World War II he settled in Rome, where he continued his writing career. In addition to writing novels, poetry, screenplays, and essays, he also edited several literary journals, including Bottega Oscura.

The collection Cinque storie ferraresi (1956; U.K. title, Prospect of Ferrara, U.S. title, Five Stories of Ferrara; reissued as Dentro le mura, 1973; “Inside the Wall”), five novellas that describe the growth of fascism and anti-Semitism, brought Bassani his first commercial success and the Strega Prize (offered annually for the best Italian literary work). The Ferrara setting recurs in Bassani’s best-known book, the semiautobiographical Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1962; The Garden of the Finzi-Continis; film, 1971). The narrator of this work contrasts his own middle-class Jewish family with the aristocratic, decadent Finzi-Continis, also Jewish, whose sheltered lives end in annihilation by the Nazis.

Bassani’s later novels include L’airone (1968; The Heron), a portrait of a lonely Ferrarese landowner during a hunt. This novel received the Campiello Prize for best Italian prose work. Bassani also wrote L’odore del fieno (1972; The Smell of Hay). His collections of poetry include Rolls Royce and Other Poems (1982), which contains selections in English and Italian from earlier collections. Bassani’s elegiac tone has frequently elicited comparison with those of Henry James and Marcel Proust, his acknowledged models.
 

 

 

 


ltalo Calvino
 

Italo Calvino, (b. Oct. 15, 1923, Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba—d. Sept. 19, 1985, Siena, Italy), Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist, whose whimsical and imaginative fables made him one of the most important Italian fiction writers in the 20th century.

Calvino left Cuba for Italy in his youth. He joined the Italian Resistance during World War II and after the war settled in Turin, obtaining his degree in literature while working for the Communist periodical L’Unità and for the publishing house of Einaudi. From 1959 to 1966 he edited, with Elio Vittorini, the left-wing magazine Il Menabò di letteratura.

Two of Calvino’s first fictional works were inspired by his participation in the Italian Resistance: the Neorealistic novel Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947; The Path to the Nest of Spiders), which views the Resistance through the experiences of an adolescent as helpless in the midst of events as the adults around him; and the collection of stories entitled Ultimo viene il corvo (1949; Adam, One Afternoon, and Other Stories).

Calvino turned decisively to fantasy and allegory in the 1950s, producing the three fantastic tales that brought him international acclaim. The first of these fantasies, Il visconte dimezzato (1952; “The Cloven Viscount,” in The Nonexistent Knight & the Cloven Viscount), is an allegorical story of a man split in two—a good half and an evil half—by a cannon shot; he becomes whole through his love for a peasant girl. The second and most highly praised fantasy, Il barone rampante (1957; The Baron in the Trees), is a whimsical tale of a 19th-century nobleman who one day decides to climb into the trees and who never sets foot on the ground again. From the trees he does, however, participate fully in the affairs of his fellow men below. The tale wittily explores the interaction and tension between reality and imagination. The third fantasy, Il cavaliere inesistente (1959; “The Nonexistent Knight,” in The Nonexistent Knight & the Cloven Viscount), is a mock epic chivalric tale.

Among Calvino’s later works of fantasy is Le cosmicomiche (1965; Cosmicomics), a stream-of-consciousness narrative that treats the creation and evolution of the universe. In the later novels Le città invisibili (1972; Invisible Cities), Il castello dei destini incrociate (1973; The Castle of Crossed Destinies), and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (1979; If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler), Calvino uses playfully innovative structures and shifting viewpoints in order to examine the nature of chance, coincidence, and change. Una pietra sopra: Discorsi di letteratura e società (1980; The Uses of Literature) is a collection of essays he wrote for Il Menabò.
 

 

 

 


Leonardo Sciascia
 

Leonardo Sciascia, (b. Jan. 8, 1921, Racalmuto, near Agrigento, Italy—d. Nov. 20, 1989, Palermo), Italian writer noted for his metaphysical examinations of political corruption and arbitrary power.

Sciascia studied at the Magistrale Institute in Caltanissetta. He held either clerical or teaching positions for much of his career, retiring to write full-time in 1968. His political career began in 1976, when he was a Communist Party member in the Palermo city council. Later Sciascia served as a member of the Radical Party in the Italian Parliament; he was elected to the European Parliament in 1979.

Sciascia’s first published work was Favole della dittatura (1950; “Fables of the Dictatorship”), a satire on fascism. He also wrote two early collections of poetry. His first significant novel, Le parrocchie di Regalpetra (1956; Salt in the Wound), chronicles the history of a small Sicilian town and the effect of politics on the lives of the townspeople. He further examined what he termed sicilitudine (“Sicilian-ness”) in the four stories of Gli zii di Sicilia (1958; Sicilian Uncles). Although Sicilian life and attitudes remained the chief subject of his writing, Sciascia did not discover his favourite vehicle, the mystery novel, until the publication in 1961 of Il giorno della civetta (“The Day of the Owl,” first Eng. trans. Mafia Vendetta), a study of the Mafia. Other mystery novels followed, among them A ciascuno il suo (1966; A Man’s Blessing), Il contesto (1971; Equal Danger), and Todo modo (1974; One Way or Another). Sciascia also wrote historical analyses, plays, short stories, and essays on Sicily and other subjects, and he edited a series of rare and unpublished works by Sicilian writers for the Sellario publishing house.
 


 

The end of the century


Poetry after World War II

Paradoxically, of all the forms of writing, poetry seems to be the form that was most vibrant during the second half of the 20th century, although one late 20th-century critic remarked that there might have been more poets in Italy than readers of poetry. An authoritative 1,200-page anthology by two experts in the field, poet Maurizio Cucchi and critic of contemporary literature Stefano Giovanardi, Poeti italiani del secondo Novecento, 1945–1995 (1996; “Italian Poets of the Second Half of the 20th Century, 1945–1995”), introduced a useful taxonomy. Cucchi and Giovanardi recognized that, in talking about the new poetry, they had to take into account the older, established poets who continued to write and publish verse in their mature years and who inevitably influenced the emerging poets. Included among these prewar “masters” were Attilio Bertolucci, an autobiographical narrative poet from the countryside near Parma and the father of the movie director Bernardo; Mario Luzi, a pillar of ivory-tower Hermeticism before the war who in the politically committed 1960s turned to more existential and ultimately religious themes; the delicate and deceptively facile Giorgio Caproni, whose simplicity, psychological introspection, and nostalgia for a hidden God may remind the reader at times of Umberto Saba; Vittorio Sereni, a sensitive intellectual who dramatized the sympathies and hesitations of the nondoctrinaire reformer; the mercurial nonconformist Pier Paolo Pasolini; the Brechtian Franco Fortini, who was the conscience of a generation; and the ironical social observer Roberto Roversi. All of these poets, and a few of those mentioned below, were already represented in Pier Vincenzo Mengaldo’s standard anthology of 20th-century poetry, Poeti italiani del Novecento (1978; “Italian Poets of the 20th Century”).
 


Attilio Bertolucci
 

Attilio Bertolucci, (b. Nov. 18, 1911, San Lazzaro Parmense, near Parma, Italy—d. June 14, 2000, Rome), Italian poet, literary critic, and translator. His verse is noted for its lyric accessibility, which was a departure from the Hermetic tradition.

At age 18 Bertolucci published Sirio (1929; “Sirius”), a volume of 27 poems set in his native region of Italy. After attending the University of Parma (1931–35), where he studied law, and the University of Bologna (1935–38), he began teaching art history and contributing to such journals as Circoli, Letteratura, and Corrente. In 1951 Bertolucci moved to Rome and published La capanna indiana (1951; revised and enlarged, 1955, 1973; “The Indian Hut”), which discusses his struggle for peace and privacy in a turbulent world. The work earned Bertolucci the Premio Viareggio, one of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards, in 1951. La camera da letto (1984; enlarged, 1988; “The Bedroom”) is a long autobiographical poem about his family history, a subject that inspired much of his work. Bertolucci’s other books of poetry include Fuochi in novembre (1934; “Fires in November”), Viaggio d’inverno (1971; “Winter Voyage”), and the bilingual collection Selected Poems (1993). He also translated works by Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, Thomas Love Peacock, D.H. Lawrence, and Thomas Hardy. Bertolucci’s sons, Bernardo and Giuseppe, are noted filmmakers.
 


Poets of the so-called Fourth Generation—from the title of a 1954 anthology of postwar verse edited by Pietro Chiara and Luciano Erba—include Erba himself and the poet and filmmaker Nelo Risi, both of them Milanese, as well as the Italian Swiss Giorgio Orelli. All three are from northern Italy and, along with Roberto Rebora and others, have been seen as the continuers of a hypothetical linea lombarda (“Lombard line”) of sober moral realism that, according to critic Luciano Anceschi, originated with Giuseppe Parini. Other Fourth Generation poets of note are epigrammatist Bartolo Cattafi; Rocco Scotellaro, poet of the southern peasant and the most convincing practitioner of Neorealism in verse; the eloquent soliloquist and elegant metricist Maria Luisa Spaziani; Umberto Bellintani, who, though he continued to write, quit publishing in 1963; and the hypersensitive Alda Merini, for whose work critics find the oxymoron (Christian paganism, joyful grief, religious eroticism, mortal liveliness) a useful figure.

Both the linguistically inventive Andrea Zanzotto (see below Experimentalism and the new avant-garde) and the wry confessional autobiographer (or “autobiologist”) and macabre humorist Giovanni Giudici had an impact, as did colloquialist Giovanni Raboni, who was also linked with the sobriety and moral concerns of the linea lombarda; Giancarlo Majorino, who progressed from Neorealism to Sperimentalismo (“Experimentalism”); Giampiero Neri (pseudonym of Giampiero Pontiggia), influenced in his descriptive narratives by Vittorio Sereni; Giorgio Cesarano, another poetic narrator who abandoned poetry in 1969, before his subsequent suicide (1975); and Tiziano Rossi, whose dominant moral concern led to comparisons with the expressionist poets of the pre-World War I periodical La Voce.

Four notable mavericks whose isolated and idiosyncratic poetic activity claimed allegiance to no movement, generation, or school are the Sicilian aristocrat Lucio Piccolo, cousin of novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who in 1954 forwarded Piccolo’s then unpublished poems to an appreciative Eugenio Montale; the Calabrian Symbolist Lorenzo Calogero, who has been compared to Stéphane Mallarmé, Rainer Marie Rilke, Dino Campana, and Friedrich Hölderlin; experimentalist Fernando Bandini, who was equally at home in Italian and Latin, to say nothing of his ancestral Veneto dialect; and Michele Ranchetti, who between 1938 and 1986 produced a single book of philosophic poetry, La mente musicale (1988; “The Musical Mind”).

During the 1970s several younger poets began publishing. Among them were the scandal-seeking “Roman” poets Dario Bellezza and Valentino Zeichen. Trained as a psychoanalyst, Cesare Viviani made a Dadaist debut, but he went on to express in his later work an almost mystical impulse toward the transcendent. Patrizia Cavalli’s work suggests the self-deprecating irony of Crepuscolarismo. Maurizio Cucchi was another Milanese poet and critic assimilable to the linea lombarda; when faced with the collapse of the greater constructs, he found solace in little things. Other poets of the era include the “neo-Orphic” (or “neo-Hermetic”) Milo De Angelis and Giuseppe Conte; Gregorio Scalise, a paradoxical rationalizer of the irrational who has been compared to Woody Allen; the mysteriously apodictic and enigmatic Giuseppe Piccoli; antilyrical self-ironist Paolo Ruffilli; and Vivian Lamarque, whose childlike fairy-tale tone occasionally makes way for a mischievous home truth. Also notable are Mario Santagostini, whose early work described the drab outskirts of his native Milan but who moved on to more metaphysical monologues, and Biancamaria Frabotta, who combined militant feminism with an elevated lyric diction tending toward the sublime.

Of the poets born after 1950, mention should be made of the precocious Valerio Magrelli; Patrizia Valduga, whose poems take advantage of the rigidity of traditional metres to control otherwise rebelliously sensual subject matter; Roberto Mussapi, the melancholy meditator of transcendent mythologies; and, finally, Gianni D’Elia, whose antecedents have been traced to poets as remote from each other as the rapt and timeless Sandro Penna and the “realists” Pasolini and Roversi, the latter poets and their urgent and timely literary program associated with the periodical Officina.
 


Experimentalism and the new avant-garde

In 1961 there appeared the important anthology-manifesto I Novissimi: poesie per gli anni ’60 (“The Newest Poets: Poems for the ’60s”), edited by Alfredo Giuliani. In addition to the editor, the poets represented were Elio Pagliarani, author of La ragazza Carla (1960; “The Girl Carla”), a longish poem incorporating found materials and dramatizing the alienation of a working woman in the modern industrial world; the poet-critic Edoardo Sanguineti, author of disconcertingly noncommunicative works such as Laborintus (1956) and Erotopaegnia (1960) and thereafter a prolifically undeterred creative experimentalist; Nanni Balestrini, who would subsequently publish the left-wing political collage Vogliamo tutto (1971; “We Want It All”); and Antonio Porta (pseudonym of Leo Paolazzi), whose untimely death at age 54 cut short the career of one of the less abstractly theoretical of these poets. At a subsequent meeting held near Palermo in 1963 this group was joined by, among others, aesthetic philosopher Luciano Anceschi, founder of the periodical Il Verri; literary and art critic Renato Barilli; semiotician Umberto Eco, destined for later worldwide fame as a best-selling novelist and Italy’s intellectual voice; manneristic prose stylist Giorgio Manganelli; cultural critic, antinovelist, and vitriolic essayist Alberto Arbasino, whose Fratelli d’Italia (the title, meaning “Brothers of Italy,” alludes ironically, not to say derisively, to the Italian national anthem), first published in 1963, had a second, amplified edition in 1976 and a third, running to 1,371 pages, in 1993; and Luigi Malerba, an original and linguistically inventive writer with a taste for satire, whose first work of fiction, the witty and paradoxical La scoperta dell’alfabeto (1963; “The Discovery of the Alphabet”), was published in the same year as the Palermo encounter. Malerba after a time distanced himself from the group’s more extremist positions, and he proved to be one of the most interesting writers of his generation.
 

 


Umberto Eco
 

Umberto Eco, (b. Jan. 5, 1932, Alessandria, Italy), Italian literary critic, novelist, and semiotician (student of signs and symbols) who became internationally known for his novel Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose).

After receiving a Ph.D. from the University of Turin (1954), Eco worked as a cultural editor for Italian Radio-Television and also lectured at the University of Turin (1956–64). He then taught in Florence and Milan and finally, in 1971, assumed a professorial post at the University of Bologna. His initial studies and researches were in aesthetics, his principal work in this area being Opera aperta (1962; rev. ed. 1972, 1976; The Open Work), which suggests that in much modern music, Symbolist verse, and literature of controlled disorder (Franz Kafka, James Joyce) the messages are fundamentally ambiguous and invite the audience to participate more actively in the interpretive and creative process. From this work he went on to explore other areas of communication and semiotics in such volumes as A Theory of Semiotics (1976) and Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (1984), both written in English. Many of his prolific writings in criticism, history, and communication have been translated into various foreign languages, including La ricerca della lingua perfetta nella cultura europea (1993; The Search for the Perfect Language) and Kant e l’ornitorinco (1997; Kant and the Platypus). He edited the illustrated companion volumes Storia della bellezza (2004; History of Beauty) and Storia della bruttezza (2007; On Ugliness), and he wrote another pictorial book, Vertigine della lista (2009; The Vertigo of Lists), produced in conjunction with an exhibition he organized at the Louvre Museum, in which he investigated the Western passion for list-making and accumulation.

The Name of the Rose—in story, a murder mystery set in a 14th-century Italian monastery but, in essence, a questioning of “truth” from theological, philosophical, scholarly, and historical perspectives—became an international best-seller. A film version, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, appeared in 1986. Eco continued to explore the connections between fantasy and reality in another best-selling novel, Il pendolo di Foucault (1988; Foucault’s Pendulum). His subsequent fictional works include L’isola del giorno prima (1995; The Island of the Day Before) and the illustrated novel La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004; The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana).
 


As with previous avant-garde movements, starting with Futurism, the members of the enlarged Gruppo 63, who insisted on the inseparability of literature and politics, proposed to subvert the inertia of a repressive tradition through a revolution in language. The traditional literary language, they claimed, was the medium of bourgeois hegemony, and a radical change in the language of literature would somehow shake off the oppression of the military-industrial complex and lead to a general social and political liberation. This does not seem to have happened, and with the passage of time the members of the group dispersed, going off in different individual directions as their concerns became less public and more personal. Although his link to Gruppo 63 is tenuous, the above-mentioned Andrea Zanzotto shared their suspicion of the “language of the tribe.” His poetry, from Dietro il paesaggio (1951; “Behind the Landscape”) to La Beltà (1968; “Beauty”) to Idioma (1986; “Idiom”), may suggest the automatic writing of the Surrealists (see automatism), but it reveals itself on close study to be a subtle combination of inspiration and calculation. The search for an authentic language led Zanzotto, a student of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, to compose the verse collected in Filò (1976) and Mistieroi (1979) in petèl, the regressive dialect baby talk in which peasant mothers in the Veneto imitate their infants’ first attempts to speak. He first experimented in this direction when he was invited by Federico Fellini to collaborate on the screenplay of Casanova (1976).

Another isolated experimental poet was polyglot Amelia Rosselli, who was born in Paris and was a resident of London and New York City before living in Rome. A musician who developed a complex metrical theory based on notions derived from musical theory, Rosselli published a volume of poetry in English (Sleep [1992]) in addition to her work in Italian. After her suicide in 1996, the reputation of this troubled poet continued to grow. Poets who achieved prominence at the end of the 20th century include Alba Donati (La repubblica contadina [1997; “The Peasant Republic”]), the sculptor Massimo Lippi (Passi il mondo e venga la grazia [1999; “Let the World Pass Away and Let Grace Come”]), Franco Marcoaldi (L’isola celeste [2000; “The Sky-Blue Island”]), Paolo Febbraro (Il secondo fine [1998; “Ulterior Purpose”]), Alessandro Fo (Giorni di scuola [2000; “School Days”]), and Riccardo Held (Il guizzo irriverente dell’azzurro [1995; “The Irreverent Flicker of Blue”]). Poet and fiction writer Tommaso Ottonieri (Elegia sanremese [1998; “San Remo Elegy”]) was one of the sponsors of a symposium that announced (with a year’s advance notice) the birth of yet another literary group; its papers were collected as Gruppo 93 (1992).
 


Dialect poetry

A remarkable aspect of 20th-century poetry composed in Italy was the proliferation of cultivated poets who rejected what they saw as the pollution, inauthenticity, and debased currency of the national language. They chose to express an up-to-the-minute nonfolkloristic content, not in supraregional standard Italian but in a local dialect, seen as purer or closer to reality. Italy has always had a tradition of dialect poetry. The first “school” of poetry in Italy wrote in a polished form of Sicilian. For another, paradoxical example, one might point to the vernacular Florentine of the “plurilinguistic” Dante, far from the “illustrious vernacular” prescribed by his linguistic theories. During the 19th century two of the greatest writers of the period of romantic realism, Carlo Porta and Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, made the oppressed common people of Milan and of Rome, respectively, the protagonists of their works. Early 20th-century precursors of the modern boom in dialect poetry were the melancholy Salvatore Di Giacomo, who composed the words of many popular Neapolitan songs; the Milanese expressionist Delio Tessa; the Triestine Virgilio Giotti (pseudonym of Virgilio Schönbeck), a musical poet who evoked simple, everyday events and relationships; and two Veneto poets, the elegiac Biagio Marin and the antifascist Giacomo Noventa (pseudonym of Giacomo Ca’ Zorzi), who expressed in a literary variant of the Venetian dialect a virile nostalgia for the values of the world of the past.

The modern reevaluation of the dialect tradition owes everything to the indefatigable and multitalented Pier Paolo Pasolini who—after making his own literary debut at age 20 with Poesie a Casarsa (1942; “Poems at Casarsa”), written in his mother’s Friulian dialect—edited in 1952 (with Mario Dell’Arco) a groundbreaking anthology of poetry in dialect with an important historical and critical introduction. Other major dialect poets are Albino Pierro, a native of Tursi in the far southern region of Basilicata, who wrote intense lyric verse in an archaic, previously unrecorded language; Tonino Guerra, a screenwriter and collaborator of Fellini’s who wrote down-to-earth poems in the dialect of Santarcangelo di Romagna; Franco Loi, a native of Genoa, who put a personal imprint on his adopted Milanese dialect; Franco Scataglini, from Ancona in the Marches, whose verse, though contemporary in its sensibility, harks back to medieval models; and Raffaello Baldini, another poet from Romagna, whose poetry shows narrative verve and a gift for characterization. Remarkable among later dialect poets is Amedeo Giacomini, whose Antologia privata (1997) is composed, like Pasolini’s maiden volume, in the dialect of the northeastern Friuli region.




Theatre

Actor-playwright Eduardo De Filippo was a prolific author who came into his own after World War II with a series of plays, which included Napoli milionaria! (1945, film 1950; "Naples Millionaire!"; Eng. trans. Napoli Milionaria) and Filumena Marturano (1946, film 1951; Eng. trans. Filumena), which, though written in his native Neapolitan dialect, paradoxically achieved international success. Among the last champions of the primacy of the written theatrical text were Pasolini and the Milanese expressionist Giovanni Testori, an uncompromising extremist who progressed from narrative fiction to the theatre and from subproletarian Neorealism to violent Roman Catholic mysticism. Otherwise, late 20th-century Italian theatre was dominated more by innovative directors and performers than by noteworthy new plays. Outstanding directors included Giorgio Strehler, animator of Italy’s first repertory theatre, the Piccolo Teatro di Milano (founded 1947); Luchino Visconti, internationally known for his films; Luigi Squarzina; and Luca Ronconi, who in 1968 memorably staged Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso in an adaptation by Edoardo Sanguineti. Among the performers was radical political satirist and reviver of the spirit of the commedia dell’arte Dario Fo, whose 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature knocked the conservative Italian literary world on its ear. Those with the necessary stamina can admire the intense presence of Carmelo Bene (who died prematurely in 2002) in the episodic tableaux and declamatory voice-over of the antinarrative film version of his Nostra signora dei Turchi (1966; “Our Lady of the Turks”). Bene, Fo, and Fo’s talented wife, Franca Rame, are examples of the phenomenon of the author-performer.
 


Eduardo De Filippo


Eduardo De Filippo (24 May 1900 - 31 October 1984) was an Italian actor, playwright, screenwriter, author and poet, best known for his Neapolitan works Filumena Marturano and Napoli Milionaria.

De Filippo was born in Naples to playwright Eduardo Scarpetta and theatre seamstress and costumier Luisa De Filippo. He began acting at the age of five and in 1932 formed a theater company with his brother Peppino and sister Titina. Peppino left the troupe in 1944 and Titina departed by the early 1950s. De Filippo starred in De Sica's L'oro di Napoli with Totò and Sophia Loren in 1954. His translation of Shakespeare's The Tempest into Neapolitan was published in 1982.

In 1981, De Filippo was appointed life senator of the Italian Republic. He died four years later in Rome. His artistic legacy has been carried over by his son.
 



Women writers

The feminine condition (both contemporary and historical), autobiography, female psychology, and family history and relationships are among the insistent themes of the remarkable number of accomplished women writers active in Italy throughout the 20th century. Among those whose writing in the late 19th and early 20th centuries laid the groundwork for subsequent women writers were Milanese popular novelist Neera (pseudonym of Anna Zuccari); Neapolitan journalist Matilde Serao, the best of whose 16 social novels is Il paese di cuccagna (1891; The Land of Cockayne); humanitarian socialist poet and fiction writer Ada Negri; and anticonformist feminist activist Sibilla Aleramo (pseudonym of Rina Faccio), best known for her autobiographical novel Una donna (1906; A Woman). Their successors include Florentine Anna Banti (pseudonym of Lucia Lopresti), whose Artemisia (1947) is based on the life of the 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi; Fausta Cialente, several of whose novels were inspired by her lengthy stay in the Egyptian city of Alexandria but whose best works, Le quattro ragazze Wieselberger (1976; “The Four Wieselberger Girls”) and Interno con figure (1976; “Figures in an Interior”), are existential in nature; fastidious stylist Gianna Manzini, an admirer of Virginia Woolf who is at her best in the autobiographical Ritratto in piedi (1971; “Full-Length Portrait”); and Alba De Céspedes, whose Nessuno torna indietro (1938; “There’s No Turning Back”) was banned by fascist censors.

Until her death in 2001, the dean of women writers was the precise and evocative stylist Lalla Romano, a painter by training, whose autobiographical explorations include La penombra che abbiamo attraversato (1964; The Penumbra) and the poetic analyses of her father’s family photographs, Romanzo di figure (1986; “Novel of Figures”). Anna Maria Ortese, after a Neorealist debut with Il mare non bagna Napoli (1953; The Bay Is Not Naples), proceeded to create a mysterious fantasy world of suffering beings in such novels as L’Iguana (1965; The Iguana) and the extraordinary Il cardillo addolorato (1993; The Lament of the Linnet). Antifascist Natalia Levi wrote under the last name of her husband, the critic Leone Ginzburg, who died in a fascist jail not long after they were married. Her fiction, best exemplified by Lessico famigliare (1963; Family Sayings), explores the memories of childhood and middle-class family relationships. Francesca Sanvitale won acclaim for her apparently autobiographical novels, such as Madre e figlia (1980; “Mother and Daughter”), though her Il figlio dell’impero (1993; “The Son of the Empire”) is a historical novel set in 19th-century France. Rosetta Loy, who had evoked a collective memory of the past in Le strade di polvere (1987; The Dust Roads of Monferrato), combined autobiography and social history in the memoir La parola ebreo (1997; “The Word ‘Jew’ ”; Eng. trans. First Words: A Childhood in Fascist Italy). Francesca Duranti writes about a male character’s recollections of a house in La casa sul lago della luna (1984; The House on Moon Lake). Fabrizia Ramondino, in such novels as Althénopis (1981; Eng. trans. Althenopis) and L’isola riflessa (1998; “The Inward-Looking Island”), is also concerned with memory and its vagaries as well as with the cultural loss brought about by so-called social progress.

The international success of the first novel, L’età del malessere (1963; The Age of Malaise), of Florentine feminist Dacia Maraini was confirmed by the translation of several subsequent works, notably La lunga vita de Marianna Ucría (1990; The Silent Duchess). In such later novels as Voci (1994; Voices) and Buio (1999; Darkness) she turned to the popular genre of detective fiction to explore the problem of violence against women. In 1973 in Rome, Maraini founded the feminist theatre collective La Maddalena, for which she subsequently composed more than 60 plays. Triestine Giuliana Morandini set her first novel, I cristalli di Vienna (1978; Bloodstains), in the time of the German occupation of Vienna, and in La prima estasi (1985; “The First Ecstasy”) Elisabetta Rasy, moving on from criticism to fiction, endeavoured to re-create the mystic and ascetic consciousness of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The spirit of Edgar Allan Poe lives on in the precisely related but arcane and enigmatic tales of La grande Eulalia (1988; “The Great Eulalia”), the first of many successful books by Paola Capriolo. Best-selling and widely translated author Susanna Tamaro achieved overnight commercial success with the sentimental Va’ dove ti porta il cuore (1994; Follow Your Heart), which she adapted for a film of the same name directed by Cristina Comencini.



Fiction at the turn of the 21st century

The competitive world of the media- and market-driven culture of the late 20th century thrived on self-promotion, provocation, “discoveries,” and “revelations.” Publishers and their talent scouts were eager to add “new voices.” The Sardinian Salvatore Satta, for example, was a professor of law whose considerable literary production—his best-known novel is Il giorno del giudizio (1979; The Day of Judgement)—was not revealed until after his death. Meanwhile, Stefano D’Arrigo was being supported by publisher Arnoldo Mondadori to compose his ambitious modern epic, Horcynus Orca (1975), 20 years in the making, which narrates the 1943 homecoming through the Strait of Messina (site of the mythical Scylla and Charybdis) of a Sicilian fisherman to an ogre-plagued Sicily. The whole narrative is couched in a language that combines precious hyperliterary Italian, Sicilian dialect, and nonce words à la James Joyce.

The case of Gesualdo Bufalino is not dissimilar to that of Satta. Bufalino’s first novel, Diceria dell’untore (1981; The Plague-Sower), which he published after a lifelong career in teaching, won the 1981 Campiello Prize for fiction awarded by the industrialists of the Veneto region. He went on to publish several other novels. Il sorriso dell’ignoto marinaio (1976; The Smile of the Unknown Mariner) consolidated the reputation of Vincenzo Consolo, who has been compared to authors as different as fellow Sicilian Leonardo Sciascia (for his rational lucidity) and Carlo Emilio Gadda (for his stylistic experiments).

A truly postmodern phenomenon is that of Umberto Eco, a University of Bologna professor, philosopher, and semiotician who progressed from analyzing genres and deconstructing texts composed by others to synthesizing and constructing his own. His medieval detective story Il nome della rosa (1980; The Name of the Rose), which was widely translated and also made into a movie (1986), has probably been read by more willing readers than Dante’s The Divine Comedy. It no doubt tickled Eco’s lively sense of humour that the film version of his book starred Sean Connery, an actor identified with the role of James Bond, a fictional character on whom Eco had written one of his more famous semiological essays. Eco’s later novels include Baudolino (2000; Eng. trans. Baudolino) and La misteriosa fiamma della regina Loana (2004; The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana). Eco’s nearest literary heirs are four former students of the University of Bologna who wrote under the collective pseudonym Luther Blissett. Their novel Q (1999; Eng. trans. Q) narrates the clash between Roman Catholic and Protestant religious extremists (and opportunists) in 16th-century Reformation Europe.

Among younger voices, two extremely professional authors—cosmopolitan minimalist Andrea De Carlo and painstaking observer and stylist Daniele Del Giudice—were “discovered” in the early 1980s by ltalo Calvino. In novels such as Macno (1984; Eng. trans. Macno) and Yucatan (1986; Eng. trans. Yucatan), De Carlo, a cinematographic recorder of surfaces, deliberately created and manipulated characters without depth, while Del Giudice, in Lo stadio di Wimbledon (1983; “Wimbledon Stadium”), Atlante occidentale (1985; Lines of Light), and Staccando l’ombra da terra (1994; Takeoff: The Pilot’s Lore), described speculative intellectual encounters against a background of hyperrealistically observed technology.

Other successes include the hilarious comic novels of Stefano Benni and of AIDS-generation author Pier Vittorio Tondelli, who burst upon the literary scene with the “on the road” stories of Altri libertini (1980; “Other Libertines”). Tondelli’s demotic language and characters caused the book to be briefly banned. His career culminated with the reflections on grief, sickness, and death of Camere separate (1989; Separate Rooms). Also notable are the short stories and short novels of Antonio Tabucchi—for example, Notturno indiano (1984; Indian Nocturne) and Piccoli equivoci senza importanza (1985; Little Misunderstandings of No Importance). His Sostiene Pereira (1994; Pereira Declares: A Testimony) is the story of the 1938 crisis of conscience of a Lisbon journalist under the regime of António Oliviera de Salazar. Conscientiously constructed are Roberto Pazzi’s pseudo-historical novels Cercando l’imperatore (1985; Searching for the Emperor) and La principessa e il drago (1986; The Princess and the Dragon).

One of the funniest, if not the most tasteful, of the younger writers of the last decades of the 20th century was the outrageous Aldo Busi, author of Seminario sulla gioventù (1984; Seminar on Youth) and the pertly titled Vita standard di un venditore provvisorio di collant (1985; Standard Life of a Temporary Pantyhose Salesman). Two of the most disinterested and earnestly reflective of the younger writers were Sebastiano Vassalli and especially Gianni Celati. Vassalli gradually distanced himself from the more radical experimentalism of Gruppo 63 so as to better exploit his gift for storytelling. La notte della cometa (1984; The Night of the Comet) is a fictionalized biography of the early 20th-century Orphic poet Dino Campana, while in the Strega Prize-winning La chimera (1990; The Chimera), perhaps taking a cue from historian Carlo Ginzburg as well as from Alessandro Manzoni, he reconstructs a 17th-century witch trial. Celati’s early works paradoxically (for a writer so concerned with orality) took as their model the silent-film comedies of Buster Keaton, though in the minimalist stories of Narratori delle pianure (1985; Voices from the Plains) and Quattro novelle sulle apparenze (1987; Appearances) and in his later melancholic, evocative nonfiction Celati strikes a more pensive, lyrical note. The work of antic surrealists Ermanno Cavazzoni and Daniele Benati, who collaborated with Celati on the periodical Il semplice, combines Keaton, Franz Kafka, and echoes of the fantastic world of the romances of Ariosto and Matteo Boiardo and the macaronic parodies written by Teofilo Folengo. Fellini’s last film, La voce della luna (1990; The Voice of the Moon), was inspired by the picaresque Il poema dei lunatici (1987; “The Poems of the Lunatics”) of Cavazzoni. (As if to underline the predominance of visual media over the written word, the title of the novel’s English translation is that of the movie version.) In the 21st century Benati would go on to write the novel Cani dell’inferno (2004; “Hounds of Hell”), set in a mysterious American city that doubles as the Netherworld and is inhabited by a series of deported Italians, all of whose names happen to begin with the letter P.

With the late 20th century’s global questioning of the literary canon and of inherited literary prejudices came a realignment of genres. Previously marginal genres such as the giallo (literally, “thrilling”)—detective fiction—moved to centre stage. Crime, seen from the point of view of the perpetrator, the victim, the avenger, or the investigator, formed the backbone of much Italian narrative at the turn of the 21st century. So popular was the formerly spurned giallo that many “serious” authors began to adapt its mechanisms to their heuristic purposes. Delitti di carta (“Paper Crimes”), an important literary periodical devoted wholly to the detective story, was founded in 1998. An English and American invention, the genre was, however, not without its classical Italian practitioners. But the distinction made by Graham Greene between his “novels” and his “entertainments” reflected the general view in Italy that the thriller belonged to a minor genre. The movie Pulp Fiction (1994) by American director Quentin Tarantino provided a conspicuous rallying point for a surprisingly large group of antiestablishment writers, though it cannot be said to have sparked the formation of this group; among Tarantino’s own influences was classic Italian horror film director Dario Argento. Generically referred to as pulpisti, these writers preferred to be known as the Giovani Cannibali (“Young Cannibals”), a name borrowed from the title of a collection of stories edited by Daniele Brolli (1996). The volumes of abstract theorization subsequently produced by defenders of the new style often reflected the fact that in Italian the loanword pulp does not bring with it the English connotations of the facile, shoddy, and cheap potboiler.

Among the authors who made their debut in the stylized, blood-splattered, sadomasochistic world of the Cannibali—several of whom later curbed their early excesses (without, one hopes, compromising their principles) for the tamer successes of the market—are Niccolò Ammaniti, Tiziano Scarpa, Isabella Santacroce, Aldo Nove (pseudonym of Antonello Satta Centanin), Simona Vinci, Daniele Luttazzi, Silvia Ballestra, Luisa Brancaccio, Francesca Mazzucato, Matteo Galiazzo, and Carlo Lucarelli. Ammaniti’s Io non ho paura (2001, film 2003; I’m Not Scared) chronicles a young boy’s loss of innocence after he encounters the brutality of the adult world. No evidence of innocence exists in the microcosm described by Simona Vinci. Her Dei bambini non si sa niente (1997; Eng. trans. What We Don’t Know About Children, or A Game We Play) opens a disturbing window onto the perverse and ultimately deadly private world of a group of children abandoned by their families to their own devices. Carlo Lucarelli’s thriller Almost Blue (1997; the original and the English translation carried the same English-language title) was made into a film by Alex Infascelli in 2000. Its soundtrack—the music of Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Coleman Hawkins—was already implicit in the book’s title. The novel is set in Bologna, where police inspector Grazia Negro tracks a serial murderer who, chameleon-like, takes on the characteristics of his victims. She is aided in her investigation by the blind Simone Martini (his name is that of an early Italian painter) who with his ham radio is able to tune into the frequencies of the killer’s thoughts.



Facing the new millennium

The year 2000 came and went without apocalypse. The “Millennium Bug”—the threat that computers would be unable to recognize the year 2000—turned out to be just another urban legend, a media-generated nonevent; those in charge of the world’s fragile economic superstructures congratulated themselves on their foresight and know-how. Meanwhile, in Italy a chain—the great chain, so to speak, of the centuries of civilization—had been broken. The sequence of designations for the centuries—Duecento, Trecento, Quattrocento, and so on—that had accompanied and defined the phases of classical Italian culture since its late medieval stirrings reached its terminus with the close of the Novecento, or 20th century. The first century of the new millennium would have no such convenient and reassuring label. Literary and artistic historians, as they snipped 100-year lengths from the chain and displayed their common characteristics, were always careful to stress the seamless continuity that actually underlay this segmenting and the artificiality of these convenient chronological divisions, which had been introduced, they were at pains to point out, for purely didactic purposes.

In the eyes of a number of cultural commentators at the beginning of the 21st century, however, the new millennium promised to give these reassurances the lie. There would be no continuity between the 20th and 21st centuries. Many concurred with the sentiments of William Butler Yeats’s poem The Second Coming (1921): “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” One such catastrophist was the critic and novelist Franco Ferrucci. His intelligent essay La fine delle letterature nazionali (“The End of National Literatures”)—which caps the first of two supplemental volumes (Scenari di fine secolo [2001; “End-of-Century Scenarios”]) of the monumental Storia della letteratura italiana (“History of Italian Literature”), begun in 1965 by editors Emilio Cecchi and Natalino Sapegno—is an acerbically witty and nostalgic farewell to literature and criticism as it was known in the 20th century.

Anthony Oldcorn
Ed.

 
 
 
 
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