Bonsanti, Alessandro 1904–1984

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Bonsanti, Alessandro 1904–1984

PERSONAL: Born November 15, 1904, in Florence, Italy; died February 18, 1984. Education: Attended University of Florence.

CAREER: Solaria (journal), co-director, 1932–34; Conservatory of Music, Bologna, Italy, teacher of the history of theater; Letteratura (literary journal), founder, 1937; Gabinetto Scientifico-Letterario Viessieux, Florence, Italy, director, 1941–80; Il mondo (periodical), founder, 1945; Archivio Contemporaneo, curator, 1979–83; elected mayor of Florence, 1984. Military service: Italian army, 1925–26.


La serva amorosa (novel; title means "The Amorous Maid"), Solaria (Florence, Italy), 1929.

I capricci dell'Adriana (stories; title means "Adriana's Whines"), Solaria (Florence, Italy), 1934.

Racconto militare (novel; title means "A Military Story"), Parenti (Florence, Italy), 1937.

Dialoghi e altre prose (title means "Dialogues and Other Stories"), Parenti (Florence, Italy), 1940.

Introduzione al gran viaggio (title means "Introduction to the Long Trip"), Tuminelli (Rome, Italy), 1944.

La vipera e il toro (title means "The Viper and the Bull"), Sansoni (Florence, Italy), 1955.

Sopra alcuni personaggi eventuali (title means "On Some Potential Characters"), Carpena (Sarzana, Italy), 1956.

I cavalli di bronzo (title means "The Bronze Horses"), Sansoni (Florence, Italy), 1956.

Racconti lontani, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1962.

La buca di San Colombano (novel; title means "San Columbano's Pit"), three volumes, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1964.

La nuova stazione di Firenze (novel; title means "The New Railroad Station in Florence"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1965.

Teatro domestico (title means "Domestic Plays"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1968.

Portolani d'agosto, 1971–1974, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1978.

SIDELIGHTS: Italian novelist and playwright Alessandro Bonsanti enjoyed a fifty-year publishing career that produced works ranging from short stories to the 2,000-page, three-volume novel La buca di San Colombano. His career peaked in the 1950s and 1960s, when he emerged as the best-known representative of the prosa dell'arte, or artistic prose, "a literary movement inspired by the neobaroque mode of artistic expression, prevalent especially in the seventeenth century, which is marked by extravagant and elaborate forms," as Andrea Guiati described it in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Guiati explained that "Bonsanti was a conservative writer. Indifferent to experimenta-tion, he was not interested in the literary trends of his time, which stressed formal innovation and immersion in social and political problems."

Born in the city of Florence on November 15, 1904, Bonsanti spent much of his youth in the Italian countryside. That rural atmosphere would later provide the backdrop for much of his fiction. Before he began to write, Bonsanti studied engineering at the University of Florence and, after serving in the army for a year from 1925 to 1926, he moved to Milan and took a job as a bank teller. Two years later he published "Briganti in Maremma," a short story about a nineteenth-century Tuscan farmer who seduces the mistress of an outlaw whom he is harboring. Within a year, he had moved back to Florence and published his first novel, La serva amorosa.

La serva amorosa also concerns a love affair. In this story Nino, a young nobleman with a long history of romantic conquests, seduces Guilia, a grocer's daughter. Guilia appreciates the higher standard of living which her involvement with Nino grants her, but she does not find happiness. Although the book has a clear moral undertone, "Bonsanti remains largely unconcerned with morality and religion per se, choosing optimism in life as the defining element of his narrative," Guiati said.

Many of Bonsanti's works feature Giovanni Borghini, a semi-autobiographical character who appears for the first time in Racconto militare as a bank teller who wants to be a writer. In many of the books about Borghini, the reader learns little about the character's current circumstances, since most of the stories are Borghini's reminisces about his past. In one novel, La nuova stazione di Firenze, begun in 1954 but not published until 1965, Borghini spends most of the book telling an architect with whom he shares a train compartment about his youth. Borghini speaks of Italy's fascist regime and of writing for the journal Solaria, a journal Bonsanti actually edited in the early 1930s. Borghini also appears in I cavalli di bronzo, this time as a professor who wants to be a writer. This story, set in Borghini's present, tells of a young couple's dispute with family members over whether they should marry in America or in their home village. The dispute is ended when the couple dies in a plane crash.

Bonsanti's most famous work may be La buca di San Colombano. The massive novel begins in the present, with all its characters at the end of life, and then traces events backwards to a time when they were all young with a world of possibilities in front of them. "No Italian novelist of the twentieth century has treated the process of aging in such lyrical detail as Bonsanti," Guiati wrote of the book in the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

In the late 1960s Bonsanti turned his attention to writing plays, publishing several of them in a small volume titled Teatro domestico. The work contains Don Giovanni, which had originally appeared in his previous work Letteratura, as well as two new plays, Ottaviano and Maria Stuarda. As with La buca di San Colombano, these plays have memory at their center. Ottaviano features the Emperor Octavian preparing to dictate his autobiography, even though he already knows that no matter what he says, he will be condemned by future historians. The other two plays "are marked by long monologues dwelling on the beauty of youth and the sorrows of old age," stated Guiati.

Throughout his career, Bonsanti usually worked at something else in addition to his writing. From 1932 to 1934, he co-directed Solaria with fellow writer Alberto Carocci, and in 1937 he founded the literary journal Letteratura. Around the same time, Bonsanti also took a job teaching the history of theater at the Conservatory of Music in Bologna. In the early 1940s, he again moved to Florence, where he became director of the Gabinetto Scientifico-Letterario Viessieux, a position he held from 1941 until 1980. Toward the end of his life he turned his attention to politics. Bonsanti was elected mayor of Florence shortly before he died in February of 1984.



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 177: Italian Novelists since World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.