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Bassani, Giorgio

BASSANI, GIORGIO

BASSANI, GIORGIO (1916–2000), Italian writer. Bassani, who was born in Bologna, lived for many years in Ferrara and was active in the anti-Fascist Resistance. After World War ii he moved to Rome, but Ferrara, and especially its Jewish community, remained at the heart of Bassani's literary world. His first published work was a volume of stories and poems entitled Una città di pianura (1940), published under a pseudonym because of the Fascist antisemitic laws. In 1945 he made his reputation with a book of poems, Storie di poveri amanti. His collection of short stories Cinque storie ferraresi (1956) deals with provincial life in Ferrara. One of them, "Una lapide in via Mazzini" is the story of a Jewish survivor of a concentration camp: his presence is an embarrassing reminder to the people of his native town, who wish to forget the tragedy. Gli occhiali d'oro (1958; The Gold-Rimmed Spectacles, 1960) is the story of two men rejected by society, one because he is a homosexual, the other because he is a Jew. The Jewish theme is omnipresent in Bassani's fiction: Jewish identity is a paradigm of the malaise of modern man, who has lost his stable system of values. This theme is intertwined with the theme of memory, particularly in Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1962; The Garden of Finzi Contini, 1965), which has been translated into a number of languages, including Hebrew. Reality and fiction are mixed in this novel, which deals with the fate of an old and wealthy Jewish family during the Fascist years and the war, and stops just before its deportation. In L'airone (1968; The Heron, 1969) a Jewish bourgeois who leaves his property to his Christian wife and the Communist peasants represents the European bourgeois unable to establish a healthy relationship with the surrounding world. The association of a problematic Jewish identity with the crisis of the contemporary bourgeosie is also a key theme of Dietro la porta (1964; Behind the Door, 1972), the most autobiographical of his novels. Jewish characters are also present in L'odore del fieno (1972; The Smell of Hay, 1997). In 1980 Bassani revised his short stories and novels and published them in one volume under the title Il romanzo di Ferrara. His poems were collected in 1982 in In rima e senza; among them some texts dealing with the Jewish condition, such as "Le leggi razziali" (1974). Di là dal cuore (1984) is a collection all of Bassani's critical essays. From 1948 to 1961 he edited the literary review Botteghe Oscure and from 1948 to 1961 he was a vice president of Italian radio and television; for many years he was also president of Italia nostra, an association for the preservation of the country's artistic and natural heritage. In addition he taught the history of theater at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Rome.

bibliography:

M. Grillandi, Invito alla lettura di Bassani (1972); G. Bassani Opere (1998), with a chronology and bibliography; A. Dolfi, Giorgio Bassani: una scrittura della malinconia (2000); C. Kroha, "Judaism and Manhood in the Novels of Giorgio Bassani," in: T. Di Napoli (ed.), The Italian Jewish Experience (2000); P. Prebys, Giorgio Bassani, Bibliografia sulle opere e sulla vita (2002).

[Alessandro Guetta (2nd ed.)]

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