Debenedetti, Giacomo

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DEBENEDETTI, GIACOMO (1901–1967), Italian critic and author. Born in Biella, Debenedetti studied mathematics at the University of Torino and afterwards received degrees in law and in literature. In 1920–30 he contributed to such important literary journals as Il Baretti, Convegno, Solaria, and L'Italia letteraria, and published his first book, a volume of stories, Amedeo e altri racconti, in 1926. In 1924 he gave a series of lectures on the prophets (Profeti, 1998), showing particular interest in the literary style of the Bible. He was also an important film critic, and from 1937 to 1943 he worked as a scriptwriter (anonymously from 1938 owing to the Fascist anti-Jewish laws). Debenedetti proved himself an outstanding critic in a number of essays in which he subjected the principal Italian writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as historians of literature like Benedetto Croce, to penetrating analysis. Some of them were collected in Saggi Critici (1929; 19522). Analyzing the works of D'Annunzio and Pirandello in a second series of essays, Saggi Critici (1945; enlarged edition, 1955), Debenedetti proclaimed the need for committed, nonconformist critics to play an active part in politics. His literary criticism ended with a third volume of Saggi Critici (1959; 19632), which contains original judgments on three French writers, Gide, Proust, and Valéry. He also gave a series of lectures and wrote articles on the narrative structure of fiction (both in literature and cinema) in modern times (Il personaggio uomo, 1988). He taught Italian at the universities of Messina and Rome; his university courses were published posthumously (La poesia italiana del Novecento, 1974; Il romanzo del novecento, 1998), mainly by his wife. He was also an influential advisor for important publishing houses, and a translator (among others, of M. Proust, G. Eliot, K. Mansfield, J.-P. Sartre, H. Miller). Debenedetti fell victim to the Nazi persecution of the Jews when the Germans overran central and northern Italy late in World War ii, and narrowly escaped deportation. He left two texts describing the Nazi persecution in Rome that are considered examples of engaged literature based on actual facts. In the first, 16 Ottobre 1943 (1945), he told the story of the roundup of the Jews of Rome and their deportation to the death camps. In the second, Otto Ebrei (1944; definitive edition, 1961), he described the notorious massacre in the Ardeatine Caves (see *Rome). In these works Debenedetti denounced not only the cruel and vile behavior of the German Nazis, but also the antifascist philosemitism of the postwar years, which continued to see the Jews as different from the rest of the Italians.

add. bibliography:

C. Garboli (ed.), Giacomo Debenedetti 1901–1967 (1968); R. Bertacchini, Letteratura italiana. I critici, 5 (1969), 3398–407, 3426ff.; idem, Dizionario Biografico degli italiani (1987), 360–65; R. Tordi (ed.), Il Novecento di Debenedetti (1991); A. Debenedetti, Giacomino (1994); W. Pedullà, Il Novecento segreto di Giacomo Debenedetti (2004).

[Joseph Baruch Sermoneta /

Alessandro Guetta (2nd ed.)]