Manzini, Gianna (1896–1974)

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Manzini, Gianna (1896–1974)

Italian novelist and journalist . Name variations: wrote about fashion under the names "Vanessa" and "Pamela." Born on March 24, 1896, in Pistoia, Tuscany, Italy; died in Rome, Italy, on August 31, 1974; daughter of Giuseppe Manzini (a watch repairer); degree in modern literature from the University of Florence; married Bruno Fallaci (a journalist), in 1929 (divorced).

Published first novel (1928); moved to Rome (c.1936); won prestigious literary award, Premio Viareggio, for autobiographical novel (1956); won Naples Prize (1965).

Selected writings:

Tempo innamorato (The Time of Love, 1928); Incontro col faco (Meeting with a Falcon, 1929); Casa di riposo (Rest Home, 1934); Rive remote (Far Shores, 1940); Forte come un leone (Strong as a Lion, 1944); Lettera all'editore (Letter to the Publisher, 1945); Caro Prigione (My Dear Prison, 1951); Il valtzer del diavolo (The Devil's Waltz, 1953); La Sparviera (The Sparrow-Hawk, 1956); Allegro con disperazione (Allegro with Despair, 1965); Ritratto in piedi (Standing Portrait, 1971); Sulla soglia (On the Threshold, 1973).

Gianna Manzini was an Italian novelist of imposing intellectual capacity whose works have never been translated into English. Her writings reflect the heady erudition of modern Italian literature, especially of the interwar period, and Manzini has been praised as one of the premier practitioners of a style known as prosa d'arte (artistic prose), a form that combined the lyrical beauty of poetry with a narrative, sometimes surreal, structure.

Manzini was born into an impoverished Tuscan family in 1896, the only child of a middle-class mother and a father who had given up wealth to become a committed anarchist. As such, he rejected the idea of property ownership, and worked for most of his life as a watch repairer. When Manzini was a child, her mother left her husband, taking Gianna with her; her father later spent time in exile and eventually died in a political prison in 1925, after Mussolini's Fascist government had risen to power.

After graduating from the University of Florence with a degree in modern literature, Manzini began writing for the journals Solaria and Letteratura in Florence. She also wrote for a newspaper, La Nazione; all of these publications featured an intellectual style of writing common to Italian journalism of the time. Her first novel, Tempo innamorato (The Time of Love), was published to critical acclaim in 1928. She then concentrated on writing short stories and saw success with the positive reception garnered by such collections as Incontro col faco (Meeting with a Falcon, 1929) and Casa di riposo (Rest Home, 1934). Like many of her contemporaries, she was a great admirer of writers such as Marcel Proust, Katherine Mansfield , and William Faulkner. Her stream-of-consciousness style and feminist tendencies earned her comparisons to James Joyce and Virginia Woolf . The latter's influence on her early work was so strong that in a later essay Manzini commented: "For me, the courage to endure has a name: Virginia Woolf. In reading her, I learned to collect my soul and keep it in front of me as mine workers do with their lamp."

In 1933, Manzini moved from Tuscany to Rome. She believed that surroundings greatly affected one's disposition and output, and this belief imbued her work with what one critic has called "a sense of complete correspondence between characters and environment." After nearly two decades of short stories, she saw publication of her second novel, Lettera all'editore (Letter to the Publisher, 1945). Manzini won acclaim for this dual narrative tale of a novel-within-a-novel, in which a woman writer creates a tale of a disintegrating marriage in her fiction while the dramas in her own life are recounted through a series of letters to her editor. After World War II, Manzini became director of Prosa, a review that promoted contemporary fiction from around the world. She continued to write fiction as well, including Caro Prigione (My Dear Prison, 1951) and Il valtzer del diavolo (The Devil's Waltz, 1953), both collections of short stories. The title story of the latter recounts the tale of a woman plagued by the presence of a cockroach, which helps her realize how eager she is to please others around her.

The novel La Sparviera (The Sparrow-Hawk, 1956) was highly autobiographical in nature, and is considered by some critics to be perhaps her finest work. In it, a young boy is afflicted with a bronchial condition that stays with him into adulthood—the title is synonymous with "bird of prey," the name he has given his ailment—and through dialogues with a mysterious female he comes to understand that the infirmity is perhaps of his own creation. (Manzini herself suffered from a bronchial condition that had begun around the time of her father's death.) She was awarded the prestigious Italian literary award, the Premio Viareggio, for La Sparviera (that year's award also went to writer Carlo Levi).

Described as an elegant, regal woman with a memorable sense of style, Manzini for many years wrote about fashion under the names "Vanessa" and "Pamela" for the literary journal La fiera letterararia, of which she also served as fashion editor. After moving to Rome, she maintained a nearly four-decades long relationship with the critic Enrico Falqui. Manzini continued to write fiction until well into her 70s, enjoying a long relationship with the Milan publishing house of Mondadori and the respect of a small but reverent audience for books that were both highly praised and described as "elite" and "difficult." Allegro con disperazione (Allegro with Despair, 1965) details a troubled marriage in which the husband works as a female impersonator and the wife is a victim of a childhood rape; one day their child sees his father dressed as a woman, which introduces a raft of problems to the already troubled family. For this novel, Manzini received another distinguished literary honor, the Naples Prize. In Ritratto in piedi (Standing Portrait, 1971), she wrote about her father's life and her own emotional ties to him even after his death, and in her last book, Sulla soglia (On the Threshold, 1973), she reminisced about her mother. Gianna Manzini died in Rome on August 31, 1974.


Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Conaway Bondanella, eds. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Miceli-Jeffries, Giovanna. "Gianna Manzini," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 177: Italian Novelists Since World War II. Edited by Augustus Pallotta. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1997, pp. 171–179.

Robinson, Lillian S., comp. and ed. Modern Women Writers. NY: Continuum, 1996.

Wilson, Katharina M., ed. An Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. NY: Garland, 1991.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan