Friday, September 11, 2009

Natalia Ginzburg (1916-1991)

Last night I read Natalia Ginzburg again. I admire her essays, remarkable for their thoughtful, wise and honest voice, a counterweight to my romanticism. I'm as honest as she but tend toward the ecstatic, what she would call the desire to "perform an aria." Pleasure-loving addict that I am, I like to be carried away; she likes to plant her feet on firm ground and fix her sensitive eyes on the subject.

In many of her later essays Ginzburg uses the universalizing first person plural: "we" instead of "I." This choice lends authority to her writing and creates a tone at once wry, objective, and inclusive. In "Fantasy Life," an essay about the differences between youth age, she writes:

In childhood and youth, we loved to arouse pity, both in ourselves and in others: it yielded rich voluptuous feelings. Feeling sorry for ourselves and having others feel sorry for us made us feel loved. We would murmur sympathetic words to ourselves at great length. In old age, our compassion for ourselves is barren, a strange mixture of gratitude and repulsion. Even the gratitude is arid and absentminded. The repulsion is stronger. When others feel sorry for us, we turn away.

Ginzburg describes the craft of writing:

We are continually menaced by grave dangers in the very act of confronting the page. There is the danger of suddenly starting to tease or perform an aria. I always have a mad longing to start performing, and have to be very careful not to do so. And there is the danger of cheating with words that don't really come from within, that we have fished up from outside at random and skillfully pieced together, for we do become somewhat cunning. There is a danger in becoming cunning, in cheating. It is a very difficult craft, as you can see, but the most wonderful in the world. The daily ups and downs of our life, the daily ups and downs we witness in others' lives, all that we read and see and think and discuss feeds its hunger, and it grows within us. It is a craft that thrives on terrible things too; it feeds on the best and the worst in our life, our evil feelings and our good feelings course through its blood. It feeds on us, and it thrives.

In 1944, in Rome, Ginzburg's husband, Leone Ginzburg was murdered by the Gestapo. Politically active, she was a member of the Italian Communist Party, and was elected to the Italian Parliament in 1983 as an independent.


  1. What a lovely (if that is the right word) description of the craft. "It feeds on us and it thrives" - how this speaks to me. It isn't comfortable though, is it?

  2. Hello, dear Signs. No, not comfortable. Ginzburg is always so trustworthy--a good writer to read when fall comes. All best with your work and health.

  3. thank you for writing what she wrote...