April 21, 1921|
|Occupation||Writer and literary critic|
Angela Bianchini [ˈandʒela bjaŋˈkini] is an Italian fiction writer and literary critic of Jewish descent. She grew up there and emigrated to the United States in 1941, after Mussolini's openly anti-Semitic racial laws were enacted.
Education and early career
She spent her "years in waiting" (to use Giovanni Macchia's expression) at Johns Hopkins University where she completed a Ph.D. in French Linguistics under the guidance and supervision of Leo Spitzer. The presence and lectures of a group of Spanish exiles (among whom Pedro Salinas and Jorge Guillén) determined some of her major interests in the field of Spanish literature: in particular the great 20th century poetry and 19th century novel.
After her return to Rome after the war, Angela Bianchini was attracted to the world of communication and collaborated not only with such prestigious periodicals as Il Mondo of Mario Pannunzio, but also with RAI (the Italian Broadcasting Corporation). For RAI she wrote several cultural broadcasts, radio plays and original radio and T.V. programs.
She has many literary studies to her credit. She was one of the first literary critics to study serial novels in La luce a gas e il feuilleton: due invenzioni dell'Ottocento (Liguori, 1969, reprinted in 1989). She translated Medieval French Novels (Romanzi medievali d'amore e d'avventura, Grandi Libri Garzanti, now reprinted and in CD-ROM), and edited a Renaissance correspondence (Lettere della fiorentina Alessandra Macinghi Strozzi, Garzanti 1989). In her book Voce donna (Frassinelli 1979, reprinted in 1996) she combines a study of feminism with her interests in biography and in narrative technique. For the past thirty years she has contributed to La Stampa (Turin) and to its book-review section Tuttolibri, especially on Spanish themes.
Bianchini began her career in fiction with the short stories of Lungo equinozio (Lerici Ed.1962; Senator Borletti Prize for a First Work, 1962), which deal with the lives of women who live in Italy and in America. Here for the first time she explores her recurring theme of departures and arrivals. Giorgio Caproni, in a book review, comments enthusiastically on Bianchini's technique and on the texture of her stories, composed of everyday sentences and of scattered events against which stand out significant figures and particular historical moments. Carlo Bo, on the other hand, praises Bianchini's knowledge of the human heart and her sincerity and literary authenticity. Bianchini has contributed the short story "Alta estate notturna" to the anthology of women writers Il pozzo segreto (ed. M. R.Cutrufelli, R. Guacci, M. Rusconi, Giunti 1993) and the short story "Anni dopo" ("Years Later") to the anthology Nella città proibita (ed. M.R. Cutrufelli, Tropea 1997. In the Forbidden City,University of Chicago Press 2000).
Bianchini has also written several novels.
- In Le Nostre Distanze (Mondadori 1965. Reprinted by Einaudi in 2001) she narrates the experiences of a young woman, an Italian student at a university in the United States, during the Second World War. Paolo Milano writes about the novel: "In the shadow of a prestigious professor, and in the net of an ambiguous friendship, she lives and suffers through all the problems of a difficult growth: bitter eradication, religious anxieties (she seeks a refuge in Catholicism), and especially emotional loss". And in a recent entry for the Dizionario delle opere della letteratura italiana,(edited by Alberto Asor Rosa for Einaudi in 2000), Chiara Agostinelli describes the "contrast between the almost fairytale world of the university campus and the squalor of the surrounding areas" as well as the "crisis of a generation unsettled and uprooted by the violence of war".
- In La Ragazza in Nero (Camunia 1990, Frassinelli 2004, Rapallo Prize 1990, translated as The Girl in Black by G. Sanguinetti Katz and A. Urbancic, Canadian Society for Italian Studies 2002), which is the story of a girl in search of maternity, the author combines reality, symbols and images in the life of a modern girl, against the background of Rome. As Giulio Cattaneo points out, the main event of the novel is the protagonist's decision to have a child, determined by her partly real, partly imaginary encounter with the mysterious girl in black.
- Her subsequent novel, Capo d'Europa, (Camunia 1990, reprinted by Frassinelli Tascabile 1998, finalist for the Strega Prize 1991, Donna-Città di Roma Prize 1992, translated as The Edge of Europe by A. M. Jeannet and D. Castronuovo, University of Nebraska Press 2000), takes place in Lisbon, a stopping place for a Jewish girl running away from Europe to America during World War II. Furio Colombo reminds us that this is the only testimonial in Italian literature of the emigration caused by Italian racial laws and defines the novel "a little jewel". And Laura Mancinelli speaks of "the sorrow that is hidden under the polished pages of the novel" and sees in the protagonist "a tragic manifestation of the way violence can silence even the most human feelings".
- Le Labbra tue Sincere (Frassinelli 1995) takes place in Rome, during the Belle Epoque, when Giolitti was prime minister in Italy. It describes the amorous encounter between a sensual and restless lady from Turin and an American writer. He has come back to Rome, drawn by memory and nostalgia, whereas she has apparently come to the capital in order to follow the artistic education of her two adolescent daughters. According to Giorgio Barberi Squarotti "it is a novel about shadowy feelings, life secrets kept hidden by the discretion of social conventions and suddenly revealed by a chance encounter, a conversation or increased heart beat due to illusions or disappointments....".
- Un amore sconveniente (Frassinelli 1999, Castiglioncello Costa degli Etruschi Prize 2000, finalist for the Rapallo Prize 2000 ) retraces much of the twentieth century's dramatic history, while following the amour fou between a Jewish man who is an antifascist and liberal intellectual and a fatal and mysterious woman. Giorgio Calcagno observes that the charm of the novel consists in the doubling up of the story into the events which are described and those that are alluded to by the author: "These continuous refractions from one story to the other multiply the possible interpretations". Maria Rosa Cutrufelli remarks that here, in contrast with her previous works, the author takes over the male point of view and explores it in depth.
- In the novel Nevada (Frassinelli 2002) Bianchini takes us back to the fifties in America and describes a group of young women spending the necessary forty three days in a ranch near Reno, Nevada, anxiously waiting for their divorce to come through. The detailed portraits of the women and the intensity of their interaction allows us to understand their personality and live with them in this difficult period of their life.
- In Alessandra e Lucrezia. Destini femminili nella Firenze del Quattrocento (Mondadori, 2005) Bianchini examines the lives of women in fifteenth century Florence and focuses in particular on Alessandra Macinghi Strozzi, married to the rich and cultivated merchant Matteo Strozzi, and on Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo il Magnifico, lord of Florence. Matteo Strozzi was an enemy of the Medici and was exiled by them and died a few years after. Alessandra lost her husband when she was very young and spent many years trying to reconstitute the family property. The author compares Alessandra's life with that of Lucrezia Tornabuoni, mother of Lorenzo il Magnifico and wife of Cosimo de' Medici lord of Florence, who wrote poetry and was at the centre of the city's artistic and intellectual life. In the studies of these two women, based on their letters, Bianchini brings to life not only their experiences, but also the rich tapestry of the Florentine world at the apex of its artistic development.
La Ragazza in Nero
Usually the female protagonists of Bianchini's novels are women oppressed by a rigid upbringing and traumatized by private and historical events. Compelled to give up their private life and loves by rigid societal conventions (Le labbra tue sincere), or torn away from their family and city by racial laws and the horrors of WWII (Gli Oleandri, Capo d'Europa [The Edge of Europe]), these women try in vain to integrate their past rich in memories and affections with their lonely and painful present. Their effort to find a personal identity and make contact with reality fails: they either remain frozen in a state of shock when confronted with despair and death (The Edge of Europe), or they take refuge in dreams and memories that go back to childhood In contrast with these girls who are lost forever in past dreams or fixated on some painful moments of their life, the protagonist of The Girl in Black manages to detach herself from her family and integrate her present and her past as a necessary prelude to finding her identity. Though nameless like the protagonists of The Edge of Europe and of Gli oleandri and often as lonely and anxious as they are, she gains a sense of independence and an awareness of her femininity that the other women lack. It is her decision to have a child and her experience with her baby that bring about a new sense of self and allow her to come to terms with the painful memories of her youth and with her difficult relationship with her mother.
The main subject of the novel is the changing relationship among three women of the same family: the protagonist, simply called "the girl," and her mother and grandmother who are seen through the eyes of the girl. The novel takes place in Rome in the seventies and develops like an inner monologue, where the girl relives the difficult moments of her childhood and adolescence through a long and difficult winter, alone with her baby, as a single mother in a gloomy apartment in Rome.
By the end of the novel, the girl's desire to renew herself, and her hopes, are all signs of a happier stage in life on the way to a newly found maturity and identity. Bianchini's novel is developed on several intersecting planes of memory. The protagonist remembers how, on a gloomy day in the park around the Villa Borghese, she meets a young woman, the girl in black of the title. The girl in black is carrying a baby. She reveals to the protagonist that she is a single mother. Quite unexpectedly, she tells the protagonist that she too needs a baby of her own, setting in motion the events of the novel, as the protagonist recounts them through her memories of what happened that winter. Memories help the protagonist understand the fundamental concepts of life.
The importance of memory in its imprecise and often onyric dimensions is underscored from the very beginning of this work in Bianchini's refusal to name her protagonist, thereby never giving her the specificity of a precise identity. Likewise in the author's refusal to give the girl a "proper" father. Instead, her American father becomes known to her only through his absence, or mediated by the memories of the mother. Through memory the girl passes, almost as in a dream from one situation to another: from America (that land of dreams for postwar Italians), to the magical gardens of the Villa Borghese, to the enchantment of the summer fair at the American school (which in the manner of an Italian version of Brigadoon appears for only one day a year and then disappears), to the evasive and fairy-like figure of Grandmother.
The only female character of the novel who does not participate in recounting her memories is the mysterious girl in black. Nonetheless, while she herself has no memories to share, she becomes the principal element in the memory of the protagonist. She is an effective catalyst for the girl who has no choice but to accept her as she is, there in the garden of the Villa Borghese, unbound by any ties that may link her to other times, or to other people and places, ties that could be examined, and analyzed for ulterior motives and intentions. The fatalistic declaration that the protagonist needed a baby of her own, made outside of any previous context, could not speak to the girl's rational, objective world of facts or documents; rather it spoke directly to her deepest memories and desires.
- Marrone, Gaetana; Puppa, Paolo, eds. (26 December 2006). Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies. Routledge. p. 217. ISBN 1579583903.
- La Nazione, 10 May 1962
- L'Europeo, 7 October 1962
- Paolo Milano, L'Espresso, 27 March 1965
- Introduction to Capo d'Europa e altre storie, Bompiani 1992
- Furio Colombo, La Stampa, 25 January 1993
- Laura Mancinelli, L'Indice dei Libri del Mese, June 1991
- Giorgio Barberi Squarotti, La Stampa, 25 February 1995
- Giorgio Calcagno, Tuttolibri, 30 October 1999
- Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, Il diario della settimana, 12 January 2000
Jeannet, Angela M. "Afterword:Exiles and Returns in Angela Bianchini's Fiction" in Angela Bianchini. The Edge of Europe. Trans. A.M. Jeannet and D. Castronuovo. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, pp. 105–137.
Barberi Squarotti, Giorgio. "Bianchini: fine di una solitudine." La Stampa, 3 March 1990.
Cutrufelli, Maria Rosa. "Quel sottile bisogno di vita quotidiana" L'Unita, 1 April 1990.