Giovanni Papini

Giovanni Papini

Papini in 1921
Born (1881-01-09)January 9, 1881
Died July 8, 1956(1956-07-08) (aged 75)
Occupation Essayist, journalist, literary critic, poet, novelist
Nationality Italian
Period 1903–1956
Genre prose poetry, fantasy, autobiography, travel literature, satire
Subject political philosophy, history of religion
Literary movement Futurism
Notable awards Valdagno Prize (1951), Golden Quill Prize (1957)


Giovanni Papini (January 9, 1881 July 8, 1956)[1] was an Italian journalist, essayist, literary critic, poet, and novelist.

Early life

Born in Florence as the son of a modest furniture retailer (and former member of Giuseppe Garibaldi's Redshirts) from Borgo degli Albizi, Papini was baptized secretly to avoid the aggressive atheism of his father and lived a rustic, lonesome childhood. At that time he had felt a strong aversion to all beliefs, to all churches, as well as to any form of servitude (which he saw as connected to religion); he also became enchanted with the idea of writing an encyclopedia wherein all cultures would be summarized.

Trained at the Instituto di Studi Superiori (1900–2), he taught for a year in the Anglo-Italian school and then was librarian at the Museum of Anthropology from 1902 to 1904.[2] The literary life attracted Papini, who in 1903 founded the magazine Il Leonardo, to which he contributed articles under the pseudonym of "Gian Falco."[3] His collaborators included Giuseppe Prezzolini, Borgese, Vailati, Costetti and Calderoni.[4] Through Leonardo's Papini and his contributors introduced in Italy important thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Peirce, Nietzsche, Santayana and Poincaré. He would later join the staff of Il Regno,[5] a nationalist publication directed by Enrico Corradini, who formed the Associazione Nazionalistica Italiana, to support his country colonial expansionism.

Papini met William James and Henri Bergson, who greatly influenced his early works.[6] He started publishing short-stories and essays: in 1906, Il Tragico Quotidiano ("The Tragic Everyday"), in 1907 Il Pilota Cieco ("The Blind Pilot") and Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi ("The Twilight of the Philosophers"). The latter constituted a polemic with established and diverse intellectual figures, such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Papini proclaimed the death of philosophers and the demolition of thinking itself. He briefly flirted with Futurism[7][8] and other violent and liberating forms of Modernism[9] (Papini is the character in several poems of the period written by Mina Loy).[10]

In 1907 Papini married Giacinta Giovagnoli; the couple had two daughters, Viola and Gioconda.[11]

Before and during World War I

"Caricature of Papini", by Carlo Carrà & Ardengo Soffici, from Broom, 1922.

After leaving Il Leonardo in 1907, Giovanni Papini founded several other magazines. First he published La Voce in 1908, then L'Anima together with Giovanni Amendola and Prezzolini. In 1913 (right before Italy's entry into World War I) he started Lacerba (1913–15). From three years Papini was correspondent for the Mercure de France and later literary critic for La Nazione.[12] About 1918 he created yet another review, La Vraie Italie, with Ardengo Soffici.

Other books came from his pen. His Parole e Sangue ("Words and Blood") showed his fundamental atheism. Furthermore, Papini sought to create scandal by speculating that Jesus and John the Apostle had a homosexual relationship.[13] In 1912 he published his best-known work, the autobiography Un Uomo Finito ("The Failure").

In his 1915 collection of poetic prose Cento Pagine di Poesia (followed by Buffonate, Maschilità, and Stroncature), Papini placed himself face-to-face with Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but also contemporaries such as Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, and less prominent disciples of Gabriele D'Annunzio. A critic wrote of him:

Giovanni Papini [...] is one of the finest minds in the Italy of today. He is an excellent representative of modernity's restless search for truth, and his work exhibits a refreshing independence founded, not like so much so-called independence, upon ignorance of the past, but upon a study and understanding of it.[14]

He published verse in 1917, grouped under the title Opera Prima. In 1921, Papini announced his newly found Roman Catholicism,[15][16] publishing his Storia di Cristo ("The Story of Christ"), a book which has been translated into twenty-three languages and has had a world-wide success.[17]

Fascism and later years

After further verse works, he published the satire Gog (1931) and the essay Dante Vivo ("If Dante Were Alive"; 1933).[18]

Drawing of Papini, by Julius Zirinsky.

He moved towards Fascism,[19] and his beliefs earned him a teaching position at the University of Bologna in 1935 (although his studies only qualified him for primary school teaching); the Fascist authorities confirmed Papini's "impeccable reputation" through the appointment. In 1937, Papini published the only volume of his History of Italian Literature, which he dedicated to Benito Mussolini: "to Il Duce, friend of poetry and of the poets",[20] being awarded top positions in academia, especially in the study of Italian Renaissance. An Antisemite, he believed in an international plot of Jews, applauding the racial discrimination laws enforced by Mussolini in 1938. In 1940 Papini's Storia della Letteratura Italiana was published in Nazi Germany with the title Eternal Italy -- The Great in its Empire of Letters (in German: Ewiges Italien - Die Großen im Reich seiner Dichtung). Papini was the vice president of the Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung (i.e. European Writers' League), which was founded by Joseph Goebbels in 1941/42.[21] When the Fascist regime crumbled (1943), Papini entered the Franciscan convent in La Verna, with the name Fra' Bonaventura.[22]

Largely discredited at the end of World War II, he was defended by the Catholic political right. His work concentrated on different subjects, including a biography of Michelangelo, while he continued to publish dark and tragic essays. He collaborated with Corriere della Sera, contributing articles that were published as a volume after his death. Papini had been suffering from progressive paralysis and was blind during the last years of his life.

According to art historian Richard Dorment,[23][24][25] Francisco Franco's regime and NATO used Papini's series of imaginary interviews (Il Libro Nero, 1951) as propaganda against Pablo Picasso,[26] to dramatically undercut his pro-Communist image. In 1962, the artist asked his biographer Pierre Daix, to expose the pretend interview, which he did in Les Lettres Françaises.[27]

He was admired by Bruno de Finetti, founder of a subjective theory of probability and Jorge Luis Borges, who remarked that Papini had been "unjustly forgotten" and included some of his stories in the Library of Babel.[28]


  • La Teoria Psicologica della Previsione (1902).
  • Sentire Senza Agire e Agire Senza Sentire (1905).
  • Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi (1906).
  • Il Tragico Quotidiano (1906).
  • La Coltura Italiana (with Giuseppe Prezzolini, 1906).
  • Il Pilota Cieco (1907).
  • Le Memorie d'Iddio (1911).
  • L'Altra Metà (1911).
  • La Vita di Nessuno (1912).
  • Parole e Sangue (1912).
  • Un Uomo Finito (1913).
  • Ventiquattro Cervelli (1913).
  • Sul Pragmatismo: Saggi e Ricerche, 1903-1911 (1913).
  • Almanacco Purgativo 1914 (with Ardengo Soffici et al., 1913).
  • Buffonate (1914).
  • Vecchio e Nuovo Nazionalismo (with Giuseppe Prezzolini, 1914).
  • Cento Pagine di Poesia (1915).
  • Maschilità (1915).
  • La Paga del Sabato (1915).
  • Stroncature (1916).
  • Opera Prima (1917).
  • Polemiche Religiose (1917).
  • Testimonianze (1918).
  • L'Uomo Carducci (1918).
  • L'Europa Occidentale Contro la Mittel-Europa (1918).
  • Chiudiamo le Scuole (1918).
  • Giorni di Festa (1918).
  • L'Esperienza Futurista (1919).
  • Poeti d'Oggi (with Pietro Pancrazi, 1920).
  • Storia di Cristo (1921).
  • Antologia della Poesia Religiosa Italiana (1923).
  • Dizionario dell'Omo Salvatico (with Domenico Giuliotti, 1923).
  • L'Anno Santo e le Quattro Paci (1925).
  • Pane e Vino (1926).
  • Gli Operai della Vigna (1929).
  • Sant'Agostino (1931).
  • Gog (1931).
  • La Scala di Giacobbe (1932).
  • Firenze (1932).
  • Il Sacco dell'Orco (1933).
  • Dante Vivo (1933).
  • Ardengo Soffici (1933).
  • La Pietra Infernale (1934).
  • Grandezze di Carducci (1935).
  • I Testimoni della Passione (1937).
  • Storia della Letteratura Italiana (1937).
  • Italia Mia (1939).
  • Figure Umane (1940).
  • Medardo Rosso (1940).
  • La Corona d'Argento (1941).
  • Mostra Personale (1941).
  • Prose di Cattolici Italiani d'Ogni Secolo (with Giuseppe De Luca, 1941).
  • L'Imitazione del Padre. Saggi sul Rinascimento (1942).
  • Racconti di Gioventù (1943).
  • Cielo e Terra (1943).
  • Foglie della Foresta (1946).
  • Lettere agli Uomini di Papa Celestino VI (1946).
  • Primo Conti (1947).
  • Santi e Poeti (1948).
  • Passato Remoto (1948).
  • Vita di Michelangiolo (1949).
  • Le Pazzie del Poeta (1950).
  • Firenze Fiore del Mondo (with Ardengo Soffici, Piero Bargellini and Spadolini, 1950).
  • Il Libro Nero (1951).
  • Il Diavolo (1953).
  • Il Bel Viaggio (with Enzo Palmeri, 1954).
  • Concerto Fantastico (1954).
  • Strane Storie (1954).
  • La Spia del Mondo (1955).
  • La Loggia dei Busti (1955).
  • Le Felicità dell'Infelice (1956).


  • L'Aurora della Letteratura Italiana: Da Jacopone da Todi a Franco Sacchetti (1956).
  • Il Muro dei Gelsomini: Ricordi di Fanciullezza (1957).
  • Giudizio Universale (1957).
  • La Seconda Nascita (1958).
  • Dichiarazione al Tipografo (1958).
  • Città Felicità (1960).
  • Diario (1962).
  • Schegge (Articles published in Corriere della Sera, 1971).
  • Rapporto sugli Uomini (1978).

Collected works

Works in English translation

Selected articles

Short stories


  1. "Giovanni Papini, Author, is Dead; Italian Philosopher, 75, Who Wrote 'Life of Christ', Won Prize for Study of Dante," The New York Times, July 9, 1956, p. 23.
  2. Hoehn, Matthew (1948). "Giovanni Papini, 1881." In: Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches. Newark, N.J.: St. Mary's Abbey, p. 607.
  3. Boyd, Ernest (1925). "Giovanni Papini." In: Studies from Ten Literatures. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 167.
  4. Kunitz, Stanley (1931). "Giovanni Papini." In: Living Authors: A Book of Biographies. New York: The H.W. Wilson company, p. 314.
  5. Bondanella, Peter, ed. (2001). "Papini, Giovanni (1881-1956)," Cassell Dictionary Italian Literature, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 422.
  6. Orlandi, Daniela (2007). "Papini (1881–1856)." In: Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, Paolo Puppa & Luca Somigli (eds.), Vol. I. Taylor & Francis, p. 1347.
  7. Collins, Joseph (1920). "Giovanni Papini and the Futuristic Literary Movement in Italy." In: Idling in Italy: Studies of Literature and of Life. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 88–106.
  8. Clough, Rosa Trillo (1961). Futurism: The Story of a Modern Art Movement, a New Appraisal. New York: Philosophical Library.
  9. Sharkey, Stephen & Robert S. Dombronski (1976). "Revolution, Myth and Mythical Politics: The Futurist Solution," Journal of European History 6 (23), pp. 231–247.
  10. Hofer, Matthew (2011). “Mina Loy, Giovanni Papini, and the Aesthetic of Irritation,” Paideuma 38.
  11. Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  12. Hoehn, Matthew (1948), p. 607.
  13. Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  14. Goldberg, Isaac (1919). "The Intellectual Ferment in Post-Bellum Italy," The Bookman, Vol. L, No. 2, p. 158.
  15. Sanctis, Sante de (1927). Religious Conversion, a Bio-Psychological Study. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., ltd., p. 280.
  16. Livingston, Arthur (1950). "Papini Tells of his Intellectual Adventures." In: Essays on Modern Italian Literature. New York: S.F. Vanni, pp. 56–68.
  17. "Giovanni Papini is the author of the Storia di Cristo (The Story of Christ), which marked his conversion to Catholicism. But his conversion has not checked his output, nor devitalized his art, which continued as before in the tradition of Carducci. His greatest novel is Un Uomo Finito (A Man — Finished), one of the fundamental works of modern Italian fiction. Papini's influence has been immense. His proud spiritual impulses, his restless ardour, his wealth of new and provocative ideas, and his crashing judgments, have been a strong stimulus to the younger generation, and have drawn to his side, if only temporarily, even writers of real independence." — Pirandello, Luigi (1967). "Italy." In: Tendencies of the Modern Novel. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, Inc., pp. 130–131.
  18. Beckett, Samuel (1934). Papini's Dante. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
  19. Franzese, Sergio (2004). "Giovanni Papini." In John Lachs and Robert B. Talisse, ed., American Philosophy: An Encyclopedia, Psychology Press, p. 562.
  20. Traversi, D.A. (1939). "Giovanni Papini and Italian Literature," Scrutiny 7 (4), p. 415.
  21. Hausmann, Frank-Rutger (2004). "Dichte, Dichter, tage nicht!" Die Europäische Schriftsteller-Vereinigung in Weimar 1941-1948. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, p. 210 ISBN 3-465-03295-0
  22. Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  23. The Spectator, 2 April 1993, p. 24.
  24. "Letter: That Notorious Fake," The Independent, 14 March 1994.
  25. "The quotation occurs in an 'interview' with an Italian journalist named Giovanni Papini. It was published in 1951 in a volume of Papini's collected journalism entitled Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog, a copy of which is in the British Library. That interview is a notorious fake. According to Pierre Daix, in his respected 1977 biography of Picasso, the artist knew about II Libro Nero, but ignored it until 1955, when it was used against him by Franco's government. Because Picasso was a communist and this was the height of the Cold War, it was further disseminated by Nato intelligence. At this point Picasso asked Daix to expose the whole affair, which Daix did in a series of articles in Les Lettres Françaises between 1962 and 1965. In the biography, Daix described the contents of II Libro Nero as 'imaginary interviews and false confessions'. Papini was not a fraud, but a journalist who used the literary device of the pretend interview to write profiles of famous people, including Kafka, Tolstoy, Freud, Molotov, Hitler, Cervantes, Goethe, William Blake and Robert Browning. Picasso never met Papini and never said the words Papini attributed to him." — The Spectator, 1 May 1998, p. 27.
  26. "Apology for a False Picasso 'Quote'," Life, Vol. LXVI, No. 2, January 17, 1969, p. 18B.
  27. Pierre d'Aix, Les Lettres Francaises, 12-18, Décembre, 1963.
  28. Borges, Jorge Louis (1975). Preface to Papini's, Lo Specchio che Fugge. Parma-Milano: Franco Maria Ricci.
  29. Rep. in Vanity Fair 15 (2), 1920, p. 48.
  30. Rep. in Italian Short Stories from the 13th to the 20th Centuries. With an introduction by Decio Pettoello. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1932; The Copeland Translations; Mainly in Prose from French, German, Italian and Russian. Chosen and arranged with an introduction. New York-London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934.

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