I have often met foreigners and they rarely know what Ferrara is and where it is located. Whereas Italians would find it crazy for people not to know about Ferrara, the average tourist is mostly aware of the neighbouring cities of Bologna or Parma, but this little but astonishing town has so much to tell. I have attended University here, I have made it my home; its narrow streets and lovely corners have been haunting my wildest intellectual dreams for years and I just love this place. Surely, from a literary point of view, a few names spring to mind: both Torquato Tasso or Ludovico Ariosto lived here among others, including poet Vincenzo Monti, but this really is a place for the arts. Painters Filippo De Pisis and Giovanni Boldini, aswell as musicians like Alessio Prati were born here in past centuries and they have all been inspired by their magical hometown.
But one does not need to go as far as past centuries to find authors worthy of being read, studied, discussed. Giorgio Bassani was born in Bologna in 1916 but spent a great deal of his lifetime in Ferrara. We could say that he loved Ferrara very much, making it the setting of most of his literary works to the point that his name now suddenly recalls the city itself. Whoever studies literature, especially Italian literature, might be familiar with this author and his works, but the average Italian probably ignores Bassani, though he is one true and relevant author of our contemporaneity. His most read and known book must be “Il giardino dei Finzi Contini” (“The Garden of the Finzi Continis“); released in 1962, it tells the story of an unnamed character narrating the lives of a Jewish family prior to the events of World War II.
The interesting thing about Bassani’s career is that, in regards to the writings he had set in Ferrara, year by year pieces of a puzzle came to life and only at a later time were they put together to form a unique and complete perspective on the city of Ferrara and its fictional characters. What he did by assembling previously written short stories into the collection “Cinque storie ferraresi” (in English, “Five stories from Ferrara“) earned him the 1956 Premio Strega. With most of his works, a huge collection was then to be labelled as the “Novel of Ferrara“, including his other notable work, “Gli occhiali d’oro” (in English, “The Gold Rimmed Spectacles“). In terms of plots and novel’s architecture, Bassani’s literary production tends to presents us with outcasts, people who need, for one reason or another, to come to terms with rejection and takes us by the hand to visit realistic places and realistic people. The prose itself, the style, his literary approach has nothing to do with Modernism (first person narration aside) despite the period in which his works are written and released; he displays a natural sense of precise narration, detailed, as if he could not help giving the reader the whole picture before continuing with his plot; a traditional narratorPortray. Virginia Woolf would call him Georgian, by definition of his narrative style, but that would have not been enough to label Bassani’s style.
Could it have been his dedication to one specific place that kept the national interest afar all these years? This is not a good enough reason to skip Bassani’s name among the books on the shelves. It is now time to rediscover this author and to my surprise I am glad to see it happening already. Just recently I have come across a translated version of one of Bassani’s masterpieces in a bookshop in Cambridge. That made my day.