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Anna Maria Ortese

Anna Maria Ortese: Celestial Geographies

Gian Maria Annovi
Flora Ghezzo
With an interview with the author by Dacia Maraini
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Anna Maria Ortese
    Book Description:

    Anna Maria Ortese: Celestial Geographiesfeatures a selection of essays by established Ortese scholars that trace her remarkable creative trajectory.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-1922-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction: Anna Maria Ortese and the Red-Footed Angel
    (pp. 3-32)

    Diffident and timid, a young woman in her early twenties opens the door of her modest little apartment near the port in Naples to give her first interview, in 1938, for the literary reviewGli oratori del giorno. Her hair is dishevelled and her eyes “attraversati dal lampo” (“crossed by a flash of lightning”).¹ Anna Maria Ortese is her name. She had just burst onto the Italian cultural scene in 1937, becoming a literary prodigy with the publication of critically acclaimed surreal and visionary short stories: with them, the debutante had delicately explored the emotional turmoil and amorous affairs of...

  6. PART ONE: From Naples to Paris (via Jerusalem):: Modern Alienation and Utopian Reality

    • 1 “Clouds in Front of My Eyes”: Ortese’s Poetics of the Gaze in “Un paio di occhiali” and Il mare non bagna Napoli
      (pp. 35-77)
      LUCIA RE

      “Un paio di occhiali” (“A Pair of Glasses”) is one of Anna Maria Ortese’s most famous stories.¹ Written in Naples in May 1949, it was first published in the journalOmnibusunder the title “Ottomila lire per gli occhi di Eugenia” (“Eight Thousand Liras for Eugenia’s Eyes”).² With the new title, “Un paio di occhiali” appeared as the opening story of the 1953 volumeIl mare non bagna Napoli(literallyThe Sea Does Not Bathe Naples), a collection composed of five chapters. The story is more than just a beginning, constituting rather a kind of musical overture through which some...

    • 2 Cities “Paved with Casualties”: Ortese’s Journeys through Urban Modernity
      (pp. 78-111)

      This essay addresses some aspects of the relationship between Ortese and modernity that have been overlooked by critics, focusing on her travel writings and, in particular, a few of her reportages centred around Milan, which appeared inSilenzio a Milano(Silence in Milan, 1958) or were issued in periodicals and not subsequently republished. Having moved to the Lombard metropolis in 1948,¹ in these works Ortese takes a probing look at the devastating effects of industrialization and unbridled urbanization, which distinguish the development of northern Italy during the “reconstruction” following the Second World War.

      In mapping the peninsula, the author situates...

    • 3 Biographies of Displacement and the Utopian Imagination: Anna Maria Ortese, Hannah Arendt, and the Artist as “Conscious Pariah”
      (pp. 112-140)

      At a first glance, the only commonality between the German-Jewish political theorist Hannah Arendt and the Italian novelist Anna Maria Ortese is that both were women who lived and wrote during the “dark times” of the twentieth century.¹ However, from different social and ethnic backgrounds and in separate areas of human expression, these two women addressed analogous concerns and explored remarkably similar issues. Their common experiences of displacement, albeit prompted by different causes – political in Arendt’s case and socio-economic in Ortese’s – inspired parallel lifelong meditations on notions of belonging and independence, political involvement and intellectual freedom, the preservation...

  7. PART TWO: Life of a Celestial Body:: Making and Unmaking the Self

    • 4 Epistolary Self-Storytelling: Anna Maria Ortese’s Letters to Massimo Bontempelli
      (pp. 143-190)

      In May 1983, and during the following four months, Anna Maria Ortese engaged in a series of interviews with Sandra Petrignani, initially by telephone and later – in a very indirect manner – through mail correspondence. Of her general unwillingness to grant interviews in person and of her reclusive lifestyle, Ortese would write to Petrignani: “Come vede, sono una persona scomodissima, e questo spiega ampiamente la mia scarsa fortuna” (“As you see, I am a very troublesome person, and this explains my lack of success”).¹ Believing in these words, a reader might indeed suppose that Ortese’s self-imposed exile made her...

    • 5 Anna Maria Ortese’s Early Short Fiction: A Re-reading of Angelici dolori
      (pp. 191-214)

      Published 16 April 1937 by Bompiani,Angelici dolori(Angelic Sorrows) is Anna Maria Ortese’s precocious first book of short stories. The author was little more than twenty-two years old at the time. Tommaso Landolfi also debuted that same year withDialogo dei massimi sistemi, and Massimo Bontempelli, the prime sponsor ofAngelici dolori, not to mention its first reviewer, published his most popular work (what today would be considered a bestseller),Gente nel tempo.¹ These three authors, beyond their obvious differences, shared a disposition for what we could very generically call the realm of fantasy. This is, of course, a...

    • 6 The Three Lives of Bettina: From Il cappello piumato to Poveri e semplici (and Back)
      (pp. 215-245)

      In Ortese’s literary domain,Poveri e semplici(Poor and Simple) andIl cappello piumato(The Feathered Hat) occupy a sort of no-man’s-land. Overlooked by critics, with the exception of the reviews that accompanied their release in 1967 and 1979 respectively, the two novels were neglected, if not entirely forgotten, by Ortese herself, who always regarded her autobiographic Milanese diptych, retrospectively, with a combination of indulgence, shame, and denial.

      There is no doubt that the two novels, when compared to the ambitions and complexity of the writer’s other, more famous titles, cannot aim any higher than the rank of “minor” works....

    • 7 On the Ruins of Time: Toledo and the (Auto)fiction of the Ephemeral
      (pp. 246-292)

      When, in March 1969, in the midst of a Milan rife with political violence and protests, Anna Maria Ortese sat down to write a commentary on her early writing – and then, almost involuntarily, the metanarration shifted towards the more complex framework of an actual narration – she hardly imagined the extraordinary feat she was undertaking. Anomalous and hybrid, enigmatic and cryptic, fascinating and repulsive, the text born out of this compositional undertaking was destined to leave a mark on the Italian literaryNovecento

      The exemplary status ofIl porto di Toledo(Rizzoli, 1975; The Port of Toledo) – this...

  8. PART THREE: On Becoming Beast:: Iguanas, Linnets, Lions, and the Geography of Otherness

    • 8 Beasts, Goblins, and Other Chameleonic Creatures: Anna Maria Ortese’s “Real Children of the Universe”
      (pp. 295-322)

      Only recently literary criticism has assigned to the trilogy by Anna Maria Ortese,L’Iguana(1965),Il cardillo addolorato(1993), andAlonso e i visionari(1996), a key position within the author’s work, and particularly within her non-realistic prose. Although Ortese’s non-realistic prose is, as we shall see, quite unique, it relates to the rich tradition of the fantastic novel that started with the Scapigliatura production in the late nineteenth century, namely withI racconti fantastici(1869) by Ugo Tarchetti. Since then, the fantastic novel had many diversified outcomes, but it always reflected existential doubts and an anxiety towards the new...

    • 9 “Call Me My Name”: The Iguana, the Witch, and the Discovery of America
      (pp. 323-355)

      Among the over 1,300 pages of notes and sketches forL’Iguana, the most resistant to any genre-based definition of all Ortese’s novels,¹ there is a draft of the episode in which the protagonist, Don Carlo Ludovico Aleardo di Grees, descendant of the Dukes of Estremadura-Aleardi and Count of Milan, who also goes by the nickname Daddo, takes a walk in modern-day Milan with his friend Adelchi. He is about to embark on a journey overseas, in search of a new estate. Daddo will eventually land on a tiny, desolate island inhabited by three lost Portuguese noblemen and their ill-treated servant,...

    • 10 The Flickering Light of Reason: Anna Maria Ortese’s Il cardillo addolorato and the Critique of European Modernity
      (pp. 356-384)

      Anna Maria Ortese is at once a grand and tragic figure in twentieth-century Italian literature. Anti-consumerist and bashful, a committed animal rights activist and ecologist animated by lay religiosity and an irrational vision of the world, a champion of anarchically libertarian political views, she resisted every attempt to inscribe herself and her art into a niche, to the point of renouncing her participation in prestigious literary competitions for the sake of her own inner peace. Ortese, quite simply, did not enter in syntony with the mainstream morale, ideology, and culture of her time.¹

      With the publication ofIl cardillo addolorato...

    • 11 The Enigmatic Character of Elmina: A Thread in a Vertiginous Web
      (pp. 385-408)

      In May 1993, the Italian publisher Adelphi published a novel by Anna Maria Ortese with the cryptic titleIl cardillo addolorato.¹ It had an astonishing success: in its first two months, it was reprinted four times and sold 60,000 copies – in time that would become 90,000, with an additional 22,000 copies sold in mass-market format – impressive numbers for a work of fiction of this type in the Italian market. It is worth keeping in mind how these figures compared with the 4,000 copies ofL’Iguanasold in one year by Rizzoli – they republished the book ten years...

    • 12 Alonso, the Poet and the Killer: Ortese’s Eco-logical Reading of Modern Western History
      (pp. 409-432)

      Striving for a suitable designation of thequidthat distinguishes beings as human or animal, Heidegger proposes that the particular mark of humans is the possession of an ontological self-consciousness, a specific trait that animals undoubtedly lack. Thus, in the years 1929–30 during his famous academic lecture,Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik(The Fundamental Concept of Metaphysics), he asserts a kind of spectrum of worldly consciousness in claiming that “the stone is worldless, the animal poor in world and man world-forming.”¹ Seventy years later, Derrida approaches Heidegger’s conclusion, pointing out the specific disadvantage of Heideggerian thought. He suggests that while...

  9. PART FOUR: An Uncommon Reader

    • 13 An “Uncommon Reader”: The Critical Writings of Anna Maria Ortese
      (pp. 435-458)

      A thematic or generic categorization of the writings that Anna Maria Ortese published in daily newspapers and other periodicals shows that the author’s journalistic output consisted mainly of travel writings, combined with a smaller number of investigative and social reports, autobiographical prose pieces, and moral reflections, written especially during the writer’s later years.² A very small number of literary critical writings, ranging from reviews to authors’ profiles and brief reading notes, rounds out this bibliography. Though few and far between, these critical writings deserve careful evaluation, for they allow us to begin to reconstruct a profile of Ortese as a...

  10. Appendix: Who Were You? Interview with Anna Maria Ortese (1973)
    (pp. 459-470)
    DACIA MARAINI and Anna Maria Ortese
  11. Primary Works by Anna Maria Ortese
    (pp. 471-472)
  12. Contributors
    (pp. 473-476)
  13. Index
    (pp. 477-485)