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The Drama of the Assimilated Jew

The Drama of the Assimilated Jew: Giorgio Bassani's Romanzo di Ferrara

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
  • Book Info
    The Drama of the Assimilated Jew
    Book Description:

    InThe Drama of the Assimilated Jew, Lucienne Kroha makes Bassani's personal and literary journey accessible to English-language readers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6505-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface and Note on Translations
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-22)

    In an interview granted in 1958, Giorgio Bassani said, “Ogni opera d’arte deve voler dire almeno due cose: una apparente e una riposta” (Every work of art should say at least two things, one apparent, the other concealed).¹ When I first encountered the writings of Bassani, although as yet unaware of this statement, I was indeed left with the feeling that I had missed something: there was more going on in these stories than could be gleaned from even a not-so-cursory reading. The thrust of this book derives from that initial impression.

    The central thesis of this study is that...

  5. 1 Jews and Gender
    (pp. 23-39)

    It is no secret that doubts about the masculinity of Jews were rampant in post-Darwinian pseudoscientific literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and that they were a distinct part of the discourse that led up to the Nazi genocide of the Jews as an inferior race. Ann Pellegrini, in an article on race, gender, and Jewish bodies, summarizes the issue very well:

    The intersection of race and gender at and as the site of Jewishness can be seen in much of the popular and “scientific” literature of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany and Austria, where the Jewish...

  6. 2 Dentro le mura: Men of Resentment
    (pp. 40-71)

    The family romance begins in “Lida Mantovani,” the first of the originalStorie ferraresi. It opens, fittingly, as Lida, the protagonist, is about to give birth. Perhaps Bassani’s most belaboured story (no pun intended), it underwent four rewrites and has been carefully scrutinized by at least one critic trying to understand what Bassani was aiming for in these successive versions.² Despite the differences, however, this first story constitutes anentrée en matièreto theRomanzo, in all its versions, encapsulating the essence of a failed attempt to break out of the psychic parental stranglehold.

    On the surface, the story focuses...

  7. 3 Gli occhiali d’oro: Jews and Homosexuals Revisited
    (pp. 72-109)

    The themes of homosexuality, abuse, passivity, and denial that emerge in relation to each other in the last of theStorie ferraresiare expanded upon inGli occhiali d’oro, which inaugurates the trilogy of first-person novels at the heart of Bassani’s “confession.” Bassani explained his decision to turn to the first-person in the following terms:

    Non appena ultimata la stesura diUna notte del ’43, avevo cominciato a sentire di avere esaurito un ciclo. … Al punto in cui mi trovavo, Ferrara, il piccolo segregato universo da me inventato, non avrebbe più saputo svelarmi nulla di sostanzialmente nuovo. Se volevo...

  8. 4 Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini: A Jewish Family Romance
    (pp. 110-151)

    The narrator has made a little headway – he is able to speak of himself more openly – but he still needs to do so indirectly, this time through the account of his relationship with the Finzi-Continis, and in particular with Micòl Finzi-Contini, deported with the rest of her family to the camps in 1943, never to return. The events take place in the period immediately following the suicide of Fadigati; it is 1938, the Race Laws are in place, and the young Jew has isolated himself from all of his friends. The gates to the luxurious estate of the Finzi-Continis open...

  9. 5 Dietro la porta: The Body in History
    (pp. 152-193)

    The third novel of the first-person trilogy,Dietro la porta (Behind the Door), confirms the centrality of sexuality and gender in relationship to religious and ethnic (or racial) identity as a major theme in theRomanzo di Ferrara. Unlike the first two stories, both set in the crucial years 1936–8, this last story takes place in 1929–30. A tale of adolescent male rivalry, it delves into an earlier and thus more formative period of the narrator’s life – the passage from middle school to theliceo– and as such provides the basis for a deeper understanding of the previous...

  10. 6 L’airone: A Case of Mistaken Identity
    (pp. 194-216)

    Bassani’s last novel is the relatively little-knownL’airone. Written in the third person, it is radically different not only from the novels of the first-person trilogy but from the stories that preceded it as well. While the first-person trilogy is about the difficult act of remembering, this novel deals with forgetting and the price exacted by it.L’aironetells the story of the last day of the protagonist’s life, the day Edgardo Limentani undergoes what some critics have called a “conversion to death,”¹ which culminates in the decision to commit suicide. Limentani is a sort of “Jewish Prince,” and I...

  11. 7 L’odore del fieno: On Becoming What One Is
    (pp. 217-239)

    L’odore del fieno(The Smell of Hay) is the collection of short pieces that Bassani placed at the end of theRomanzo. Written at different times and subjected to various rewrites, retitlings, and rearrangements over the years, the stories range from the fictional to the semi-fictional to the personal essay. Though less interesting individually than the novels and stories that precede them, these writings do, however, illuminate the previous works in small ways. Moreover, taken together, they allow us to catch a glimpse – if only a glimpse – of the man behind the author, since the “I” in all these pieces...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 240-260)

    Previous criticism has read Bassani mostly in the context of Italian literature and culture, with some concessions to authors such as Proust, Hawthorne, and a few others, but only superficially. On the whole, Italian literature has had little frame of reference for understanding his writing on its own terms. Bassani is a genuinely cosmopolitan writer, deeply concerned with problems of Jewish identity and history, whose body of work is situated on the border between the Italian tradition and discourses of Jewishness in the period before World War II, as well as Jewish issues of the postwar period.

    My own work,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 261-290)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-313)