"Con Quel Tipo Li: Homosexual Characters in Natalia Ginzburg's Narrative Families

By Fortney, James Michael | Italica, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

"Con Quel Tipo Li: Homosexual Characters in Natalia Ginzburg's Narrative Families


Fortney, James Michael, Italica


Natalia Ginzburg incorporates numerous homosexual characters in her writings that her critics often overlook or do not consider in any real detail. (1) This negligence refuses to entertain the reasons for which a writer would repeatedly, and as I argue favorably, include a pariah of this sort into her work. After all, Ginzburg wrote in the context of a traditional society with its typically disparaging attitudes toward homosexuals. Moreover, she was writing her early works during the conservative Fascist and post-World War II years of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. The unwillingness to reflect upon these characters leads to omissions in our understanding of an important element of Ginzburg's writing. This is because, as we will see, it is only by comprehending the role of the homosexual that we can obtain a richer and more complete awareness of Ginzburg's poetics. After careful consideration of Ginzburg's role of the homosexual, I have concluded that her female homosexual characters serve a very different function in her writing as compared with her male homosexuals, and I will address this issue in subsequent research. This paper focuses on the significance of the male homosexual characters and from here on the term "homosexual" refers only to these characters.

Homosexual characters are present throughout the writings of Natalia Ginzburg and they even exist on some level in her earliest works collected in Cinque romanzi brevi. (2) Admitting her early proto-homosexual characters helps the reader observe their evolution and realize that their appearance is not an oddity but typical in her writing. As we will see, the collection's first stories and short novels only allude to characters' potential homosexuality but soon they go beyond allusion to introduce explicitly homosexual characters. Just take a look at the following more notable homosexual characters that at one time or another are described as having explicit homosexual relationships and that traverse the years of Ginzburg's writings: Valentino and Kit from Valentino (1951), Gigi from Le voci della sera (1961), Osvaldo and most likely Michele from Caro Michele (1973), Matteo Tramonti and Giuliano Grimaglia from Famiglia (1977), Marchese Paradiso from Borghesia (1977), and Alberico and Salvatore from La citta e la casa (1984). (3) By no means an exhaustive account, the mere repeated inclusion of homosexual characters demonstrates their centrality in Ginzburg's writings.

For Ginzburg the significance of the homosexual is threefold: he serves as peak to the climax for a novel anda collection of stories when a character's homosexuality is revealed; he functions as symbol for the changes in the Italian family; and he calls on memory to record Ginzburg's conception of the family. In this essay, I focus on the importance of the character Valentino in Ginzburg's short novel Valentino. First, I maintain that this character's eventually explicit homosexual relationship with his wife's cousin Kit serves as the peak to the climax not only for the story Valentino but for the various stories collected in Cinque romanzi brevi e altri racconti. Secondly, the homosexual serves as symbol for the changes in traditional familial structure. In Ginzburg's writing, the family is no longer the bourgeois ideal that Ginzburg herself on some level conceivably experienced growing up, but rather a complicated formation of evolving relationships. In her stories there are numerous male characters that are connected to families and yet at the same time they are not fully integrated into those families. As I will demonstrate further on, these characters come to represent change in the family structure. Although some may view these changes as the failure of traditional family or these characters as inadequate men because of their supposed powerlessness, this does not seem to be consistent with Ginzburg's demonstrated interests in the family or in the homosexual character and his repeated inclusion and evolution in her works. …

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