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This article is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

Echoes of Venice in Bassani Judith Woolf

Giorgio Bassani's great novel The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, the most celebrated part of the fictive recreation of his native city to which he gave the collective title of Il romanzo di Ferrara [The Novel of Ferrara], is haunted by echoes of another Italian city even more famous for its Jewish community. It was not only geographical proximity which led Bassani to give such an important, although always off-stage, role to La Serenissima, which becomes inextricably associated with the novel's heroine Micl Finzi-Contini and, through her, with a series of images of whiteness, coldness, stasis and dream-like menace: mist, moonlight, winter, Venetian milk glass and the rising waters of the lagoon. Tempting as it may seem, especially for an English-speaking audience, to read the novel simply as a story of unfulfilled love, or a semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman in which the survival that really matters is the escape of the unnamed narrator from his obsessive and regressive longing for the unattainable Micòl, Bassani himself insisted that its real subject-matter is Buchenwald; and in it he deploys a complex range of literary and historical references to transform a superficially romantic set of images into a means of conveying the barely spoken but all-pervasive context of the Holocaust.

There is no doubt that the narrator - the Giorgio of the rejected screenplay that Bassani wrote with Vittorio Bonicelli as well as of the one De Sica eventually used for his film of the novel ...

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