Vita Fortunati
Department of Modern Languages
University of Bologna
Two interlocking gazes,
Writing and Painting:
Anna Banti reads
Artemisia Gentileschi
Anna Banti
Banti’s Work on Women’s
Banti was not only an art historian and an
essayist, but also a writer of fiction: a series
of novels, published between 1940 and
1949 narrate the tragedy of denied female
talent and the difference in women’s way of
feeling and living (Il coraggio delle donne
(1940), Vocazioni indistinte (1940),
Artemisia (1947), Le donne muoiono
In her novels historical reality
blends with fiction
• In these novels historical reality blends
with fiction and with features drawn from
her own personal autobiography. From this
point of view, her fascinating novel
Artemisia about the audacious painter
Artemisia Gentileschi is very significant.
Anna Gianini Bellotti “Anna Banti e il femminismo”
in L’opera di Anna Banti, Atti del convegno di Studi,
Firenze, 8-8 maggio, 1992, Firenze , Leo S. Olschki,
“One may assume that the events Banti recounts spring
from an intimate and secret point in her conscience, a
sore, a bleeding spot, stubbornly hidden, perhaps even
denied to her own self, a spot where she had been hit
by men’s arrogance and judgment, perhaps during her
solitary childhood, or in her competition with Longhi,
in which she had to give up art criticism, to allow the
great maestro to shine all the brightest
” ( p.112)
The Relationship between Anna
Banti and Virginia Woolf
• Both of them endowed with a strong temperament
and personality, they dedicated their life to writing
novels, essays, translations and had to learn to be
heard in a world dominated by overpowering male
figures: in Woolf’ case,first her dominating father
Leslie Stephen, the renowned biographer and,
later, the intellectuals of the Bloomsbury group, in
Anna’s case, her husband, the famous art historian
Roberto Longhi.
Anna Banti’s unpublished letter
Banti herself said, about Virginia Woolf, in an
unpublished 1973 letter: “Woolf, whom I admire,
but do not consider congenial, wrote one day that
she worked so that there would finally be a great
woman poet, totally different from the great man
poet. Well, I believe deeply in this hope of hers,
and, in my own small way, I do my best so that,
perhaps, in a few centuries, it may come to be.”
( Giuseppe Lionelli Introductoon to Anna Banti,
Artemisia, Milano, Bompiani,1998,V-VI)
Analogies and Differences between
Virginia Woolf and Anna Banti
• I would start with the points in common,
with their affinities: their common interest
for female emancipation and the difficult
condition of the woman artist in a social
context that had not accepted equal rights.
Both Woolf and Banti insistently stated the
importance of female education, because
only by means of adequate instruction they
could aspire to economic independence.
Essays written by Anna Banti
on Virginia Woolf
• “Umanità della Woolf”in Anna Banti,
Opinioni,Il Saggiatore Milano,1961.pp 66-74.
• “Il testamento di Virginia Woolf” in
Paragone, anno xiv,1963,pp100-104.
• Banti was attracted by this work because
she found its form extremely innovative:in
her introduction to the second edition she
highlighted the modernist technique of the
multiple point of view:reality is seen
through the shards of a broken mirror.
Anna Banti, Introduzione alla Camera di di
Jacob, Mondadori, Milano , 1980
“From this point onwards there occurs the already
mentioned interpretation of reality which made me
think of an extremely polished mirror, which a
stone, violently cast, shatters to countless
smithereens. In each of these, one image (or
speech, or landscape, or reflection) is mirrored and
isolated, which the reader/accomplice engages in
recognising, reconstructing the whole of the
pages” (p. 8)
• Nicoletta Pireddu ( Modernism
Misunderstood: Anna Banti Translates
Virginia Woolf” Comparative
Literature,vol.56,n.1( Winter 2004)
Different Poetics of Woolf and Banti
• New narratives techiniques in order to
represent the elusive and fragmentary aspect
of reality in Virginia Woolf
• Banti instead revaluated Manzoni’s concept
of the “ verosimilitude”( verosimile)and
thatof the realistic novel
Anna Banti, “Manzoni e noi” in Opinioni,
Milano , il Saggiatore,1961
• “I say novels, and not stories, on the faith of Manzoni’s
beautiful description of “verisimilitude” (a reality seen
forever in the mind, or, to speak more precisely, seen
irrevocably) that seems to entrust the historical novel with
the subtlest essence of history. The eternal bet on what has
left no trace except an unuttered word amongst many
useless ones. That is the “verisimilitude” that Manzoni has
gathered, artistically ordered, and reconstructed, recording
the rising of the Milanese crowd storming the bakeries:
just to give one example “
Banti’s Revaluation of Manzoni
• Banti revaluated Manzoni for his ethical
passion for history. In this perspective the
historical novel in spite of its hybridity in
mixing actual occurences with invented
ones has a true a moral ethical power.
Banti and the Italian ne-realistic
• This Bantian conception of the novel is
linked to her appreciation of the neorelist
cinema and the intellectual atmosphere of
the Italian left wing of 50s and 60s: cinema
( Rossellini, De Sica) capable of portraying
without any sentimentalism, objectively and
realistically, the loves, the feelings of the
common people.
Woolf’s humanity
• The effort of Banti was to show that
Woolf’s experimentations go hand in hand
with Woolf’s openness towards not just
women’s, but also worker’s social
Anna Banti, “ Umanità della Woolf”
• . “Calling for a deep closeness to everyday facts, and stating, with all
due respect, that Bennett, Wells and Galsworthy neither seek it, nor do
they achieve it, she concludes: “we call life or spiritual truth, reality,
that is the only essential thing”: and one wonders in what, such a
sincere declaration differs from the manifesto of a realist orneorealist,
as one would say today. Life, reality, truth: what else does any
conscientious and reflexive narrator desire, or has ever wanted? The
problem is in the understanding of the value of words, which each one
of us uses in their own way, changing as they do with each generation:
and in the end they lie around, crumpled and worn, like old coins,
slowly losing their weight. But the meaning should be unique and unite
under its value all authors of the same genuine mould ( “Umanità della
Woolf” in Opinioni, pp. 66-67
Anna Banti” Del tradurre”
• “Più di una volta mi è capitato di riflettere
sulla curiosa coincidenza linguistica dei
verbi “ tradurre” e “ tradire”: una
coincidenza che può essere in certi casi
significativa. La riflessione mi porta oggi a
domandarmi: ‘E’ lecito tradurre?”
Anna Banti” Del tradurre”
• “ Perché. Infine, in che cosa consiste l’operazione
del tradurre se non in un fatto popolare o meglio
in una fatica destinata a chi non può muoversi con
le proprie gambe su un terreno impervio?”
• “ In fondo , a ben riflettere , molti sono i grandi
libri che non andrebbero tradotti : valga un
esempio massiccio , l’Ulisse di Joyce. Ma qui il
discorso dovrebbe ricominciare e farsi problema di
avanguardia letteraria : problema non esportabile
. “ And then, doffing one’s own headpieces, how
strange to adopt, for a moment some one’s-any
one’s-” ( Jacob’s 69)
“ E poi, deponendo la propria personalità, come
sarebbe strano prendere per un istante quella di un
altro, di qualunque altro”( La camera di Jacob,
“The boy Curnow had only just time to swing
himself up by the toe of his boot. The boy Curnow,
sitting in the back seat looked at his aunt”
“Il garzone Curnow ebbe appena il tempo di saltare
su, sulla punta dei piedi. Sedette in mezzo al sedile
più basso e guardò sua zia”
Mrs. Pascoe stood at the gate looking after them ; stood
at the gate till the trap was round the corner; stood at
the gate, looking now to the right, now to the left; then
went back to her cottage “ (Jacob’s, 55)
“ Mrs Pascoe rimase al cancello a guardare loro dietro:
ci stette finché ebbero voltato l’angolo. Ci restò
guardando a destra e a sinistra. Poi rientrò in casa.
(La camera di Jacob 92)
“ The whole flesh of his face then fell into folds as if
props were removed. Yet strip a whole seat of an
underground railway carriage of its heads and old
Huxtable head will hold them all” (Jacob’s 40)
“ Tutta la carne del suo viso cadde allora in pieghe ,
come se ogni altro sostegno ne fosse rimosso. Del
resto, prendete da un sedile della metropolitana una
schiera di teste e quella del vecchio Huxtable e si
adatterà a tutte”.( La stanza di Jacob, 68 )
“Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, sipped his port alone, or with
one rosy little man, whose memory held precisely the same
span of time; he sipped his port, and told his stories, and
without book before him intoned Latin, Virgil and Catullo,
as if language were wine upon his lips. Only- sometimes it
will come over one-what if the poet strode in?” This is my
image? “ he might ask, pointing to the chubby man, whose
brain is, after all Virgil’s representation among us, though
the body gluttonize, and as for arms, bees, or even the
plough. Cowan takes his trips abroad with a French novel
in his pocket, a rug about his knees, and is thankful to be
home again in his place, in his line, holding up his snug
little mirror the image of Virgil, all rayed round with good
stories of the dons of Trinity and red beams of port”.
“ Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, centellinava il suo porto. Solo o in
compagnia di un ometto roseo, la cui memoria recava
precisamente la stessa misura di tempo. Centellinava il suo porto
e raccontava le sue storie; cantava il suo latino, Virgilio e
Catullo, come la lingua fosse vino sulle sue labbra. Soltantoqualche volta accadde di pensarci- cosa succederebbe se il poeta
in persona entrasse nella stanza? “Questa è la mia immagine?”
potrebbe domandare indicando il tipo grassoccio il cui cervello
è, dopo tutto, ciò che fra noi rappresenta Virgilio. Il corpo è
goloso, e quanto alle armi, al miele, all’aratro, si sa che Cowan
fa i suoi viaggetti all’estero con un romanzo francese in tasca, e
uno scialle sulle ginocchia, felice di ritrovarsi a casa nel suo
angolo, nelle proprie abitudini, conservando nel suo
specchiuccio l’immagine di Virgilio, tutta variegata di storielle
sui professori del Trinity e dei raggi purpurei del porto ( La
camera di Jacob ,pp.70-719) .”

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