Giovanni Papini

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Giovanni Papini
Picture of Giovanni Papini.jpg
Papini in 1921
Born (1881-01-09)January 9, 1881
Died July 8, 1956(1956-07-08) (aged 75)
Occupation essayist, journalist, literary critic, poet, novelist
Nationality Italian
Period 1903–1956
Genres prose poetry, fantasy, autobiography, travel literature, satire
Subjects political philosophy, history of religion
Literary movement Futurism

Giovanni Papini (January 9, 1881 – July 8, 1956) was an Italian journalist, essayist, literary critic, poet, and novelist.

Early life[edit]

Born in Florence as the son of a modest furniture retailer (and former member of Giuseppe Garibaldi's Redshirts) from Borgo degli Albizi, Papini was baptized secretly to avoid the aggressive atheism of his father and lived a rustic, lonesome childhood. At that time he had felt a strong aversion to all beliefs, to all churches, as well as to any form of servitude (which he saw as connected to religion); he also became enchanted with the impossible idea of writing an encyclopedia wherein all cultures would be summarized.

Trained as a schoolteacher, he taught for a few years after 1899, then became a librarian. The literary life attracted Papini, who founded the magazine Il Leonardo,[1] together with Giuseppe Prezzolini, in 1903, then joined Enrico Corradini's group as co-editor of Il Regno. He started publishing short-stories and essays: in 1906, Il tragico quotidiano ("The Tragic Everyday"), in 1907 Il pilota cieco ("The Blind Pilot") and Il crepuscolo dei filosofi ("The Twilight of the Philosophers"). The latter constituted a polemic with established and diverse intellectual figures, such as Immanuel Kant, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Nietzsche - Papini proclaimed to the death of philosophers and the demolition of thinking itself. He briefly flirted with Futurism and other violent and liberating forms of Modernism (Papini is the character in several poems of the period written by Mina Loy).

Before and during World War I[edit]

After leaving Il Leonardo in 1907, Giovanni Papini founded Anima together with Giovanni Amendola. His Parole e sangue ("Words and Blood") essay of the period showed his fundamental atheism.

Furthermore, Papini sought to create scandal by speculating that Jesus and John the Apostle had a homosexual relationship.

He broke off with Prezzolini, co-editor of Anima, and the paper ceased to appear. Papini founded Lacerba, published between 1913 and 1915 (right before Italy's entry into World War I). In 1912, he published his best-known work, the autobiography Un uomo finito (tr.: "The Failure").[2]

His 1915 collection of prose poetry Cento pagine di poesia, followed by Buffonate and Maschilità, and the 1916 Stroncature - Papini faced Giovanni Boccaccio, William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but also contemporaries such as Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile, and less prominent disciples of Gabriele D'Annunzio. A critic wrote of him:

Giovanni Papini [...] is one of the finest minds in the Italy of today. He is an excellent representative of modernity's restless search for truth, and his work exhibits a refreshing independence founded, not like so much so-called independence upon ignorance of the past, but upon a study and understanding of it.[3]

He published verse in 1917, grouped under the title Opera prima. In 1921, Papini announced his newly found Roman Catholicism,[4] publishing the international bestseller essay Storia di Cristo ("The Story of Christ").[5]

Fascism and later years[edit]

After further verse works, he published the satire Gog (1931) and the essay Dante vivo (tr. "If Dante Were Alive"; 1933).[6]

He moved towards Fascism,[7] and his beliefs earned him a teaching position at the University of Bologna in 1935 (although his studies only qualified him for primary school teaching); the Fascist authorities confirmed Papini's "impeccable reputation" through the appointment. In 1937, Papini published the only volume of his History of Italian Literature, which he dedicated to Benito Mussolini: "to Il Duce, friend of poetry and of the poets", being awarded top positions in academia, especially in the study of Italian Renaissance. An Antisemite, he believed in an international plot of Jews, applauding the racial discrimination laws enforced by Mussolini in 1938.[citation needed] Papini was the vice president of the Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung (i.e. European Writers' League), which was founded by Joseph Goebbels in 1941/42.[8] When the Fascist regime crumbled (1943), Papini entered the Franciscan convent in La Verna.

Largely discredited at the end of World War II, he was defended by the Catholic political right. His work concentrated on different subjects, including a biography of Michelangelo,[9] while he continued to publish dark and tragic essays. He collaborated with Corriere della Sera, contributing articles that were published as a volume after his death.

According to The Spectator, NATO allegedly encouraged Papini, in 1951, to publish a fake interview with Pablo Picasso,[10] to dramatically undercut his pro-Communist image. In 1962, the artist asked his biographer Pierre Daix, to expose the fake interview, which he did in Les Lettres Françaises.[11][12]

Jorge Luis Borges remarked that Papini had been "unjustly forgotten" and included some of his stories in the Library of Babel.[13]


  • Un uomo finito (1912)
  • Storia di Cristo (1921)
  • Pane e vino (1926, poems)
  • Gog (1931)
  • Sant’ Agostino (1929)
  • Dante vivo (1933)
  • Storia della letteratura Italiana (1937, German edition: Ewiges Italien - Die Großen im Reich seiner Dichtung, 1940)
  • Italia mia (1939)
  • Mostra personale (1941, German edition: Aus meiner Werkstatt, 1944)
  • Imitazione del padre (1942)
  • Saggi sul Rinascimento (1942)
  • Cielo e terra (1943)
  • Santi e poeti (1947)
  • Lettere agli uomini del papa Celestino VI. (1947)
  • Passato remoto (1948)
  • Vita di Michelangiolo nella vita del suo tempo (1949, 1951)
  • Le pazzie del poeta (1950)
  • Il libro nero (1952)
  • Il diavolo (1953)
  • Concerto fantastico (1954, stories)
  • Il bel viaggio (1954, together with Enzo Palmieri)
  • La spia del mondo (1955)
  • L’aurora della letteratura italiana (1956)
  • La felicità dell’infelice (1956)

Works in english translation[edit]


Short Stories[edit]


  • Biography partially taken from the introduction to Gog by Ettore Allodoli
  1. ^ Bondanella, Peter, ed. (2001). "Papini, Giovanni (1881-1956)," Cassell Dictionary Italian Literature, Continuum International Publishing Group.
  2. ^ The Failure, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1924.
  3. ^ Goldberg, Isaac (1919). "The Intellectual Ferment in Post-Bellum Italy," The Bookman, Vol. L, No. 2.
  4. ^ Sanctis, Sante de (1927). Religious Conversion, a Bio-Psychological Study, K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., ltd., 1927.
  5. ^ "Giovanni Papini is the author of the Storia di Cristo (The Story of Christ), which marked his conversion to Catholicism. But his conversion has not checked his output, nor devitalized his art, which continued as before in the stream of Carducci. His greatest novel is Un uomo finito (A Man — Finished), one of the fundamental works of the modern fiction in Italy. Papini's influence has been immense. His proud spiritual impulses, his restless ardour, his wealth of new and provocative ideas, and his crashing judgments, have been a strong stimulus to the younger generation, and have drawn to his side, if only temporarily, even writers of real independence." — Pirandello, Luigi (1967). "Italy." In Tendencies of the Modern Novel, Books for Libraries Press, Inc.
  6. ^ Beckett, Samuel (1934). Papini's Dante, Hodder and Stoughton, 1934.
  7. ^ Franzese, Sergio (2004). "Giovanni Papini." In John Lachs and Robert B. Talisse, ed., American Philosophy: An Encyclopedia, Psychology Press.
  8. ^ "Dichte, Dichter, tage nicht!" - Die Europäische Schriftsteller-Vereinigung in Weimar 1941-1948 by Frank-Rutger Hausmann, 2004, ISBN 3-465-03295-0, p. 210
  9. ^ Michelangelo, his Life and his Era, E. P. Dutton, 1952.
  10. ^ "Apology for a False Picasso 'Quote'," Life, Vol. LXVI, No. 2, January 17, 1969.
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Jorge Louis Borges, pref. a Giovanni Papini, Lo specchio che fugge, Parma-Milano, Franco Maria Ricci, 1975

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]