Giovanni Papini

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Giovanni Papini
Papini in 1921
Papini in 1921
Born(1881-01-09)9 January 1881
Died8 July 1956(1956-07-08) (aged 75)
Resting placeCimitero delle Porte Sante
Pen nameGian Falco
  • Essayist
  • journalist
  • literary critic
  • poet
  • novelist
GenreProse poetry, fantasy, autobiography, travel literature, satire
SubjectPolitical philosophy, history of religion
Literary movementFuturism
Notable worksA Man — Finished, Gog, The Story of Christ
Notable awardsValdagno Prize (1951), Golden Quill Prize (1957)
SpouseGiacinta Giovagnoli (1887–1958)
ChildrenGioconda Papini, Viola Papini

Giovanni Papini (9 January 1881 – 8 July 1956) was an Italian journalist, essayist, novelist, short story writer, poet, literary critic, and philosopher. A controversial literary figure of the early and mid-twentieth century, he was the earliest and most enthusiastic representative and promoter of Italian pragmatism.[1] Papini was admired for his writing style and engaged in heated polemics. Involved with avant-garde movements such as futurism and post-decadentism, he moved from one political and philosophical position to another, always dissatisfied and uneasy: he converted from anti-clericalism and atheism to Catholicism, and went from convinced interventionism – before 1915 – to an aversion to war. In the 1930s, after moving from individualism to conservatism, he finally became a fascist, while maintaining an aversion to Nazism.

As one of the founders of the journals Leonardo (1903) and Lacerba (1913), he conceived literature as "action" and gave his writings an oratory and irreverent tone. Though self-educated, he was an influential iconoclastic editor and writer, with a leading role in Italian futurism and the early literary movements of youth. Working in Florence, he actively participated in foreign literary philosophical and political movements such as the French intuitionism of Bergson and the Anglo-American pragmatism of Peirce and James. Promoting the development of Italian culture and life with an individualistic and dreamy conception of life and art, he acted as a spokesman for Roman Catholic religious beliefs.

Papini's literary success began with "Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi" ("The Twilight of the Philosophers"), published in 1906, and his 1913 publication of his autobiographical novel Un uomo finito ("A finished man").

Due to his ideological choices, Papini's work was almost forgotten after his death,[2] although it was later re-evaluated and appreciated again: in 1975, the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges called him an "undeservedly forgotten" author.

Early life[edit]

Giovanni Papini's house in Florence

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 in secret by his mother to avoid the aggressive anti-clericalism of his father. Almost entirely self-educated, he never received an official university degree, and his highest level of education was a teaching certificate.[3] Papini had a rustic, lonesome childhood. He 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 became enchanted with the idea of writing an encyclopedia wherein all cultures would be summarized.

Trained at the Istituto di Studi Superiori (1900–2), he taught for a year in the Anglo-Italian school and then was a librarian at the Museum of Anthropology from 1902 to 1904.[4] The literary life attracted Papini, who in 1903 founded the magazine Il Leonardo, to which he contributed articles under the pseudonym of "Gian Falco."[5] His collaborators included Giuseppe Prezzolini, Borgese, Vailati, Costetti and Calderoni.[6] Through Leonardo's Papini and his contributors introduced in Italy important thinkers such as Kierkegaard, Peirce, Nietzsche, Santayana and Poincaré. He would later join the staff of Il Regno,[7] a nationalist publication directed by Enrico Corradini, who formed the Associazione Nazionalistica Italiana, to support his country colonial expansionism.

Papini met William James and Henri Bergson, who greatly influenced his early works.[8] He started publishing short stories and essays: in 1906, "Il Tragico Quotidiano" ("Everyday Tragic"), 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 the death of philosophy and the demolition of thinking itself. He briefly flirted with Futurism[9][10] and other violent and liberating forms of Modernism[11]

In 1907 Papini married Giacinta Giovagnoli; the couple had two daughters, Viola and Gioconda.[12]

Before and during World War I[edit]

"Caricature of Papini", by Carlo Carrà & Ardengo Soffici, from Broom, 1922.

After leaving Il Leonardo in 1907, Giovanni Papini founded several other magazines. First, he published La Voce in 1908, then L'Anima together with Giovanni Amendola and Prezzolini. In 1913 (right before Italy's entry into World War I) he started Lacerba (1913–15). For three years Papini was a correspondent for the Mercure de France and later literary critic for La Nazione.[13] About 1918 he created yet another review, La Vraie Italie, with Ardengo Soffici.

Other books came from his pen. His Parole e Sangue ("Words and Blood") showed his fundamental atheism. Furthermore, Papini sought to create a scandal by speculating that Jesus and John the Apostle had a homosexual relationship.[14] In 1912 he published his best-known work, the autobiographical novel Un Uomo Finito (A Man — Finished in the United Kingdom and The Failure in the United States).

In his 1915 collection of poetic prose Cento Pagine di Poesia (followed by Buffonate, Maschilità, and Stroncature), Papini placed himself face-to-face with 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.[15]

He published verse in 1917, grouped under the title Opera Prima. In 1921, Papini announced his newly found Roman Catholicism,[16][17] publishing his Storia di Cristo ("The Story of Christ"), a book which has been translated into twenty-three languages and has had worldwide success.[18]

After further verse works, he published the satire Gog (1931) and the essay Dante Vivo ("Living Dante", or "If Dante Were Alive"; 1933).[19]

Drawing of Papini, by Julius Zirinsky.

World War II and collaborations with Fascism[edit]

He became a teacher at the University of Bologna in 1935 when 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",[20] being awarded top positions in academia, especially in the study of Italian Renaissance. In 1940 Papini's Storia della Letteratura Italiana was published in Nazi Germany with the title Eternal Italy: The Great in its Empire of Letters (in German: Ewiges Italien – Die Großen im Reich seiner Dichtung).

Papini was the vice president of the Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung (i.e. European Writers' League), which was founded by Joseph Goebbels in 1941/42.[21] When the Fascist regime crumbled in 1943, Papini entered a Franciscan convent in La Verna, under the name "Fra' Bonaventura".[22]

Final years[edit]

Largely discredited at the end of World War II,[23] Papini was defended by the Catholic political right. His work concentrated on different subjects, including a biography of Michelangelo, 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.

Papini had been suffering from progressive paralysis (due by motor neuron disease[24]) and was blind during the last years of his life. He died at the age of 75.[25]

Papini's grave in the Cimitero delle Porte Sante in Florence.

According to art historian Richard Dorment,[26][27][28] Francisco Franco's regime and NATO used Papini's series of imaginary interviews (Il Libro Nero, 1951) as propaganda against Pablo Picasso,[29] to dramatically undercut his pro-Communist image. In 1962, the artist asked his biographer Pierre Daix, to expose the pretend interview, which he did in Les Lettres Françaises.[30]

He was admired by Bruno de Finetti, founder of a subjective theory of probability, and Jorge Luis Borges, who remarked that Papini had been "unjustly forgotten" and included some of his stories in the Library of Babel.[31]

In popular culture[edit]


  • La Teoria Psicologica della Previsione (1902).
  • Sentire Senza Agire e Agire Senza Sentire (1905).
  • Il Crepuscolo dei Filosofi (1906).
  • Il Tragico Quotidiano (1906).
  • La Coltura Italiana (with Giuseppe Prezzolini, 1906).
  • Il Pilota Cieco (1907).
  • Le Memorie d'Iddio (1911).
  • L'Altra Metà (1911).
  • La Vita di Nessuno (1912).
  • Parole e Sangue (1912).
  • Un Uomo Finito (1913). * Ventiquattro Cervelli (1913).
  • Sul Pragmatismo: Saggi e Ricerche, 1903–1911 (1913).
  • Almanacco Purgativo 1914 (with Ardengo Soffici et al., 1913).
  • Buffonate (1914).
  • Vecchio e Nuovo Nazionalismo (with Giuseppe Prezzolini, 1914).
  • Cento Pagine di Poesia (1915).
  • Maschilità (1915).
  • La Paga del Sabato (1915).
  • Stroncature (1916).
  • Opera Prima (1917).
  • Polemiche Religiose (1917).
  • Testimonianze (1918).
  • L'Uomo Carducci (1918).
  • L'Europa Occidentale Contro la Mittel-Europa (1918).
  • Chiudiamo le Scuole (1918).
  • Giorni di Festa (1918).
  • L'Esperienza Futurista (1919).
  • Poeti d'Oggi (with Pietro Pancrazi, 1920).
  • Storia di Cristo (1921).
  • Antologia della Poesia Religiosa Italiana (1923).
  • Dizionario dell'Omo Salvatico (with Domenico Giuliotti, 1923).
  • L'Anno Santo e le Quattro Paci (1925).
  • Pane e Vino (1926).
  • Gli Operai della Vigna (1929).
  • Sant'Agostino (1931).
  • Gog (1931).
  • La Scala di Giacobbe (1932).
  • Firenze (1932).
  • Il Sacco dell'Orco (1933).
  • Dante Vivo (1933).
  • Ardengo Soffici (1933).
  • La Pietra Infernale (1934).
  • Grandezze di Carducci (1935).
  • I Testimoni della Passione (1937).
  • Storia della Letteratura Italiana (1937).
  • Italia Mia (1939).
  • Figure Umane (1940).
  • Medardo Rosso (1940).
  • La Corona d'Argento (1941).
  • Mostra Personale (1941).
  • Prose di Cattolici Italiani d'Ogni Secolo (with Giuseppe De Luca, 1941).
  • L'Imitazione del Padre. Saggi sul Rinascimento (1942).
  • Racconti di Gioventù (1943).
  • Cielo e Terra (1943).
  • Foglie della Foresta (1946).
  • Lettere agli Uomini di Papa Celestino VI (1946).
  • Primo Conti (1947).
  • Santi e Poeti (1948).
  • Passato Remoto (1948).
  • Vita di Michelangiolo (1949).
  • Le Pazzie del Poeta (1950).
  • Firenze Fiore del Mondo (with Ardengo Soffici, Piero Bargellini and Spadolini, 1950).
  • Il Libro Nero (1951).
  • Il Diavolo (1953).
  • Il Bel Viaggio (with Enzo Palmeri, 1954).
  • Concerto Fantastico (1954).
  • Strane Storie (1954).
  • La Spia del Mondo (1955).
  • La Loggia dei Busti (1955).
  • Le Felicità dell'Infelice (1956).


  • L'Aurora della Letteratura Italiana: Da Jacopone da Todi a Franco Sacchetti (1956).
  • Il Muro dei Gelsomini: Ricordi di Fanciullezza (1957).
  • Giudizio Universale (1957).
  • La Seconda Nascita (1958).
  • Dichiarazione al Tipografo (1958).
  • Città Felicità (1960).
  • Diario (1962).
  • Schegge (Articles published in Corriere della Sera, 1971).
  • Rapporto sugli Uomini (1978).

Collected works[edit]

  • Tutte le Opere di Giovanni Papini, 11 vols. Milan: Mondadori (1958–66).

Works in English translation[edit]

  • Four and Twenty Minds. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1922.
  • The Story of Christ. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1923 [Rep. as Life of Christ. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1923].
  • The Failure. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1924.
  • A Man — Finished. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1924.
  • The Memoirs of God. Boston: The Ball Publishing Co., 1926.
  • A Hymn to Intelligence. Pittsburgh: The Laboratory Press, 1928.
  • A Prayer for Fools, Particularly Those we See in Art Galleries, Drawing-rooms and Theatres. Pittsburgh: The Laboratory Press, 1929.
  • Laborers in the Vineyard. London: Sheed & Ward, 1930.
  • Life and Myself, translated by Dorothy Emmrich. New York: Brentano's, 1930.
  • Saint Augustine. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1930.
  • Gog, translated by Mary Prichard Agnetti. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1931.
  • Dante Vivo. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1935.
  • The Letters of Pope Celestine VI to All Mankind. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1948.
  • Florence: Flower of the World. Firenze: L'Arco, 1952 [with Ardengo Soffici and Piero Bargellini].
  • Michelangelo, his Life and his Era. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1952.
  • The Devil; Notes for Future Diabology. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1954 [London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1955].
  • Nietzsche: An Essay. Mount Pleasant, Mich.: Enigma Press, 1966.
  • "The Circle is Closing." In: Lawrence Rainey (ed.), Futurism: An Anthology, Yale University Press, 2009.

Selected articles[edit]

Short stories[edit]



  1. ^ Lachs, John; B. Talisse, Robert (2008). American Philosophy: An Encyclopedia. p. 562.
  3. ^ Marrone, Gaetana; Puppa, Paolo (2006). Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies. p. 1347.
  4. ^ Hoehn, Matthew (1948). "Giovanni Papini, 1881." In: Catholic Authors: Contemporary Biographical Sketches. Newark, N.J.: St. Mary's Abbey, p. 607.
  5. ^ Boyd, Ernest (1925). "Giovanni Papini." In: Studies from Ten Literatures. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 167.
  6. ^ Kunitz, Stanley (1931). "Giovanni Papini." In: Living Authors: A Book of Biographies. New York: The H.W. Wilson company, p. 314.
  7. ^ Bondanella, Peter, ed. (2001). "Papini, Giovanni (1881–1956)," Cassell Dictionary Italian Literature, Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 422.
  8. ^ Orlandi, Daniela (2007). "Papini (1881–1856)." In: Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies, Paolo Puppa & Luca Somigli (eds.), Vol. I. Taylor & Francis, p. 1347.
  9. ^ Collins, Joseph (1920). "Giovanni Papini and the Futuristic Literary Movement in Italy." In: Idling in Italy: Studies of Literature and of Life. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, pp. 88–106.
  10. ^ Clough, Rosa Trillo (1961). Futurism: The Story of a Modern Art Movement, a New Appraisal. New York: Philosophical Library.
  11. ^ Sharkey, Stephen & Robert S. Dombronski (1976). "Revolution, Myth and Mythical Politics: The Futurist Solution," Journal of European History 6 (23), pp. 231–247.
  12. ^ Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  13. ^ Hoehn, Matthew (1948), p. 607.
  14. ^ Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  15. ^ Goldberg, Isaac (1919). "The Intellectual Ferment in Post-Bellum Italy," The Bookman, Vol. L, No. 2, p. 158.
  16. ^ Sanctis, Sante de (1927). Religious Conversion, a Bio-Psychological Study. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., ltd., p. 280.
  17. ^ Livingston, Arthur (1950). "Papini Tells of his Intellectual Adventures." In: Essays on Modern Italian Literature. New York: S.F. Vanni, pp. 56–68.
  18. ^ "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 tradition of Carducci. His greatest novel is Un Uomo Finito (A Man — Finished), one of the fundamental works of modern Italian fiction. 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. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, Inc., pp. 130–131.
  19. ^ Beckett, Samuel (1934). Papini's Dante. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
  20. ^ Traversi, D.A. (1939). "Giovanni Papini and Italian Literature," Scrutiny 7 (4), p. 415.
  21. ^ Hausmann, Frank-Rutger (2004). "Dichte, Dichter, tage nicht!" Die Europäische Schriftsteller-Vereinigung in Weimar 1941–1948. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, p. 210 ISBN 3-465-03295-0
  22. ^ Orlandi, Daniela (2007), p. 1347.
  23. ^ Lachs 2008, p. 562.
  24. ^ Roberto Ridolfi, Vita di Giovanni Papini, 1987, p. 211-212
  25. ^ "Giovanni Papini, Author, Is Dead; Italian Philosopher, 75, Who Wrote 'Life of Christ,' Won Prize for Study of Dante". The New York Times. July 9, 1956. p. 23. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2014-07-29.
  26. ^ The Spectator, 2 April 1993, p. 24.
  27. ^ "Letter: That Notorious Fake," The Independent, 14 March 1994.
  28. ^ "The quotation occurs in an 'interview' with an Italian journalist named Giovanni Papini. It was published in 1951 in a volume of Papini's collected journalism entitled Il Libro Nero: Nuovo Diario di Gog, a copy of which is in the British Library. That interview is a notorious fake. According to Pierre Daix, in his respected 1977 biography of Picasso, the artist knew about II Libro Nero, but ignored it until 1955, when it was used against him by Franco's government. Because Picasso was a communist and this was the height of the Cold War, it was further disseminated by Nato intelligence. At this point, Picasso asked Daix to expose the whole affair, which Daix did in a series of articles in Les Lettres Françaises between 1962 and 1965. In the biography, Daix described the contents of II Libro Nero as 'imaginary interviews and false confessions'. Papini was not a fraud, but a journalist who used the literary device of the pretend interview to write profiles of famous people, including Kafka, Tolstoy, Freud, Molotov, Hitler, Cervantes, Goethe, William Blake and Robert Browning. Picasso never met Papini and never said the words Papini attributed to him." — The Spectator, 1 May 1998, p. 27.
  29. ^ "Apology for a False Picasso 'Quote'," Life, Vol. LXVI, No. 2, January 17, 1969, p. 18B.
  30. ^ Pierre d'Aix, Les Lettres Francaises, 12–18, Décembre, 1963.
  31. ^ Borges, Jorge Louis (1975). Preface to Papini's, Lo Specchio che Fugge. Parma-Milano: Franco Maria Ricci.
  32. ^ Hofer, Matthew (2011). “Mina Loy, Giovanni Papini, and the Aesthetic of Irritation,” Paideuma 38.
  33. ^ Rep. in Vanity Fair 15 (2), 1920, p. 48.
  34. ^ Rep. in Italian Short Stories from the 13th to the 20th Centuries. With an introduction by Decio Pettoello. London: J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd., 1932; The Copeland Translations; Mainly in Prose from French, German, Italian and Russian. Chosen and arranged with an introduction. New York-London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934.


  • Arnone, Vincenzo (2005). Papini, un Uomo Infinito. Padova: Messaggero.
  • Berghaus, Günter (2000). International Futurism in Arts and Literature. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
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  • Castelli, Eugenio & Julio Chiappini (1971). Diez Ensayos sobre Giovanni Papini. Santa Fe, Argentina: Ediciones Colmegna.
  • Colella, E. Paul (2005). "Reflex Action and the Pragmatism of Giovanni Papini," The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 19 (3), pp. 187–215.
  • De Paulis-Dalembert, Maria Pia (2007). Giovanni Papini: Culture et Identité. Toulouse: Presses de l'Université du Mirail.
  • Di Biase, Carmine (1999). Giovanni Papini. L'Anima Intera. Napoli: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane.
  • Di Giovanni, Antonino (2009). Giovanni Papini. Dalla Filosofia Dilettante al Diletto della Filosofia. Roma-Acireale: Bonanno.
  • Fantino, Giuseppe (1981). Saggio su Papini. Milano: Italia Letteraria.
  • Filippis, M. de (1944). "Giovanni Papini," The Modern Language Journal 28 (4), pp. 352–364.
  • Frangini, Giovanni (1982). Papini Vivo. Palermo: Thule.
  • Fuente, Jaime de la (1970). Papini: Una Vida en Busca de la Verdad. Madrid: E.P.E.S.A.
  • Gironella, José María (1958). "The Death and Judgment of Giovanni Papini," Modern Age 2 (3), pp. 240–250.
  • Fondi, Renato (1922). Un costruttore: Giovanni Papini. Firenze: Vallecchi.
  • Giuliano, William P. (1946). "Spiritual Evolution of Giovanni Papini," Italica 23 (4), pp. 304–311.
  • Golino, Carlo L. (1955). "Giovanni Papini and American Pragmatism," Italica 32 (1), pp. 38–48.
  • Horia, Vintilă (1963). Giovanni Papini. Paris: Wesmael-Charlier.
  • Invitto, Giovanni (1984). Un Contrasto Novecentesco: Giovanni Papini e la Filosofia. Lecce: Ed. Milella.
  • Lachs, John (2008-03-31). American Philosophy: An Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. Volume. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-94887-0.
  • Phelps, Ruth Shepard (1923). "The Poet in Papini," The North American Review, Vol. CCXVII, No. 811, pp. 834–843.
  • Phillips, Charles (1921). "A Prophet in Italy," Catholic World, Vol. CIV, pp. 210–219.
  • Prezzolini, Giuseppe (1922). "Giovanni Papini," Broom 1 (3), pp. 239–248.
  • Prezzolini, Giuseppe (1915). Discorso su Giovanni Papini. Firenze: Libreria Della Voce.
  • Riccio, Peter M. (1938). "Giovanni Papini." In: Italian Authors of Today. New York: S.F. Vanni, Inc., pp. 87–96.
  • Richter, Mario (2005). Papini e Soffici: Mezzo Secolo di Vita Italiana (1903–1956). Florence: Le Lettere.
  • Ridolfi, Roberto (1957). Vita di Giovanni Papini. Milano: A. Mondadori, 1957 (Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1996).
  • Righi, Lorenzo (1981). Giovanni Papini Imperatore del Nulla: 1881–1981. Firenze: Tip. Sbolci.
  • Waterfield, Lina (1921). "Giovanni Papini," The Living Age, No. 4016, pp. 788–789.
  • James, William (1906). "G. Papini and the Pragmatist Movement in Italy," The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 3 (13), pp. 337–341.
  • Wilson, Lawrence A. (1961). "A Possible Original of Papini's Dottor Alberto Rego," Italica 38 (4), pp. 296–301.
  • Wohl, Robert (2009). The Generation of 1914. Harvard University Press.

External links[edit]