16 January 2022

Mario Tobino – poet, novelist and psychiatrist

Doctor was torn between literature and his patients

Tobino combined his work in mental health with a literary career
Tobino combined his work in mental
health with a literary career
The author and poet who was also a practising psychiatrist, Mario Tobino, was born on this day in 1910 in Viareggio in Tuscany.

Tobino was a prolific writer whose works dealt with social and psychological themes. His novel, Il clandestino, inspired by his experiences fighting as a partisan to liberate Italy in 1944, won him the Premio Strega, the most prestigious Italian literary award.

After completing his degree in medicine in 1936, Tobino embarked on a career working in a mental hospital, treating people with mental disabilities.

He went to work as a doctor in Libya in 1940 but had to flee when war broke out in the country. His experiences were recorded in his book, Il deserto della Libia, which was published in 1952.

In 1953, his novel, Libere donne di Magliano, established him as an important Italian writer. In 1972, another novel, Per le antiche scale won the Premio Campiello, an annual Italian literary award. Both novels were inspired by his experiences as a director of a psychiatric hospital at Maggiano, a suburb of Lucca.

His novel Il manicomio di Pechino, published in 1990, also drew on his medical experiences, his relationships with his patients and his personal dilemma as an individual divided by his allegiance to his profession and his passion for literature.

Per le antiche scale won
the Premio Campiello
Tobino’s strong attachment to his native region of Tuscany is another recurrent motif in his work. He published Gli ultimi giorni di Magliano followed by La ladra in 1984 and Tre amici in 1988. He received the Premio Pirandello on 10 December 1991 in Agrigento and died the next day, aged 81.

He began working in 1942 as a doctor at the mental hospital of Lucca on the outskirts of  the city at Maggiano, where he was to remain for the next 40 years. The hospital, known as Spedale per I Pazzi, was founded by the republic of Lucca in the second half of the 18th century and is thought to be the oldest mental hospital in Italy. It was also in 1942 that Tobino met Paola Olivetti, who was to be his life-long companion.

The Mario Tobino Foundation, based at the site of the former hospital in Via Fregionaia, which was closed in 1999, was created in 2006 to preserve and develop the important cultural heritage of his work as a writer and psychiatrist. The Foundation also aims to promote the regional and national debate about the future of psychiatric help.

Viareggio's sea front is famed for its Liberty-style architecture
Viareggio's sea front is famed for its
Liberty-style architecture
Travel tip:

Viareggio, where Mario Tobino was born, is a popular seaside resort in Tuscany with excellent sandy beaches and some beautiful examples of Liberty-style architecture. The remains of the English poet Shelley, who drowned at sea, were washed up on a beach near the resort in 1822. They were identified because of the volume of poetry by John Keats found in his pocket and he was cremated on the beach under the supervision of his friend, the poet Lord Byron. There is a monument to Shelley in Piazza Paolina in Viareggio.

The hospital complex retained some  features of the monastery
The hospital complex retained some 
features of the monastery
Travel tip:

The Spedale per I Pazzi, where Mario Tobino worked, was formed in 1773 at Maggiano after the Republic of Lucca had put forward a request to Pope Clement to suppress the Monastery of the Lateran Canons of Santa Maria of Fregionaia. The monastery was then adapted for the care of mental patients and was officially opened on 20 April 1773. The day after, the first 11 patients were transferred from Carcere Cittadino della Torre, the city’s Tower prison.

Also on this day:

1728: The birth of composer Niccolò Piccinni

1749: The birth of dramatist and poet Count Vittorio Alfieri

1941: The birth of controversial archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò

1957: The death of conductor Arturo Toscanini

1998: The death of interior and set designer Renzo Mongiardino


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