Showing posts with label Authors. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Authors. Show all posts

28 June 2022

Augusto De Angelis - crime writer

One of the first Italians to write detective novels

Augusto De Angelis had many years working as a journalist
Augusto De Angelis had many
years working as a journalist

Regarded by many as the father of Italian crime fiction, the novelist Augusto De Angelis was born on this day in 1888 in Rome.

His first detective novel,  Il banchiere assassinato (The Murdered Banker), was published in 1935, six years after Italian publishers Mondadori launched their crime series in yellow covers that would later result in the word gialli being used to refer to mystery novels and films.

However, until Alessandro Varaldo's Il sette bello in 1931 there were no Italian authors on the Mondadori list to begin with, as the publishers did not see Italy as the right setting for the crime genre at that time. De Angelis did not agree with this, as he thought crime fiction was a natural product resulting from the fraught and violent times he was living in and writing about as a journalist.

De Angelis gave up studying jurisprudence to embark on a career in journalism and worked for some of the most important daily newspapers during the first half of the 20th century, such as La Stampa and La Gazzetta del Popolo in Turin, Il Resto di Carlino in Bologna and L’Ambrosiano in Milan.

He began his literary career by writing plays and non-fiction and then wrote a spy novel in 1930. But his most successful novels were his detective stories featuring Commissario Carlo De Vincenzi. To begin with, Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini approved of the crime fiction genre because it celebrated the achievements of the forces of order over evil and chaos by bringing about just solutions and restoring tranquillity. However, Mussolini and his associates eventually became wary of Italy being seen to be anything less than idyllic by the outside world.

De Angelis was among the first Italian
authors in Mondadori's gialli series
Il banchiere assassinato was the first of 20 novels by De Angelis to feature Commissario De Vincenzi of the squadra mobile of Milan, which the novelist produced over the next eight years. De Angelis had a unique style and created a detective who could not have been more different from famous characters already popular with readers, such as the eccentric and clever Sherlock Holmes and the methodical, fussy little Belgian, Hercule Poirot.

It is interesting to see how many of the traits of Commissario De Vincenzi have appeared in fictional Italian detectives since. De Vincenzi’s loyalty to his friends and care for his subordinates is a quality shown by Donna Leon’s detective, Brunetti, and his disregard for the rules, unorthodox  behaviour and moments of inspiration are characteristics of both Michael Dibdin’s Zen and Andrea Camilleri’s Montalbano.

The cultured and often emotional detective, De Vincenzi, was to become very popular with the Italian public, but the Fascist government eventually came to regard his creator, De Angelis, as their enemy.

De Angelis was arrested and imprisoned by the authorities in 1943, accused of being anti-Fascist. He was released from prison after three months, but was soon tracked down by a Fascist activist to where he was staying in Bellagio. De Angelis was beaten up so badly by the thug that he died of his wounds in hospital in Como in 1944.

Pushkin Vertigo's English translation
of The Murdered Banker 
The Murdered Banker is now regarded as a highly significant novel in the history of Italian crime fiction. The story starts on a foggy night in Milan, when police officer De Vincenzi is on the night shift. He is visited at his police station by an old schoolfriend, Giannetto Aurigi. While he is talking to his friend, who is clearly worried about something, De Vincenzi receives a call about a body being discovered in a house nearby and when he is given the address, he is horrified to discover the body has been found in his friend’s apartment.

He goes on to discover that Aurigi owes a lot of money , which was due to be paid that night, and that the dead body is that of the banker who lent it to him. De Vincenzi doesn’t just have to solve the crime, he has to prove his old friend is innocent of it and he has to do it quickly before the investigating magistrate becomes involved. He tells his friend that he has to tell him everything, or he could soon be facing the firing squad, but Aurigi just keeps repeating that he doesn’t know anything.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other suspects, such as Aurigi’s beautiful fiancée, his future father-in-law, Count Marchionni, and the mysterious tenant living in the apartment above. De Vincenzi is determined to get to the truth and he lays a clever trap for the murderer.

Some of the De Vincenzi novels were adapted for television by RAI in the 1970s with Paolo Stoppa playing the role of the detective. An English translation of The Murdered Banker was published by Pushkin Vertigo in 2016.

A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
A vintage postcard showing how Milan looked
in the 1930s at the time De Angelis was writing
Travel tip:

The Murdered Banker is set in Milan during the 1930s, where gentlemen wore evening dress when they were out at night. De Angelis would have known the city well from his time working for L’Ambrosiano. The opera house, Teatro alla Scala, which features in The Murdered Banker, was treated almost like a club and people in society visited each other in their boxes during the opera.  Milan’s world- famous opera house was officially inaugurated in 1778. It replaced the Teatro Regio Ducale which had been destroyed by fire. The new theatre was built on the site of the former Church of Santa Maria alla Scala, which is how it got its name. It is situated right in the centre of Milan opposite the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. La Scala, as it is popularly known, has hosted premieres of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Verdi and Puccini and the world’s finest singers have appeared on its stage.

A steep stone staircase typical of Bellagio
A steep stone staircase
typical of Bellagio
Travel tip

Bellagio in Lombardy, where De Angelis was living just before his death, is a village on a promontory jutting out into Lake Como, at the point at which the lake divides into two legs, the more easterly of which is called Lago di Lecco. It is known for its cobbled lanes, elegant buildings, steep stone staircases, red-roofed and green-shuttered houses. The Villa Serbelloni Park, an 18th century terraced garden, offers spectacular views of the lake. The villa itself was once popular with European royalty, numbering Maximilian I of Austria and Queen Victoria of England among its guests.

Also on this day:

1503: The birth of Giovanni della Casa, 16th century author and advocate of good manners

1909: The birth of partisan Walter Audisio, who claimed to be the man who executed Mussolini

1952: The birth of Olympic sprint champion Pietro Mennea

1971: The birth of footballer Lorenzo Amoruso 


20 January 2019

Rafael Bombelli – mathematician

First person to explain algebra in simple language

The front cover of the 1579 edition of Bombelli's text, published in Bologna
The front cover of the 1579 edition of
Bombelli's text, published in Bologna
Rafael Bombelli, the mathematician regarded as the inventor of complex numbers, was baptised and was also probably born on this day in 1526 near Bologna.

He wrote a book about algebra in simple language that could be understood by everyone, giving a comprehensive account of what was known about the subject at the time. The first three volumes, published in 1572, were the first European texts to explain how to perform computations with negative numbers.

Rafael Bombelli was the eldest son of Antonio Mazzoli, a wool merchant, who had changed his name to Bombelli to disassociate himself from the reputation of his family. His grandfather had taken part in a failed attempt to seize Bologna on behalf of the Bentivoglio family but had been caught and executed. Antonio Mazzoli was able to return to Bologna only after changing his name to Bombelli.

It is thought that Rafael Bombelli did not attend university but was taught by an engineer-architect named Pier Francesco Clementi.

He followed Clementi into the profession and acquired a patron, Alessandro Rufini. His patron was given the right to reclaim marsh land in the Val di Chiana by the Pope and Bombelli worked on this project until 1555 when there was an interruption to the reclamation work.

Bombelli wrote his algebra book while staying in his patron's villa in Frascati, outside Rome
Bombelli wrote his algebra book while staying in
his patron's villa in Frascati, outside Rome
While he was waiting for the project to start again he decided to write an algebra book, while living in the comfortable surroundings of his patron’s villa just outside Rome in Frascati.

He felt that the reason for arguments between mathematicians was the lack of a careful exposition of the subject. The only books about algebra were not accessible to people without a thorough grasp of mathematics and he deliberately used simple language to make the book available to people who had not received higher education.

He died in Rome in 1572, soon after the first three volumes of the book were published. The unfinished manuscript of the other two volumes was discovered in a library in Bologna in 1923 and published in 1929.

Despite the delay in publication, Bombelli’s Algebra was a very influential work and was praised by later mathematicians because his analysis of the subject showed him to be far ahead of his time.

A crater on the moon has been named the Bombelli crater in honour of him.

The church of Santa Maria Assunta in Borgo Panigale
Travel tip:

Bombelli’s family lived in Borgo Panigale, a small town to the north of Bologna, which was annexed to the city by the Fascist government in 1937. It is now home to Bologna’s Guglielmo Marconi airport and the motorbike manufacturer Ducati. The Bologna artist Elisabetta Sirani painted an altarpiece for the parish church of Borgo Panigale. It is thought the name stems in part from the land around the site of the town, which was formerly used for the cultivation of the foxtail millet cereal called panìco in Italian.

The facade of the Villa Falconieri in Frascati, where Bombelli stayed
The facade of the Villa Falconieri in
Frascati, where Bombelli stayed
Travel tip:

The Villa Falconieri in Frascati, to the south of Rome, was originally called Villa Rufina, having been built for Alessandro Rufini in 1546. It was while staying in this villa that Bombelli wrote his famous work on Algebra, which he dedicated to his patron, Rufini. The villa, which was renovated by the leading Roman Baroque architect Francesco Borromini after it was sold in 1628, houses many beautiful frescoes and is surrounded by splendid Italian gardens with a small lake bordered by cypresses. Now the headquarters of the Vivarium Novum Latin and Humanities Academy, it is open to the public from 10am to 1pm each Sunday.

More reading:

The mathematician who turned down Peter the Great of Russia

The maths professor who won the equivalent of a Nobel Prize at just 34

The mathematician and scientist who discovered the secret of embalming

Also on this day:

1920: The birth of filmmaker Federico Fellini

1950: The birth of former Vogue editor Franca Sozzani

1987: The birth of motorcycle racer Marco Simoncelli


9 September 2017

Cesare Pavese - writer and translator

Author introduced great American writers to Fascist Italy

Cesare Pizzardo translated the works of many American novelists
Cesare Pavese translated the works
of many American novelists
Cesare Pavese, the writer and literary critic who, through his work as a translator, introduced Italy to the Irish novelist James Joyce and a host of great American authors of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, a town in Piedmont about 60km from Turin.

Pavese would become an acclaimed novelist after the Second World War but was frustrated for many years by the strict censorship policies of Italy’s Fascist government.

It is thought he devoted himself to translating progressive English-language writers into Italian as the best way by which he could promote the principles of freedom in which he believed.

Pavese’s translations would have given most Italians they first opportunity to read writers such as Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos and Daniel Defoe, as well as Joyce, who would ultimately spend many years living in Italy.

The son of Eugenio Pavese, an officer of the law courts in Turin, Cesare had a fractured childhood. His father died when he was only six and his mother, Consolina, is said to have shown him little affection, as a result of which he grew up learning how to fend for himself.

He was born in Santo Stefano Belbo, situated in a picturesque vine-growing area east of Alba in southern Piedmont, because his parents were staying at their holiday home there when his mother went into Labour.  As soon as he was old enough, he moved to Turin and attended the lyceum – the Licio Classico Massimo d’Azeglio – where he was taken under the wing of the Italian anti-Fascist intellectual Augusto Monti.

Pavese hid in the hills outside Turin during the Second World War occupation of the city by German soldiers
Pavese hid in the hills outside Turin during the Second
World War occupation of the city by German soldiers
Monti was later imprisoned by the regime for his vociferous opposition, a fate that would befall Pavese not long after he had left the University of Turin, where he was mentored by Leone Ginzburg, husband of the author Natalia Ginzburg.

He had begun an affair with Tina Pizzardo, a young Communist he met at the sparsely-attended anti-Fascist meetings he used to frequent, and agreed for her to use his address as somewhere to which she could have correspondence delivered because her own movements were under surveillance.

However, when the authorities intercepted letters from Altiero Spinelli, a jailed anti-Fascist dissident, and found they were addressed to Pavese’s apartment, he was arrested and sent to a prison at Brancaleone in Calabria, almost 1,400km (870 miles) from Turin.

Pavese later wrote a book about his ordeal, although for many years his work remained unpublished by his own choice, rather than it be censored.  When a volume of his poetry was published during his incarceration, a number of poems were deleted by the Fascist authorities.

On his return to Turin after a little more than a year in jail, he found that Pizzardo had begun another relationship and countered his sadness by throwing himself into his work, again mainly in translating.  He became a close associate of Giulio Einaudi – father of the pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi and son of the politician Luigi Einaudi – with whom he helped establish the Einaudi publishing house. Natalia Ginzburg also worked there.

The young communist Tina Pizzardo, with whom Pavese had an affair
The young communist Tina Pizzardo,
with whom Pavese had an affair
Pavese was conscripted to fight in Mussolini’s Fascist army but avoided front-line action because he suffered from asthma. Instead, he was confined to a military hospital for six months.

In his absence, German troops occupied Turin and on returning to civilian life when he was discharged on health grounds Pavese went into hiding in the hills around Serralunga di Crea, near Casale Monferrato, where he remained between 1943 and 1945.

Most of Pavese’s work, mainly short stories and novellas, was published by Einaudi, appearing between the end of the Second World War and his death. In that time he was a member of the Italian Communist Party and worked on the party’s newspaper L’Unità.

The main character in many of Pavese’s stories was often a loner, whose relationships with both men and women tended to be short-lived. The stories are often bleak yet he was admired for the tautness of his prose, which was favourably compared to that of Ernest Hemingway.

They tended to draw comparison with his own life. As well as his affair with Pizzardo, whom he felt deserted him, he had a brief relationship after the war with Constance Dowling, an American actress, but that too failed and is seen to have been a contributory factor in his death at the age of only 41.

It came at a moment when he appeared to be at the height of his career, hailed as one of Italy’s greatest living writers.

Works such as La casa in collina (The House on the Hill) and Il carcere (The Prison), which were published as a two-novella volume entitled Prima che il gallo canti (Before the Cock Crows) and based in his experiences in prison, were regarded as confirming his genius, as were Il Compagno (The Comrade), Dialoghi con Leucò (Dialogues with Leucò) - philosophical dialogues between classical Greek characters – and La luna e i falò (The Moon and the Bonfires), which he dedicated to Dowling.  

In 1950, he won the prestigious Strega Prize but two months after receiving the honour he was found dead in an hotel room in Turin, having swallowed an overdose of barbiturates.  Entries in his diary indicated that he had been profoundly depressed following his break-up with Dowling, which he took as a sign that he would never find happiness in marriage, or with other people.

The village of Santo Stefano Belbo
The village of Santo Stefano Belbo
Travel tip:

Pavese’s life is commemorated in several ways in Santo Stefano Belbo, where there is a museum housed in the house his parents owned in what is now Via Cesare Pavese, while the Cesare Pavese Foundation, which was established in 1973 and has its headquarters in Piazza Confraternita off Via Cavour, promotes not only the work of Pavese but encourages and supports other writers.

A plaque marks where Cesare Pavese lived in Turin
A plaque marks where Cesare Pavese lived in Turin
Travel tip:

In Turin, Pavese lived in the same building for 20 years on the Via Alfonso Lamarmora, one of the elegant residential streets in the grid of criss-crossing thoroughfares that characterises the centre of the city.  Via Lamarmora links Corso Stati Uniti with Via Sebastiano Caboto, bisecting the busy Corso Luigi Einaudi. There is a wall plaque marking the building that contained his apartment.

26 December 2016

Beppe Severgnini - journalist and author

Books observing national mores have been best sellers

Journalist Beppe Severgnini: respected commentator and witty observer of his fellow human beings
Journalist Beppe Severgnini: respected commentator
and witty observer of his fellow human beings

The author and journalist Giuseppe Severgnini was born on this day in 1956 in Crema in northern Italy.

Better known as Beppe Severgnini, he is a respected commentator on politics and social affairs, about which he has written for some of the most influential journals and newspapers in Italy and the wider world.

Severgnini is equally well known for his humorous writing, in particular his gently satirical observations of the English and the Americans as well as Italians, about whom he has written many books.

His biggest selling titles include An Italian in America, which has also been published as Hello America. He has also enjoyed success with La Bella Figura: An Insider's Guide to the Italian Mind, Mamma Mia! Berlusconi's Italy Explained for Posterity and Friends Abroad, and An Italian in Britain.

Severgnini is currently a columnist for Corriere della Sera in Italy and the International New York Times in the United States.  A former correspondent for the British journal The Economist, he writes in both Italian and English, having spent a number of years living in London, Washington and New York.

The son of a notary in Crema, Severgnini graduated in law at the University of Pavia.  For a brief period he worked at the European Community headquarters in Brussels before beginning his career in journalism at the age of 27, when he joined the Milan daily newspaper Il Giornale, headed by veteran Italian journalist Indro Montanelli.

It was soon evident he was a talented writer and he became the paper's London correspondent.  Subsequently, during the years of the fall of communism, he became a special correspondent in Eastern Europe, Russia and China.

Beppe Severgnini's books have been bestsellers in Italy, Great Britain and the United States
Beppe Severgnini's books have been bestsellers in
Italy, Great Britain and the United States
When Montanelli set up a new venture, La Voce, Severgnini became its Washington correspondent in 1994 before returning to Italy the following year and beginning his long association with Corriere della Sera, for whom as well as writing opinion pieces he moderates a popular forum, simply called 'Italians', originally aimed at Italian expatriates, which has become one of the most read regular features of the newspaper's website.

Severgnini was Italian correspondent for The Economist between 1996 and 2003 and still writes for the magazine from time to time.  He has also contributed to the Sunday Times and The Financial Times in the UK and occasionally writes about football for Gazzetta dello Sport.

Away from newspapers and books, he has taught at the Walter Tobagi graduate School of Journalism at the University of Milan, been writer in residence at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a visiting fellow at Ca’ Foscari Venezia. 

One of his books, Signori, si cambia: In viaggio sui treni della vita (All Change: Travelling on the Train of Life), has been turned into a play, Life is a Journey, in which he also stars.

The Piazza del Duomo in Severgnini's home town of Crema in Lombardy
The Piazza del Duomo in Severgnini's home
town of Crema in Lombardy
He presents a television show on RAI TRE entitled The Grass is Greener, which compares Italy with other European countries and America.

He was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 2001 and a Commendatore of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 2011.

A keen supporter of Internazionale and the owner of a 1954 Vespa motor scooter, Severgnini lives near Milan with his wife and their son Antonio.

Travel tip:

The small city of Crema, which sits on the banks of the Serio river about 50km east of Milan, has an attractive historic centre built around the Piazza del Duomo.  Apart from the cathedral itself, which has a tall bell tower completed in 1604, the area includes the Santa Maria della Croce basilica, built around a 35km high circular central structure, the Palazzo Pretorio and the Palazzo Comunale.

The covered bridge over the Ticino river in Pavia was rebuilt after being destroyed in the Second World War
The covered bridge over the Ticino river in Pavia was
rebuilt after being destroyed in the Second World War
Travel tip:

Pavia was once the most important town in northern Italy, the legacy of which is evident in its many fine buildings. These include a cathedral boasting one of the largest domes in Italy, a beautiful Romanesque Basilica, San Michele, and the well preserved Visconti Castle, surrounded by a large moat, which is home to the Civic Museum. The covered bridge across the Ticino River is a faithful reproduction of a 13th-century bridge destroyed during Allied bombing raids in the Second World War.

More reading:


Buy Beppe Severgnini's books from Amazon

(picture credits: main Beppe Severgnini by Davide Schenette; second Beppe Severgnini by Alessio Jacona; Piazza del Duomo by MarkusMark; Bridge at Pavia by Konki; all via Wikimedia Commons)