Vivanti, Annie (1866-1942)

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Annie Vivanti was born in London on April 7, 1866, the daughter of Anselmo Vivanti, a patriot from Mantova of Jewish ancestry, and Anna Lindau (a German writer who was the sister of the celebrated men of letters Paul and Rudolph Lindau). Her father, a follower of Mazzini's ideals, had found political asylum in the British capital after the 1851 uprisings in Mantova.

Brought up in Italy, England, Switzerland, and the U.S.A. (where Anselmo, a major silk trader, was president of the Società Reduci dalle Patrie Battaglie and of the Italian Chamber of Commerce of New York), and after an unusual experience of life as a theatre artist, Vivanti made her literary debut with the poetry collection Lirica (Milan, Treves 1890), published in Italy with a preface by Giosuè Carducci. The work immediately obtained immense success and tied Vivanti's name to that of the great Italian poet, to whom she remained deeply attached until his death (Bologna, 1907). In 1891 she published her first novel, Marion artista di caffè concerto (Milan, Galliums), but, after her marriage to the Irishman John Chartres in England in 1892, Annie spent nearly twenty years living in England and the U.S.A. During this period she wrote only in English, publishing stories (Perfect, 1896; En Passant, 1897; Houp-là , 1897; A Fad, 1899), novels (The Hunt for Happiness, 1896; Winning Him Back, 1904), and theatrical works (That Man, 1898; The Ruby Ring, 1900). In Italy she appeared to have abandoned literature, with the exception of the play The Blue Rose, the only clamorous failure of her very successful career. It was performed between 1898 and 1899, and never published.

A new chapter of her life began after 1900, following a difficult period at the turn of the century when her daughter Vivien -- born in 1893 -- developed into a child prodigy of the violin, quickly becoming an acclaimed international celebrity. Vivien's success provided Annie with a reason to re-launch herself into the literary world, first with the story The True Story of a Wunderkind (1905) and then with her most famous work, The Devourers, written and published in England in 1910. She then re-wrote the work in Italian with the title I divoratori (Milan, Treves 1911), and after a twenty-year absence returned to dominate the Italian publishing market. From then until the end of the thirties her success was uninterrupted, with novels like Circe (Milan, Quintieri 1912), Vae Victis (Milan, Quintieri 1917), Naja tripudians (Florence, Bemporad 1920), Mea culpa (Milan, Mondadori 1927); collections of short stories (Zingaresca, Milan, Quintieri 1918; Gioia, Florence, Bemporad 1921; Perdonate Eglantina, Milan, Mondadori 1926); plays (L'invasore, Milan, Quintieri 1915; Le bocche inutili, Milan, Quintieri 1918); stories for children (Sua altezza, Firenze, Bemporad 1924; Il viaggio incantato, Milano, Mondatori 1935; and travel accounts (Terra di Cleopatra, Milano, Mondadori 1925). Her works always achieved a remarkable international success. They were translated into all the European languages, and reviewed by the great names of European culture, such as Benedetto Croce and Giuseppe Antonio Borgese in Italy, George Brandes and Paul Heyse in Europe.

During the First World war, Vivanti defended the Italian cause in the columns of the main English newspapers (The Times, Westminster Gazette, Nineteenth Century), and in the immediate post-war period she embraced the nationalist cause, moving increasingly close to Mussolini and nascent fascism, and writing for papers like Il popolo d'Italia and L'idea nazionale. At the same time she and her husband -- a Sinn Fein activist -- supported the cause of Irish independence, writing articles for a number of different newspapers and journals, and assisting the Irish delegation to Versailles in 1919.

A celebrated and by now quite elderly writer, Annie Vivanti had been definitively settled in Italy for many years, attended by her secretary Luigi Marescalchi, when in 1941 the Anglophobic shift in fascist policy restricted her, as a British citizen, to house arrest in Arezzo. Although Mussolini's direct intercession soon freed her, allowing her to return to her home in Turin, the physical stress and the news of the death of her daughter Vivien, who committed suicide in Brighton in the autumn of 1941, brought about a rapid deterioration in Vivanti's health, and she died on February 20, 1942, shortly after converting to Catholicism. She is buried in the Monumental Cemetery of Turin, and her simple tombstone bears the first lines of the most famous poem that Carducci dedicated to her:

Batto alla chiusa imposta con un ramicello di fiori
Glauchi ed azzurri come i tuoi occhi, o Annie.

(I knock on the closed shutter with a slender branch of flowers that
are sea-green and blue like your eyes, O Annie)

Annie Vivanti's encounter with various cultures, languages, nationalities, and religions makes her literature and life experience exceptional, and, in the Italian context, unique. Born and brought up in direct contact with the English, Italian, Germanic, and American worlds, Annie assimilated and fused those different cultural and spiritual components, filtering them through the lenses of an entirely Latin sentimentalism and a purely Anglo-Saxon pragmatism.

Her husband, John Chartres, a businessman and journalist, but also a Sinn Fein activist for Irish independence, added an element of political passion to Annie's life, which had been marked already by her father's example. In her mature years this led her to take an active part in Irish and Italian irredentist politics, working against the status quo imposed by the great Nations, particularly England. Her conversion to Catholicism a few days before her death in 1942 represents the last stage in a heterogeneous and fascinating progress through all the forms of human spirituality -- the end of a complex spiritual and existential journey.

A great traveler, fully assimilated into the contexts in which she lived, and in full control of her own world, Annie Vivanti had conflicting feelings towards her native England, of which she always remained a citizen. She found the American way of life and mentality congenial, but chose Italy as her homeland. But trying to attribute national characteristics to her is reductive of her stateless and versatile temperament: Annie Vivanti in Italy, Annie Vivanti Chartres in Europe, Anita Vivanti Chartres -- or just Anita Chartres -- in the United States -- the various images that she offered of herself to her many publics symbolize her changeability, which is confirmed by the only spatial-temporal dimension congenial to her: the "here and now." For her, this was a continuous present without roots, projections, or prospects, a perpetual and airy movement that confers upon her work a sense of freshness and of spontaneous immediacy, allowing her to present her readers with a series of vibrant and emotionally enthralling impressions that achieve their greatest success in her short stories and tales.

Annie Vivanti does not belong to a single literary genre, nor to a particular cultural movement, given her internationalism and her disjointed literary formation. The echoes of the poetry of Heine are certainly strong in her work, as are, in the Italian context, the late Romantic suggestions of the last period of the Scapigliatura movement, which are particularly present in Lirica and Marion artista di caffè concerto. Her ongoing association with Carducci undoubtedly separated her from the prevailing d'Annunzian influence, augmenting her strong personal style and above all distancing her from the topics and styles typical of women's writing of her time.

After her brief experiment with poetry, Vivanti found the path to greater success through the novel and the short story, elaborating and inaugurating, with sure technique, a captivating kind of best seller, written with a sure and evocative style whose success was owed partly to a continuous reference back to autobiographical concerns. These were always present in her work, but in measured doses that she amalgamated into the fictional context in such a way that the reader is almost never able to recognize the point at which truth merges into fiction. This is the case for Marion artista di caffè concerto (whose characters and scenes recall Annie's youthful theatrical experiences) and for I divoratori, a family saga whose fundamental theme is the inevitable destiny of the Genius (first a minor poet, then a musical child prodigy) who "devours" those closest to her. In the still more complex case of Circe, the novel-confession of Tarnowska Maria (the protagonist of an infamous bloodletting in Italy in 1907), the author herself is the protagonist's interlocutor, and makes it clear that only destiny led the two women to two different fates from life experiences that are only apparently dissimilar.

In Vivanti's mature period, the experience of war and political engagement mingle with themes already consolidated in the plays L'invasore (which addresses the tragic topic of the rape of young Belgian women during the German occupation, a subject that was also to be the base of the novel Vae victis) and Le bocche inutili (about the moral drama of a soldier forced to choose between the patriotic and the personal). In Naja tripudians, Vivanti's ironic, light-hearted style masks a denunciation of the corrupt post-World War I society that draws the most ingenuous and defenseless people into its perverse coils. In the nineteen twenties, increasingly engaged in supporting oppressed nationalist causes, Vivanti, in Mea culpa, expresses a true indictment of English colonialism in Egypt and a passionate defense of the nationalist claims that she had already upheld in Terra di Cleopatra, which is more a true reportage on the Egyptian struggle against English domination than a novel. Lighter, sometimes humorous topics, and a sparkling and ironic, indeed we could say British style, distinguish her collections of short stories, which appeared in major Italian daily papers before being published together. Her works for children are also worthy of note, and bear witness to a truly comprehensive artistic career.

Critical Bibliography

  • B. Allason, "Ricordi di Annie Vivanti" in Nuova Antologia, aprile 1952, pp. 369-381.
  • B. Allason, Vecchie ville, vecchi cuori, Torino, Palatine 1950.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Biography Index. A Cumulative Index to Biographical Material in Books and Magazines. Volume 1: January, 1946-July, 1949. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1949.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Biography Index. A Cumulative Index to Biographical Material in Books and Magazines. Volume 20: September, 1994-August, 1995. New York: H.W. Wilson Co., 1995.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. First edition. Edited by Horatio Smith. New York: Columbia University Press, 1947.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. Second edition. Edited by Jean-Albert Bede and William B. Edgerton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Dizionario degli italiani illustri e meschini dal '70 ad oggi, ne "Il borghese", n. 11, 18 marzo 1955, p. 435.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Dizionario generale degli autori italiani contemporanei, II, Firenze, Vallecchi 1974.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Encyclopedia of Continental Women Writers. Two volumes. Edited by Katharina M. Wilson. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities, vol. 698. New York: Garland Publishing, 1991.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Gale Composite Biographical Dictionary Series, Number 5. Detroit: Gale Research, 1979.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Poetesse e scrittrici, a c. di M. Bandini Buti, II, Roma, EBBI, 1942, p. 359.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. Edited by Claire Buck. New York: Prentice Hall General Reference, 1992.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Who Was Who in Literature, 1906-1934. Based on entries that first appeared in [Literary Yearbook] (1906-1913), [Literary Yearbook and Author's Who's Who] (1914-1917), [Literary Yearbook] (1920-1922), and [Who's Who in Literature] (1924-1934). Two volumes.
  • "Annie Vivanti" in Women in World History. A Biographical Encyclopedia. Seventeen Volumes. Waterford, CT: Yorkin Publications, 1999.
  • "Annie Vivanti Chartres" in Enciclopedia Judaica, vol. 16, Jerusalem 1971.
  • G. Antonini, "Ada Negri e Annie Vivanti" in Il romanzo contemporaneo in Italia, L'Aquila Vacchioni 1928, pp 314-320.
  • G. A. Borgese, "Un romanzo di Annie Vivanti" in La vita e il libro, III, Torino, Bocca, 1913, pp. 231-241.
  • G. Brandes, "The Devourers" in Forthnightly review n. 533, new series, 1 July 1910, pp. 170-173.
  • C. Caporossi, "Per rileggere Annie Vivanti" in Nuova Antologia a. 137, fasc. 2221, gennaio- marzo 2002, pp. 269-292.
  • G. Carducci, "Liriche di Annie Vivanti", Nuova Antologia, 16 giugno 1890, poi in Edizione nazionale delle Opere di Giosuè Carducci, XXII, "Bozzetti e scherme", Bologna, Zanichelli, 1937, pp. 441-453.
  • G. Casati, "Annie Vivanti" in Manuale di letture, Milano, Federazione italiana delle Biblioteche circolanti, 1924, p. 143.
  • C. Catanzaro, "Annie Vivanti" in La donna italiana nelle scienze, nelle lettere, nelle arti, Firenze, Biblioteca editrice della rivista italiana, 1899, pp. 206-207.
  • E, Cecchi, "Pancrazi postumo" in Letteratura italiana del Novecento, a c. di P. Citati, II, Milano, Mondadori 1972, pp. 1273-1276.
  • A. Cervellati, Donne e poeti all'Arena del Sole: Byron -Teresa Guiccioli; Carducci- Annie Vivanti; Panzini, Bologna, Tamari 1966.
  • M. Console, La letteratura italiana contemporanea, Milano 1941, pp. 51-52.
  • B. Croce, "Annie Vivanti" in La letteratura della nuova Italia, IV, Bari, Laterza, 1940, pp. 303-315.
  • B. Croce, "La contessa Lara - Annie Vivanti" in La letteratura della nuova Italia, II, Bari, Laterza, 1914, pp. 315-333.
  • G. Donati Petteni, Colloqui e profili, Bologna, Zanichelli 1925, pp. 3-11.
  • F. Finotti, "Naja Tripudians: strutture e committenza del romanzo di consumo novecentsco" in Dame, droga e galline. Romanzo popolare e romanzo di consumo tra Ottocento e Novecento, a c. di A. Arslan Veronese, Milano, Unicpoli, 1986, pp. 256-267.
  • M. Fiorentini, "Annie Vivanti e la donna divoratrice" in Annali dell'Università per stranieri di Perugia, Nuova serie, a. 2, luglio-dicembre 1994, pp. 121-128.
  • F. Flora, "Neera, Annie Vivanti" in Storia della letteratura italiana, V, Milano, Mondadori, 1972, pp. 448-450.
  • A. Fraccaroli, Celebrità e quasi, Milano, Sonzogno 1923.
  • E. M. Fusco, La lirica, II, Milano, Vallardi, 1950, pp. 333-334.
  • D. Garoglio, "Lirica di Annie Vivanti" in Versi d'amore e prose di romanzi, Livorno, Giusti, 1903, pp. 3-29.
  • M. Gastaldi, Donne, luce d'Italia. Panorama della letteratura femminile contemporanea, Milano, Quaderni di poesia, 1936, pp. 815-819.
  • A. Molesini Spada, "Idillio e tragedia: verifica di uno schema" in Dame, droga e galline. Romanzo popolare e romanzo di consumo tra Ottocento e Novecento, a c. di A. Arslan, Milano, Unicpoli, 1986, pp. 241-256.
  • E. Montale, Un amoroso incontro, ne Il secondo mestiere. Prose 1920-1979, a c. di G. Zampa, tomo I, Milano, Mondadori 1996, p. 1255.
  • A. Nozzoli, "La letteratura femminile in Italia tra Ottocento e Novecento" in Tabù e coscienza, Firenze, La Nuova Italia, 1978, pp. 1-40.
  • P. Pancrazi, Ricordo di Annie Vivanti, in Italiani e Stranieri, Milano, Mondadori, 1957.
  • P. Pancrazi, Un amoroso incontro della fine dell'Ottocento, Firenze, Le Monnier 1951.
  • G. Papini, L'uomo Carducci, Bologna, Zanichelli 1918.
  • A. Persico, Il racconto e la retorica. La donna e la norma tra necessità e verosimiglianza delle azioni in due romanzi di Annie Vivanti, Napoli, Fiorentino, 1980.
  • L. M. Personé, "Annie Vivanti" in Le belle statuine, volti gesti e atteggiamenti di scrittori contemporanei, Firenze, Nemi, 1930, pp. 349-359.
  • L. M. Personé, A quattr'occhi. Incontri con gente famosa, Firenze, Polistampa 2002.
  • L. M. Personé, "Il centenario di Annie Vivanti" in "L'Osservatore politico letterario" XV, n. 12, dicembre 1969.
  • Phelps Ruth Shepard, Italian silhouettes, New York, Knopf 1924, pp. 55-66.
  • B. Pischedda, "Ritratti critici di contemporanei: Annie Vivanti" in Belfagor 1, 1991.
  • G. Ravegnani, "La Vivanti, l'Aleramo e la letteratura femminile" in I contemporanei, I, Milano, Ceschina, 1960, pp. 99-113.
  • L. Russo, "Annie Vivanti" in I narratori, Milano-Messina, Principato, 1958, pp. 276-278.
  • R. Serra, "Le lettere" in Scritti di Renato Serra, Firenze 1918, Pp. 331-332.
  • A. Urbancic, "Cinematographic Techniques and Stereotypes in the Stories of Annie Vivanti" in Theatre and the Visual Arts edited by G. Sanguinetti Katz, V. Giolini and D. Pietropaolo, New York-Ottawa-Toronto, LEGAS, pp. 209-220.
  • A. Urbancic, "L'America di Annie Vivanti" in Rivista di studi italiani, a. X, n. 2, dicembre 1992, Toronto.
  • A. Urbancic, "L'invasore di Annie Vivanti" in Donna. Women in Italian Culture, edited by A. Testaferri, Toronto, Dovehouse Editions Inc. 1989, pp. 121-129.
  • A. Urbancic, "L'io-narrante autobiografico di Annie Vivanti" in Campi Immaginabili, I-II 1991, pp. 145-152.
  • U. Valcarenghi Sulla breccia dell'arte . Note critiche e polemiche (1881-1900). Torino, Lattes, 1903.
  • C. Villani, Stelle femminili, Napoli-Roma-Milano, Dante Alighieri, 1915, pp. 734-739.
  • G. Zanotti, Sotto il cielo di Torino, Torino, SEI, 1960.

Submitted by Carlo Caporossi, 2003.
Translated into English by Sarah Patricia Hill.

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