Lalla Romano (1906-2001)

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In a highly successful literary career that spanned much of the twentieth century, the Piedmontese writer and painter Lalla Romano published nineteen novels and collections of short stories, three books of poetry, several photo texts, and numerous prose works and translations. Romano's writing was admired by many of the most important and influential Italian writers of the twentieth century, such as Eugenio Montale, Elio Vittorini, and Italo Calvino, and it played an important role in the greater recognition of a tradition of women's writing that slowly developed in Italy in the latter part of the century. She was indeed one of relatively few twentieth-century Italian women writers to win both critical and popular acclaim. Romano received a number of prestigious literary prizes, including the Premio Strega in 1969, and she was awarded Italy's highest literary honor, the Penna d'Oro by the Italian president in 1979. Yet her work has not received the attention it deserves from scholars abroad, and even within the Italian context, critical attention has been insufficient. Much of her work concerns the themes of memory and of incommunicability.

Romano was born in the small village of Demonte in the province of Cuneo in Piedmont on November 11, 1906, to Roberto Romano and Giuseppina Peano. Her father was a surveyor who was head of the technical office of the local council, but also a keen amateur photographer and painter, and Romano was brought up with a great love of the arts and literature. While completing her degree in Humanities at the University of Turin, she took classes with the painter Giovanni Guarlotti. She also spent time in Paris, where she spent many hours at the Louvre and became familiar with key figures in contemporary European art. After graduating from university with a thesis on the poets of the dolce stil novo, she enrolled in Felice Casorati's painting school at the suggestion of the art historian and critic Lionello Venturi. She began teaching Italian and History, and then high school Art History in Cuneo, where she also worked as a librarian. Married in 1932 to Innocenzo Monti, Romano followed him to Turin in 1935 with their young son, where she taught humanities and continued to paint and exhibit. From 1938-1940, at Ardengo Soffici's invitation, she wrote three stories about the world of the arts in Turin in those years, while continuing to exhibit her own works. Eugenio Montale's positive comments on some of her poems encouraged her to publish her first poetry collection, Fiore, in 1941, and from the mid-1940's on her literary interests dominated her painting. She would eventually abandon the practice of painting altogether, although her interest in the visual arts continued throughout her life.

During World War II she returned to Cuneo to live with her mother. There she became involved with the partisans and was a member of the Partito d'Azione. Cesare Pavese also commissioned her to translate stories by Flaubert during this period. After the war, she joined her husband in Milan, where she began teaching again and started work on a collection of brief prose pieces, Le metamorfosi (1951), which was followed two years later by her first novel, Maria. The novel was published to critical acclaim and won the Veillon prize in 1954. She published another volume of poems in 1955, and her novel Tetto murato won the Pavese prize in 1957. In 1960 she published Diario di Grecia, a book of travel stories, and in 1961 the novel L'uomo che parlava solo. Following the death of her mother in 1961 and Romano's subsequent return to Demonte, she began writing the very successful semi-autobiographical novel, La penombra che abbiamo attraversato, published in 1964. In 1969 she published Le parole tra noi leggere, which was an immediate bestseller and for which she won the Strega prize. 1973 saw the publication of L'ospite and the beginning of her work for the newspaper Il giorno. In 1974 she won the Sebeto prize for her poetry collection, Giovane è il tempo, and the following year published both the collection of short stories, La villeggiante and the first of her unusual photo texts, Lettura di un'immagine, republished in 1986 as Romanzo di figure and again in 1997, with additional photographs, as Nuovo romanzo di figure. In 1979 she published Una giovinezza inventata and Lo stregone. In the 1980s she published Inseparabile, Nei mari estremi (based on her husband's illness and death in 1984), and Un sogno del nord, for which she won the Morante prize. During this period she also produced the photo text La treccia di Tatiana (1986), with photographs by Antonio Ria, her companion throughout the last years of her life. In 1991 her poetry and narrative works to date were published in two volumes edited by Cesare Segre in Mondadori's prestigious Meridiani series. In the last decade of her life she continued to be extraordinarily prolific, publishing Le lune di Hvar (1991), Ho sognato l'Ospedale (1995), In vacanza col buon samaritano (1997), L'eterno presente. Conversazione con Antonio Ria (1998), Dall'ombra (1999), Ritorno a Ponte Stura (2000) and Le mie letture (2000). The volume Poesie was published posthumously in 2001. Romano died in Milan on June 26 2001 at the age of 94.


  • Amoia, Alba. "Lalla Romano: A Narrator of Withdrawal." 20th-Century Italian Women Writers: The Feminine Experience. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1996. 38-48.
  • Brizio, Flavia. La scrittura e la memoria. Milan: Selene Edizioni, 1993.
  • Petrignani, Sandra. "Il chiaro e l'essenziale (Intervista con Lalla Romano)." Le signore della scrittura. Interviste. Ed. Sandra Petrignani. Milan, 1996.
  • Ria, Antonio, ed. Intorno a Lalla Romano. Milan: Mondadori, 1996.
  • Segre, Cesare. "Introduzione." Lalla Romano: Opere. Ed. Cesare Segre. Vol. 1. Milan: Mondadori, 1991-2. xi-lviii.

Submitted by Sarah Patricia Hill, Victoria University of Wellington, 2004.

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