Visentini, Olga (1893-1961)

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Born in Nogara, in the province of Verona, on 25 April, 1893, Olga visentini had a leading role both as a writer and a pedagogue, as well as in the production and dissemination of children's literature in Italy. Author of more than hundred and twenty works of fiction (mainly intended for young audiences), the Venetian writer is considered one of the most prolific Italian women writers, not only in the Fascist period, but in the entire first half of the twentieth century. Her literary activity is mainly characterized by the composition of fairy tales, poems, nursery rhymes, anthologies for school, historical novels, and fantasy stories for children. Alongside this narrative production, she dealt with translations of classics among which La piccola Fadette (1953) by George Sand, Alice nel paese delle meraviglie (1957) by Lewis Carroll, Senza famiglia (1958) by Hector Malot, La giovane siberiana (1958) by Xavier de Maistre, and Fabiola by Nichola Wiseman (1958). She died in Padua on 29 May 1961.

Olga Visentini took a degree in Literature in 1920 and, in parallel with her writing activity -- her first novel, Primavere italiche. Romanzo d'attualità, was published in 1915 -- she carried out the activity of teacher and educator for most of her life, teaching in secondary schools in various towns in northern Italy and in several technical schools. In 1933, with the publication of the first edition of Libri e ragazzi, the Venetian writer not only began to establish herself as one of the main Italian writers of children's literature, but she also took a considerable role in the disclosure of a literary canon -- namely the Fascist youth literature -- which was still developing in the thirties. Through a continuous review activity and a profitable production of novels and short stories (Belfiore won the "Trieste National Literary Award" in 1953), Visentini became a prominent literary figure in narrative and pedagogical contexts. In addition to her intense activity as a writer, she was also a careful scholar of numerous educational and pedagogical issues related to the world of children's literature, to the point that Libri e ragazzi is still today an important text for any historical and critical approach on the topic.

In the early thirties, three children's literature books left a trace in the Italian essayistic scene of the time: Libri per fanciulli e per giovinetti. Catalogo sistematico e ragionato (1930) by Maria Bersani, Il fanciullo nella letteratura (1931) by Onorato Fava and the above-mentioned Libri e ragazzi by Olga Visentini. The latter was openly inspired by Les livres, les enfants et les hommes, which was published the year before by Paul Hazard, but, unlike the French writer, Visentini avoided drawing up a literary critical essay and "confined herself" to a historical overview of the development of children's literature from ancient times to the modern world. Unlike her Italian predecessors -- Fava and Bersani in particular -- the Venetian writer left out any reference to either Pascoli's theory of the fanciullino or the pedagogical-philosophic model of the "child's art" by Giovanni Gentile. The idealistic pedagogy that influenced the Italian pedagogues and educators did not find fertile ground in Visentini's literary production, since she focused on the need to offer a front rank bibliographical study to the Italian cultural scene, aimed at bringing out those works that best suited the emerging canon of Fascist youth literature.

It should be recalled, however, that, in light of Visentini's contribution to the renewal, in a nationalist perspective, of the intimate relationship between youth and literature, any thorough analysis of the critical affirmation process of children's literature in the first half of the century cannot refrain from taking into account the rich and prolific literary production of the Venetian writer. Going over the various stages of her career implies not only an intimate exploration of the winding cultural-identity Italian path during the Fascist period, but it also allows us to benefit from a very useful literary passe-key to better understand those language-literary and political-ideology issues which strongly affected the educational purpose of her works. Children's literature -- as well as outright literature -- was far from being protected from the political changes of the time; in this context, the stances taken, the publishing initiatives as well as the desired review omissions of the writer well illustrate the unity of purpose that appeared in the thirties between the representatives of the institutions and the educators in public schools.

The monographic study of Italian children's literature is still partly unexplored. This deficiency accentuates both the need for a more extensive documentary research, and the need to resort to a philological methodology on the tales of this kind that is not limited to the well-known works celebrated by the critics. Although placed in a historical context extensively analyzed by contemporary historiography, the literary production of Olga Visentini nevertheless constitutes an additional and useful "litmus test" of the significance of the impact of the Fascist cultural paradigm on children's literature. As noted by Enzo Petrini, "among contemporary writers, Olga Visentini must be mentioned not only for the fecundity of her vein, but also for having played [...] a kind of educator-writer who accompanied the development of the living generation (43)." More recently, the importance of Visentini's literary production has been underlined by the institution of a new edition of the children's literature award in 2008 in her memory, which evidences the importance of her works for the dissemination of this narrative genre. A careful and thorough analysis of the figure of the writer, still relatively marginal, constitutes therefore a useful examination for both children's literature specialists and scholars of the Fascist period.

Works Cited:

  • Bersani, Maria. Libri per fanciulli e per giovinetti. Catalogo sistematico e ragionato. Torino: Paravia, 1930.
  • Carroll, Lewis. Alice nel paese delle meraviglie. Trad. by Olga Visentini. Torino: UTET, 1957.
  • De Maistre, Xavier. La giovane siberiana. Trad. by Olga Visentini. Torino: UTET, 1958.
  • Fava, Onorato. Il fanciullo nella letteratura. Firenze: Nemi, 1931.
  • Hazard, Paul. Les livres, les enfants et les hommes. Paris: Flammarion, 1932.
  • Malot, Hector. Senza famiglia. Trad. by Olga Visentini. Torino: UTET, 1958.
  • Petrini, Enzo. Dai temi narrativi alla letteratura giovanile. Bologna: Patron, 1985.
  • Sand, George. La piccola Fadette. Trad. by Olga Visentini. Milano: Mondatori, 1953.
  • Visentini, Olga. Belfiore. Romanzo dei martiri. Torino: Soc. Ed. Internazionale, 1956.
  • --. Libri e ragazzi. Sommario storico di letteratura infantile. Milano: Mondadori, 1933.
  • --. Primavere italiche. Romanzo d'attualità, Ostiglia: La Scolastica, 1915.
  • Wiseman, Nichola. Fabiola. Trad. by Olga Visentini. Torino: UTET, 1958.

Suggestions for further reading:

  • Bianchi, Monica. "Olga Visentini." In Antologia mantovana. Mantova: Il Cartiglio mantovano, 2004, pp. 151-55.
  • Cavigioli, Rita. "Minimal Departures: Narratives of Younger Female Mobility in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Italian Children's Literature." Quaderni d'Italianistica 35:2 (2014): 125-37.
  • Colin, Mariella. Les enfants de Mussolini. Littérature, livres, lectures d'enfance et de jeunesse sous le fascisme. Caen Cedex : Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2010.
  • Gasparini, Duilio. Olga Visentini. Firenze: Le Monnier, 1968.
  • Lollo, Renata. Olga Visentini tra Fascismo e Repubblica. Milano: Prometheus, 1996.
  • Segantini, Lara. Olga Visentini (1893-1961) . Padova: Casa di Cristallo, 1996.

Submitted by Fadil Moslemani, The University of Chicago, 2016.

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