Goliarda Sapienza (1924-1996)

by Giovanna Providenti

«Goliarda doesn’t exist. She is existence», some friends used to say about her, joking, referring to a feature both of the woman and the artist: she was always involved and always with extreme passion. She was the kind of woman that arouses a desire for authenticity in other people. And she still does it today: through her literary work. To read novels such as L’arte della gioia, Lettera aperta, Il filo di mezzogiorno, L’università di Rebibbia and some unpublished poems and plays can be irritating. This depends on the persistent and pitiless disclosure of the contradictions and imperfections of the «lie-reality», in a stylistic alternation which is deliberately left unfinished and aims directly at the reader’s soul. By means of her writing, which is political and intimate at the same time, Goliarda reveals the highly problematic nature of human existence, but even the prospect of a better life: if one dare contact each part of oneself, including sorrows, ambiguity, lies, contradictions, fears, desires and crimes, either symbolic or real. Goliarda Sapienza was born in Catania on the 10th of May 1924. Her parents – the well-known Lombard union official Maria Giudice (1880-1953) and Giuseppe Sapienza (1880-1949), a socialist lawyer – met when they were both widows and in their forties. He had three children and she had seven. Their understanding was both sentimental and political: they were editors in chief of the newspaper “Unione” and took an active part in the struggle for the expropriation of lands in Sicily, in 1920-22, when Giuseppe’s eldest son, Goliardo Sapienza, was found drowned in the sea, presumably killed by the mafia, that defended the interests of the landowners. The name she inherited from her brother, who had died three years before, was one of the many burdens weighing on Goliarda’s childhood, scarred by the death of three other half-brothers, that were just past their teens; by the increasing sufferings and mental instability of her antifascist and idealist mother; by the vitality and passionateness of her father who didn’t want to renounce any pleasure: he had many women, he eagerly devoted himself to his job as a “people’s lawyer”, and everybody loved him, in the hard times of the Fascist era. Her artistic qualities as actress, singer, dancer and story teller surfaced during the years of her childhood and adolescence, when her “success” as an enfant prodige alternated with precarious health conditions and the onset of long and serious illnesses, such as diphtheria and MTB. In 1943 Goliarda and her mother moved to Rome, where Goliarda attended the Academy of  Dramatic Arts, led by Silvio D’Amico. She liked to be an actress because when she acted she could express the fullness and the contradictions of her soul, but she didn’t like the fake world that successful actors and actresses often inhabit. She didn’t earn a diploma at the end of the course and challenged the Academy’s retrograde teachings creating an avant-garde company with other protesting former students, fascinated, as she was, by the Stanislavski’s system. In 1947 she met director Citto Maselli and engaged with him a very strong, symbiotic relationship, yet open to new encounters, which lasted more than 18 years, and that, after a painful separation, turned into a sincere friendship. They both used to live everything feverishly, but Goliarda didn’t remain on the surface and was able to capture, in every person and situation, the poetic implication that she would then bring into literature. Before she became a writer, Goliarda led an intense life. She associated with exclusive environments and worked not only with Maselli, but also with filmmakers such as Luigi Comencini, Alessandro Blasetti, Cesare Zavattini and Luchino Visconti: she took an active part in Italian Neorealism, a movement that embodied the civil, politic and moral involvement. She experienced the artistic world directly, and yet with a critical attitude, and learnt to recognize its contradictions and to build her own personality, that reveals all its power in her literary writings. But her soul, made of so many emotional weavings, and inclined to great enthusiasms and great defeats, led her to attempt suicide: first in 1962 (afterwards, she underwent a series of electroshocks) and then in 1964. The subsequent coma led Goliarda to an existential place which was totally different from the milieu of intellectuals, artists and filmmakers that had strongly fascinated her for many years: a brighter, richer and healthier place, where the elaboration of mourning gave way to a rebirth; she became open to human richness, and created masterpieces such as L’arte della gioia. She died on the 30th of August 1996 as a fameless writer and former actress of Italian Neoralism. But today she is acknowledged as one of the main figures of Italian literature in the XX Century.

(La porta è aperta. Vita di Goliarda Sapienza, Giovanna Providenti – Villaggio Maori Edizioni )