Anna Maria Ortese

(1914 – 1998)

Anna Maria Ortese: Biographical Sketch

Anna Maria Ortese (Rome, Italy, June 13, 1914 – Rapallo, Italy, March 10, 1998) was an Italian writer.

Brought up in modest circumstances in Naples and Tripoli and prompted to write in the search for consolation over the death of her favorite brother Emanuele, Ortese published her first poetry in 1933 and a short story entitled Pellerossa (Red Skins) in 1934, which would already foreshadow her preoccupation with civilization’s, and the individual’s disconnectedness and loss of innocence. Her first collection of short stories, Angelici dolori, appeared in 1937.

Ortese was constantly harrowed by financial problems and was forced to continue working as a journalist even as she wrote her works of fiction. She frequently moved and, although her first publications were largely (though not unanimously) favorably received, it would take until 1950 and 1953, respectively, for the collections L’Infanta sepolta and II mare non bagna Napoli (The Bay Is Not Naples) to be released, the latter dealing with the squalid conditions of post-war Naples and being awarded the 1953 Viareggio Special Prize for Fiction. The collection’s first story, Un paio di occhiali, was eventually made into a movie in 2001; the final story, however, II silenzio della ragione (The Silence of Reason), addressing the literary community of her then-home town Naples (which would remain the most important city in Ortese’s literary imagination even in later years), met with violent opposition and contributed to Ortese’s growing marginalization and ostracism, brought on by the ciritcal stance she took towards Italy’s intellectual and cultural scene of her day, which she unflinchingly characterized as self-satisfied and pampered.

The two books widely regarded as her most important works are the novels L’Iguana (The Iguana, 1965, also reportely Ortese’s own favorite work) and Poveri e semplici (1967), the latter winner of the coveted Premio Strega in the year of its publication and eventually followed by a sequel, Il capello piumato, in 1979. The Iguana, like most of her works written in the style of the magical realist tradition, was republished in 1986, then winning the Premio Fiuggi, and translated into French in 1988, where it garnered critical acclaim as well. – In Sonno e in Veglia (1987) was awarded the Premio Procida-Elsa Morante in 1988.

Despite being the recipient of multiple prestigious awards, however, Ortese remained unreconciled wth her country’s literary community and was widely disregarded by the reading public. The experimental novel Il Porto di Toledo (1975), the story of a teenage novelist living in a fictitious city (the eponymous Toledo) modelled on pre-war fascist Naples, went largely ignored until its republication two weeks before her death in 1998. Increasingly isolated, Ortese once more allegorically turned to her own life experience in her final books Il cardillo addolorato (The Lament of the Linnet, 1993), which centers on a woman caught between enlightenment and romance in a magical version of eighteenth-century Naples and whose French edition would come to be awarded the Prix du Meilleur livre Étranger in 1998, and Alonso e i visionari (1997), published the year before her death. Only posthumously, the literary community would finally come to be reconciled with her, and she garnered the wider and more unanimous recognition denied to her during her life.

Read more about Anna Maria Ortese on Wikipedia.


Major Awards and Honors

Premio Viareggio (Italy)
  • 1953: Premio speciale per la narrativa – “Il mare non bagna Napoli” (“The Bay Is Not Naples”)
Premio Strega (Italy)
  • 1967: “Poveri e semplici”
Premio Fiuggi (Italy)
  • 1986: “L’Iguana”
Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger (France)
  • 1998: Novel – “Il cardillo addolorato” (“The Lament of the Linnet”)



  • L’Iguana (The Iguana) (1965)
  • Poveri e semplici (1967)
  • Il porto di Toledo (1975)
  • Il cappello piumato (1979)
  • Il treno russo (1983)
  • La morte del folletto (1986)
  • Il cardillo addolorato (1993)
    A/K/A: Il cardillo innamorato
    (The Lament of the Linnet; The Grieving Linnet)
  • Alonso e i visionari (1997)
Novellas and Short Stories
  • Angelici dolori (1937)
  • L’infanta sepolta (1950)
  • Il mare non bagna Napoli (1953)
    (The Bay Is Not Naples)
  • I giorni del cielo (1958)
  • La luna sul muro (1968)
  • L’alone grigio (1969)
  • Il mormorio di Parigi (1986)
  • Estivi terrori (1987)
  • In sonno e in veglia (1987)
  • A Music Behind the Wall; 2 volumes (1994 – 1998)
  • Il mio paese è la notte (1996)
  • La luna che trascorre (1998)
  • Silenzio a Milano (1958)
  • Dove il tempo è un altro (1980)
    (Where Time Is Another)
  • La lente scura (1991)
  • Corpo celeste (1997)