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Goliarda Sapienza

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Goliarda Sapienza
Born(1924-05-10)10 May 1924
Died30 August 1996(1996-08-30) (aged 72)
Occupationactress and writer
Partner(s)Francesco Maselli, Angelo Pellegrino
  • Giuseppe “Peppino” Sapienza (father)
  • Maria Giudice (mother)

Goliarda Sapienza (10 May 1924 – 30 August 1996) was an Italian actress and writer. She is best known for her 1998 novel L'arte della gioia (The Art of Joy).


Early life

Sapienza was born on 10 May 1924 in Catania, Sicily to Maria Giudice (1880–1953) and Giuseppe “Peppino” Sapienza (1880–1949).[1] Giudice, a prominent journalist was originally from Lombardy, and a feminist activist as well as a prominent member of the Italian Socialist Party who had been repeatedly imprisoned for her beliefs. Giudice collaborated with national and international left-wing intellectuals, including Angelica Balabanoff, Antonio Gramsci, Lenin, and Umberto Terracini.[1] Giudice had a "free union" relationship with Carlo Civardi, had died while fighting as a soldier in World War I, leaving her with seven children to raise. In 1919 Giudice moved to Sicily to help organize the local socialist organizations and trade unions.[1] It was there in Catania, that she met Peppino Sapienza who had raised himself from the working-class to become a lawyer. He was later to help draft Italy’s Constitution.

Giudice and Sapienza started a family together (though they never married). Goliarda Sapienza was their second child, and was named for her brother, Goliardo, who died before she was born.[2]

She had many step-siblings from her parents’ previous families who lived together in the same house in Via Pistone, Catania.[1] Giudice was at one time the manager of the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci at the newspaper Grido del Popolo who had acted as babysitter to Sapienza’s older siblings.[3]

Sapienza spent her childhood in a non-conformist feminist anti-fascist and anti-clerical environment, where she was exposed to a mix of different class backgrounds and an active political involvement. Since her father didn’t want her being indoctrinated by the fascist propaganda of the Mussolini regime she was removed from the formal school system when she was 14 and home schooled.[1] Sapienza taught herself drama, piano and re-enacted films she had seen in the cinema. In 1941 at the age of 16 she won a scholarship to study theatre from the Accademia d’arte drammatica in Rome, to which she moved with her mother.[1] Following the armistice in 1943 she joined the partisans with her father, who was involved in the raid that freed Sandro Pertini and Giuseppe Saragat from a German prison.[3]

Post war

After the end of the Second World War, Sapienza embarked on a career as a theatrical actress , distinguishing herself in the roles of Pirandello protagonists. She also acted occasionally in the film industry, into which she was encouraged by Alessandro Blasetti. Due to her larger-than-life personality and acting talent, she became a central figure in the neorealist cinema and the Communist Party circles of Roman intellectual life. In 1947, she met the neorealist cinema director Francesco Maselli, which whom she in entered into a relationship that would last nearly 20 years. The couple mixed with among other, authors Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, directors Bernardo Bertolucci, Pier Paolo Pasolini and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. Though these relationships and as Maselli’s partner and a confidante to Luchino Visconti]], both of whom were influential directors, she assisted in shaping the Italian film industry of the 1950s, serving as an occasional actress and uncredited assistant working on casting, screenwriting and voice-overs, for which she often received no credit.[3]

Commences writing

Sapienza started writing around the time of her mother’s death in 1953, first producing poetry. In the late 1950s, she suffered serious bouts of depression, which lead in 1962 to a suicide attempt by overdosing on sleeping pills.[1] To combat her affliction she underwent a series of electroshocks that caused her to partially lose her memory. She had psychoanalytical therapy at a clinic in Rome and fell in love with her analyst, who responded by terminating the treatment.[2] She was assisted in her recovery by writing which she had increasingly focused on from 1958.[1][4] In 1964 she made a second suicide attempt. [2] In 1965 Sapienza and Maselli separated which led to her being shunned by many in Roman society. Freed from the social duties that came with being Maselli’s companion, she wrote two memoirs in quick succession, both published to minor acclaim, Lettera Aperta in 1967 about her childhood, and Il Filo di Mezzogiorno, in 1969 about her experience in psychoanalysis.[3] These have been described as attempts to reconstruct the memories destroyed by the electroshock.[2] She then dedicated herself entirely to writing which her friend Elsa Morante resented because Sapienza preferred to write rather than come over for lunch.[3]

Sapienza then threw herself into the task of writing what is now considered her masterpiece, L'arte della gioia (The Art of Joy), which took her nine years to complete and drove her to destitution as she withdrew further from society. Finished in 1976 monumental historical novel was rejected by publishers because of its length (over 700 pages) and its portrayal of a woman unrestrained by conventional morality and traditional feminine roles. It detailed a woman’s pursuit of cultural, financial and sexual independence in early-20th-century Sicily, during which she sleeps with both men and women, commits incest and murders a nun. She was unable to find a publisher for it during her lifetime. One rejected it as "a pile of iniquity".[5]

In 1979 she married the writer and actor Angelo Pellegrino (1946 - ), who was 22 years her junior, an act that was regarded as scandalous.[3]

By 1980 Sapienza was so impoverished that she resorted to stealing a friend’s jewels and was detained for three months in Rebibbia prison.[3] During her imprisonment Sapienza was to claim that she felt more accepted by her fellow inmates than by other Italian intellectuals. She subsequently wrote an account of her time in prison which was published in 1983 as “L’Università di Rebibbia”, and was a small commercial success.[3] She followed this up in 1987 with ”Le certezze del dubbio” in which she describes the transition from prison to life outside of some of the women she met in Rebibbia.[1] Both of these works were published due to the meeting with the poet and publisher Beppe Costa, who championed her for a long time and who tried to arrange the reprinting of her other works.

In the last years of her life, she taught acting at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia in Rome and wrote other literary works, some of which remain unpublished.

In 1994 Sapienza was able to have published in Italian the first (consisting of chapters 1-39) of the four parts that made up L'arte della gioia as part of the Millelirepiù series overseen by Marcello Baraghini.

Goliarda Sapienza died on 30 August 1996 in Gaeta.

Posthumous success

Following her death her husband Angelo Pellegrino financed in 1998 the publishing in full by Stampa Alternativa of 1,000 copies of L'arte della gioia.[5][2]

A few years later he sent some copies to the Frankfurt Book Fair, where the novel was noticed by a German editor, who believing it to be a forgotten masterpiece, arranged for it to be published in Germany.[3] The German editor also passed it to an editor in France, where 300,000 copies were sold in hardback by 2013.[5] The success of its French, German and Spanish editions earned Sapienza comparisons to D.H. Lawrence and Stendhal.[3] In response the Italian publishing house of Einaudi published an edition in 2008, which launched her work in Italy.[1] This success in turn lead to the publishing of many of Sapienza’s other works most notably the short semi-autobiographical novel Io, Jean Gabin (2010); two collections of poems, Siciliane (which is in Sicilian dialect) and Ancestrale; the short story Elogio del bar; a selection of thoughts taken from the writer's diaries, collected in the volumes Il vizio di parlare a me stessa and La mia parte di gioia; a collection of plays and cinema subjects, Tre pièces e soggetti cinematografici; and lastly the novel Appuntamento a Positano.


In October 2020, the Goliarda Sapienza Women's Library in the La Montagnola district of Rome was dedicated to her. Streets and squares in her birth place of Catania as well as in Palermo, Gaeta and Linguaglossa have been named after her.


She also dubbed:


  • Lettera aperta. 1967.
  • Il filo di mezzogiorno. 1969.
  • Destino coatto. 1970. This was a collection of short monologues characterized by hallucinations and obsessions that was first published in the journal Nuovi Argomenti. It has subsequently been republished by Empirìa in 2002 and Einaudi in 2011.
  • Vengo da lontano, 1991. This was a short article on the theme of peace, published in a collection of articles by a group of women writers at the time of the Gulf War.
  • L'Università di Rebibbia. 1983.
  • Le certezze del dubbio. 1987.
  • L'arte della gioia. 1998. ISBN 978-12-500-5024-3. Translated into English by Anne Milano Appel and published with the title The Art of Joy.
  • Io, Jean Gabin. 2010. ISBN 978-88-06-20189-0.
  • Il vizio di parlare a me stessa. 2011.
  • Siciliane. 2012.
  • Ancestrale. 2013.
  • 'La mia parte di gioia. 2013. ISBN 978-88-584-1153-7.
  • Elogio del bar. 2014. ISBN 978-88-6192-581-6.
  • Tre pièces e soggetti cinematografici. 2014.
  • Appuntamento a Positano. 2015. ISBN 978-88-06-21173-8.. Translated into English by Brian Robert Moore and published in 2021 with the title Meeting in Positano.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Bazzoni, Alberica (2018). Writing for Freedom: Body, Identity and Power in Goliarda Sapienza's Narrative (E-book). Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang. pp. 1–4. ISBN 978-1-78707-785-0.
  2. ^ a b c d e Cooke, Emily (January 13, 2014). "Disobedience is a Virtue: On Goliarda Sapienza's "The Art of Joy"". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Momigliano, Anna (May 13, 2021). "Once Too Radical for Italy, Goliarda Sapienza Is Belatedly Getting Her Due". New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2021.
  4. ^ "Goliarda Sapienza – Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies". Archived from the original on 29 June 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
  5. ^ a b c Alberge, Dalya (June 29, 2013). "Story of woman's sexual adventures gets UK publication after 45 years". The Guardian. Retrieved May 23, 2021.

Further reading

External links

This page was last edited on 28 September 2021, at 18:12
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