The Italian Almanac

Italo Svevo

Italian News - September 17

A lost fairytale by the great Italian novelist Italo Svevo has come to light hidden among some papers acquired by a library in his home-town of Trieste. The story was buried in the books and documents of Nella Doria Cambon, a poetess from Svevo's northern Italian hometown of Trieste who hosted literary salons. Her papers recently given to the library. Signed by Ettore Schmitz - Italo Svevo's real name - the narrative follows his standard format for fairytales: concise and containing a clear moral message.

"It's almost an exercise in writing," said the Trieste Svevo Museum Director Riccardo Cepach, who discovered the story. "It's as though he was using this form to compensate the lack of recognition that he was still suffering at the time." While today acknowledged as one of Italy's greatest novelists, Svevo languished in relative obscurity until becoming friends with the Irish writing legend James Joyce, who taught him English and championed his most famous novel, Confessions of Zeno.

The newly discovered fable had been slipped between the pages of a guestbook, signed by visitors who attended Cambon's popular literary salon nights. Cepach believes that the story was probably written for and read at one of these events. Svevo's daughter, Letizia, has confirmed that her father attended Cambon's evenings, which drew a host of renowned names from the Trieste cultural milieu of the time.

Svevo was born in 1861 in a well-to-do Trieste Jewish family and began working in a bank at the age of 19, a period that lasted for 20 years and inspired his novel A Life, self-published in 1893. He married in 1898 and entered his wife's family firm, eventually becoming a successful businessman. However, his life-long dream of writing for a living never materialized.

His 1907 meeting with Joyce, who was teaching English at the Berlitz School in Trieste, was to change his life. The Irish novelist believed strongly in Svevo's work, and when his 1923 Confessions of Zeno vanished unnoticed in Italy, Joyce took up its cause in Paris. The novel's success there led to its reassessment in Italy, although his work initially drew praise and criticism in equal measure.

Svevo died in 1928 following a car accident.