Ada Negri

Women's writing. Women writers, poets and journalists in Milan, between the 19th and the 20th Century

Maternità, nuove poesie di Ada Negri (1900) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Who was she?

Ada Negri was an Italian poet, writer and teacher who made poetry an instrument of social battle. She was also the first and only woman to be admitted to the Accademia d'Italia.

Origins and debut

Ada Negri was born in Lodi on February 3, 1870 into a family of humble origins. Orphaned by her father at the age of one, she spent her childhood and adolescence in the Barni palace, where her grandmother carried out duties as a porter, observing the walk of people and fantasizing in the flower beds of the main garden.

Stella mattutina (1921) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

When the too old grandmother has to leave her job, Ada retreats with her mother to two rooms in the attic. Of these years, Ada will leave precious testimony in "Stella Mattutina" (1921), where she will talk about maternal sacrifices, the formation of an awareness of an evident social injustice, of her training mostly as a self-taught person, also inspired by the readings of appendix novels that her mother did in the evening for her grandmother.

Enrolled in the "Normal Female School", she stands out for her extraordinary learning ability. In 1887, having obtained her diploma, she began working as an elementary teacher, first in the girls' boarding school in Codogno and then in the elementary school in Motta Visconti, where she spent the period that she will remember as the happiest of her life.

Fatalità (1892) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In addition to teaching, she dedicates herself to writing poetry, which she manages to get published in some magazines, obtaining the first enthusiastic recognition from intellectuals such as Raffaello Barbiera, director of "Illustrazione popolare", and Sofia Bisi Albini, a journalist for the Corriere della Sera, who went to Motta Visconti to meet and interview her. In 1892 Treves published "Fatality" the first poetry collection by Ada Negri, which was an unexpected success with the public and critics.

By ministerial decree, Negri was appointed professor at the Gaetana Agnesi normal school in Milan. After moving to the Lombard capital with her mother, she comes into contact with members of the Italian Socialist Party, such as Filippo Turati, Benito Mussolini and Anna Kuliscioff.

She also meets Ettore Patrizi, a young intellectual with whom she gets engaged. Around the figure of Ada Negri in recent years hovers the myth of the poetess and teacher of humble origins who denounces the misery and exploitation of the humble and oppressed with cries of anger and pain.

Tempeste (1896) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani


In 1894 she won the “Giannina Milli” prize for poetry which gives her an annual income. The following year she broke off her relationship with Ettore Patrizi, who had in the meantime moved to America, and the painful feelings experienced by the poetess converge in the second collection "Tempeste" (1896): the poems, despite obtaining a great success, aroused the criticism of Luigi Pirandello, for the tones in his opinion exaggeratedly rhetorical. He wrote on "La Critica", 23 gennaio 1896: «...facciamo scendere la Negri dalla tribuna in cui l'han fatta salire per predicare in brutti versi cose brutte e vecchie».

Lettera a Paolo Buzzi (1896-02-06) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

However, she receives the news that Paolo Buzzi (1874-1956), the Milanese poet particularly attentive to literary novelties, will write a review of the volume. Over the years an intense friendship will develop between the two. With this letter, she thanks him sincerely: «da casa 6 di febbraio [18]96
Grazie delle buone, sincere parole.
Così pochi così pochi sono stati quelli che hanno detto spassionatamente il vero sulle mie Tempeste, così nella lode come nella critica ch’io sarò lietissima di leggere ciò che lei scriverà o ha già scritto su di me. Con somma stima e gratitudine.
Ada Negri»

Tempeste (1896) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In the meantime, the two poetry collections, "Fatalità" and "Tempeste", also obtained widespread recognition abroad, with translations in numerous foreign languages.

Senza ritmo (1896) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In some of these poems, Ada Negri attempts metric experiments that attract the attention of writers such as Gian Pietro Lucini and Paolo Buzzi: she tries the free verse in "Senza ritmo", in others she is expressed with the loose hendecasyllable, used, as she says Buzzi, with "libertarian fluency" (in "Rivista d'Italia", 24 September 1918).

Maternità, nuove poesie di Ada Negri (1900) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

A new life and a new poetic

In 1896 she married Giovanni Garlanda, a textile industrialist from Biella, who fell in love with her after reading her verses, and from this union were born her daughter Bianca, inspirer of many poems, and little Vittoria, who died one month old. The maternal dimension of the new life is at the center of the subsequent poetic collections, “Maternità” (1904) and “Dal profondo” (1910), characterized by an intimate, introspective and strongly autobiographical vein.

Maternità (1904) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Enrico Pestalozzi. Conferenza tenuta all'Unione Femminile di Milano (1901) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In those years, marked on a personal level by a growing misunderstanding with her husband, Negri forged a dense network of friendships with the exponents of the Milanese philanthropic and associations network, represented by institutions such as the Humanitarian Society, the Popular University, the Women's union.

Dal Profondo (1910) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Together with Ersilia Bronzini Majno she founded the Asilo Mariuccia, to assist women forced into prostitution and young people in situations of social risk. Her commitment in the humanitarian field offers her material for the reportages and chronicles that she publishes in the column "Cronache del bene" of the "Corriere della Sera" (1903-1911).

Esilio (1914) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In "exile" in Zurich

The marriage with Garlanda soon reached a breaking point and in 1913 the two separated. Ada then moved to Zurich with her daughter Bianca and remained there until the outbreak of the First World War. These were years of intense work, but also of growing restlessness and dissatisfaction with the lack of unanimous recognition of his work by the critics.

La madre (1911-10-23/1914) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

These feelings of loneliness and dissatisfaction will be the protagonists of the novel "Esilio" (1914) and of the short stories written in those years, which will then be published, after returning to Italy, in the collection “Le solitarie” (1917).

Le solitarie (1917) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Negri dedicates the collection of short stories "Le solitarie" to her friend Margherita Sarfatti, since it was only thanks to her great encouragement and protection that she had found the strength to continue writing.

Finestre alte (1923) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

The war years and the poetry of feelings

After returning from Switzerland to Italy, in time of war Ada joined the National Women's Committee for the Defense of the Fatherland and approached Mussolini's positions. She Collaborate with several newspapers ("La Stampa", "Popolo d'Italia", "Il Secolo") and publishes other collections of verses and stories closely linked to his autobiographical experience, such as "Finestre alte", "Le strade“, "Sorelle" ”and "Orazioni".

Le strade (1926) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Da "Le Strade"

Sorelle (1944) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Il libro di Mara (1919) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

After the First world war

These were years of great upheaval for Ada, especially in the sentimental and emotional sphere: in 1919 her mother died, Vittoria and her daughter Bianca got married and moved away from her. In the same year he published Il libro di Mara, a new collection of poems, “Il libro di Mara”, born from the upheaval felt by the dramatic end of another love experience.

Stella mattutina (1921) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

In 1921 Ada Negri published "Stella Mattutina", an autobiographical work where she recalls the period of her childhood and youth, where the themes of social denunciation typical of all her first production return, accompanied by feelings of lyricism, love and from gratitude towards the mother.

The volume gains public recognition from Benito Mussolini, for which the author was very grateful, considering it one of her greatest achievements.
From 1926 she began to collaborate with Il "Corriere della Sera", then directed by Ugo Ojetti, consolidating her image as an intellectual loyal to the regime: in 1931 she was awarded the "Mussolini Award" for her career and in 1940 she was the first woman to be Academy of Italy.

Lettera a Paolo Buzzi (1921-10-14) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

She also receives important appreciation from Paolo Buzzi, to whom she writes to thank him: «Leggo nella Vita internazionale il vostro nobile cenno a Stella mattutina: più che cenno sintesi. Grazie. Voi possedete un magnifico modo di recensire, netto, rapido, tutto vostro nelle luci e nelle ombre».

Il dono (1936) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

The last years

The war years were for Negri a period of loneliness and profound personal suffering, which led her to withdraw into herself and to approach religious themes, clearly evident in her latest poetic collection, "Fons Amoris."

Di giorno in giorno. Prose (1932) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

The most fertile moment of this difficult phase is represented by "Di giorno in giorno", a collection of prose and memories.

Fons Amoris (1946) by Ada NegriBiblioteca Sormani

Ada Negri died in Milan in January 1945. Her work did not enjoy great success starting after the war, thus paying for the adhesion to the fascist regime above all.

Credits: Story

More women writers in Milan, in 19th and 20th Century to be discovered:
Virginia Tedeschi “Cordelia”
Maria Antonietta Torriani “Marchesa Colombi”
Anna Maria Zuccari “Neera”
Evelina Cattermole “Contessa Lara”
Sofia Bisi Albini

Would you like to read in full the books by the protagonists of the exhibits? Click here.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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