Sunday, January 15, 2012

Weird Tales from Italy

Giovanni Magherini Graziani
Farmer, Author, Scholar, Historian, Bibliophile, Philanthropist
Born 1852 Figline Valdarno, Toscana (Tuscany), Italy
Died 1924 Città di Castello, Umbria, Italy

As an author, Giovanni Magherini Graziani led two lives. In one, he wrote on the Italian Renaissance and the history of his ancient and adopted city. In another, he recounted folk tales of witches, healers, and exorcists; of haunted houses, cursed books, and magic mirrors; of evil spirits, avenging zombies, and the unquiet dead. Erudite, scholarly, aristocratic, and well to do, Magherini Graziani was also published--in his other writing life--in a lowly American pulp magazine, Weird Tales, the only Italian author so honored.

Giovanni Magherini was born in 1852 in Figline Valdarno, a small town near Firenze (Florence) in the picturesque region of Toscana (Tuscany). Outside Italy, little may be known of his early life, or, for that matter, any part of his life. A farmer and farm manager, he married the Contessa Maddalena Libri Graziani, a noble by birth and member of aristocratic families originating in Firenze and Città di Castello. Magherini purchased the name Graziani to show that he had moved up in his social status. (1) He also adopted the home city of his wife's family, Città di Castello, and divided his time between there and the Libri family manor house at Poggitazzi. (2)

A researcher, scholar, bibliophile, and man of culture, Giovanni Magherini Graziani studied and wrote about the history of Città di Castello and the Valdarno, the valley drained by the river Arno in north central Italy. His books include L'arte a Città di Castello (The Art of Città di Castello, 1897) and Storia di Città di Castello (The History of Città di Castello, 3 vols., 1890-1912). As a student of art history, Magherini Graziani also wrote a biography of Michelangelo (1871), a monograph on Masaccio (1904), and a book on the early life of Raffaello, the artist we call Raphael (1927). Finally, Magherini Graziani authored a play, Chi stuzzicha il can che giace (1894), now lost.

Magherini Graziani was best known for works on high culture, but in his other writing life, he recounted legends and tales from Italian folklore, tales of the macabre and the fantastic told by the common people of his beloved Valdarno, a genre known as fantastico rurale. His first collection was called Casentino: impressioni e ricordi (1884), written in collaboration with his friend Giuseppe Gatteschi. It was followed by his own Il Diavolo: novelle valdarnesi (The Devil: Stories of the Valdarno People, 1886) and In Valdarno (racconti toscani) (In Valdarno (Tales from Tuscany), 1910). I'll list the contents of Il Diavolo, perhaps for the first time on an English-language website:
  • "Il Diavolo" ("The Devil")
  • "Il Libro del Comando" ("The Book of Command")
  • "Lo Specchietto" ("The Little Mirror")
  • "La Strega" ("The Witch")
  • "Fioraccio" ("Bad Flower," the nickname of the main character in the story)
Just four years after its initial publication, the story "Fioraccio" was reprinted in English in Modern Ghosts (1890). Writer and reformer George William Curtis provided the introduction to a book that collected seven tales from European authors. (3) I don't think it's any coincidence that all but one were eventually reprinted in Weird Tales. (4) "Fioraccio," a story of demonic possession and the restless dead (translated by Mary A. Craig), appeared in the October 1934 issue of "The Unique Magazine," nearly half a century after it first saw print.

Recently, an Italian publisher, Edizioni Hypnos, issued a new collection of Magherini Graziani's stories. Entitled All'ombra dell'Antico Nemico (In the Shadow of the Old Enemy), the book includes all the tales from Il Diavolo: novelle valdarnesi, plus two others, "San Cerbone" and "Leonzio." (5) Unfortunately for American readers, the book is in Italian. "Fioraccio" may be the only tale by Magherini Graziani available in translation.

A final note: In addition to being a writer and scholar, Giovanni Magherini Graziani was a philanthropist, contributing to civic organizations in Città di Castello, including the philharmonic society, a society of mutual aid, and a society for firefighters. On January 31, 1926, on the two-year anniversary of his death, a bank in his adopted hometown dedicated a bust and plaque in his honor. The plaque reads:

[This plaque,] sponsored by the Bank of Cassa dei Risparmi of
Città di Castello on this day, 31 January 1926,
the second anniversary of his death,
in the house where he fervently labored
to illustrate history
and to disseminate in the world the glory
of his second homeland,
commemorates to posterity
the honored and munificent name
of Giovanni Magherini Graziani

Giovanni Magherini Graziani's Story in Weird Tales
"Fioraccio" (Oct. 1934)

Further Reading
Giovanni Magherini Graziani's work is still available in Italian-language facsimile reprints and as print-on-demand books. Here's hoping for a translation into English sometime soon. Incidentally, this may be the only biography of Magherini Graziani in English.

(1) Weird Tales indexers Sheldon Jaffery and Fred Cook hyphenated Magherini Graziani's surnames, presumably because that's how his byline originally appeared in the magazine. I have not seen the names hyphenated anywhere else except in Modern Ghosts (1890), the presumed source of the translation used by Weird Tales in its reprinting of October 1934. Significantly, the plaque placed in honor of him in his hometown does not hyphenate his name. Also, it's interesting that a bibliophile would marry a woman with the family name Libri, i.e., "books." Lastly, some sources erroneously give Magherini Graziani’s birth year as 1892.
(2) Città di Castello is also the hometown of actress Monica Bellucci (b. 1964), who has appeared in genre films such as Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Brothers Grimm (2005), and The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010). "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and works by Bram Stoker also appeared of course in Weird Tales.
(3) By the way, George William Curtis (1824-1892) hailed from H.P. Lovecraft's home city of Providence. Curtis died in the same month Lovecraft turned two years old.
(4) I wrote about the book Modern Ghosts (1890) last week. Its contents: "Introduction" by George William Curtis; "The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant [reprinted in Weird Tales, Aug. 1926]; "Siesta" by Alexander L. Kielland [WT, Nov. 1930]; "The Tall Woman" by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón [WT, Feb. 1929]; "On The River" by Guy de Maupassant [WT, Feb./Mar. 1931]; "Maese Pérez, the Organist" by Gustavo Adolfo Becquer [WT, June 1934]; "Fioraccio" by Giovanni Magherini-Graziani [WT, Oct. 1934]; and "The Silent Woman" by Leopold Kompert. I don't know why Weird Tales didn’t reprint the story by Leopold Kompert (1822-1886). An odd fact leads to a possible explanation: Weird Tales reprinted the stories from Modern Ghosts almost exactly in the order in which they appeared in the book. "Fioraccio" was the last to be reprinted. "The Silent Woman" may simply have been forgotten.
(5) "The Old Enemy" would appear to be a nickname or euphemism for the devil.

Lo Sposalizio, a painting by Raffaello completed in 1504 for a church in Città di Castello and now at the the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milano (Milan). This image is taken from one of the plates in Magherini Graziani's book La prima giovinezza di Raffaello (1927).
A bust and plaque commemorating Giovanni Magherini Graziani's life and work, located in Città di Castello. 
Thanks to Contessa Francesca di Colloredo Mels di Montalbano for translations and background on Italian history, language, and culture. Any errors contained on this page are my own.
Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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