Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries

Ippolito Nievo. Portrait of the Writer as an Old Man


  • Chiara Nannicini



Ippolito Nievo, confessions, autobiography, death, old age


Ippolito Nievo’s long autobiographical novel, Confessions of an Italian (Confessioni di un italiano), also known as ‘Confessions of an Octogenarian’ (Confessioni di un ottuagenario), in reference to its 80-year-old narrator, was actually written when the writer was…twenty-nine. The narrator takes on the role of an old man reflecting on his own life – from childhood, through youth until middle and old age – making the reader believe that he is dealing with the memories of a life already lived. Indeed, Nievo must have taken inspiration from his grandfather’s life at the turn of the nineteenth century to which he added his own experience. The irony of fate is well-known: The author died at the age of 29 and the unfinished novel was published in 1867, six years after his death. Since then, it has remained an outstanding literary specimen in both Italian and European literature. In this paper, we will dwell in particular on the clever outline of the narrator. The distance between the real and the fake narrator certainly belongs to the purest autobiographical tradition, and yet it offers here a further challenge to the writer, constantly trying to share his lifelong experience with the reader and the character himself. All things considered, Nievo foresaw both his own life and how he would have written it, as if he had already lived it and was about to die.

Author Biography

Chiara Nannicini

Chiara Nannicini Streitberger, born in Milan (Italy), is a Professor of Italian Literature at the University St. Louis in Brussels. She taught Comparative and Italian Literature at several universities: Paris III and Paris XII, Caen and Lille (France), Brussels and Namur (Belgium), and was an Invited Professor at the University of Regensburg and at the University of Ghent. Her research deals with Testimony, Autobiography, Literature in different Media, and Relationships between Literature and History. In 2009, La revanche de la discontinuité was published (Brussels: Peter Lang), in 2017 appeared “Ricordate compagni?” (Florence: Cesati). Email:





Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries