Showing posts with label Giulio Einaudi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Giulio Einaudi. Show all posts

14 July 2021

Natalia Ginzburg - writer and politician

Sicilian raised in Turin became one of Italy’s great postwar novelists

Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the  leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
Natalia Ginzburg (née Levi) with her husband, the 
leading anti-Fascist figure, Leone Ginzburg
The writer and politician Natalia Ginzburg was born on this day in 1916 in the Sicilian capital, Palermo.

The author of 11 novels and short story collections, as well as numerous essays, Ginzburg came to be regarded as one of Italy’s great postwar writers, alongside Primo Levi, Carlo Levi, Alberto Moravia, Cesare Pavese, Elsa Morante and Giorgio Bassani among others.

Her most famous works include Tutti i nostri ieri - All Our Yesterdays - published in 1952, Lessico famigliare  - Family Sayings -  published in 1963, and La famiglia Manzoni - The Manzoni Family - published in 1983.

She was notable for writing about family relationships, politics during and after the Fascist years and World War II, and philosophy.

Ginzburg, who was married to a prominent figure in the Italian resistance movement in World War Two, was an active anti-Fascist and a member of the Italian Communist Party in the 1930s.  In later life, she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as an independent.

Ginzburg became a leading light in postwar Italian literature
Ginzburg became a leading light
in postwar Italian literature
Although born in Palermo, Ginzburg spent her early life in Turin, where her father, Giuseppe Levi, was a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of Turin, presiding over a research laboratory that produced three winners of Nobel Prizes.

The family was well connected in social and intellectual circles in Turin. Her sister, Paola, married a future president of the business machines company, Olivetti, of which one of her brothers, Gino, became Olivetti’s technical director. Of her two other brothers, Mario was a journalist and Alberto a doctor. 

As a Jewish family - although her mother, Lidia, was a gentile - they were heavily involved in the city’s anti-Fascist movement and suffered for it. Natalia’s brothers were frequently arrested and sometimes jailed for their activities. Guiseppe Levi was in time stripped of his position at the university and moved to Belgium.

Natalia’s brothers were members of the anti-Fascist organization Giustizia e Libertà (Justice and Liberty), the leader of which was Leone Ginzburg, a professor of Russian Literature at the University of Turin, with whom she began a relationship. 

Like her father, Leone was dismissed from his university position. He was under constant surveillance from Mussolini’s secret police and eventually stopped visiting the Levi family home, worried that he was putting the family in danger. Nonetheless, he and Natalia continued to see one another and were married in 1938. They had three children, the eldest of whom, Carlo Ginzburg, is now an eminent historian.

A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
A recent edition of one of Ginzburg's
most acclaimed works, Family Lexicon
Despite her own Jewish roots and her marriage to Ginzburg, Natalia was allowed to bring up her children largely without harassment. For Leone, however, it was a different story. Placed under precautionary arrest every time an important politician or the King, Victor Emmanuel III, visited the city, in 1941 he was sentenced to internal exile in the remote, impoverished village of Pizzoli in Abruzzo.  He and Natalia and their young family lived there until 1943, when he secretly moved to Rome to edit an anti-Fascist underground newspaper.

Mussolini was deposed but it did not mean the Ginzburgs could rest easy. When Nazi Germany invaded the peninsula, Natalia was determined to be reunited with her husband and managed to persuade a German army unit to take her to Rome, claiming she and her children were refugees who had lost their papers.

They found Leone and went into hiding but it was not long before he was arrested. This time their separation was permanent. By the following February, Leone had died aged 34 after suffering a cardiac arrest in the Rome prison of Regina Coeli, having been subjected to brutal interrogation and torture.

At this time, Natalia Ginzburg’s career as a writer was in its infancy, although she was already the author of a novel published under a pseudonym in 1942 at a time when Mussolini’s race laws barred Jewish authors from seeing their work in print.

After the war, she worked at the Turin publishing house of Giulio Einaudi - of which Leone had been a founder - and became acquainted with some of the leading figures of postwar Italian literature, including Carlo Levi, Primo Levi, Pavese and Italo Calvino.  It was Pavese who is said to have given her the most encouragement to write more herself.

Her own output increased after she was married for a second time, in 1950, to Gabriele Baldini, an academic. They lived in Rome and for many years were at the centre of the city’s cultural life, Ginzburg’s novels, short stories, essays and plays attracting much critical acclaim. Having become friends with the director and writer Pier Paolo Pasolini, she even accepted a small part in his 1964 film, The Gospel According to St Matthew, in which he followed the neorealist tradition of using non-professional actors.

Ginzburg won some of Italy’s most prestigious literary awards, including the Strega Prize for Lessico famigliare and the Bagutta Prize for La famiglia Manzoni.  

She and Baldini had two children, although both were born with severe disabilities and the first died after only a year. Baldini himself died young, in 1969 at the age of only 49.

Ginzburg was never far from active politics. Like so many anti-Fascists from the wartime period, she was at times a member of the Italian Communist Party, although when she was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1983 it was as an independent.

Her literary output began to slow down in the 1980s. She died in Rome in 1991 at the age of 75.

Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Piazza San Carlo in Turin, looking towards the
churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo
Travel tip:

The original offices of the Einaudi publishing company in Turin were in Via dell'Arcivescovado, a few steps from the beautiful Piazza San Carlo, one of the city's main squares. A stunning example of 16th and 17th century Baroque design, the large piazza is notable for the twin churches of Santa Cristina and San Carlo at the southwest entrance to the square and for the monument to Emanuele Filiberto, a 16th century Duke of Savoy, in the centre. Spectacularly lit up in the evening, the square is home to two of Turin's most famous coffee houses, the Café San Carlo and Café Torino, as well as the Confetteria Stratta, renowned for the exquisite pastries it offers. 

Piazza Municipio is the main square of the  Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Piazza Municipio is the main square of the 
Abruzzo village of Pizzoli
Travel tip:

Pizzoli was an impoverished village in is a remote, mountainous part of central Italy some 135km (84 miles) northeast of Rome at the time the Ginzburg family were exiled there in 1941. Nowadays it is a well-kept, lively small town popular with visitors to the area as a starting point for trekking holidays in the mountains of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park. Situated 15km (9 miles) northwest of the city of L'Aquila, Pizzoli is typical of the region in that it has the feel of a different time when life was less frantic. Its local quisine features pork and mutton in abundance, with thin skewers of salted, flame-grilled mutton called Arrosticini among its specialities.

Also on this day:

1602: The birth of Cardinal Jules Mazarin, ruler of France

1614: The death of Saint Camillus de Lellis, a reformed gambler who devoted himself to caring for the sick

1902: The collapse of the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice

1948: The shooting in Rome of Italian Communist Party leader Palmiro Togliatti 


19 September 2019

Italo Calvino – writer

One of 20th century Italy's most important authors

Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 but moved to Sanremo with his Italian-born parents in 1925
Italo Calvino was born in Cuba in 1923 but moved
to Sanremo with his Italian-born parents in 1925
Novelist and journalist Italo Calvino died on this day in 1985 in Siena in Tuscany.

Calvino was regarded as one of the most important Italian writers of fiction of the 20th century.  His best known works are the Our Ancestors trilogy, written in the 1950s, the Cosmicomics collection of short stories, published in 1965, and the novels, Invisible Cities, published in 1972 and If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, published in 1979.

Both of Calvino’s parents were Italian, but he was born in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana in Cuba, in 1923, where his father, Mario, an agronomist and botanist, was conducting scientific experiments. Calvino’s mother, Eva, was also a botanist and a university professor. It is believed she gave Calvino the first name of Italo to remind him of his heritage.

Calvino and his parents left Cuba for Italy in 1925 and settled permanently in Sanremo in Liguria, where his father’s family had an ancestral home at San Giovanni Battista.

His family held the science subjects in greater esteem than the arts and Calvino, a prolific reader of stories as a child, is said to have ‘reluctantly’ studied agriculture.

Encouraged by his mother, he joined the Italian Resistance during the later stages of the Second World War, having gone into hiding rather than sign up for military service in Mussolini's Italian Social Republic. Using the battle name of Santiago, Calvino joined the Garibaldi Brigades, a clandestine Communist group. He became a member of the Italian Communist Party, although he would leave it in 1957 following the Soviet invasion of Hungary,

Calvino's first novel was published in 1947, inspired by his time with the Italian Resistance
Calvino's first novel was published in 1947,
inspired by his time with the Italian Resistance
After the war he settled in Turin and gained a degree in Literature while working for the Communist periodical L’Unità and the Einaudi publishing house, where he came into contact with Cesare Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Norberto Bobbio and other left-wing intellectuals and writers.  From 1959 to 1966 Calvino co-edited the left-wing magazine Il Menabò di Letteratura.

Calvino’s first novel was inspired by his time in the Italian Resistance. Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno - The path to the nest of spiders - published in 1947, sold more than 5000 copies and won the Premio Riccione prize.

He began writing fantasy and allegory in the 1950s. Il visconte dimezzato - the Cloven Viscount - was published in 1952, Il barone rampante - The baron in the Trees - in 1957 and Il cavaliere inesistente - the Nonexistent Knight - in 1959. These stories were to bring him international acclaim.

In an interview, Calvino once said that the scenery around his family home in Sanremo continued to pop out in his books.

In 1962 Calvino married Argentinian translator Esther Judith Singer in Havana. During the trip to Cuba he visited his birthplace and was introduced to Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. 

Before meeting Singer he had had an affair with Italian actress Elsa De Giorgi, a married, older woman, which caused something of a scandal.

Calvino's tomb in the village cemetery at Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany
Calvino's tomb in the village cemetery at
Castiglione della Pescaia in Tuscany
Calvino and his wife settled in Rome, where their daughter, Giovanna, was born.  Later, they would move to Castiglione della Pescaia on the Tuscan coast. He was inspired by the beauty of the area and his last full length novel, Palomar,  published in 1983, is set in the village.

In later life, Calvino visited Mexico, Japan and the US, where he gave a series of lectures in different American towns.  During the summer of 1985, Calvino prepared a series of texts on literature to be delivered at Harvard University in the autumn.

But in early September he was admitted to the ancient hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena where he died on 19 September of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged 61.  His lecture notes were published posthumously in Italian in 1988. They were published in English in 1993 as Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

At the time of his death he was the most translated contemporary Italian writer.  He is buried at the cemetery in Castiglione della Pescaia.

The seaside resort of Sanremo was one of Italy's earliest destinations for foreign tourists
The seaside resort of Sanremo was one of Italy's earliest
destinations for foreign tourists
Travel tip:

Sanremo is an historic Italian holiday destination that was one of the first to benefit when the phenomenon of tourism began to take hold in the mid-18th century, albeit primarily among the wealthy. Several grand hotels were established and the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia was among the European royals who took holidays there. The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize, made it his permanent home. The Italian Riviera resort is also famous as the home of the Sanremo Music Festival, the prestigious song contest that has been held every year since 1951 and which has launched the careers of many stars.

Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin, the city in Piedmont where Calvino lived after the Second World War
Piazza Castello is at the heart of royal Turin, the city in
Piedmont where Calvino lived after the Second World War
Travel tip:

Turin, where Calvino settled after his wartime experiences, is the capital city of the region of Piedmont in the north of Italy. It is an important business centre, particularly for the car industry, and has a rich history linked with the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of royal Turin. Turin Cathedral was built between 1491 and 1498 in Piazza San Giovanni in Turin. The Chapel of the Holy Shroud, where the Turin Shroud is kept, was added in 1668. Some members of the House of Savoy are buried in the cathedral while others are buried in the Basilica di Superga on the outskirts of the city.

More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced the great American writers to Fascist Italy

The philosophy of Norberto Bobbio

Giuseppina Tuissa, heroine of the Garibaldi Brigades

Also on this day:

1898: The birth of Giuseppe Saragat, Italy's fifth president

1941: The birth of Umberto Bossi, fiery former leader of Lega Nord

The Festival of San Gennaro


9 January 2019

Norberto Bobbio - political philosopher

Intellectual regarded as foremost 20th century commentator

Norberto Bobbio was a university professor and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio was a university professor
and a forthright political commentator
Norberto Bobbio, a philosopher of law and political sciences who came to be seen as one of Italy’s most respected political commentators in the 20th century, died on this day in 2004 in Turin, the city of his birth.

He was 94 and had been in hospital suffering from respiratory problems. His funeral was attended by political and cultural leaders including the then-president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.  He had been writing essays well into his 90s, despite for much of his life suffering from bouts of what was described as “fatigue and melancholy”.

His extensive catalogue of work spanned almost seven decades of Italian political life and societal change from the rise of Fascism in the 1930s to the second premiership of Silvio Berlusconi, of whom he was an outspoken critic.

For much of his career, Bobbio was a professor at the University of Turin, where he was chair of philosophy of law from 1948 and, from 1972, of the faculties of legal and political philosophy and political science.

He was made a Life Senator in 1984, although he stayed away from playing an active role in Italian politics after failing to gain election to the parliament of the new Republic in 1946, standing on a liberal-socialist ticket.  Later he confessed that he was much relieved when a move to make him President in the 1990s did not succeed.

Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin  intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Bobbio was part of a famous group of Turin
intellectuals who opposed Fascism in the 1930s
Many of his books and collections of essays are regarded as seminal works, but among them The Future of Democracy: A Defence Of The Rules Of The Game (1984), State, Government and Society (1985), The Age of Rights (1990) and Right and Left (1994) are considered to have particular importance.

Right and Left was an analysis of left-right political distinctions, in which he argued that the incompatibility of the two poles boiled down to the Left's belief in attempting to eradicate social inequality, set against the Right regarding most social inequality to be the result of inherent natural inequalities, and seeing attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.

Bobbio was born into a middle-class Turin family, the son of a doctor  whose attitude to Fascism was that, set against Bolshevism, which was gathering pace in Italy at the time, it was the lesser of two evils.

His own political thinking was influenced by the group of friends he made at the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio in Turin, where he became part of the intellectual movement that included the novelists Cesare Pavese and Carlo Levi, his future publisher Giulio Einaudi, the critic Leone Ginsburg and the radical politician Vittorio Foa. 

Bobbio argued in favour of the Historic Compromise between the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
Bobbio argued in favour of the 'historic compromise' between
the Communists and the Christian Democrats in the 1970s
They were all involved with the anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale - Social Reform - published by Einaudi’s father, Luigi, a future President of Italy - that Mussolini had closed down and spent several weeks in jail as a result.

He was imprisoned again in 1943, this time by the Germans, after the illegal political party of which he was a member, the Partito d’Azione - the Action Party - became involved in resistance activity. Arrested in Padua, he was released after three months.

The party - for a while the main non-Communist opposition group - lacked popular support, however, and Bobbio failed in his bid for election to the assembly of the new Republic in 1946, after which he devoted himself to his academic life, taking positions at various universities teaching the philosophy of law.

Throughout his intellectual life, he was a strong advocate of the rule of law, and although by nature a socialist, he was opposed to what he perceived as the anti-democratic, authoritarian elements in most of Marxism. He was a strong supporter of the so-called 'historic compromise' - the proposed coalition of the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democrats in the strife-torn 1970s - and a fierce critic of Silvio Berlusconi, whom he accused of presiding over a moribund political system that lacked idealism and hope.

Turin is famous for its beautiful royal palaces
Travel tip:

Turin was once the capital of Italy. It has a wealth of elegant streets and beautiful architecture, yet over the years has tended to be promoted less as a tourist attraction than cities such as Rome, Florence, Milan and Venice, possibly because of its long association with the Savoy family and subsequently the Italian royal family, who were expelled from Italy in disgrace when Italy became a republic at the end of the Second World War, their long-term unpopularity with some sections of Italian society compounded by their collaboration with Mussolini’s Fascists. Yet there is much to like about a stay in Turin. Aside from the splendour of the royal palaces, it has an historic café culture, 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in northern Italy.

Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Rivalta di Torino, looking towards the castle
Travel tip:

Norberto Bobbio was laid to rest at the cemetery in Rivalta di Torino, a small town in Piedmont, located about 14km (9 miles) southwest of Turin in the Sangone valley.  It is home to a medieval castle, which formed the heart of what was then a village in the 11th century. The castle and the village were owned by the Orsini family - long-standing Italian nobility dating back to medieval times - until 1823. In 1836, the French writer Honoré de Balzac was guest at the castle of its new owner, Count Cesare Benevello, as is recorded in an inscription on the wall.

More reading:

How Cesare Pavese introduced Italian readers to the great American novelists

Why the murder of Aldo Moro ended hopes for a 'historic compromise'

Giulio Einaudi - the publisher who defied Mussolini

Also on this day:

1878: The death of King Victor Emmanuel II

1878: Umberto I succeeds Victor Emmanuel II

1944: The birth of architect Massimiliano Fuksas


2 January 2019

Giulio Einaudi - publisher

Son of future president who defied Fascists

Giulio Einaudi ran his publishing company for more than 60 years
Giulio Einaudi ran his publishing company
for more than 60 years
Giulio Einaudi, who founded the pioneering publishing house that carries the family name, was born on this day in 1912 in Dogliani, a town in Piedmont.

The son of Luigi Einaudi, an anti-Fascist intellectual who would become the second President of the Italian Republic, Giulio was also the father of the musician and composer Ludovico Einaudi.

Giulio Einaudi’s own political leanings were influenced by his education at the the Liceo Classico Massimo d'Azeglio, where his teacher was Augusto Monti, a staunch opponent of Fascism who was imprisoned by Mussolini’s regime in the 1920s.

After enrolling at the University of Turin to study medicine, Einaudi decided to abandon his studies to work alongside his father Luigi in publishing an anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale - Social Reform.

His own contribution was to establish a cultural supplement, edited by the writer and translator Cesare Pavese, which so offended Mussolini that in 1935 the magazine was closed down and the staff arrested.

Einaudi spent 45 days in jail along with Pavese and several writers who would later become celebrated names, including Vittorio Foa, Massimo Mila, Carlo Levi and Norberto Bobbio.

The publisher's famous ostrich logo is still on the cover of every Einaudi publication
The publisher's famous ostrich logo is still on
the cover of every Einaudi publication
By that time, in collaboration with Mila, Bobbio, Pavese and Leone Ginzburg, he had founded the publishing house - Giulio Einaudi Editore - whose offices were on Via Arcivescovado in Turin. Critics who later accused Einaudi of being a literary mouthpiece for the Italian Communist Party (PCI), rather than a genuinely independent publisher, would delight in pointing out that it was the same building that had hosted L'Ordine Nuovo - The New Order - the journal published by the Marxist philosopher and PCI founder Antonio Gramsci.

The first book to carry the company’s famous ostrich emblem - borrowed from the magazine - was a translation - by his father - of Henry A. Wallace's What America Wants, an analysis of New Deal economics. Mussolini apparently approved of the substance of the book but not of Luigi Einaudi’s foreword.

Luigi Einaudi, Giulio's father, was the 2nd President of the Italian Republic
Luigi Einaudi, Giulio's father, was the
2nd President of the Italian Republic
Despite Giulio’s imprisonment and the Fascist Party verdict that the purpose of Giulio Einaudi Editore was “disseminating anti-fascist publications and gathering together anti-fascist elements from the intellectual world”, the publishing house survived the war years.

This was despite being damaged in bombing raids on Turin and Giulio’s decision to decamp temporarily to Switzerland, from where he returned to support the resistance movement in Piedmont.

Once the Fascists had been overthrown, the business grew quickly. Einaudi was well placed to feed the literary needs of a nation embracing a left-wing renaissance and although the publisher had a close relationship with many leading members of the PCI, many literary historians have argued that Einaudi was already the father of left-wing culture in Italy and that his writers influenced the PCI rather than other way round.

At the same time, Einaudi had an eye for spotting young talent, publishing authors such as Natalia Ginsburg, Elsa Morante, Italo Calvino and Primo Levi while they were still unknown.

When Giulio Einaudi Editore celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1983, it had published more than 5,000 titles, its back catalogue representing a history of 20th century Italian literature, with Carlo Emilio Gadda, Leonardo Sciascia and the poet Eugenio Montale also among his authors.

The composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi is Giulio's son
The composer and pianist Ludovico
Einaudi is Giulio's son
In addition to original fiction and non-fiction, Einaudi published translations of Goethe and Defoe and was the first to publish the studies in psychology of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in Italian.

Known as Il principe (the prince) because of his distinguished appearance, his biggest failing was that he spent money as if he were royalty. Seldom would he reject a project on the grounds of cost and years veering from one financial crisis to another came to head in 1994, when his bankers ran out of patience and the need for outside investment led to the company being taken over by Mondadori, the publishing conglomerate controlled by the right-wing former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, although Einaudi remained chairman.

Einaudi enjoyed Rome as much as Turin and died at his country house just outside the capital in April 1999, aged 87. He was survived by his wife, Renata Aldrovandi, sons Mario, Riccardo and Ludovico, and a daughter, Giuliana.

Dogliani's imposing church of Sant Quirico and Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino
Dogliani's imposing church of Sant Quirico and
Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino
Travel tip:

Einaudi’s home town of Dogliani, where there has been a settlement since pre-Roman times, is about 60km (37 miles) southeast of Turin in the Langhe, a picturesque area of hills to the south and east of the Tanaro river famous for wines, cheeses and truffles. As well as being the home of the red wine Dolcetto di Dogliani, the town is famous for the annual tradition of Presepio Vivente, in which around 350 people take part in a living nativity scene in the medieval streets.  The town is also notable for the magnificent parish church of Santi Quirico and Paolo, designed by Giovanni Battista Schellino. The Einaudi home, a farmhouse just outside the town called San Giacomo, was acquired by Luigi Einaudi in 1897 and became the heart of the family’s wine-producing business.

Rome's Isola Tiberina used to be one of Giulio Einaudi's favourite places in the capital
Rome's Isola Tiberina used to be one of Giulio Einaudi's
favourite places in the capital
Travel tip:

When in Rome, Giulio Einaudi would often be spotted at a table outside a cafe in Piazza Navona or, in the summer months, on the Isola Tiberina, situated in the bend in the Tiber that wraps around the Trastevere district, with which it is connected by the Ponte Cestio. A footbridge allows access from the other bank of the river.  The island was once the location of an ancient temple to Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine and healing, and in modern times the Fatebenefratelli Hospital, founded in the 16th century. The 10th century the Basilica of St. Bartholomew is also located on the island, which is just 270m (890ft) long and 67m (220ft) wide.

Find a hotel in Rome with TripAdvisor

More reading:

Cesare Pavese, the author whose translations introduced Italy to the great American writers of the 20th century

How the murder Giacomo Matteotti changed the mind of Luigi Einaudi

Antonio Gramsci - the Communist intellectual Mussolini could not gag

Also on this day:

533: Pope John John II is the first pontiff not to us his own name

1462: The birth of painter Piero di Cosimo

1909: The birth of mountaineer Riccardo Cassin


9 September 2017

Cesare Pavese - writer and translator

Author introduced great American writers to Fascist Italy

Cesare Pizzardo translated the works of many American novelists
Cesare Pavese translated the works
of many American novelists
Cesare Pavese, the writer and literary critic who, through his work as a translator, introduced Italy to the Irish novelist James Joyce and a host of great American authors of the 20th century, was born on this day in 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, a town in Piedmont about 60km from Turin.

Pavese would become an acclaimed novelist after the Second World War but was frustrated for many years by the strict censorship policies of Italy’s Fascist government.

It is thought he devoted himself to translating progressive English-language writers into Italian as the best way by which he could promote the principles of freedom in which he believed.

Pavese’s translations would have given most Italians they first opportunity to read writers such as Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Charles Dickens, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, John Dos Passos and Daniel Defoe, as well as Joyce, who would ultimately spend many years living in Italy.

The son of Eugenio Pavese, an officer of the law courts in Turin, Cesare had a fractured childhood. His father died when he was only six and his mother, Consolina, is said to have shown him little affection, as a result of which he grew up learning how to fend for himself.

He was born in Santo Stefano Belbo, situated in a picturesque vine-growing area east of Alba in southern Piedmont, because his parents were staying at their holiday home there when his mother went into Labour.  As soon as he was old enough, he moved to Turin and attended the lyceum – the Licio Classico Massimo d’Azeglio – where he was taken under the wing of the Italian anti-Fascist intellectual Augusto Monti.

Pavese hid in the hills outside Turin during the Second World War occupation of the city by German soldiers
Pavese hid in the hills outside Turin during the Second
World War occupation of the city by German soldiers
Monti was later imprisoned by the regime for his vociferous opposition, a fate that would befall Pavese not long after he had left the University of Turin, where he was mentored by Leone Ginzburg, husband of the author Natalia Ginzburg.

He had begun an affair with Tina Pizzardo, a young Communist he met at the sparsely-attended anti-Fascist meetings he used to frequent, and agreed for her to use his address as somewhere to which she could have correspondence delivered because her own movements were under surveillance.

However, when the authorities intercepted letters from Altiero Spinelli, a jailed anti-Fascist dissident, and found they were addressed to Pavese’s apartment, he was arrested and sent to a prison at Brancaleone in Calabria, almost 1,400km (870 miles) from Turin.

Pavese later wrote a book about his ordeal, although for many years his work remained unpublished by his own choice, rather than it be censored.  When a volume of his poetry was published during his incarceration, a number of poems were deleted by the Fascist authorities.

On his return to Turin after a little more than a year in jail, he found that Pizzardo had begun another relationship and countered his sadness by throwing himself into his work, again mainly in translating.  He became a close associate of Giulio Einaudi – father of the pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi and son of the politician Luigi Einaudi – with whom he helped establish the Einaudi publishing house. Natalia Ginzburg also worked there.

The young communist Tina Pizzardo, with whom Pavese had an affair
The young communist Tina Pizzardo,
with whom Pavese had an affair
Pavese was conscripted to fight in Mussolini’s Fascist army but avoided front-line action because he suffered from asthma. Instead, he was confined to a military hospital for six months.

In his absence, German troops occupied Turin and on returning to civilian life when he was discharged on health grounds Pavese went into hiding in the hills around Serralunga di Crea, near Casale Monferrato, where he remained between 1943 and 1945.

Most of Pavese’s work, mainly short stories and novellas, was published by Einaudi, appearing between the end of the Second World War and his death. In that time he was a member of the Italian Communist Party and worked on the party’s newspaper L’Unità.

The main character in many of Pavese’s stories was often a loner, whose relationships with both men and women tended to be short-lived. The stories are often bleak yet he was admired for the tautness of his prose, which was favourably compared to that of Ernest Hemingway.

They tended to draw comparison with his own life. As well as his affair with Pizzardo, whom he felt deserted him, he had a brief relationship after the war with Constance Dowling, an American actress, but that too failed and is seen to have been a contributory factor in his death at the age of only 41.

It came at a moment when he appeared to be at the height of his career, hailed as one of Italy’s greatest living writers.

Works such as La casa in collina (The House on the Hill) and Il carcere (The Prison), which were published as a two-novella volume entitled Prima che il gallo canti (Before the Cock Crows) and based in his experiences in prison, were regarded as confirming his genius, as were Il Compagno (The Comrade), Dialoghi con Leucò (Dialogues with Leucò) - philosophical dialogues between classical Greek characters – and La luna e i falò (The Moon and the Bonfires), which he dedicated to Dowling.  

In 1950, he won the prestigious Strega Prize but two months after receiving the honour he was found dead in an hotel room in Turin, having swallowed an overdose of barbiturates.  Entries in his diary indicated that he had been profoundly depressed following his break-up with Dowling, which he took as a sign that he would never find happiness in marriage, or with other people.

The village of Santo Stefano Belbo
The village of Santo Stefano Belbo
Travel tip:

Pavese’s life is commemorated in several ways in Santo Stefano Belbo, where there is a museum housed in the house his parents owned in what is now Via Cesare Pavese, while the Cesare Pavese Foundation, which was established in 1973 and has its headquarters in Piazza Confraternita off Via Cavour, promotes not only the work of Pavese but encourages and supports other writers.

A plaque marks where Cesare Pavese lived in Turin
A plaque marks where Cesare Pavese lived in Turin
Travel tip:

In Turin, Pavese lived in the same building for 20 years on the Via Alfonso Lamarmora, one of the elegant residential streets in the grid of criss-crossing thoroughfares that characterises the centre of the city.  Via Lamarmora links Corso Stati Uniti with Via Sebastiano Caboto, bisecting the busy Corso Luigi Einaudi. There is a wall plaque marking the building that contained his apartment.