21 April, 2009
Cesare Pavese was an Italian poet, novelist, literary critic and translator; he is widely considered among the major authors of the 20th century in his home country.
Cesare Pavese was born in Santo Stefano Belbo, in the province of Cuneo. It was the village where his father was born and where the family returned for the summer holidays each year. He did start infant classes in San Stefano Belbo, but the rest of his education was in schools in Turin. As a young man of letters, Pavese had a particular interest in English-language literature, graduating from the University of Turin with a thesis on the poetry of Walt Whitman and translating American and British authors that were then new to the Italian public.
Pavese moved in antifascist circles. In 1935 he was arrested and convicted for having letters from a political prisoner. After a few months in prison he was sent into "confino", internal exile in Southern Italy, the commonly used sentence for those guilty of lesser political crimes. A year later he was back in Turin where he worked for the left wing publisher Giulio Einaudi, as editor and translator.
He was in Rome when he was called up into the fascist army, but because of his asthma he spent six months in a military hospital. When he returned to Turin, German troops occupied the streets and most of his friends had left to fight as partisans. Pavese fled to the hills around Serralunga di Crea, near Casale Monferrato. He took no part in the armed struggle taking place in that area.
After the war he joined the Italian Communist Party and worked on the party's newspaper, L'Unità. The bulk of his work was published during this time. Towards the end of his life, he visited frequently Le Langhe, the area where he was born, where he found great solace. However, love frustrations (Constance Dowling, to whom his last novel was dedicated) and political disillusionment led him to his suicide, by an overdose of barbiturates, in 1950 – the year in which he won the Strega Prize for La Bella Estate, comprising three novellas: 'La tenda', written in 1940, 'Il diavolo sulle colline'(1948) and 'Tra donne sole' (1949).
Leslie Fiedler wrote of Pavese's death "...for the Italians, his death has come to have a weight like that of Hart Crane for us, a meaning that penetrates back into his own work and functions as a symbol in the literature of an age." The circumstances of his suicide, which took place in a hotel room, grossly mimic the last scene of Tra Donne Sole (Among Women Only), his penultimate book. His last book was 'La Luna e i Falò', published in Italy in 1950 and translated into English as The Moon and the Bonfire by Louise Sinclair in 1952