Critical Context

By the end of his life, Cesare Pavese had achieved critical and public recognition for his literary work. Shortly before his suicide on August 27, 1950, he received Italy’s highest literary award, the Strega Prize. His life, work, and death made him into a cult figure, and admirers combed his novels for insight into the man. Pavese was as obsessed with work and solitude as Clelia and as compelled toward suicide as Rosetta. Like Becuccio, Pavese hoped through Communism to resolve the contradictions that warped individuals and society. Along with cult worship came world recognition of Pavese as a major literary figure, because he dealt seriously and directly with the central concerns of modern times. He may not have found solutions, but few have so clearly defined the problems. Among Women Only is a mature expression of his view of life and is considered one of his best books.

Pavese’s writing style provided a firm foundation for his enduring popularity. It is lean and spare, with terse, elliptic dialogue. Each word helps to create atmosphere, character insight, and emotion. Pavese was a master of building suspense; without setting his characters in outwardly dramatic situations, he showed the agonizing and intertwined struggle of Clelia as she faces the turmoil that arises when she assesses her life after returning to the scenes of her childhood; of Momina as she wrestles with the void of nihilism; and of Rosetta, who is pulled toward suicide while frantically looking for life supports to prevent it.

Pavese’s development of symbolic realism, his tight control of his material, and his fresh, terse style make him a writer to whom one can return confident of finding new levels of meaning. His ability to explore the major themes of human existence in the modern world maintains his popularity decades after his death.