The Burning Brand Essay - Critical Context

Cesare Pavese

Critical Context

Pavese is recognized as a major figure in twentieth century Italian literature, with a devoted following that regards him as the best of the postwar writers. Many scholars will turn to Pavese’s diary to gain insight into the work of a major translator-poet-novelist. More readers will turn to it as an important record of a sensitive and intelligent man confronting a major problem of the twentieth century, how to go about “this business of living.” Pavese in many ways achieved the trappings of success. He won recognition in his lifetime for his literary work, winning the important Strega Prize only a few weeks before his death. He was a major figure in the Einaudi publishing house; he had loyal friends and fervent admirers; he retained a sense of place that eluded many modern intellectuals. Yet, as he wrote in 1936, he was “a man who has no idea how to live.”

His diary deserves close study, but to catch the full flavor of this solitary, lonely man it must be read in conjunction with his other literary work and with biographical studies of him. Pavese wrote about and lived the alienated, disjointed, and embattled existence many intellectuals are condemned to live in the modern world. Like Jean-Paul Sartre and others of his generation, Pavese struggled to find a path that allowed him to have personal peace, to create, and to get on with the business of living as a creative intellectual. He lost the struggle, and his diary reveals the battleground on which he waged his solitary fight for survival.