Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Clelia Oitana

Clelia Oitana (kleh-lee-ah oh-ih-TAH-nah), the narrator, a successful couturiere, who moves from Rome to Turin, Italy, to open a fashion house. Clelia, who had escaped from the Turin working-class quarter seventeen years before, returns, at the age of thirty-four, as an attractive, experienced woman. She had been driven by ambition to get ahead but is now aware that the life she has created is largely empty. Clelia moves among the elite young people of postwar Turin and finds them to lead frivolous, meaningless lives, escaping from boredom by engaging in slumming expeditions and vicious gossip about one another. Clelia is not very happy with her life, but her work, at least, brings her satisfaction. Fulfilling work is something that her friends do not have.

Rosetta Mola

Rosetta Mola, the twenty-three-year-old daughter of a rich, proper Turin family. Rosetta, a serious, naïve woman, is fed up with the meaningless existence of her social group and yet unable to find an alternative. She attempts suicide the night Clelia returns to Turin. Clelia meets her and realizes that she is in trouble but has no answer to Rosetta’s fundamental question: When life and love teach you who you are, as Clelia has assured her it would, what do you do with what you have learned? The book closes with Rosetta’s death by suicide.


Momina (moh-

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The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Cesare Pavese’s beautifully depicted characters demonstrate his belief that while people cannot change fundamentally, they can become more knowledgeable about themselves. Clelia Oitana is strong and tough—streetwise and clever enough to escape the streets. She remembers the filth and stench of her neighborhood and the blighted lives of her childhood friends. She quickly corrects Rosetta, who romanticizes the lives of working girls. Clelia prides herself on her self-sufficiency. She remembers the frustration, even hatred, she felt as her father lay dying just before a pre-Lenten carnival season: “I thought that it was probably in that distant evening that I really learned for the first time that if I wanted to do anything, to get something out of life, I should tie myself to no one, depend upon no one, as I had been tied to that tiresome father.” Her mother reinforced the lesson: Believe in nothing and nobody. Clelia broke away from the confining environment of her youth and won success and recognition in Rome. While she did not rise by ruthlessly stepping on others, she consistently shed lovers and friends as she moved onward through life.

Returning to Turin, she examines the meaning of her life and measures the cost of her achievement. Morelli tells her that she has one great vice: She is addicted to work. He asks her: Why not enjoy life along the way; why condemn people for their pleasures; why find people worthy only if they have suffered and struggled up out of a hole? Clelia understands and accepts his indictment. She also believes that Morelli has overlooked her biggest vice, her pleasure in solitude. Solitude and work have not brought her happiness, but they do, usually, bring her peace. In any case, they are an expression of an inner self that she cannot change, though they leave her isolated from other humans....

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Biasin, Gian-Paolo. The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Cesare Pavese’s Works, 1968.

Flint, R.W. Introduction to The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese, 1968.

Lajolo, Davide. An Absurd Vice: A Biography of Cesare Pavese, 1983.

Lucente, Gregory L. The Narrative of Realism and Myth, 1979.

Rimanelli, Giose, and K.J. Atchity, eds. Italian Literature: Roots and Branches, 1976.

Thompson, Doug. Cesare Pavese: A Study of the Major Novels and Poems, 1982.