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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570

In October, 1935, Cesare Pavese made the first entry in his diary; he wrote his last note on August 18, 1950. He began the diary while imprisoned by Italian Fascists and ended it a few days before his long-contemplated suicide. During those years, his literary interests shifted from writing poetry and translating American fiction to writing novels. He rose from the obscurity of his early life to achieve national recognition of his literary accomplishments by the end.

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Readers interested in Pavese’s life will not find in his diary a record of his daily activities. He said that it contained the “shavings” spun off as he shaped his creative works. In his diary, he reflected on the theory and nature of poetry and prose composition, recorded his thoughts on the works of other writers, ancient and modern, and contemplated his own life as he searched for the sources of his creativity.

Despite Pavese’s characterization of his diary, it is more than the intellectual and abstract “shavings” thrown off as he polished his poems and novels. His diary entries were not important as a record of his activities, he noted, “but for the insight they give into the way I unconsciously live. What I say may not be true, but the fact that I say it betrays my inner being.”

The diary reveals much about Pavese’s “inner being,” and does so partly by its surprising omissions. It contains almost no description of his daily existence. Although his literary works revolve around the Piedmont hills of his birthplace, the peasant region to which he periodically returned for renewal, and the city of Turin, where he spent most of his adult life, there is little description or analysis of the meaning of either to his life. The diary contains little account of his friends and associates, often themselves important literary people. When he discussed his friends he was mainly concerned with how he appeared to them. Despite the fact that Pavese’s intellectual circle was composed of anti-Fascists and that he was arrested by Benito Mussolini’s police apparatus, and despite the fact that Pavese later joined the Communist Party, the diary contains almost no political commentary. There is little in it to establish his Marxist credentials. Rather, it shows why some of his Communist friends became uneasy with his lack of political commitment.

Pavese wrote in his diary regularly, sometimes making daily entries, but more commonly several a month. The form of the diary, regular entries of a paragraph or two, did not change over the years, but the tone did. In the early years, Pavese puzzled over aesthetic problems, making few references to personal matters, not even referring to the imprisonment he was suffering when he began the diary.

After 1936, the tone and subject matter changed. The diary began to reveal the passion of the man behind the analytical artist. He expressed the difficulty he found in managing “this business of living,” as the diary was titled when published in England. He used the diary to explore the problems he experienced with women, with love and sex, and to relieve his unrelenting obsession with suicide. When his personal life was stable, he returned to aesthetic problems, but during the increasingly long periods of crisis, Pavese engaged in ruthless examinations of himself as a human. The diary reveals that as an artist Pavese felt secure; as a man he found himself deeply flawed.


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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 56

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

Fiedler, Leslie A. “Introducing Cesare Pavese,” in The Kenyon Review. XVI (Autumn, 1954), pp. 536-553.

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

O’Healy, Aine. Cesare Pavese, 1988.

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

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