(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Carlo Levi 1902-1975

Italian novelist, memoirist, journalist, and travel writer.

A medical doctor, artist, and author, Levi was considered one of the most promising writers of post-World War II Italy. His best-known work, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli), is a chronicle of Levi's year of exile in Gagliano, one of Italy's poorest regions. The book—considered a travel narrative, memoir, political essay, and anthropological study—catapulted Levi to national prominence in Italy and inspired praise from critics and audiences around the world.

Biographical Information

Levi was born November 29, 1902, in Turin, Italy. In 1924 he received his M.D. from the University of Turin. He served in the Italian military in 1925, and founded the Italian Action Party, an anti-Fascist group that opposed Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, in 1930. He also established Guistizia e Liberta, an anti-Fascist periodical, in 1931. His political activities resulted in his arrest in 1934; a year later he was exiled to the remote and impoverished village of Gagliano, Lucania. His year in exile provided the material for his study, Christ Stopped at Eboli, which garnered much positive critical attention. After his release from exile, he emigrated to France, but returned to Italy during World War II. He continued his subversive activities and was rearrested in Florence on political charges in 1942. After his release he became editor of Nazione del Popolo and Italia Libera, two anti-Fascist, liberal periodicals. In the 1960s, he served two terms as an independent senator in the Italian senate. An accomplished artist, he had several one-man exhibits of his work in Europe and the United States. Levi died of pneumonia January 4, 1975, in Rome.

Major Works

Christ Stopped at Eboli remains Levi's best known and most highly regarded work. In 1935, exiled for his anti-Fascist activities, Levi spent a year among the peasants in Italy's poorest region. He recorded his experiences, as well as his impressions of the people, their customs, landscape, mythology, and architecture. Christ Stopped at Eboli is regarded as a multi-layered study of a region and its people. His other works also emphasized sociology, history, psychology, and politics. His novel L'Orologio (1948; The Watch) chronicles a few days among intellectuals in Rome shortly after the Italian liberation at the end of World War II. Using the symbol of a watch he inherited from his father, Levi explores the themes of time and man's relation to history. In La doppia notte dei tigli (1959; The Linden Trees), Levi records his impressions from a short trip to postwar Germany. Although the work is categorized as a travel narrative, Levi also strove to analyze the mindset of the German people.

Critical Reception

Today Levi's critical reputation rests on the worldwide success of Christ Stopped at Eboli. When it was published in 1945, it was praised for its compassionate and complex portrayals of the people of the region and their historical, political, and sociological milieu. His ability to provide more than just cursory character sketches earned laudatory reviews in Europe and the United States. There has been critical debate about the genre of Christ Stopped at Eboli; the book has been classified as novel, memoir, diary, sociological essay, anthropological study, and series of sketches. It garnered favorable critical and popular attention, and Levi was viewed as one of Italy's most promising authors in the years after World War II. His subsequent efforts, however, failed to earn such enthusiastic critical reaction.