Cesare Pavese Analysis

Other Literary Forms

Cesare Pavese was primarily a novelist. He wrote nine novels, beginning with Paesi tuoi in 1941 (The Harvesters, 1961). His nonfiction Dialoghi con Leucò (1947; Dialogues with Leucò, 1966) and the novel La luna e i falò (1950; The Moon and the Bonfire, 1952) are considered his masterpieces. Pavese is noted for dealing with classical myths and writing about characters from the countryside. R. W. Flint translated a selection of his fiction, and many of his works of fiction continue to be available in English.

Pavese was also a respected essayist. In his expanded edition of Hard Labor, published in 1943, he included two highly valued essays: “The Poet’s Craft” and “Concerning Certain Poems Not Yet Written.” His other essays were published posthumously as La letteratura americana e altri saggi, edited by Italo Calvino, in 1951. In 1970, they were translated in English by Edwin Fussell as American Literature: Essays and Opinions.

Pavese was also an accomplished translator of English works into Italian. He began with Sinclair Lewis’s Our Mr. Wrenn in 1931. He went on to translate such authors as Herman Melville, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and William Faulkner. His diaries and letters were also published.


Cesare Pavese was one of a group of writers to come to maturity during the mid-1930’s. He is noted for his anti-fascist efforts and his commitment to other left-wing causes, and he was even imprisoned for his activities. His first volume of poetry, Hard Labor, published in 1936 and expanded in 1943, considered one of his major achievements, has been translated into English by such writers as Margaret Crosland and William Arrowsmith. Several poems were censored by the authorities, a testimony to Pavese’s subversive political thinking. Pavese concentrated on prose in the years following World War II, but he returned to verse a few years before his death, first publishing a group of poems called La terra e la morte in a magazine. These poems have a stark, lyrical quality to them. In 1950, Cesare Pavese received the Strega Prize, Italy’s greatest literary award.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Cesare Pavese’s fame initially rested on his novels published in the 1940’s, including Tra donne sole (1949; Among Women Only, 1953) and La casa in collina (1949; The House on the Hill, 1956). Following his death in 1950, readers discovered his poetry, short stories, and such nonfiction works as studies of mythology and American literature. Volumes of his letters have been published, as well as his diary, which some critics consider his masterpiece: Il mestiere di vivere: Diaro, 1935-1950 (1952; This Business of Living: Diaries, 1935-1950, 1961), also known as The Burning Brand: Diaries, 1935-1950 (1961).


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Cesare Pavese’s work has received increasing attention in the decades following his death. Many readers consider him the greatest Italian writer of the twentieth century. Different groups admire him for different reasons. Historians treat his writings as a record of a period marked by revolution, war, and fascist suppression. Some fans have entered him on their roll of existential heroes, based on his literary explorations of despair and solitude and on his suicide at the height of his power. Literary critics see him as a master craftsman and an original talent who helped create a new Italian literature.

Pavese wanted to free literature first from the heavy hand of Italian literary and philosophical tradition and then from the suppressive hand of the fascist state. His goal was to create a new literature, based on new literary language and symbols.

Other literary forms

Although Cesare Pavese (pah-VAY-zay) is best known as a novelist, his oeuvre includes work in a number of other literary forms. Like many novelists, he began as a poet and continued to return to that genre throughout his career. His poems are collected in Lavorare stanca (1936, 1943; Hard Labor, 1976) and in Verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi (1951), among other volumes. Pavese’s poetry is also available in a comprehensive edition, Poesie edite e inedite (1962), which includes previously uncollected work, and English translations of many poems were published in 1969 in A Mania for Solitude: Selected Poems, 1930-1950. Pavese also published a number of short stories, some of which are collected in Feria d’agosto (1946; Summer Storm, and Other Stories, 1966) and Notte di festa (1953; Festival Night, and Other Stories, 1964); these stories, as well as previously uncollected ones, are also available in Racconti (1960; Told in Confidence, and Other Stories, 1971). Pavese also wrote works of nonfiction—Dialoghi con Leucò (1947; Dialogues with Leucò, 1966) and La letteratura americana e altri saggi (1951; American Literature: Essays and Opinions, 1970)—and his diaries and letters have been collected in several volumes.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Cesare Pavese’s fiction, which contributed significantly to the development of the modern Italian novel, reflects his intense, lifelong interest in American literature, in which he found the elements of local color, psychological and social realism, and cultural symbolism that he strove to incorporate into his own works. He employed these elements to construct an alternative to the convention-bound Hermetic tradition of his Italian predecessors, whose excessive, abstract formalism isolated art from life. Pavese became for many readers the greatest of all the Italian neorealists—that group of writers and filmmakers including such major figures as Ignazio Silone, Alberto Moravia, and Vittorio De Sica.

Pavese’s personal contribution to modern Italian literature is not limited to the aesthetic formulated in his own work, however, for he also conveyed the shift in literary values that neorealism represented through his translations of, and critical essays on, major American novelists and poets from whom—in Pavese’s case at least—these aesthetic values and precedents were in part derived. Pavese’s first translation, and undoubtedly his most important contribution in terms of its effect on his contemporaries, was of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), appearing in 1932. The intense and monumental effort Pavese devoted to this work is apparent in the numerous letters he exchanged with an Italian American friend, Antonio Chiuminatto,...

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Discussion Topics

Was Cesare Pavese a man born in the right place but at the wrong time?

Explain why a young Italian in Pavese’s circumstances might join first the Fascists and then the Communists.

What are the difficulties of a young twentieth century Italian poet using Walt Whitman as a model, as Pavese does in Hard Labor?

Examine the symbols indicated in the title The Moon and the Bonfire. Why is the bonfire a particularly useful symbol for Pavese?

Could Pavese’s characters resolve the loneliness that he himself never could resolve?

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Biasin, Gian-Paolo. The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Cesare Pavese’s Works. Translated by Yvonne Freccero. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968. This excellent study focuses on the importance of mythology in Pavese’s thinking and provides a guide to the major themes in his work.

Fiedler, Leslie A. “Introducing Cesare Pavese.” The Kenyon Review 16 (Autumn, 1954): 536-553. Fiedler is credited with introducing Pavese to the American reading public. He stresses his importance to the Italian and European literary world and places him in his world literary context.

Giobbi, Giuliana. “Pavese and Joyce: Exile, Myth, and the Past.” Journal of European Studies...

(The entire section is 439 words.)