Corrado Alvaro Essay - Critical Essays

Alvaro, Corrado


Corrado Alvaro 1896-1956

Italian novelist, short-story writer, journalist, essayist, playwright, and poet.

A prolific author of both fiction and journalism for nearly forty years, Corrado Alvaro distinguished himself as one of the foremost practitioners of verismo, an Italian movement of literary realism that paralleled French Naturalism. His first success came with Gente in Aspromonte (Revolt in Aspromonte), considered by most critics to be his masterpiece. Alvaro identified himself and was viewed by others as a writer who incorporated the differences and tensions between urbanized, wealthy northern Italy and rural, poverty-stricken, southern Italy into his work. A concern with moral questions, a sensitivity to the harsh life of the southern Italian underclass, and a belief in violence as a legitimate means for producing social change are hallmarks of his work.

Biographical Information

Born in San Luca, a small village in the southernmost region of the Italian province of Calabria, Alvaro was educated at Jesuit boarding schools in Rome and Umbria. While attending the University of Milan, from which he graduated with a degree in literature in 1919, Alvaro began work as a journalist and literary critic for two daily newspapers, Il resto di carlino of Bologna and II corriere delta sera of Milan. During World War I he served as an officer in the Italian army and wrote for the anti-Fascist paper II mondo. Alvaro's politics made made him the target of surveillance and finally forced him to leave Italy. During the 1930s he traveled widely in western Europe, the Middle East, and Russia, journeys he later recounted in his travel essays. After World War II Alvaro returned to Italy, where he continued to work for prominent daily newspapers in various capacities, including special correspondent, theater and film critic, and editor. He was elected secretary of the Italian Association of Writers in 1947, a post he held until his death in 1956.

Major Works

Alvaro's initial literary efforts did not enjoy great popularity, though critics have praised his first novel L 'uomo net labirinto for its depiction of alienation as an aspect of individuals and society as a whole. Alvaro's subsequent works, L'amata allafinestra, Gente in Aspromonte, La signora dell'isola, and Vent'anni established him as an important figure in Italian literature and. earned him a prize of 50,000 lire given by the periodical La Stampa at the recommendation of a jury that included noted Italian novelist and dramatist Luigi Pirandello. Gradually, Alvaro moved from works that treated individual lives to those that depicted the social and political plight of Italy's lower classes. In his later works, he broadened his focus to describe the effects of World War I on all levels of Italian society. Alvaro is noted for his skill in depicting the contrasts between a yearning for the simple, pastoral way of life, and the desire to achieve material success that lures people to urban areas. He is especially praised for his realistic, epic depictions of the Italian poor. The novels L 'eta breve and L 'uomo e forte as well as the diary Quasi una vita are often considered by commentators to be among his best works.

Critical Reception

Alvaro's novels and essays have been well-received by both critics and the public. In addition to prizes for individual works, he earned the Italian Academy Prize for the entire body of his writings. While some critics have noted that Alvaro's characters are sometimes vague or little more than collections of attitudes, particularly in later works, most have praised his ability to depict the conflicts between the rural and urban regions of Italy. Sergio Pacifici has noted: "The society depiced by Alvaro in Revolt in Aspromonte is a closed one, permits no failures, respects only success. The equation is unacceptable to our writer: he looks for understanding and compassion, even though he knows how rarely society exhibits them."

Principal Works

Poesie grigioverdi (poetry) 1917

La siepe e l'orto (novel) 1920

L'uomo nel labirinto (novel) 1926

L'amata alla finestra (novel) 1929

Gente in Aspromonte [Revolt in Aspromonte] (novel) 1930

Misteri e avventure (travel essay) 1930

La signora dell'isola (novel) 1930

Vent'anni (novel) 1930

Calabria (travel essay) 1931

Viaggio in Turchia (travel essay) 1932

Itinerario italiano (travel essay) 1933

Cronaca (o fantasia) (travel essay) 1934

Il mare (travel essay) 1934

I maestri del diluvio: Viaggio nella Russia Sovietica (travel essay) 1935

L'uomo e forte [Man Is Strong] (novel) 1938

Calfe dei naviganti (drama) 1939 Ii viaggio (travel essay) 1942

*L'etd breve (novel) 1946

Lunga notte di Medea (drama) 1949

Quasi una vita: Giornale di uno scrittore (diary) 1950

II nostro tempo e la speranza (essays) 1952

Settantacinque racconti (short stories) 1955

Ultimo diario (diary) 1959

*Mastrangelina (novel) 1960

*Tutto e accaduto (novel) 1961

La moglie e i quaranta racconti (short stories) 1963

*These three novels form the trilogy Memorie del mondo sommerso.


Peter Michael Riccio (essay date 1938)

SOURCE: "Corrado Alvaro," in Italian Authors of Today, 1938. Reprint by Books for Libraries Press, 1970, pp. 167-69.

[In the following essay, Riccio praises Alvaro's works for their depictions of the human spirit.]

Gente in Aspromonte by Corrado Alvaro had the distinction recently of carrying off the coveted prize of 50,000 lire offered by La Stampa of Turin for the best novel of the year published in Italy. That this book of Corrado Alvaro is worthy of such recognition is not difficult to understand if we pause a moment to consider the work of this young writer who hails from Calabria and spends most of his time in Rome trying to eke out a living by the use of his pen.

Alvaro first caught the public eye by a series of short stories that contained interesting cross-sections of the primitive and rustic life of his native Calabria. In L'Amata a/la Finestra, an earlier work, and in the prize volume Gente in Aspromonte, Alvaro offers a collection of Calabrian scenes colored with the sharp tints of an intense realism and of a deep melancholy which make the reading of them a delightful treat, especially if one compares these writings of Alvaro with those of the vast majority of his literary contemporaries. Furthermore, a perusal of Alvaro's work reveals a literary technique that is devoid of the superfluously decorative flourishes that have been the curse of so many Italian writers. The sharp, barren and rugged coast of Calabria and the hard, primitive and passionate life of the people are depicted in a style that enhances the beauty and charm of the literary pictures. And with what depth and effect does the pen of Alvaro dip into the very heart and...

(The entire section is 716 words.)

Jerome D. Ross (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "Nightmare Life in Death under Police State," in New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, August 29, 1948, p. 3.

[In the following review, Ross faults Man Is Strong for its vague characters and lack of suspense, but commends Alvaro's treatment of modern man's alienation.]

Nightly, in the dream state, the individual compounds his fears, guilts, and insecurity into installments of a shadowy autobiography. Corrado Alvaro makes use of this fact in his story of dictatorship's degradation of the individual. The modern police state thrives by instilling a thousand fears, ten thousand guilts, and the author has selected, as a device by which to present modern...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Charles J. Rolo (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: "Fear Hath a Hundred Eyes," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 182, No. 4, October, 1948, pp. 106-7.

[Rolo was an Egyptian-born American investment broker, editor, and critic who wrote several studies on Aldous Huxley. In the following excerpt, he praises Alvaro's depiction of the fascist state in Man Is Strong for its "anguished climate of nightmare and baleful unreason."]

Joseph Conrad's indictment of the tsarist autocracy—"the ruthless destruction of innumerable minds… of dignity, of truth, of rectitude, of all that is faithful in human nature"—sums up the ravages of modern fascism… Those ravages—that destruction of minds and human ties and the...

(The entire section is 628 words.)

Helene Cantarella (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "Cornered in Calabria," in The New York Times Book Review, June 17, 1962, p. 5.

[In the following review, Cantarella praises Revolt in Aspromonte for its compassionate portrayal of the struggles of Italy's peasants.]

There are two Italys. There is the prosperous, elegant, buoyant Italy of "the Italian miracle" that one hears about so much today in press and films. Then there is the other—the painful, bitter, eternal Italy of the peasants, particularly of the Southern peasants, as different from the first as day is from night. No Italian writer has more succinctly expressed the elemental anguish and frustrations of that second Italy than Corrado Alvaro,...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Alice Ellen Mayhew (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: "The Travail of an Indigent Shepherd," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XLV, No. 26, June 30, 1962, p. 25.

[In the following review, Mayhew hails Revolt in Aspromonte for its unsparing, passionate depiction of southern Italian peasant life.]

This short book is a minor classic, written with great economy and understated ferocity. It is a product of the Italian South, which, like our own, has an extraordinarily rich literary heritage. An unusual number of talented writers (three of the four Italian Nobel Literature Prize-winners) have dramatized its social and economic predicament and have vividly portrayed the barren terrain with its decaying manor,...

(The entire section is 711 words.)

Anthony R. Terrizzi (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Another Look at Corrado Alvaro's L'uomo nel labirinto," in Forum Italicum, Vol. VII, No. 1, March, 1973, pp. 23-9.

[In the following excerpt, Terrizzi offers a reconsideration of L'Uomo nel labirinto in the context ofAlvaro's subsequent work.]

Only after a decade from the death of Corrado Alvaro in 1956 did a first monographic study of his works appear, followed by a number of others in quick succession. Until then the recognition that the author had received from literary critics, although constant and generous, consisted mostly of reviews, commemorations and essays, dealing either with his multifaceted personality, or just one book, or merely...

(The entire section is 2500 words.)

Sergio Pacifici (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: "The 'Southern' Novel," in The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia, Southern Illinois University Press, 1979, pp. 47-78.

[Pacifici is an American educator, translator, and critic specializing in Italian language and literature. In the following excerpt, he discusses Alvaro's adherence to the tenets of the "verismo" school.]

The bulk of Alvaro's literary production, which ranges all the way from autobiography and poetry to essays and fiction, is often rooted in his native Calabria, particularly his own paese, the village where he grew up and which left such an impression on his sensibility. His more mature work, on the other hand, reveals a shift of...

(The entire section is 2894 words.)

Anthony R. Terrizzi (essay date 1981)

SOURCE: "Notes on Alvaro's Gente in Aspromonte," in Romance Notes, Vol. XXII, No. 2, Winter, 1981, pp. 236-41.

[In the following essay, Terrizzi examines the complex interweaving of realistic and mythic themes in Gente in Aspromonte.]

The publication of Gente in Aspromonte in 1930 brought Corrado Alvaro acclaim as a young writer of national significance. The short novel was well-received by the critics and suggested to them a direct derivation from Giovanni Verga's "verismo" and particularly from I Malavoglia. Alvaro had been writing for over a decade, and many critics had already decided that his inspiration was primarily two-fold: the world of...

(The entire section is 2078 words.)

Further Reading


Heiney, Donald. "Emigration Continued: Levi, Alvaro, and Others." America in Modern Italian Literature, pp. 126-45. New Brunswick, N. J.: Rutgers University Press, 1964.

Discusses Alvaro's short story "The Ruby" as an example of the use of a jewel as the symbol of the emigrant's view of America and the Italy to which he returns.

(The entire section is 54 words.)