Elio Vittorini Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The works of Elio Vittorini (vee-toh-REE-nee) fit uneasily within traditional genres. Vittorini was, by temperament and by conscious decision, an innovator. His novels, with few exceptions, first appeared in installments in literary journals and only years later were published in book form, extensively reworked and perhaps with changed titles. Given the historical and editorial circumstances surrounding their publication, Vittorini’s novels appear as works in progress and are fully integrated with his other activities as a writer, with his journalistic, political, and theoretical concerns.

Vittorini’s first major publication was a collection of eight short stories, Piccola borghesia (1931; petty bourgeoisie). “La mia guerra” (“My War”), which is first in the collection but last chronologically, foreshadows Vittorini’s later atmosphere and pattern of allusions, with the theme of childhood adventure set against the background of the experience of war and travel. “La signora della stazione” (“The Stationmaster’s Lady”) also is significant, in view of Vittorini’s later development of the theme of childhood on a sunny, mythical island.

In 1936, Vittorini published Nei morlacchi—Viaggio in Sardegna, a collection of notes he had taken on a trip to Sardinia. The book, which includes a prose poem, acquired its definitive title and format, Sardegna come un’infanzia (Sardinia as one’s childhood),...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Elio Vittorini was perhaps the most influential figure on the Italian cultural scene of the middle years of the twentieth century, from 1925 to 1965. While all of his work belongs to that period when Western culture experienced unparalleled social and political upheavals, it is also vitally relevant to the concerns of today.

To grasp the extent and significance of his impact on Italian culture, one must look at several facets of Vittorini’s activity. He entered the Italian literary world from an unusual direction, at least for those times; not from the well-to-do class, he attended a vocational school rather than a university. He knew the freedom of the young runaway, and he worked as a manual laborer. His teachers included his fellow workers, such as the printer who helped him learn English, and much of his learning was self-taught. He was an “islander,” an outsider, a dreamer of adventures whose first hero was Robinson Crusoe. Although he was a Sicilian, he escaped the deadening weight of the mores of an insular bourgeoisie that had oppressed Giovanni Verga and obsessed Luigi Pirandello. Later in his career, as a prestigious author and influential editor, he counseled and published young writers, among whom he always seemed at ease, with his enthusiasm and his passionate commitment to literature.

That commitment, and his lifelong curiosity about other cultures and literatures, prompted Vittorini to read texts from other traditions, in their original languages, and translate them. With other young intellectuals who clustered around the great publishing houses in Milan and Turin (foremost among them Cesare Pavese), Vittorini worked at opening up the closed world of Italy’s elite culture, which the Fascist censors wanted to insulate against outside influences.

Translating and publishing foreign texts was not only an intellectual...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bonsaver, Guido. Elio Vittorini: The Writer and the Written. Leeds, England: Northern Universities Press, 2002. Studies Vittorini’s work from an Italian perspective. Includes passages in Italian with English translations.

Heiney, Donald. Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968. A clear and insightful study of Vittorini as an “operatic” novelist.

Jeannet, Angela, and L. K. Barnett, eds. New World Journeys: Contemporary Italian Writers and the Experience of America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Includes index and bibliography.

Pacifici, Sergio. The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. A view of Vittorini’s place in contemporary Italian literature.

Potter, Joy Hambuechen. Elio Vittorini. Boston: Twayne, 1979. In the Twayne World Authors series. A full-length study.