Francesco Jovine Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Jovine, Francesco 1902-1950

Italian novelist, short story writer, and dramatist.

Jovine is considered an important neorealist writer in the southern Italian narrative tradition. His primary concerns are the personal and historical changes that have affected rural life in Italy since national unification in the late nineteenth century and that have accompanied the rise of fascism in the ensuing era. Staunchly leftist and antifascist, his novels are each set in his native region of Molise, an area in south-central Italy which Jovine uses to demonstrate the sometimes violent social changes that occurred over the course of his lifetime. Of his three novels, the last, Le terre del Sacramento (1950; The Estate in Abruzzi), is generally regarded as his masterpiece and represents the culmination of Jovine's autobiographical and historical exploration of Italian life while revealing his skeptical but optimistic attitude toward the possibility of social and moral reform in postwar Italy.

Biographical Information

Jovine was born in Guardialfiera, Campobasso, in the Molise region of Italy in 1902. Relatively impoverished since birth, he left this provincial area in 1925 and settled in Rome. After obtaining a degree in philosophy he began his career as a teacher, and published his first novel, Un oumo provvisorio, in 1934. The work was generally well-received, but not until the appearance of his Signora ava (Seeds in the Wind) in 1942 did Jovine earn recognition throughout. Italy. After many years as part of the antifascist resistance in Italy during World War II, Jovine contributed to leftist periodicals in the postwar years and officially became a member of the Communist party in 1948. His best-known novel, Le terre del Sacramento, was published shortly after his death in 1950, and earned Jovine the Viareggio Prize.

Major Works

The title of Jovine's first novel, Un oumo provvisorio, means "A Temporary Man" in English. Set in the 1920s this philosophical and autobiographical work details the uncertainty and emotional isolation of a young man struggling to escape from his provincial roots. In Signora ava Jovine evokes the nascent era of Italian unification in his native region of Molise. Written during the period of fascist hegemony, Signora ava presents Jovine's highly critical attitude toward the results of the nineteenth-century nationalist movement in his home country. The title of Le terre del Sacramento, Jovine's third and final novel, refers to an area of land, again in Molise, seized from the Roman Catholic Church in 1867 and thus regarded with mistrust by the local peasantry. Coaxed by wealthy landowners to work the fields on the estate, the peasants in Jovine's novel encounter resistance from fascist authorities who succeed in killing Luca Marano, their leader and the work's protagonist. Despite Marano's death, Le terre del Sacramento is thought to reflect Jovine's hope for reform in rural Italy and belief that the nation might realize a period of spiritual rebirth after the defeat of fascism. In addition to these works, Jovine also produced several volumes of short fiction which bear thematic similarities to his novels in their depiction of social injustice and provincial life in Italy.

Critical Reception

Critics have generally accepted that Jovine reached the height of his literary powers only in the last ten years of his lifetime, and thus suggest that his finest work appeared only in the few years prior to his death at the age of forty-eight. His posthumously published novel Le terre del Sacramento, in particular, has been frequently cited as his greatest fictional achievement. As for stylistic developments in Jovine's writing, many scholars have observed that while his sentiments derive largely from political sources and events, Jovine's works are sustained throughout by the lyrical quality of his prose and by his unique blend of realism, social criticism, autobiography, and ideology.