(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

About midway through the novel, the narrator, Corrado, is walking through a war-torn section of the city of Turin. The city is braced for the violence inevitable at the retreat of one army and the advance of another. Cate, the woman with him, angrily accuses him of not understanding the suffering of the people. “’You people’ can’t refer to me,” he responds. “I’m alone. I try to be as alone as possible. . . . Only a man alone can keep his head.”

The remark encapsulates both the theme and the characteristic predicament of the narrator—his inability to understand and to commit to love. The major image in the novel is the house on the hill. The narrator goes to the house at the beginning of the book to live out the war as it rages in the valley and in the city below. News of the war is heard on the radio or from people who straggle in. From time to time the narrator descends, goes into Turin and witnesses the violence for himself.

The action of the book recalls the basic pattern of some of the poems in Hard Labor, especially “South Seas.” In the novel the narrator sets out on a kind of quest, but unlike that of “South Seas,” the quest is both a literal and metaphorical descent into violence and uncertainty. Like that of “South Seas,” the quest is also a search for meaning.

Part of that meaning is symbolized in the narrator’s uncertainty of his relationship with Dino, a young boy whom he...

(The entire section is 506 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The House on the Hill, set in northern Italy in the city of Turin and its surrounding hills, describes events in 1943-1944 as the Allies invade Italy, the Germans occupy it, various Italian governments claim authority, and armed partisans take to the hills. Anarchy exists outside the range of the guns of the nearest political authority.

The narrator, Corrado, ceaselessly moves between the city of Turin, where he teaches, and the nearby hills, where he lives in a villa owned by Elvira and her mother. His movement matches that of the city dwellers who go into the hills at night to escape air raids. There is a feeling of movement without change as Corrado seeks a peace that always eludes him. At night, Turin looks calm viewed from the hills; by day, the hills promise haven from dangers in the city.

In the first chapters of this relatively brief novel, Corrado introduces a number of characters who will be eliminated, one by one, from his life. Some of his friends have already been killed in the war or imprisoned by the Fascists. Several of his friends are anti-Fascist, especially Fonso, a young partisan who can commit himself to action in ways that Corrado cannot.

Cate, his lover eight or ten years earlier, reenters his life with her son, Dino. Corrado soon realizes that Dino is probably his child. He reestablishes his friendship with Cate and spends time talking, studying, and walking with Dino. Elvira, a forty-year-old...

(The entire section is 581 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Corrado is a teacher in Turin, Italy. A man alone, whose parents live in their distant village in the northern Italian countryside, he stays in a rented room in a house owned by an aged woman and her middle-aged, unmarried daughter. Corrado has no friends, and his only honest confidant is his dog, Belbo. As World War II continues into its fourth year, Allied air attacks increase in frequency and intensity, and during the nighttime air raids Corrado leaves his rented room in the city to find refuge in the hills outside Turin. It is during one of these air raids that Corrado by seeming accident stumbles upon an inn, Le Fontane, the house on the hill, where a convivial band of fellow refugees amuse one another with songs and stories. In the nights that follow, and soon after during the days, Corrado returns often to Le Fontane, finally making it his real residence, returning to Turin only to teach at his school and to stop by his rented room for necessities. It is also at Le Fontane that Corrado discovers Cate, a former lover. He learns that she has a son and that the boy, known as Dino, is also named Corrado; however, Cate stubbornly refuses to reveal whether the boy is indeed Corrado’s son.

Although his behavior displeases his Turin landlady and her daughter, Elvira, Corrado continues to spend more and more time at the inn, discussing politics and the war with the young and passionate Fonso, who supports the anti-Fascist partisans, conversing with Cate,...

(The entire section is 560 words.)