Recognized by his contemporaries as one of the most talented and passionate Italian writers of his generation, Cesare Pavese wrote novels that were shaped by three major influences: existential philosophy, classical culture and mythology, and American literature. In The House on the Hill he combines all three to create a powerfully told, emotionally moving story that skirts around the edges of action, hinting at, rather than engaging in, the violence of war and the emotional struggle that are its central themes. Just as its narrator and central character, Corrado, avoids full participation in the violent events of his day, so the novel unfolds a story set against the backdrop of world war and civil war without any actual scenes of battle or combat.
From existentialism, Pavese took the theme of the importance of engagement in the world and the need for intellectuals to play a fearless, active role in the social and moral issues of the day. Pavese clearly believed that an intellectual who does not become positively engaged in the world, in particular through political or other practical action, is committing an act of betrayal; thus, Corrado’s stance of speaking against the Fascist regime and its Nazi supporters but not acting on his words is a betrayal. The extent of that intellectual and moral dishonesty is highlighted in the novel by Corrado’s other betrayals. He has earlier renounced his lover, Cate, and he later abandons Dino, her son (and quite probably his as well), when threatened by arrest by the Germans. Ironically, the threat of arrest is only a rumor, so that Corrado’s desertion of Dino is caused by only the illusion of danger, not its reality. Although physical cowardice is part of Corrado’s makeup, his true fault, at least in existentialist terms, is his moral and intellectual refusal to take a stand and become truly involved with life around him. It is not merely the struggle against Fascism and Nazism that he avoids but also real relationships with other human beings, most notably his lover and the boy who is likely his own child.
Pavese often sought to combine elements of Greek and Roman mythology and culture into his works, especially in his evocations of the Mediterranean landscape, with its resonances and allusions to...
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