Ignazio Silone Silone, Ignazio (Pseudonym of Secundo Tranquilli)
by Secondo Tranquilli

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Silone, Ignazio (Pseudonym of Secundo Tranquilli)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Silone, Ignazio (Pseudonym of Secundo Tranquilli) 1900–

Silone, an Italian novelist of great power, is best known for Bread and Wine, his compelling fictional indictment of Italian Fascism. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

With his very first novels, Fontamara and Bread and Wine, Ignazio Silone won a following of readers who soon came to feel they were his secret friends. Silone could go almost anywhere in the world and find men who, having like himself experienced the failure of socialism, would immediately know how to register and value the muted slyness and sadness of his books, quite as old companions can speak to one another through a shrug or a smile.

For such readers, but surely for others, too, Silone's every word seems to bear a special quality, a stamp of fraternal but undeluded humaneness. It is really something of a mystery, which literary criticism with all its solemnities seems unable to penetrate: how a man who writes so simply and unpretentiously can nevertheless make everything he publishes uniquely his own. For almost four decades—the most terrible of our century, perhaps the most terrible in Western history—Silone has been a transforming presence: the least bitter of ex-Communists, the most reflective of radical democrats.

His work is wry, sometimes saturnine; sardonic, sometimes disillusioned. Brought up in the Abruzzi, he knows and loves the Italian peasants, but knows and loves too well for even a trace of sentimentalism. Educated in Italy, a nation cursed with the gift of rhetoric, he seems immune to all the enticements of verbal display. He can make small things (a casual gesture by a character, a quiet phrase of his own, a minor anecdote) into tokens of all the redemptive possibilities in this century of betrayal. He brings together in his writing the grit of the peasant and the fever of the intellectual, so that to read him is to encounter the oldness, the weariness of Europe: all those wise and tormented priests who keep moving through his stories, all those hunted and doubting revolutionists broken on the wheel of memory….

What moves us, I think, is the sense we gain that while no wiser or politically "more correct" than the rest of us, Silone is, both as writer and person, profoundly contemptative, with every problem, every doubt, every failure of this age of failed revolutions having become part of his inner being.

And there is something else: the miracle—for it is a miracle—of his relationship to the people about whom he writes, the peasants of Italy. Silone is entirely free of the false identifications and grandiloquent delusions of Populism; for while he comes from the people, he is no longer of them…. Yet in all his books he is utterly free of those sins of aristocratism which stain the work of so many twentieth-century European writers. The miracle of Silone's relation to the peasants lies neither in distance nor in immersion, but in a readiness to leave and return, to experience estrangement yet maintain affection, to know in himself both the relief of deracination and the steadiness of rootedness. In this balance of response there is at least as much desperation as affection. Silone cares neither to deceive himself nor others: he does not romanticize the peasant figures who, together with the heretical priests and dissident revolutionists, embody his notion of character as moral example. He knows these peasants too well…. Yet he believes in the peasants, at least in those potentialities of which they themselves are seldom aware. For Silone has learned how to wait, even for that which may never come. (pp. 280-82)

Fontamara is the one important work of modern fiction that fully absorbs the Marxist outlook on the level of myth or legend; one of the few works of modern fiction in which the Marxist categories seem organic and "natural," not in the sense that they are part of the peasant heritage or arise spontaneously in the peasant imagination, but in the sense that the whole weight...

(The entire section is 2,713 words.)