Italo Calvino Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Italo Calvino (kahl-VEE-noh), Italian novelist, short-story writer, and critic, has been called one of the world’s best fabulists—for the fables he wrote as well as for those he edited. Calvino was born in Cuba, where his father, Mario Calvino, a botanist, was on an agronomy mission. His mother, Eva Mameli, was also a botanist. Although his parents were not able to interest him in a scientific career, Calvino’s intense feeling for nature and his passion for precise description are undoubtedly as much scientific as poetic; in his later years, he came to view the problems of science, literature, and philosophy as inextricably intertwined.

In 1940, as a compulsory member of the Young Fascists, Calvino took part in the Italian occupation of the French Riviera. Three years later, at the age of nineteen, he joined the Italian Resistance and from 1943 to 1945 fought the Germans in the Ligurian Mountains. At the end of the war, he settled in Turin, becoming a student of literature at the University of Turin. He graduated from the university in 1947, having completed a thesis on Joseph Conrad.

Soon thereafter, Calvino became an editor for the Einaudi publishing company, and he befriended the writers Elio Vittorini and Cesare Pavese. Between 1959 and 1966, Calvino also coedited with Vittorini a journal that elicited debate on the role of the intellectual in modern society. He contributed to other leftist publications as well. Calvino married Chichita Singer, a translator, in 1964; they had one daughter, Giovanna.

The troubled yet intense years of the antifascist movement and the aftermath of World War II were the backdrop to Calvino’s beginnings as a writer. The leading writers of postwar Italy, who had been prevented from writing about the world around them by government censorship, later began to draw upon their oppressive environment for their fiction; together, they formed the neorealist literary movement (which reproduced real situations using traditional methods). Calvino, however, was soon to...

(The entire section is 834 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born outside Havana, Cuba, Italo Calvino was two years old when his Italian parents, an agronomist and a botanist, returned to the ancestral farm in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera. The influence of their mature, enlightened skepticism is discernible both in Calvino’s art and in his life. Unconvinced by fascism, for example, Calvino deserted the army to join the Resistance when drafted in 1943, two years after enrolling in the University of Turin. His wartime experiences later provided much material for his pen.

The war over, he returned in 1945 to Turin to complete his degree. Altered by recent events and stimulated by his new environment, he made several far-reaching decisions: He changed his major from agronomy to English literature (his thesis was on Joseph Conrad), he began writing fiction, and he joined the staff at the Einaudi publishing house. There, encouraged by coworkers Elio Vittorini, Cesare Pavese, and Natalia Ginzburg, he became a member of the neorealist movement and also became increasingly active in the Communist Party.

Calvino’s earliest works focus on the war, and, although “slice of life” realism predominates in both his first novel and the short stories of Ultimo viene il corvo, his own proclivities directed his fiction into increasingly fantastic territory. The 1950’s saw some of his most original and popular prose, with the historical fantasy novellas—Il visconte dimezzato (1952; The Cloven Viscount, 1962), Il barone rampante (1957; The Baron in the Trees, 1959), and Il cavaliere inesistente (1959; The Nonexistent Knight, 1962), released in 1960 as the trilogy I nostri...

(The entire section is 695 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Italo Calvino was born of Italian parents in Santiago de las Vegas, Cuba, in 1923, but he spent his childhood and youth in San Remo, on the Italian Riviera. In 1943, at the age of twenty, he left the security of his middle-class background to join the partisans of the Italian Resistance against the Fascists and Nazis. Like many European writers of the postwar period, he joined the Communist Party and then left it in disillusionment, in 1958.

After World War II, Calvino finished his thesis on Joseph Conrad and completed his degree at the University of Turin. He subsequently became a member of the editorial staff of the Turin publishing firm Giulio Einaudi, which first published his novels and short stories. He lived in Turin until 1964 and then in Paris with his wife and daughter until 1980, thereafter residing in Rome.

Although he lived in Paris during most of the 1960’s and 1970’s, much of Calvino’s career reflects his involvement in Italian political, cultural, and literary life. His two years in the partisans’ resistance movement were the source material of The Path to the Nest of Spiders. He wrote often of local urban problems, using his experience as an election scrutineer to study poverty and alienation in the industrial regions around Turin in the postwar period (as in The Watcher, and Other Stories). The environments in which he lived—in particular, the Ligurian coast, the Alpine foothills, and the cities of...

(The entire section is 441 words.)