Vasco Pratolini Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Vasco Pratolini 1913-1991

Italian novelist, short story writer, playwright, autobiographer, and poet.

Pratolini's neorealistic novels of postwar Italy reflect the effects of fascism and communism on working people's lives. His vivid characterizations, his portrayal of real human emotions, and his stylistic skill allow his works to transcend the social and political milieu that he chronicled.

Biographical Information

The son of a working-class family, Pratolini was born in Florence, Italy, October 19, 1913. At the age of twelve he was apprenticed to a printer, and later he became a vendor on the streets of Florence. Throughout his youth he enjoyed the unique history and culture of the city, especially in the Santa Croce area, and read widely despite his lack of a formal education. After a period of illness in the mid-1930s, he began to write short stories and essays. Convinced for a time that fascism offered answers to the social problems of Italy, Pratolini eventually became disillusioned and ended his association with fascism in 1943. He produced novels and stories during the 1940s chronicling the rise of fascism and communism, beginning with labor unrest in the first decade of the century. Pratolini also edited an avant-garde literary magazine during the late 1930s and early 1940s and was active in the Partisans' resistance to fascism during World War II. Pratolini became a communist but resigned from the party following the Soviet crackdown on the Hungarian uprising in 1956, even though he retained his belief in pure Marxist principles. He died in Rome on January 15, 1991, while working on his final novel.

Major Works

Il quartiere (The Naked Streets), published in 1944, was Pratolini's first novel to gain wide public attention. Like many of his novels, it is set in the poor section of Santa Croce in Florence. The protagonists are teenagers who try to cope with the rise of fascism and communism in the 1930s. Cronache di poveri amanti (A Tale of Poor Lovers) appeared in 1947 and concerns a communist who inspires others to resist the attractions of fascism. Pratolini's Una Storia Italiana, a trilogy published between 1955 and 1966, covers seventy years of Italian history. The first of this trilogy, Metello (1955), set in 1902, relates the story of a bricklayer and his imprisonment for participating in a labor strike. Lo scialo (1960) and Allegoria e derisione (1966) continue the story through World War II. In 1963 Pratolini published La costanza della ragione (Bruno Santini), which tells the story of a Florentine laborer who eventually decides to join the Communist Party. During the 1960s, Pratolini, believing that a novel should reflect moral truth above all else, was out of the mainstream of many of his literary contemporaries, who valued form over content. He published little other than a few volumes of poetry during the last two decades of his life.

Critical Reception

In the early and mid-1960s only a few English-language critics reviewed Pratolini's works, pointing primarily to the writer's social criticism of fascist and post-fascist Italy. Frank Rosengarten's full-length biographical-critical work on Pratolini was the most extensive work of this kind. In the 1980s, Janice M. Kozma carefully examined the metaphorical implications of several Pratolini novels. Criticism in the 1990s veered toward the semiotic, as critics began to deconstruct the imagery in Pratolini's works. Although earlier, more ideological critics did not always appreciate Pratolini's willingness to reinvent himself over time, later reviewers have emphasized his artistic integrity in the face of the vicissitudes of politics and social change.