Cesare Pavese died on the night between the 26 and 27 August 1950, in a room at the Hotel Roma in Turin.
«I forgive everyone and ask forgiveness from everyone. OK? Don't gossip too much about it» he wrote on a piece of paper just before swallowing a huge dose of sleeping tablets.
In the seventy years since that night, there has been a lot of gossip, but that's not all. Pavese has been greatly discussed, studied and loved: Pavese has become an Italian literary legend.
2020 will be remembered for a lot of things but perhaps if we narrow it down to literature, it will be the "year of Pavese". Einaudi recently published seven of his masterpieces with seven now introductions by authors like Nicola Lagioia, Donatella Di Pietrantonio and Paolo Giordano, with the book covers designed by Manuele Fior.
We re-read Pavese and examined the relationship between light and darkness in his novels. What more or less symbolic role did the contrast between day and night play in his works? We took a look at three of them.
La luna e i falò (The Moon and the Bonfires), Einaudi publishers 2020
The Moon and the Bonfires
«Dancing the whole night, for three nights in the square, and one could hear the cars, the cornets and the slam of air guns. The same noises, the same wine, the same faces from the past».
Published in April 1950, it was the last of Pavese's novels and probably the most well-known and loved. It is the story of Anguilla, a first-person narrator who, after Liberation, comes back to the Langhe after many years in America and returns to the places of her childhood, in search of her roots and in the company of her friend Nuto. In The Moon and the Bonfires, Pavese reflects on Fascism and the partisan war, but also reflects on more personal aspects linked to the quest to find one's place in the world.
This trip to the Langhe is a journey through space but essentially a journey going back in time. For Anguilla and her peers, as well as all those living in the villages - both in the past and the present in the story - night-time takes on an air of festivity. The war left deep scars in the people and the land: bodies can still be found in the fields of those who died during the resistance, but the young people dance and run through the streets and fields at night.
Then, there is bonfire night, on the feast of St. John: fires are lit all over the countryside to ingratiate a good harvest and the arrival of the rain. The night in The Moon and the Bonfires is folklore, peasant: it belongs to legend and tradition. It is a night when lights and fires are lit, a night for hope and life. Before or after the war, it's of little relevance: daytime is a time for working in the fields, for exertion. In the daylight, it is time to face reality; the darkness of the night brings with it, folkloric magic. In the intimacy of darkness studded only by the light from the bonfires, prayers are murmured for a better life.
night in The Moon and the Bonfires is folklore, peasant: it belongs to legend
and tradition. It is a night when lights and fires are lit, a night for hope and
life. Before or after the war, it's of little relevance: daytime is a time for
working in the fields, for exertion.
Tra donne sole (Among Women Only), Einaudi publisher 2020
Among women only
«So, I said that in Turin this thing happened to me, that I avoided people. Lots of painters, wind bags, musicians - a new one everywhere, not even in Rome were the people constantly partying like that. And Mariella who was desperate to act. It was like there had never been a war…».
Among Women Only was published along with The Beautiful Summer and The Devil on the Hills in a single volume that won Cesare Pavese the Strega Prize in 1950, a few months before his death.
In the words of Nicola Lagioia, who wrote the introduction to the new edition, in Among Women Only, «sequins rain down on tragedy». The novel is narrated in first person by Clelia who returns from Rome to Turin (where she was born and grew up), to open a fashion house. Her days seem to be organised around what happens before and after sunset. During the day, Clelia works on her future plans. she oversees the work in her shop, choosing furnishings and so on. What happens at night, on the other hand, overturns the situation: the landscape around Turin changes, the curtain drops on a city under reconstruction (daytime Turin) and rises on one in ruins: the middle classes are restless and fret about organising parties and receptions that bore those invited; Clelia's painter friends hope, perhaps to reignite the avant-garde, but it is all on the brink of collapse, life seems on the verge of going over the cliff. Everyone is looking for fun but the wounds of war are still raw and nothing will ever be the same again. It is as though Pavese were declaring the end of the early part of the twentieth century, imagining well in advance the dark side of the boom (still in its early stages) where decadence and consumerism empty people's lives of meaning. Clelia's life and that of her friends - the other women alone in the novel - is marked by a cynical indifference that distances itself from any kind of illusion. Perhaps all that remains is to wait for morning, contemplate the light that shines through the shop window and look to the future.
Il diavolo sulle colline (The Devil on the Hills), Einaudi publishers 2020
The Devil on the Hills
«We were so young. I don't think I slept at all that year».
The beginning of The Devil on the Hills is a manifestation of youth. The story is that of three youngsters from Turin, university students and friends, who leave the city to go on holiday to the Piedmont countryside, where they have a number of adventures.
It is thanks to Poli, a descendent of high society who is slightly older than them, that the three youngsters are tempted by bad habits and transgressions.
The Devil on the Hills is a nocturnal novel: what happens in the darkness fills the space of adventure and discovery and drags the three youngsters towards a more adult, less childish era where rules are broken and boundaries overstepped. The narrator is torn between being drawn into this new life and a return to a childish, more reassuring period. This aspect, as Paolo Giordano points out in the introduction to the novel, is symbolised by the natural element, like the marsh where the youngsters lay naked in the warmth of the afternoon, to bask in the sun: «you will come to the marsh too. Here, we have no regard for anything. Nothing should be hidden from the sun». Again in this case, day and night play two contrasting, symbolic roles that describe two different aspects of life that are perhaps difficult to reconcile.
In the three novels we looked at, Pavese divides day and night into two clearly separate moments: in the light of day, it is time to face reality, and any encroachment into dreaming seems to be impossible; in the dark of night, the scenario changes and the human experience transforms into a theatre of illusions, a place of discovery and experimenting nurtured by a primordial symbolism.