Category Archives: Cesare Pavese

Cesare Pavese, American Ambassador

The International Harold Tribune has a story (not reprinted from the NYT, apparently) on the legacy of Cesare Pavese, an Italian novelist, essayist, and translator who committed suicide in 1950. His home in Santo Stefano Belbo has been converted into a museum, which is set to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth. The article pays tribute to Pavese’s own writing, but also makes a case for him being the prime mover in bringing American literature to Italian readers during World War II:

Pavese’s translations of American novels by Joyce [sic], Dos Passos, Stein, Steinbeck and Faulkner, to name a few, and essays on American fiction also had a significant ripple effect during the years of Fascist rule.

“During full Fascism we read his translations and followed his cultural battles,” said Raffaele La Capria, an Italian writer and another recipient this year of the Grinzane Pavese prize. “For a young boy, they opened the horizons of unpredictability, holding out the promise of political and spiritual freedom.”

Claudio Gorlier, a writer and one of Italy’s foremost experts in Anglo-Saxon literature, added that, “entire generations of young Italians discovered America” because of Pavese’s “splendid and modern” translations.

He was apparently hugely ambitious in his tastes for material to translate. In the introduction (PDF) to New York Review Books’ The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese, R.W. Flint suggests that such labor was a way to counter fascist indoctrination:

Pavese emerged from the conditioning of the Thirties, an era when the better part of Italian decency went gradually underground, speaking in his books a new language of his own: a terse, pungently oblique domestic language of “small” people living apparently small lives, the inflections of whose speech carry the full weight of the times. This kind of vigorous disguise, too vigorous for the muddled heads of officialdom, is an old Italian specialty, particularly in the north. During the Thirties and Forties, Pavese had translated some ten contemporary American novels, as well as Moby-Dick, Benito Cereno, Moll Flanders, David Copperfield, and Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.