Beppe Fenoglio was born in Alba on the 1st of March 1922; during the last war he was a soldier in the Kings army and then an active partisan; after the war he was employed at an enological firm and coltivated the English literature, translating ancient and modern works, from Chaucer to Eliot. He spent his life between his work and his personal life; in 1960 he married Luciana Bombardi. In 1961 he had a daughter called Margherita. In 1952 he published his first work I ventitrè giorni della città di Alba; in 1954, the brief novel La malora; in 1959 Primavera di Bellezza. This novel enabled him to win the prize Prato in 1960; in 1962 he obtained the prize Alpi Apuane for the story Ma il mio amore è Paco, including Un giorno di fuoco in 1963. In 1962 he felt ill with lung cancer and died in the night between the 17th and the 18th of February 1963.
As a consequence they came out posthumous, thanks to his friends and to the scholars who searched in his manuscripts, Un giorno di fuoco(1963), which obtained the prize Puccini-Senigallia; Il Partigiano Johnny (1968), which obtained the prize Prato and La paga del sabato (1969).
Fenoglio is considered among the greatest representatives of Realism, but he also had the bad luck to not be pleasant to the Marxist critics, for that particular irony and unusual detaching with which he recalled his partisan experience.
His first volume, I ventitrè giorni della città di Alba, contains 12 stories born mostly from his experience of partisan, over that from his attention to the problems of the country life and the social situation, on which the Resistance had passed without almost changing nothing. The page in which the first parade of the partisan entered winning to Alba is described, could offend a Marxist for its desecration of the Resistance:
It was the wildest parade of the modern history: there was, only of uniforms, for one hundred carnivals. It made an impression without equal that simple partisan that passed dressed again of the gala uniform of colonel of artillery with the black frogs and the yellow stripes and around the waist the firemen's red and black belt with the big hook... all, or almost all, they brought, embroidered on their handkerchief, the name of battle. People read them as they read the numbers on the back of the running bicyclists; they read romantic and formidable names, that went from Rolando to Dinamite. With the men the supporters paraded, in masculine suits, and here someone among the people started to murmur -ouch poor Italy! -, because these girls had some faces and a walk that the citizens all started to wink them. The commanders, that on this point didnt make illusions, at the eve of the descent had given order that the supporters absolutely stayed on the hills, but those had said them to off and they had dashed in the city.
Its just the irony that underlines the artistic separation of Fenoglio, and that makes of a fact of chronicle of war a grotesque and dramatic story together.
Obviously the story is made dramatic when the partisan are forced to leave the city of Alba and to retire on the hills pursued by the large number of fascists. Anyway also in these pages Fenoglio doesn't avoid its humorous and grotesque points, close to those compassionate.
In his work his autobiographic circumstance is reflected, his experience of young intellectual, that matures the decision to be a partisan in a climate of overcomings and violences; it is not about a partisan story only, on the contrary it is a careful analysis on the maturation in a young intellectual of his taking of conscience of the political and human reality in dramatic and paradoxical circumstances.
In the collection, six stories tell some daily events of the city and of the country. They reveal the realistic stamp of his art, modelled almost on Vergas novel; and they also document the vision that Fenoglio had of life, considered as an endless war, since, also when the partisan war was ended, the time of peace was so plotted of cruelty to let they think about another war, that of the men for the job. This way in his stories, under the documentary appearance, the war, the Resistance, the love, the youth, the domestic affections, the same themes of the life in time of peace are all assimilated, brought everybody under a sign of violence.
The brief novel La malora (1954) talks about a country story. The represented world is still that of the Langhe, that gravitates to his ideal center, the city of Alba, here underlined as a kind of Mecca of the comfort, dreamed by the country poor people persecuted by the misfortune.
The novel is the personal story of the protagonist, Agostino, a farmer (orphan, his father died) forced to go out to service a stingy factor-sharecropper, a certain Tobia, to maintain himself and to help his brother Emilio in his studies of priest at the seminar of Alba.
The fiction had ever denounced similar conditions of country life in the industrious Piedmont. Now, thanks to Fenoglios art, we know that also in the proximities of Alba there are many poor people that sells their country children to the markets.
In 1959 Fenoglio published the novel Primavera di bellezza and, when the crisis of the Italian realistic movement was already in an advanced phase, he had the courage to still say the truth, proposing the thematic of Fascisms crisis and of the Resistance.
The ethic and material decay of the army after the 8th September 1943, and the hope of a new struggle with the formations of the first partisan groups constitute the subject of the novel. In the protagonist, an antifascist intellectual, studious of English language, able to understand the grotesque and the criminal of the fascist regime, the whole cultural internal world of Fenoglio is summarized: antifascist, student of the English language and literature, up to the point to think it his ideal language.
This youth, desolate and disappointed for the decay of our army, incapable to oppose to a few Germans at the moment of the armistice, tries to reenter in Piedmont, but at few kilometers to his house he joins a group of rebels. During an attack, while hes going to be killed, he feels the hand grenade, dropped by his friends, arriving, and he succeeds in smiling in the hope that the grenade could kill the Germans.
The collection of stories Un giorno di fuoco was published posthumous in 1963, and subsequently in 1965 with the addition of a brief novel, Una questione privata. There is an increase of the themes and of the existential problems of Fenoglio, that, always remaining in the limits of the economic violence and of the partisan experience, doesn't exclude the social polemic at all. In Un giorno di fuoco the resigned humility of the protagonists of the Malora explodes in a crazy massacre of men on which it is necessary to investigate, to understand the analysis that he does on the society that is responsible of the trauma of social and economic violence, that are reflected in the violent behavior of its children. Close to these themes of violence there are those of the love, that however suffers the terrible economic violence of the life too..
Both the themes of war and love are well woven in a perfect narrative and dramatic unity in the brief novel Una questione privata, set in the climate of the partisan war. The beauty and the originality of this novel consists in the fact that" the two motives - that loving and that of the Resistance - are sustained and illuminated one the other, in a really rare fusion to be in stories of this kind" (Salinari, quotation drawn from Giacalone,ibidem,pag.1031). The novel proposes an existential problem of dramatic obsession clearly. The partisan Milton, protagonist of the novel, needs Fulvias love to accept life and to run towards the death. The world and the environment of the partisans, with all the ugliness that it includes, appears him as the objective representation of the rottenness and of the betrayal that life introduces him in its true reality; only the certainty of her love, the purity of Fulvias love would represent the only value of life for him, the only reason for which living would be preferable than to die.
In 1968 Lorenzo Mondo published from the unpublished works of Fenoglio the novel Il partigiano Johnny, that had to be an integral part of Primavera di bellezza. Protagonist of the novel is the same Johnny of Primavera di bellezza, not died, on the contrary hidden in a cottage on the near hills to Alba.
In the reconstruction of Lorenzo Mondo the otherwise datable narrative blocks have been collected in an arbitrary way, so it is not possible to distinguish in the novel the parts written first and those written later. But undoubtedly it remains a work of high artistic and narrative level, a kind of desperate odyssey of the partisan survivor in the high hills.
Fenoglio remains a stranger to the circles and to the literary games: his position is of the pure realist, up to graze the extreme limits of the documentation and of the chronicle. In fact for his activity in an oenological firm he had remainde very close to his farmer condition and his experience of practicle man, but that doesnt involve the absence in him of thin expression and phrases entirly in English that are pointed to release a major stylistic efficacy, that could be understand like a decadent appearance of his culture. But he is not a decadent; not at all Vergas lesson appears the most important in his novels, especially in those of his farmer childhood like La Malora. Certainly the experience of partisan life (that was the centre of his short life) has remained in the centre of Fenoglios fiction, because it brought him nearest to that farmer world, and to find in his simplicity not so much shelter or escape from his own intellectual complexes but the essence, the secret of the life and of his own life (Bocelli)
He never was a literate of profession, but an instinct writer, grown up with a personal preference through the reading of the greatest English and Italian textes. His attachment to his native heart was important. There were the memories and the experiences of his farmer childhood, his high school studies, the clean and sharp refusal to the carelessness and rhetoric of the fascist parades.
In that places he spent his long days of partisan war against fascist and Germans. The blood of the Langhes lives and palpitates in Fenoglio, more than Pavese, in wich literature has operated a decadent simbolistic vaccine. Fenoglio suffered in the body and in the spirit the antifascism struggle, Pavese suffered in that tragic experience in a contemplative and ideological way, until to became the reason of an existential suffering of an intimist novel. Fenoglio was an extrovert narrator, Pavese an introverse. For Fenoglio, the culture appear like an element, between a lot, that characterize also his humorism, in Pavese, the culture is very determinant, also in respect to his life experience. Both of them are in the Realism even if their realism wasnt a school, but a discovery of an Italian region, in great part still never seen before in that farmer and country experience.
With Primavera di Bellezza Fenoglio proposes the problem of the choral novel, one hundred different voices and no butcher: and he resolves it, without renounce to delineate the human Jonnhys character (one of the authentic and not rhetorical positive heroes of our literature).
Fenoglio recalls the same source of the recent Italian Realism, the great experience of the war and the antifascist strugglie, but he understands that today the writer cannot bases himself on the documentary power of the chronicle, the power that has made unfogettable some films or novels of the post-war period. He understands that to overcome the barrier of the actual involution of our society and the inevitable usury to which the value of the Resistance hav been submitted, to find those valves in their original freshness is necessary an excavation work that only the reason could make, that only ideas can sustain. (Salinari).
Even if the themes of the first stories and of the Malora remain the same, the writers interest seems to be painted more on the style and the language, balancing the linguistic violence with the continuity of the narrate.
The fact is that in Malora was dialect violence, color of the place and the language, in this case it exclusively has a stylistic function, it doesnt trend anymore to the representation of a place, of a society, but comes in a game of behaviors of language, and the expressionistic strenght doesnt born from the repetition of the dialect, but the dialect memory remains not more than a shadow noded on a word that seach instead nature and color from a learned origin, like a dictionary, whose energy not of popular and vulgar origin, is able to mix himself with the shut rhythm of the novel (Barbieri Squarotti).
Also if its true that the material from Il Partigiano Jhonny constitues a young editing, that the author drow up again to have some stories published subsequently and those he worked until his death, this novel remains as the most complicated book of our generation cames out from the partisan war. There is not only an epic-tragic resonance but also a constant search of moral cathorsis.
There is also the search of a new language. It is evident in the tormented appoint of neologism, in the violent torsion of language with impressionistic ways composed by expressive conservation adn strong and disdainful cultural inventions. In a word on the direction of a new classicism (Pampaloni ).
To this it has to be added the continuous presence of English expressions placed at the right moment, almost an integration of that stability of sign and marked relief that maybe the Italian language could not have furnish him.
After Poveri Diavoli by Verga, now we metthe poor people of Piedmonte of Fenoglio; and the hell of the Langhe can be compared to the Provvidenza, damned boat of the Malavoglia, or with the desolate and malarial sciara of Sicily.
These poor unlucky of the Langhe are victims more of the society thatn of the destiny: in Fenoglio there is more social engagement than in Verga. There is only a way to overcome the sentence of the little bread and the hard sweating: an econimical change that conducts on the markets among men that use the money and not the shovel. Or even for a brief period that remains a fantastic holiday, the call-up. Agostinos brother, Stefano, underwent in that way to labour for 21 months, when he returned he has changed, he is silent in his house, unhappy and hostile, and speaks only at the inn explaining the things he did. But everyone has to follow his destiny: like Emilio who bends his head to the decision to enter the convent, in that way Ginotta, who is Tobias daughter, will marry after two brokerages, the second of these gives her paying many marenghe to a man from Monferrina, that trusting in the intermediate, waits to see Ginotta in front of the priest for having her. The wedding lunch is one of the more intense pages of this first part: seen with Agostinos eyes, that battles until the end in the fear of not having a seat at the table. It is a gallery of characters taken in a moment of truth(Lagorio)