Ignazio Silone (Secondo Tranquillis pseudonym) was born in Pescina dei Marsi ( LAquila) the 1st May 1900 from a modest landowner and a weaver. He himself in Uscita di sicurezza remembers his life spended with his mother, who told him episodes of the Gospel and the Saintslives as stories, and he recalls the great generosity of his hospitable and benevolent father and his moral integrity.
Soon his father dies and in 1915, during the earthquake of the Marsica his mother dies too; for this reason not only he had to interrupt the classical studies, but he came in contact with the hard reality of the life and the war that let feel his social reflexes in province. In fact, since 1917, Silone already led the first red leagues of the countrymen of Abruzzo, showing to wish a point of meeting between socialism and Catholicism. But overall he made a global objection to the old society of Abruzzo and its institutions, and this is said in Uscita di sicurezza and Fontamara.
In 1917 he was the manager of the socialist and pacifist weekly magazine "Avanguardia" then he was editor of the "Lavoratore" of Trieste. To the congress in Livorno (1921) he entered in the Communist Party and he was an active manager of the Juvenile Federation. After the advent of Fascism he was near Gramsci as clandestine activist. After the arrest of his brother he sheltered abroad, where he continued his antifascist activity also incurring in the expulsion from many countries. He represented many times the communist movement with Togliatti in Moscow.
In 1930, during the persecutions and the purgations of Stalin , he left the communist movement because he didn't share the tyrannical character of the communist international organization directed by Stalin. All his literary production as well as the political behavior felt that deep crisis where also his juvenile libertian and Christians enthusiasms emerged.
But, even if far from the Communist Party, he didn't stop his activity of antifascist and socialist propagandist. His works, published abroad, Fontamara (1933 Zurigo), Pane e vino (1936), La scuola dei dittatori (1938), Il seme sotto la neve (1941), the theatrical work and Egli si nascose (1944), they are the demonstration of the implacable, constant denunciation that he made of the fascist violence and of the miserable conditions of the cafoni of his country. And his books, almost unknown in Italy, made the turn of the world through the antifascist exiles and the other foreign sympathizers, who saw in Silone one of the purest missionaries of the antifascist Resistance in the world. He operated in the middle of the foreign public a retrenchment of the Italian social reality, the reverse, therefore truthful sense, of the fascist propaganda; he worked, as an apostle, for the freedom of Italian people, as Gramsci in the silence and in the loneliness of the jail did.
From here the scarce contact with the official tides of the Italian literature; but from here also the teaching and the spiritual guide that his work offered to the new Italian writers of Neoralism, to his return in Italy after the Liberation, and to his entrance in the Socialist Party, and to the direction of the "Avanti". Silone didn't find good press near the critical communists; but his influence on the youngest writers was enormous and unpredictable: in fact he emanated from that man - the more known Italian writer abroad and translated in almost all the languages in the world - the charm of an apostle of the democracy and of the freedom. After the division of the Socialist Party, Silone didn't follow his two rival parties, even if he has always manifested his solidarity and a democratic socialism. However, his main activity has been that of writer.
The works written after the Liberation - Una manciata di more (1952), Il segreto di Luca (1956), La volpe e le camelie(1960), Uscita di sicurezza(1965), Lavventura di un povero cristiano (1968) -, they continue the themes and developped the testimony begun by himself in the works written abroad. Therefore he has always remained a defender of freedom and a believer of the liberation of poor people from poverty and the oppressions of the powerful people. He himself specified: the activity of writer hasnt been for me, except in some rare time of grace, a serene aesthetical enjoyment but the distressful and solitary continuation of a struggle, after I left my dearest friends.
Silone died in Switzerland in 1978.
His first novel, Fontamara, is a sentence of the fascist government and of the authorities, also religious authorities that connived with it, but the human and tragic story that inspires the feelings of these cafoni, assumes a tone of so dramatic relief during the novel to explain the fortune that has smiled to this book.
Vino e Pane is perhaps the novel of greatest political-moral task of Silone, this book which puts to naked the anarchist and nonconformist temperament, a kind of autobiographic and moral analysis, under the appearances of an adventurous novel, where he denounce the rhetoric and the fascist violence in all their real wickedness and brutality
The theme of the Silones work is widened with the progress of the years and Il seme sotto la neve is already a novel where real environment and unreal atmosphere are confused, and the epilogue confirms the strangeness of this novels story, that, also being set in a historically and geographically real situation, it appears wound by an unreal atmosphere. " The country is real, the notables with their conformism, their avarice, their intrigues, their gossips are true. Also the opponents are true: Simone, Pietro, his grandmother, Faustina, Severino. But the landscape, the cafoni, the notables, and the other characters are as filtered through the memory, almost gotten further in the time and the space. All the story acquires a taste of legend and symbol.(Salinari)
In Il segreto di Luca the protagonists nobility of feelings has also ransomed the dignity of the cafone that couldnt, have similar romantic feelings according to the common opinion.The novel wants to be the testimony of this pure and noble feeling of the cafone. In other words, Silone has wanted to give us a novel of love and sacrifice, underlining the fact that also a cafone can be an hero-martyr of love and a victim of the unfair justice of men.
Lavventura di un povero cristiano, published in 1968, presents almost in didactic terms the poetic the thematic of the Silones works. It appears as central reason the evangelical anarchism, the utopia of a world held up by friendship and love, that could be offered by the monachal communities in the Medieval Abruzzo, of which Celestino V, monk Pietro from Morrone, was an admirable example. Silone himself specifies the socialist ideal of these primitive Christians: They were united, despite some divergences, by a common faith in the imminent Gods Kingdom that had been announced in the last century by Gioacchino da Fiore: the wait of a third age of the human kind, the age of the Spirit, without Church, without State, without coercions, in a sober, humble and benign society, entrusted to the spontaneous charity of men.
In the first novel the story is presented by the mouth of the cafoni, Giuva, Matalena and their young son who has shared with Berardo the tragic experience of the revolt of the cafoni.
And it never loses the popular tone of a narration conceived to country level. Also the names, Don Circostanza, Don Abbacchio, Don Carlo Magna, the entrepreneur, points out perfectly the popular level with which those figures are recognized by the people according to the nicknames, that characterize its functions and tits personalities.
Fontamara is indeed a new novel of our literature, a popular novel, not only for its content of denunciation and of political and social testimony, but also for the tone of the story, for its suitable language to the way of think of cafoni and people. All the dialogues are conceived in the same mental level with which people speak and talk and understand; the same irony, that often enriches the novel, has a psychological value, because it reveals the soul of that poor people. This epic of the humble, in a certain sense, is remained in our cultured literature; but it has got legitimate citizen because it is work of art in all the levels.
Russi justly wrote in 1944: " Fontamara is a novel of Italian environment, rather of fascist environment, that appeared in Italy with more than ten years of delay from its first edition. Its something that comes here from the exile. Abroad it has had a great success, particularly in England, and it had been vastly translated. It doesn't look like any our book. During all these years, as we know, we have taken care of style. Someone, has taken care only of the style. In conclusion we have created a literature, that some thousand of people is hardly able to taste. A literature for lettered. Silone is instead someone else; our contrymen (the cafoni, as he loves to say) could understand it without difficulties. They are the protagonists of our novel, with their poverty, their superstition, their vivacious psychological promptness, their eccentric nicknames. We have got here an example of that popular literature that maybe will accents itself everywhere after this war."
We havent to forget the narrative technique of Vino e pane that amalgamates in perfect tonal unity political passions and feelings of love, ridiculous figures of the regime and suffering creatures, in a real picture of the Italian and Abruzzo life of the years of the the Ethiopian war, when the imperialistic rhetoric brought the italian minds to the supreme political alienation.
The main themes of Silones work, are obviously the denunciation and the political task to which however is constantly tied a new message of human and Christian solidarity; in the first novel, Fontamara, the protagonist Berardo, understanding the reason of his sacrifice , he already says "If will I die? I will be the first cafoni who doesn't die for himself, but for the others."
Elviras death inspires the same feeling of human solidarity: "I ask you - she says to the Mary - only a thing: to intercede for the salvation of Berardo. In return I will offer you the only poor thing I have got, my life."
On the plan of the social theme, Silone has the worth to have accompanied and sometimes preceded many attempts of social novel undertaken by a great group of Anglo-Saxon writers; the difference between these writers and the writer of Pescina consists in the fact that the first describe the problemes of the workers enviroment while he becomes the spokesman of the country world.
Always from the first novel a sad image of Italy comes out, for the more addly forgotten: the difference between cafoni and countrymen, the desperation of the country poor people, their absolute ignorance of the politics. The book oscillates among the satire, the chronicle and the abandoned and felt story. The good faith of the countrymen is often exaggerated. Also the distance between cafoni and countrymen is more accented than lived and artistically documented. But, also with these limits, the novel is a new example of a realistic literature that isnt the result of a deliberate poetic, but a natural demonstration of documentation and social denunciation, that reaches the peaks of the art.
Stalin's politic in Russia put strongly in crisis the political faith of Silone, who didn't accept forms of compromise with the dictatorship in action in Russia and, maintaining always lively his task of socialist and antifascist, he left the PCI and took on a critical position in its regards. This attitude is reflected in his work, beginning from the second novel, where the main character, Pietro Spina, is the symbol of the intellectual of left, who doesn't know how to give up the critical spirit and that fights again the political conformism of his revolutionary party looking for an authentic ethics of the revolutionary action, that is always search of freedom and human solidarity.. The world to which the opponents inhale is symbol and utopia: a world that left the dimensions of a political ideology (even if this is socialist) and it want to measure itself with the meter of the great eternal truths, the justice, the freedom, the nobility of mind, the friendship, the love. Also the characters of the official world are a symbol: a symbol of what oppresses the man not only in some periods of the history, like the fascist period, but for a long time, from the existance of a society separated in classes: the money, the greed, the envy, the avarice, the thirst of power. Spinas rebellion and that of his friends is just the reconquest of the elementary values of man. And they act, they move, they talk as secular saints. I believe that the effectiveness of this novel is determined by the fact that the utopian, anarchist, cristian ideology of Silone has been able to meet a subject that allowed to be subtracted to the time and the space: the landscape of Abruzzo, in the fascist period, still to the borders of the civilization and the official world. And, in such way also the defect of other novels have become merits: the flat and low tone of the story, his slow, analytical, weary progress, that spellbound and distant dialogue, almost that every character listens inside of himself the resonances of his words" (SALINARI). And this also explains the favorable judgment of the criticism of this novel, thought as one of the best novels of Silone and as the most complex novel of the latest literature. Il segreto di Luca, for a certain delicacy of tones, seems different from the usual political novels of Silone, but also here the anxiety of the truth, the love for the justice, risen to supreme values of struggle and hope, constitute an essential element to Silones spirituality . After all such sentimental delicacy he had already exalted in the love of Pietro Spina and Cristina, died for love too, in the middle of a storm of snow in meal to the hungry wolves.
In Avventura di un Povero Cristiano the political, religious, social utopia of Silone is expressed, that live in the conscience of man and it appears as restlessness that any reform and any material comfort cant ever placate, the history of a hope always disappointed, but a tenacious hope. Silones ideology is all here, in this spirit of solidarity and authentic brotherhood, where modern socialism reveals all its internal Christian position, so much that Silone can define himself "a socialist without party and a Christian without church."