Elio Vittorini was born in Siracusa July 23 rd 1908. Since his father was a railroader, he spent most of his childhood in small villages of Sicilia, that will serve as background for the novels of his maturity: a background of poverty and loneliness, in an arid and unhealthy nature. Since the adolescence he was devoted to readings that will approach him to the world of fiction and poetry. He tried to run away from home for four times; the fourth one he didn't return home anymore. He settled in Friuli as an employee in a building enterprise, learning from life not only the pleasure to earn a living, but also to win and to overcame some difficulties. During the years he was working in Friuli, his career as a writer started. His first attempts show an adhesion rather ingenue to the false realism strapaesano, as, for example, the Ritratto di Re Giampiero; while the short stories of his first volume, Piccola Borghesia (1931), reflect some influences from the writers working around the magazine " Solaria ", who were trying to break the isolation of our literature and to establish a renewing contact with the most advanced experiences of the European and extraeuropean culture.
The friends of " Solaria " had drawn the attention of our writers to the examples of the narrators and the poets of the European vanguard, from James Joyce to Marcel Proust, from Franz Kafka to Katherine Mansfield. Attracted by the cultural environment of " Solaria ", Vittorini in 1930 is in Florence where he works as a proofreader in a newspaper and learns English from an old worker of the typography. Since then his interest for the American fiction starts and he dedicated himself to it with a lot of enthusiasm, immediately translating a novel of Lawrence and then others, giving rise to suspicions from the gerarchis of the regime. In fact, he is expelled from the fascist party of which he had not renewed his membership card for a long time.
The separation of Vittorini from the Fascism is determined , by a reaction of an offended intelligence rather than by a precise political conscience: in front of the fascist oppression Vittorinis feeling of opposition could not be anything else than a kind of " abstract " " furies ", as he will write in Conversazione in Sicilia. According to Salinari, Vittorini transforms Fascism in a category of good and evil, removed from time and space, to which it is to be opposed the true human nature and the conscience of new duties.
With the Spanish civil war, in which fascists and republicans come to an open conflict, he can see clearly the substantial difference between oppression and liberty. That war makes him depose the pen, and so he interrupts the drafting of Erica.
He moves to Milan, where he continues his activity of translator and editor of publishing houses. With the second world war his political and cultural ideology will be clarified.
In ' 39 the first edition of Conversazione in Sicilia is allowed to pass by the fascist censorship, but, well welcomed by the critics, it immediately arise the resentment of the regime press that accuse him of being an antinational and immoral person. In 1941 the fascist censorship forbides the publication of his anthology Americana; in ' 43, after July 25th, he is actively in the Resistance.
After the end of the second world war, he participates in that moment of enthusiasm and liberal optimism, that brought to the Neoralism as an expression of a new cultural climate. The most meaningful evidence of these renewing demands can be recovered in the magazine "Il Politecnico" directed by Vittorini and published in Milan from 1945 to 1947.
In December 1947 "Il Politecnico", disowned by the communists, stops its publications; but the liberal demand of a new culture that was so important for Vittorini gives good results, in fact other magazines and literary and scientific work of great importance immediately rise.
On the other hand Gramscis secret work of high cultural level was discovered, and after that a European patrimony of marxist studies that oriented the Italian culture of the postwar period.
Vittorini remained therefore the teacher who initiated the current said neorealist, in which the engagement of the artist was not the political-social of the one who praise the revolution, but it consisted in being consistent with his sense of the reality.
The function of Vittorini, teacher and guide of the Neoralism, was not exhausted, however, with " Il Politecnico", in fact he undertakes a whole series of translations of American novels, neorealistic publications, that pointed him out as one of the best organizers of culture of the postwar period. After all, his share to the international debate in Geneva in September of 1948 on the contemporary art with the theme "L artiste doit-il sengager"?, gives the measure of his concept of committed art solving the problem of the antinomy between the historical values and the eternal values of art through the concept of the mutability of the reality the poet understands and communicates with his message. The 1948 political elections give a conservative turn to the Italian politics: culture find itself isolated again and it is forced to look for new ways to conform itself to the social reality of the Country. So Vittorini, with his tireless activity that as the collection I Gettoni of Einaudi tried to put into practice in the youngest writers a literature careful to the authentic social problems of contemporary reality. Also this activity as cultural organizer and critic had so a great importance that he was pointed out as a teacher of Neoralism and of new literary experiments.
In ' 51 the publication of the " I Gettoni " starts and Vittorini opens for the young writers an experimental space devoted to the problems and the most alive aspects of the contemporary reality. Fenoglio and Calvino are launched by this initiative of him. In 1966, after having started a long critical conversation between literature and industry in the magazine " Menabò ", he dies for a serious illness.
Piccola Borghesia (1931) gathers in a volume a series of short stories written in the solariano climate, whose characters have been drawn from lower middle-class environments studied in their psychological reality. The language is rich of images and of metaphors.
Il garofano rosso (1933 - ' 34) was published in istalments on " Solaria ", and in a volume only in 1948, because the publication was interrupted by the fascist censorship, that accused the text to be in opposition to the ethic and the good manner.
But before writing his masterpiece, Vittorini was still engaged in work of high technical-stylistic apprenticeship that, published in a volume in 1936, shows the influences of Surrealism and Ermetismo, as well as the lesson of Proust.
Erica e i suoi fratelli was started and written to a large extent in 1936, but it remained uncompleted because the author had been distracted by the war of Spain. It was then published in magazine in 1954 and in a volume in 1956 together with La Garibaldina, uncompleted as it had remained.
Vittorini suspended the novel Erica e i suoi fratelli because of the outbreak of the civil war in Spain, but when he began writing again, in September of 1938, it was not to continue Erica, but to put down the first page of Conversazione in Sicilia.
The novel Uomini e no, that Vittorini has published in 1945 after nine years of silence, represents the maximum effort of the writer to overcome the residues of symbolism expressed in Conversazione in Sicilia, and to fully face the demand of Realism and of committment that dominated the Italian culture of the immediate postwar period. Here myth and history would have had to melt in perfect unity for the reason that the writer worked on the reality. He writes, in fact, the history of the partisan Enne 2 who lives the Resistance in Milan in 1944 and seeks his own authenticity of life and committment in the world.
The other novel, Il Sempione strizza l'occhio al Fréjus (1947) describes the hunger of the postwar period. The contact with the reality of fact, here described by the narrator, was so peremptory that Vittorini in an ending note recorded the prices of bread, anchovies and chicory, that were the foods preferred by poor people in 1947.
In Le donne di Messina (1949); (1964) he wants to deepen the human experience of the country work. The novel tells the adventures of a group of of people disoriented by the war that decide to build together a new social life in an abandoned village, following the stages of the technical evolution, but stopping at the beginning of the modern age. The ex fascist Ventura and the whole community of ex nomads, that have reconstructed a new society, at the end had to admit that their result is quite mediocre, despite all of them have worked and sowed and picked.
"The fable of the heroic age is over, it is necessary to take note of it and to conform, beautiful or ugly that it is, to a different, industrial and technological reality, with all its comforts - jukebox and neon lights, frozen beer and warm and cold water - and where it is an iron logic that the farmer abandons earth" (MANACORDA).
With La Garibaldina (1950) Vittorini returns to the technique of the short novel and stylistically homogeneous.
In a station crowded of hungry people a soldier is waiting for a train that should bring him to Terranova, and on the train he meets the Garibaldina an old authoritarian baroness, but capable of social opening. Between the two a non-stop and interesting dialogue develops; when they arrive to Terranova the Garibaldina asks for hospitality in the house of a woman of her acquaintance, and at dawn the bersagliere meets her while she is recruiting by the day harvesters that are tightening servilely around her.
The last novel of Vittorini, Le città del mondo, published posthumous in 1969, was composed between 1952 - ' 55 and left incomplete. On the literary plan it marks a kind of involution for his technique composed of plans and different languages, the mystical one and that realistic one.
In the third part of Conversazione in Sicilia Conception, Silvestros mother, begins her round of injections to the ill farmers; one has immediately the impression that that country is a quarantine hospital, a country of pain and poverty, in which some are sick of tuberculosis, others of malaria. Here it is the polemic position with the fascist regime which acclaimed the imperial shines, while it was hiding in its breast the most degrading tragedies of a people eating an onion, an egg on Sundays, an orange without bread.
(Politecnico)What distinguished this magazine in the panorama of the publications of the time was the vastness of its interests that from the literature went to the politics, from the social investigations up to the popularization of the foreign poets and up to the problems of education. In this sense it can be approached to the Polytechnic of Carlo Cattaneo or to the Coffee of Verri brothers.
Since the first number Vittorini declared that the traditional Italian culture (without specifying, however, the date of its beginning) had been a culture that, in front of the suffering of man in the society, had believed to absolve its duty only comforting him in his suffering; and
for its role of comforter [
] it has not been able to prevent the horrors of Fascism.
A culture, therefore, that,as it didnt become itself society, has never had power nor tools to protect man from suffering.
Elio Vittorini is considered one of the greatest interpreters of the crisis of our time, and his new humanism is founded upon the allegory of feeling, on the memory of heart and childhood, on the collective and anarchist feeling of human solidarity. In this sense the pseudomarxist moment of the " Polytechnic " only points out the occasional period of a solitary political-literary protest, that guess Neoralism as a literature of opposition to the rhetoric of Fascism, but that didn't succeed in making him a free and anarchist writer, a supporter of the communist revolution. Therefore it is correct to observe that Vittorini is not all in the "Politecnico",but rather, in his "ability to put again everything in a matter, case after case and problem after problem" (as he wrote in Diary in public), that is the only way and the only possibility for a writer to participate in the history.
"The principal times of Conversazione in Sicilia and of the works of Vittorini were two: adagio and allegro". The adagio is given by the simplest themes until here mentioned, the theme of childhood, the theme of his father poet and poor man, the theme of the train commodities and of the cantoniera, the theme of the desperation of men, each one with his own devil under the sky of loneliness, the theme of the dead brother as his mother remembers him, the theme of Sicily after Verga, in which men havent got chronicle anymore and havent got their poor histories anymore but they have a single human history that is the same of the writer and of which they have learned the meaning [...]. The allegro instead lives on many themes, that extend a great deal on a vast range, from the ironic one to the tragic one, to start from the interviews of With Moustaches and Without Moustaches, to the long insisted theme of the visits to the country village, to the interview in the cemetery, to the dance of the knives, to the final choir of the wine. [
]. These two fundamental times above mentioned were then developed each in a book to oneself: Uomini e no, Milan, 1945 (book of almost only adagio), the story of the Resistance, with the great romantic motives of love and death, that discovers better than every other some tender veins of Vittorini, the sweet winter in Milan, the big sound when love appears; and that discovers better other things, not the narrative but the meditative value,the value of his certain long dialogues of brief beats, the obsession of the double reality, so showy sign of his crisis. And the second, Il Sempione strizza l'occhio al Fréjus, Milan, 1947, literarily a great deal more beautiful, perhaps the most finished of the writer; and in fact so concluded and perfect in his allegro to reveal itself even free, abstract; and nevertheless full of so true motives, of so discreet heroism" (Pampaloni).
To be true men, according to Vittorini, it is necessary to be aware of the offenses of the world, to know how to overcome his own personal pains, to know how to cry for the pains of everybody, and also to be persecuted and to be with the persecuted. He has embodied this figure of strong and brave man, that thinks to other duties, in the Great Lombardo (Conversazione in Sicilia), the symbol of Man. And it is meaningful that really in the years between 1937 and 1940, that is from the period of the war of Spain to the political crisis that brought to the second world war, when it seemed that violence was rewarded and the law was overpowered by the strength, that the terms Fascism and antifascism were reorganized in Conversazione in Sicilia from the political plan to the moral plan, up to the point that, according to Vittorini, the world was divided in men and not men, in persecuted and oppressors; " men " were, obviously, the persecuted aware of their duties towards the society and not " men ", those people who remained firm on their affairs. The Fascism of Vittorini in this sense could be a moral-political category, since he is not worried to define the objective bases that characterized it historically. The political ideology of Vittorini is not therefore the antifascism in an objective sense of sentence of a political regime for the exaltation of an opposite regime, on the contrary it is a moral category of an anarchist kind and a subjective lower middle-class kind. In this sense in vain we would seek in him the neoralist, antifascist or socialist writer. This Salinaris thesis has set a fashion for the critics proposing a lot of reserves around the Neoralism of Vittorini, that still remains of a decadent origin and kind, or, better, bourgeois.
The first misunderstanding in which Vittorini fell was that to consider decadent literature as the literature of the middle class only in the sense that it is a self-criticism of the middle class. His bourgeois motives are shame and desperation to be bourgeois. Therefore it is revolutionary despite its bourgeois vices
Then the germs of the new cultural revolution were to be recovered in that inside restlessness and in that anxiety of overcoming that the decadent literature seemed to have. In this way Vittorini resolved positively the relationships with the decadent culture, but in choosing the new companions and the new alliances to realize the new culture was forced to bring the new political reality to account.
The more culturally trained and prepared for a qualitative jump of the Italian society was the Communist Party, that already faced the problem of a cultural politics in a marxist way debating in itself the difficult conflict between the autonomy of the artist and the necessity to pursue a determined political line. But Vittorini, a man of a solariana formation and, therefore, very sensitive to the problems of the form, insisted on the fact what the politics cannot subordinate culture to itself, except in the only case in which the society passe through a revolutionary moment.
Undoubtedly " Il Politecnico" assumed a function of cultural guide for the Left, even if eventually the points of friction between positions of the magazine and those of the Communist Party are multiplied; for example as Vittorinis repeated anticlerical attitudes, the publication of a passage from Sartre and one from Merleau-Ponty "a living Marxism would save the existentialist research instead of suffocating it."
From the discussion Vittorini and the Communist Party arrived to an open contrast. The first polemic was with Alicata, the second with Togliatti. The former reproached Vittorini not to be able to reestablish a productive contact between our culture and the real problems of the Italian popular masses in such a way to establish a bridge that could cure the fracture between the middle classes and the working masses.
Togliatti, reproached Vittorini for the adfirmation of the priority of the culture on the politics and then the fact that the encyclopedic information " Il Politecnico " tended to, overpowered the thought. For this reason " Il Politecnico ", born with the intention to renew culture, hadnt renewed and wasnt renewing really anything. But Vittorini fixed his leading positions: 1) a defense of the inside, secret demands of the writer who is revolutionary above and beyond the politics, for the promptnesses and the appeals he discovers and notices with his initiative and in full liberty; 2) if the man of culture is lined up with the directives of the party, even it is a revolutionary party, he does nothing but to play the pipe of the revolution: he who does this isnt anything different from the arcadi poets that played the pipe to the reaction.
In the discourse kept in Geneva in 1948, "L artiste doit-il sengager? Vittorini confirmed, once more, the liberty of the artist from the political committment, since the artist who lives the reality of his time is always involved in the revolutions that this reality implies:
if art has been stronger than any contemporary ideology and than any contemporary alienation it has always been like this insofar as the natural engagement of the artist has had more strength than the fanciful engagement he was asked or he was imposed.
In substance, for Vittorini the artists committment is never external to his art, but intrinsic in the internal message of his art, in a perfect coherence with the world of the artist, a real man bound to his historical reality.