Why the Langhe was Cesare Pavese’s muse?
The feeling I had the first time I read a novel by Cesare Pavese, specifically Your Villages, was one of fatigue (but not only because it was a school read and perhaps in high school it wasn’t really my favorite genre…), the sensation of being catapulted into a harsh rural world that leaves no room for any kind of deep feeling… All right, maybe by saying this I’m not exactly encouraging you to rush out and read one of his books, but I can assure you that the very impression you get at first glance is the same one that keeps you hooked on his pages. This is also confirmed by the seventeen-year-old me who then decided to study literature.
We can say that the countryside is the protagonist of the novels of this Piedmontese author, especially the Langhe (I can tell you right now that Cesare is a fan of the Langhe just like us). For Pavese, the Langhe represents his childhood and that primitive world in which he needs to immerse himself, as sincere places where instinct reigns; all of this shines through perfectly in his latest novel, The Moon and the Bonfires.
These lands of lower Piedmont were in fact the birthplace of the writer. Pavese was born in 1908 in Santo Stefano Belbo, a small town in the province of Cuneo, near the farmhouse of San Sebastiano, where the family used to spend the summers. While still a child, he moved to Turin where he remained until his death in 1950; but he had left his heart in the Langhe. On the other hand, anyone who sets foot in the landscapes of the Langhe immediately falls in love with them… the hills, the vineyards, the scents, the colors… who can blame you Cesare!
For Pavese, all these beautiful memories of the places that surrounded him as a child became “myths”, places that took on an absolute value that transported them out of time and consecrated them as revelations. Of course, if I may say so, even tasting a glass of wine in the middle of the Piedmontese hills is a sacred event.
Our Cesare graduated in English literature, he began working as a translator for many publishers and collaborated with the new publishing house Einaudi. In addition to him, Leone Ginzburg and other intellectuals linked to the anti-fascist movement “Giustizia e Libertà” also worked there; because of the relationship with this group, Pavese was arrested in 1935 and sent to confinement in Brancaleone Calabro. When he returned to Turin he published his book of poems Hard Labor (never was the title more truthful…).
Undoubtedly we know that Cesare Pavese was one of the greatest Italian authors of the twentieth century (the Piedmontese never disappoint in any field) and from his production came out masterpieces such as Dialogues with Leucò and The Beautiful Summer. The latter is a collection of three short novels and with it our author was even awarded the Strega Prize! Unfortunately, not even this success was able to lift the writer’s tormented life, by now precipitated into the abyss of depression that will lead him to suicide, also due to the disappointment of love caused by Constance Dowling (actress in the film Bitter Rice).
Pavese, as if that weren’t enough, was also an excellent translator of English and American writers, just to name a few, Defoe, Melville, Joyce, Faulkner, and with Elio Vittorini he created the anthology Americana. In fact, Cesare’s second love (the first being the Langhe, mind you) was America and its literature! Langhe mixed with America? For Pavese a dream, but perhaps better left them separate.
As I was saying, Pavese lived in Turin but he always had a country soul inside him. I can imagine him drawing up a list of pros and cons for the countryside and for the city (a bit like when you’re undecided whether to go on vacation to the sea or to the mountains). Cesare, we understand you, after all, in Piedmont both the cities and the countryside are magnificent! In any case, this country/city comparison led to the collection August Holiday, composed of short stories and descriptive texts. Countryside or city… that is the question! And Cesare, I assure you that if you had also made a comparison between typical Turin dishes and products from the Langhe, both spectacular, you would not have found an exclusive winner. Moreover, why do we have to choose between the velvety taste of a wine such as Barbaresco Montersino di San Biagio and the intense flavor of Salame al tartufo di Mainelli when it is possible to taste both?
At this point I suggest you go to your trusted bookshop and search for a Pavese’s novel! And if you have a more poetic soul, I suggest you start by reading one of his poems, You, March wind (since we are also in the right month).
– Until next time, With love!