Anti-Fascism, the War and the Resistance, transformed Italian literature. Proof of this can be seen in the fact that the novel has become its principal form, to the detriment of the short story and poetry. But this is only an external aspect; the essential phenomenon is a complete renewal of subjects and perspectives, which has involved even those writers whose career began before these events. This is the case with Pavese, Vittorini, Pratolini and to a lesser extent Moravia.

The struggle against Fascism, the Resistance (which, it cannot be overemphasized, was a mass phenomenon), the political Campaign for the Republic and for a democratic constitution, the fight against the repression of popular movements, the discovery of the Southern problem, the mass eruption into political life of the peasants of the South and the workers of the North— these are the main elements in the experience of the Italian writers of today. The first consequence of this turmoil was the birth of a new and much wider public, strongly influenced by the Left. Under Fascism, very little was read in Italy and literature existed in a closed circle made by and for a fraction of the middle-class—except in certain zones, such as Piedmont, where local tradition and active anti-Fascism prepared the ground for the renaissance of the postwar period.

The explosion of the Liberation was a complex phenomenon which had a great number of positive aspects and some negative aspects, the effect of which was to be felt much later. Among the positive aspects there was, first, a veritable flood of translation from all languages, which made available to a vast public the literary works of countries towards which Fascism had always shown suspicion or open hostility. This was true of the expensive editions confined to a limited public (which, however, was still wider than the public of the Fascist period), as well as of the popular editions, which were badly printed but admirably presented by the best specialists; LUniversale economica, for instance, published Bacon as well as Victor Hugo, Lorenzo Valla as well as Mayakovsky. In a short space of time the Italian public consumed all that had been produced in Europe and the United States since 1920. Pavese and Vittorini had, of course, launched this movement before the war. But after the Liberation it took on immense proportions and became something qualitatively different: the accession of an entire nation to international culture. The fact that the movement has since relapsed makes no difference to this decisive fact.

It will be understood that this invasion inevitably brought with it a certain amount of confusion. Everything was absorbed somewhat indiscriminately, Steinbeck with Thomas Mann, Hemingway with Thomas Hardy. There were omissions: thus Ulysses was not translated until 1962 despite the long-standing and remarkable translation of Daedalus by Pavese published well before the war. Classical German literature was somewhat sacrificed, for evident reasons: because the German Romantics were Germans, and—more important—because they were the extreme opposite of what the new Italian public expected from literature.

Another aspect of the effervescence of the Liberation was the extraordinary development of the press and publishing houses. The press of the Left, in particular, which for a long time was the most widely read, carried every day an excellent cultural page to which the greatest names in Italian literature contributed, from Pavese to Calvino, and from Pratolini to Moravia, as well as intellectuals from the Universities. As for the publishing houses, no history of Italian literature could be written without some mention of the publisher Einaudi who, helped by Pavese, Calvino, Vittorini and Natalia Ginzburg (to name but a few) was the greatest left-wing publisher of these years. Einaudi still holds this position, although he is now challanged by Feltrinelli. One should also recall the importance of reviews such as Il Politecnico, a cultural weekly edited by Vittorini, and Il Contemporaneo, a weekly then monthly publication of the Italian Communist Party, as well as Rinascita, the political monthly of the PCI, and the reviews of the Socialist Party such as Mondo Nuovo, a more recent arrival.

Because of this ferment, Italy was able in a few years to make up for the time it had lost under Fascism. It is striking that all this culture was a culture of the Left. This fact cannot be overemphasized. Post-war Italian writing has not been a “literary” literature. Everything was read, studied, and commented in a Left, indeed Marxist, perspective. To appreciate this orientation, it is enough to compare the light in which Italy and France see Thomas Mann. The French Thomas Mann is that of the gracious Marcel Brion—the Italian is that of Lukacs . . .

It was the discovery of the works of Gramsci, published by Einaudi and Felice Platone, which lent the Italian culture (and politics) of this period its distinctive character. Gramsci, general secretary of the Communist Party, was imprisoned by the Fascists for a period of ten years, and died of exhaustion on being released from prison. But he had written “Papers” during his detention, which consisted of a multitude of notes on every kind of political and cultural subject. These notes showed such lucidity, intelligence and culture that their publication was a revelation. Gramsci opposed the most solid Marxist thought to Fascist and pre-Fascist rhetoric, to historical falsification, and to literary charlatanism. It is from his work that the cultural policies of the Italian Left were born; it is his example and his lesson which have made Italian literature what it is today.