Places: Bread and Wine

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: German translation, 1936 as Brot und Wein; Italian original, 1937 as Pane e vino; revision, 1955 as Vino e pane (English translation, 1962)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Abruzzi

*Abruzzi Bread and Wine (ah-BREWT-see). Region of south-central Italy on the eastern side of the country, opposite Rome and near the Adriatic Sea. An area of plains, hills, and mountains, it is the setting for all the volumes in Silone’s Abruzzi Trilogy. Silone chose this region because he was born in southern Abruzzi in Pescina and because he needed a poor region in which to set his novels of peasant, or cafoni, life. Abruzzi is an area of vast feudal estates where a large number of cafoni eke out a subsistence farming a harsh, unforgiving terrain. Most of the peasants live in squalid one-room houses with their livestock, who provide a needed source of heat in the winter. It is also an area isolated from the outside world and therefore still primitive socially, politically, and religiously. Since Bread and Wine is about exploitation in a rural region, the Abruzzi provides an exemplary locale for the novel.


*Pietrasecca (pee-eh-trah-SEHT-chah). Remote Italian village nestled in the hills of Abruzzi. Pietro Spina, a communist agitator, retreats there disguised as a priest seeking the mountain air for his lungs. Silone’s depiction of the poverty, superstition, and isolation experienced by the local cafoni carries the social message of the novel. The locals are depicted in many ways as grotesques, even though Silone clearly feels compassion for their plight. Here, Pietro discovers the futility of his quest to politicize the country people as their subsistence living precludes them from any activity that does not directly contribute to their survival. Politics, he says, is for the well fed.


*Fossa (FAHS-sah). Town closest to Pietrasecca. Despite its small size, Fossa is the “town” in the novel. Silone uses it to contrast with the village, where living is on the most basic level. In Fossa there are the markers of civilization: a doctor, lawyers, civil servants, all of the accouterments of the modern state. There, also, Pietro Spina would be recognized even in his cassock, for readers learn that he is a famous local son. In this town Silone dramatizes the effect of the newly formed Fascist government in Rome as the residents are being forced to compromise their political and social beliefs in order to retain their jobs and gain preferment. Unlike many of his former friends, who have caved in to the pressures, Pietro has remained true to his youthful ideals.


*Rome. Capital and largest city of Italy. Don Paolo travels there to reconnect with his communist group. After shedding his priestly clothes in a bathhouse, he emerges once again as Pietro Spina, and although he is careful about his contacts, he can once again walk the streets without disguise. It is in Rome that his political commitment begins to change as a result of his experiences in Pietrasecca, which have helped him to recognize some of the silliness propounded by the organized left.


*Orta. Another of the small towns spotted throughout the hills of Abruzzi, Orta is the ancestral home of Pietro Spina and where his grandmother still lives in the family home. The family, well-to-do and conservative, would seem to be an unlikely source for a revolutionary like Spina.

Sources for Further StudyBrown, Robert McAfee. “Ignazio Silone and the Pseudonyms of God.” In The Shapeless God: Essays on Modern Fiction, edited by Harry J. Mooney, Jr., and Thomas F. Staley. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968. Notes the underlying Christian symbolism in this novel of failed revolution. Suggests that God is not dead but hidden, revealed not through religion but through sacrifice for others.Howe, Irving. “Silone: A Luminous Example.” In Decline of the New. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970. Traces Pietro Spina’s spiritual anguish and his ultimate rejection of Marxism in favor of the primitive Christianity of the Abruzzi peasants. Explores the possibility of modern heroism through contemplation rather than action.Leake, Elizabeth. The Reinvention of Ignazio Silone. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. A study of Silone’s major works of fiction in the light of his complex, conflicted political philosophy and activity.Lewis, R. W. B. “Ignazio Silone: The Politics of Charity.” In The Picaresque Saint: Representative Figures in Contemporary Fiction. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1959. Identifies Spina, with his alter ego Paolo Spada, as a picaresque saint, part hero and part rogue. Analyzes his encounters with other symbolic figures.Paynter, Maria Nicolai. “Ignazio Silone.” In Italian Prose Writers, 1900-1945. Vol. 264 in Dictionary of Literary Biography, edited by Luca Somigli and Rocco Capozzi. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002. An overview of Silone’s life, times, and published works.Paynter, Maria Nicolai. Ignazio Silone: Beyond the Tragic Vision. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2000. A comprehensive study of Silone’s life and work, informed by critic Northrop Frye’s theories of myth, archetype, and symbol.Scott, Nathan A., Jr. “Ignazio Silone: Novelist of the Revolutionary Sensibility.” In Rehearsals of Discomposure: Alienation and Reconciliation in Modern Literature. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1952. Characterizes Bread and Wine as a revolutionary novel, citing its disenchantment with all political parties. Examines the inevitable isolation of a revolutionary such as Spina.Silone, Ignazio. Bread and Wine. Translated by Harvey Fergusson II, with an afterword by Marc Slonim. New York: Atheneum, 1962. Comments on significant changes in Silone’s 1955 revision. Views the novel as a kind of ethical Bildungsroman.
Categories: Places