Authors: Elio Vittorini

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian novelist


Elio Vittorini (vee-toh-REE-nee) is remembered chiefly as one of Sicily’s great twentieth century authors, although only two of his major works deal with that island: In Sicily and La Garibaldina. Vittorini was born on July 23, 1908, in Syracuse, Sicily, the son of a railway stationmaster. He had little formal education, which contributed to his problems as a writer. In the 1930’s he worked as a newspaper editor and translator–he had taught himself English and translated a number of American authors, including Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. When the Spanish Civil War began in 1936 and Germany and Italy began supporting the Franco forces, Vittorini rejected Italian Fascism and began working against it. His book In Sicily, serialized in 1937, is an anti-Fascist novel. Its anti-Fascism is couched in such ambiguous terms and situations, however, that at first the Fascist censors permitted it to be published. Later, after numerous complaints from government officials, the book was banned.{$I[AN]9810000736}{$I[A]Vittorini, Elio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Vittorini, Elio}{$I[tim]1908;Vittorini, Elio}

Vittorini joined the Communist Party of Italy, then underground, and worked with the Resistance. His novel Men and Not Men is the story of the Milan underground’s fight in the winter of 1944, when Italy was occupied by German forces. Its style clearly borrows from the plain and repetitive style of Hemingway and other American authors. Despite its stylistic failings, it signifies Vittorini’s search for a poetic fiction. After the war, Vittorini continued working as an editor. His postwar works, such as The Twilight of the Elephant and La Garibaldina, were shorter than standard novels. His last long novel was Women of Messina, published in 1949. Of these works, only La Garibaldina has come close to achieving the fame of In Sicily.

In his last years, Vittorini was influential chiefly for his editorial work for the publishers Einaudi, Bompiani, and Mondadori, where he continued to promote the translation of foreign authors and to edit an influential series of texts. He also issued several minor nonfiction works, which added little to his reputation; his creative period was over. He did not write much in his last years, although his importance in Italian literature was ensured by the continuing popularity of In Sicily as well as La Garibaldina. In the United States and other English-speaking countries, both novels were translated and praised. The American edition of In Sicily boasts an introduction, full of praise, by Hemingway, while the British version had that honor done by Stephen Spender. Vittorini died in Milan on February 12, 1966.

BibliographyBonsaver, Guido. Elio Vittorini: The Writer and the Written. Leeds, England: Northern Universities Press, 2002. Studies Vittorini’s work from an Italian perspective. Includes passages in Italian with English translations.Heiney, Donald. Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1968. A clear and insightful study of Vittorini as an “operatic” novelist.Jeannet, Angela, and L. K. Barnett, eds. New World Journeys: Contemporary Italian Writers and the Experience of America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Includes index and bibliography.Pacifici, Sergio. The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. A view of Vittorini’s place in contemporary Italian literature.Potter, Joy Hambuechen. Elio Vittorini. Boston: Twayne, 1979. In the Twayne World Authors series. A full-length study.
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