Authors: Ignazio Silone

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian novelist


Ignazio Silone (see-LOH-nay), who was born in the Appenine Mountains of the Abruzzi district, dropped his real name, Secondo Tranquilli, to save his family from Fascist persecution. Born the son of a small landowner, he became active in the labor movement as a young boy. In 1917, as secretary for the land workers of the Abruzzi district, he was charged with organizing an antiwar demonstration. In 1921 he joined and became secretary of the Italian Communist Party, and in 1922 he began to contribute, with Antonio Gramsci, to the paper L’Unita. He was also the editor of a daily newspaper in Trieste. Even after Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, Silone continued to print illegal newspapers and carry out other assignments. After his trip to Moscow in 1927 he became disillusioned with Communism and broke with the Communist Party in 1930. By 1932 one of his brothers had died in a Fascist prison, and Silone had been imprisoned and then expelled from various European countries.{$I[AN]9810000026}{$I[A]Silone, Ignazio}{$S[A]Tranquilli, Secondo;Silone, Ignazio}{$I[geo]ITALY;Silone, Ignazio}{$I[tim]1900;Silone, Ignazio}

Ignazio Silone

(Library of Congress)

Taking up residence in Switzerland in 1930, he set to work on his first novel, Fontamara, in which he describes the systematic destruction by the Black Shirts of a small Italian town that has attempted to resist the Fascists. A propagandistic novel that is nevertheless powerful and affecting, it ends with a plea for action against the scourge. Bread and Wine, perhaps Silone’s finest book, tells the story of Pietro Spina, a revolutionist who returns to his native Abruzzi district for refuge while trying to regain his health. Disguised as a priest, he finds the best aspects of his youthful religiousness returning. In carrying out his undercover work he achieves a kind of regeneration as he attempts to fuse the best of Christianity and Marxism. The School for Dictators was a book of satiric dialogues against Fascism. His third novel, The Seed Beneath the Snow, followed the further activities of Pietro Spina among the peasants and small landowners of Silone’s native district. (In 1944 Silone published a drama based on the activities of Pietro Spina, And He Did Hide Himself.) With the Allied invasion of Italy, Silone slipped back into Italy disguised as a priest and spent the remainder of the war as a member of the underground.

At the war’s end he became manager of the newspaper Avanti! and, as a member of the Constituent Assembly, he participated in drawing up the new Italian constitution. In 1952, two years after retiring from political life to devote himself to literature, Silone published A Handful of Blackberries. This powerful novel, set in postwar Italy, was the story of a former Communist’s attempt to break with the Party, despite its retributory attempts against him and his sweetheart, and to resume his work for the peasants against the great landowners. During his final years Silone was active in Italian and international writers’ associations while continuing to write. His last writings include a philosophical tale, The Secret of Luca; a political tale, The Fox and the Camellias; and a play, The Story of a Humble Christian, which deals with the life of Celestine V, who abdicated the papacy in 1294.

BibliographyKrieger, Murray. “Ignazio Silone: The Failure of the Secular Christ.” In The Tragic Vision: Variations on a Theme in Literary Interpretation. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960. This is a probing study of Bread and Wine.Mooney, Harry J., Jr., and Thomas F. Staley, eds. The Shapeless God: Essays on Modern Fiction. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1968. See chapter 2, “Ignazio Silone and the Pseudonyms of God.” This is chiefly a study of Bread and Wine, but there are illuminating references to Silone’s other novels as well.Origo, Iris. A Need to Testify: Portraits of Lauro de Bosis, Ruth Draper, Gaetano Salvemini, Ignazio Silone and an Essay on Biography. New York: Books & Company/Helen Marx Books, 2002. A penetrating portrait of the writer by a distinguished biographer. Includes notes but no bibliography.Paynter, Maria Nicolai. Ignazio Silone: Beyond the Tragic Vision. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 2000. Critical study focuses on Silone’s use of symbolism. Includes bibliography and index.Pugliese, Stanislao G. Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009. This is the most comprehensive biography yet written about Silone. Pugliese sheds light on the accusations waged against Silone of being an informant for the Italian Fascist police. He paints a portrait of the many sides of Silone and discusses the historical significance of his literature and political commentary.Scott, Nathan A., Jr. “Ignazio Silone: Novelist of the Revolutionary Sensibility.” In Rehearsals of Discomposure: Alienation and Reconciliation in Modern Literature: Franz Kafka, Ignazio Silone, D. H. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952. Scott offers a wide-ranging overview of Silone’s fiction in the context of European literature.Slonim, Marc. Afterword to Bread and Wine, by Ignazio Silone. New York: New American Library, 1963. A useful introduction to the novel, explaining the circumstances in which it was written, analyzing its characters, the author’s politics, and Silone’s artistic achievement.
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