Places: The House on the Hill

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La casa in collina, 1949 (English translation, 1956)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1943-1945

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Turin

*Turin. House on the Hill, ThePrincipal city of northwestern Italy’s Piedmont region that provides the narrator, Corrado, with his occupation and his status as an intellectual; however, both the city and Corrado are threatened by wartime instability. Corrado’s work as a schoolteacher, as well as the school where he teaches, are given only a shadowy identity. Despite the increasingly difficult situation in Turin, Corrado’s description of the city is remote. The city is the only place where Corrado admits the possibility of love; however, two early affairs in Turin have left him with unhappy memories, and much of the early part of the novel concerns his attempt to redeem the rashness and futility of an early relationship with Cate, a former lover from Turin’s suburbs whom he meets again by chance after eight years.

House on the hill

House on the hill. Place outside Turin where Corrado seeks safety from air raids on the city. The relative safety of the distant suburban hills moves many people to spend their nights outside the city in temporary quarters. Corrado takes lodgings in a hilltop owned by Elvira, a middle-aged woman who tends his needs with an anxiety that betrays her interest in marrying him. Although the hill on which Elvira’s house stands is only one hill location among many, it is the one that best allows Cesare Pavese to illuminate his character’s ambivalence about the Italian political landscape, by showing Elvira’s reactions not only to the events of the day but also to her boarder’s views about them.

Le Fontane

Le Fontane. Rustic inn located below and at some distance from Elvira’s large house to which people of a lower station in life go to avoid the dangers of Turin. There, Corrado encounters his former lover Cate and her young son, Dino. In Dino, who he imagines may be his own son, Corrado finds both a companion and a reflection of himself as a boy. Accompanied by Corrado’s dog, Belbo, Corrado and Dino roam the woods, where Corrado passes on a knowledge and love of the natural world that is both scientific and deeply personal. In the scenes of Corrado and Dino abroad in the woods and fields, Pavese achieves a lyricism that contrasts effectively with the anxious tone of much of the novel.

The inhabitants of Le Fontane are peasants and workers who do not enjoy the detachment of well-off people like Elvira. Among them are partisan fighters whose presence ultimately condemns the entire group to arrest and perhaps execution. Le Fontane is the most uncertain of refuges and the first to collapse.


*Belbo. Corrado’s name for his home village, where he seeks refuge at the end of the novel. He travels there, southeast from Turin, in a tensely wrought account of risky, clandestine travel. In this region Corrado still finds his true life of the forest, as he dreamed of it as a boy. However, he knows that the war will soon find its way to Belbo, and that then, even the “melancholy” and “solitary” will agree to make war.

Pavese himself was born in San Stefano Belbo, one of several small towns that take their names from the Belbo River flowing northeastward from the hills.

BibliographyBiasin, Gian-Paolo. The Smile of the Gods: A Thematic Study of Cesare Pavese’s Works. Translated by Yvonne Freccero. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1968. Reviews the author’s career and accomplishments. Examines Pavese’s techniques of linking classical themes with modern persons and events.Bondanella, Peter, and Julia Conaway Bondanella, eds. Dictionary of Italian Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1979. Provides the background material needed to begin a study of Pavese and his novels. Provides a brief but perceptive study of The House on the Hill, especially in relationship to Pavese and existentialism.Flint, R. W. Introduction to Selected Works, by Cesare Pavese. Translated by R. W. Flint. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968. The introduction to a standard edition of Pavese’s works in English, helps to establish the parameters for judging the writer’s works.Lajolo, Davide. An Absurd Vice: A Biography of Cesare Pavese. Translated and edited by Mario and Mark Pietralunga. New York: New Directions, 1983. An intensely personal view of Pavese’s life and career. Despite its prejudices, it provides some interesting insights into The House on the Hill.O’Healy, Aine. Cesare Pavese. Boston: Twayne, 1988. An excellent introduction to Pavese’s works. Places The House on the Hill into its proper place within his career. For an introductory volume, it is remarkably complete.Thompson, Doug. Cesare Pavese: A Study of the Major Novels and Poems. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982. Examines The House on the Hill in the light of Pavese’s ambivalent relationship with the Italian Communist Party, and his refusal, or perhaps inability, to translate his own anti-Fascist views into action.
Categories: Places