First Half of the 20th Century (Novecento)

Currents and directions of modernity

As in most other European literatures, in Italian literature around the turn of the century the realistic and naturalistic themes and spellings were replaced by literature that was supposed to correspond to the changed living environment and the modern way of life. So answered G. D’Annunzio the hard veristic social criticism with a cult of beauty in the sign of decadence; Characteristic of his aesthetic and sexual hedonism is the novel “Il piacere” (German “Die Lust”), published in 1888. In contrast to this elitist concept, F. T. Marinetti aimed on the public: He encountered the technical and social upheavals of the new century with the »Manifesto del futurismo« (1909) and thus became the founder of one of the great European avant-garde movements, futurism. The break with all artistic traditions, the glorification of technology and its integration into art later made him a staunch supporter of fascism.

In the first decades of the 20th century, magazines had a great influence on public and literary life in Italy: for example, »Leonardo« (1903–07) and »La Voce« (1908–14), both by G. Founded Prezzolini and G. Papini, who fought historical positivism, literary verism, and philosophical materialism; G. Papini, who worked in Florence, was involved in almost all literary movements one after the other and influenced Italian through his magazines (in addition to the already mentioned »Lacerba«, 1913–15, and »Rinascita«, 1938–44), through his historical and culturally critical works Mental life considerably for decades. After the First World War, the Roman magazine “La Ronda” (1919–23) propagated a return to the humanistic traditions of Italian literature against the nationalist rhetoric of G. D’Annunzio, while the Florentine “Solaria” made foreign and young authors known. B. Croce dominated literary criticism in the first half of the century through his magazine “La Critica” (1903–44). For more articles about Italy and Europe, please follow Estatelearning.

Another answer to the verbose aestheticism of G. D’Annunzio was on the one hand the Crepuscolari (German: “The poets of the twilight”), which, as a successor to G. Pascoli, opened up everyday life and the little things in melancholy, modest everyday language: among others S. Corazzini with “Piccolo libro inutile” (1906; German “Small useless book”), and G. Gozzano with »La signorina Felicita ovvero la felicità« (1909; German »Das Fräulein Felicitas oder das Glück«). On the other hand, there were also those authors who were called “ermetici” (German “Hermetiker”) because of the obscure incomprehensibility of their poetry and who, with their existential isolation, refused to accept all ideologies supporting the state: G. Ungaretti, E. Montale, S. Quasimodo and U. Saba are, nonetheless, representatives of this tendency in the individual design of their lyrical works.

In the narrative prose, modern Italian literature begins with L. Pirandello , who in his novels “Il fu Mattia Pascal” (1904; German: “The deceased Mattia Pascal”) and “Uno, nessuno, centomila” (1926; German “One, nobody, Hundred Thousand “) dealt with identity problems and the individual’s compulsion to disguise in society, with an ironic and understanding portrayal of human weaknesses, which he analyzed theoretically in the well-received essay” L’umorismo “(1908; German” Humor “). A special, albeit late effect, emanated from the Trieste I. Svevo, who appeared in his novels – inter alia. “La coscienza di Zeno” (1923; German “Zeno’s consciousness”) – intensely, if not uncritically, dealt with Freudian psychoanalysis. F. Tozzi ‘snovels and stories, written in 1910–20 and also not rediscovered until late (important is, among others, “Con gli occhi chiusi”, 1919; German “With closed eyes”), emphasize in a literarily independent way the value of homeland and existential authenticity, which are often lost on the way from the country to the modern city.

Literature under fascist rule

Unlike in Germany, the fascist seizure of power in Italy did not mean a total alignment of cultural and intellectual life, there was no mass emigration of intellectuals, open reprisals (as with A. Gramsci , C. Malaparte ) remained rather the exception. Opposition authors were banished to remote areas (such as C. Levi , N. Ginzburg, and C. Pavese ). The writers and artists were tied to the fascist state through the “Real Accademia d’Italia”. The diversity of opinion in the numerous magazines, however, hardly offered any fundamental criticism of fascism; rather, the intellectual discussion revolved around the priority of national or regional values ​​over openness to the world. M. Bontempelli tried to keep up with international modernism,E. Gadda also published experimental texts whose linguistic inventiveness was to have a strong impact over the next few decades; other authors withdrew into neoclassicism. The dominant figure in the drama is L. Pirandello , his anti-illusionist metatheater – especially “Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore” (1921; German “Six characters in search of an author”) – influenced the theater of the absurd through E. Ionesco . In addition, L. Pirandello took up the antinomy of existence and appearance in his plays and in his novels, often with grotesque comedy, among others. in »Così è (se vi pare)« (1917; German »That’s how it is (if it seems so to you)«), »Il berretto a sonagli« (1918; German »Die Narrenkappe«) and »Enrico IV« (1920; German »Heinrich IV.«).

However, the predominant genre of literature since before the First World War has been the novel. A characteristic of Italian literature is particularly evident here: The writers are strongly influenced by their regional origins, their subjects arise from the past and present of their homeland: This is how I. Svevo from Trieste, R. Bacchelli from the Po Valley around Ferrara, B. Cicognani from Florence, G. Deledda from Sardinia, C. Alvaro from Calabria and finally A. Moravia from Rome.

Anti-fascist attitudes have been evident in the narrative prose of various well-known writers since the mid-1930s (including I. Silone , C. Alvaro, C. Bernari, E. Vittorini ). The contemporary literature of the USA represented an important model for the ideological and aesthetic reorientation of the Italian narrative; C. Pavese, who inter alia, showed himself to be particularly strongly influenced by this. W. Faulkner , S. Anderson, and S. Lewis translated into Italian and imitated their sober, everyday prose in his own novel “Paesi tuoi” (1941; German “Unter Bauern”). The critical distance of significant intellectuals from the Mussolini regime increased with Italy’s closer ties to National Socialist Germany, v. a. but with Italy’s entry into the war (1940); The young Germanist and Rilke translator G. Pintor exemplified this turning point. Of the immediate literary processing of the Resistance, N. Ginzburg’s »Inverno in Abruzzo« (1944; German »Winter in den Abruzzo«), C. Levi’s»Cristo si è fermato a Eboli« (1945; German »Christ only came to Eboli “), E. Vittorinis “Uomini e no” (1945; German “people and monsters”) and I. Calvino’s “Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno” (1947; German “The way of the spider’s nests”). As a development novel influenced by the aesthetics of social realism, Pavese designed the resistance theme in “Il compagno” (1947; German “The Comrade”), which brought him closer to the Communist Party of Italy (PCI).

First Half of the 20th Century (Novecento)