Cesare Pavese was born in Santo Stefano Belbo, in the province of Cuneo. It was the village where his father was born and where the family returned for the summer holidays each year. He started infant classes in Santo Stefano Belbo, but the rest of his education was in schools in Turin. His most important teacher at the time was Augusto Monti, writer and educator, whose writing style attempted to be devoid of all rhetoric. As a young man of letters, Pavese had a particular interest in English-language literature, graduating from the University of Turin with a thesis on the poetry of Walt Whitman. Among his mentors at the university was Leone Ginzburg, expert on Russian literature and literary critic, husband of the writer Natalia Ginzburg and father of the future historian Carlo Ginzburg. In those years, Pavese translated both classic and recent American and British authors that were then new to the Italian public. Cesare Pavese moved in antifascist circles. In 1935 he was arrested and convicted for having letters from a political prisoner. After a few months in prison he was sent into “confino”, internal exile in Southern Italy, the commonly used sentence for those guilty of lesser political crimes. (Carlo Levi and Leone Ginzburg, also from Turin, were similarly sent into confino.) A year later Pavese returned to Turin, where he worked for the left-wing publisher Giulio Einaudi as editor and translator. Natalia Ginzburg also worked there.
Cesare Pavese was living in Rome when he was called up into the fascist army, but because of his asthma he spent six months in a military hospital. When he returned to Turin, German troops occupied the streets and most of his friends had left to fight as partisans. Cesare Pavese fled to the hills around Serralunga di Crea, near Casale Monferrato. He took no part in the armed struggle taking place in that area. During the years in Turin, he was the mentor of the young writer and translator Fernanda Pivano, his former student at the Liceo D’Azeglio. Pavese gave her the American edition of Spoon River Anthology, which came out in Pivano’s Italian translation in 1943. After World War II Cesare Pavese joined the Italian Communist Party and worked on the party’s newspaper, L’Unità. The bulk of his work was published during this time. Toward the end of his life, he would frequently visit Le Langhe, the area where he was born, where he found great solace. Depression, the failure of a brief love affair with the actress Constance Dowling, to whom his last novel and one of his last poems (“Death will come and she’ll have your eyes”) were dedicated, and political disillusionment led him to his suicide by an overdose of barbiturates in 1950. That year he had won the Strega Prize for La Bella Estate, comprising three novellas: ‘La tenda’, written in 1940, ‘Il diavolo sulle colline'(1948) and ‘Tra donne sole’ (1949). Leslie Fiedler wrote of Pavese’s death “…for the Italians, his death has come to have a weight like that of Hart Crane for us, a meaning that penetrates back into his own work and functions as a symbol in the literature of an age.” The circumstances of his suicide, which took place in a hotel room, mimic the last scene of Tra Donne Sole (Among Women Only), his penultimate book. His last book was ‘La Luna e i Falò’, published in Italy in 1950 and translated into English as The Moon and the Bonfires by Louise Sinclair in 1952. He was an atheist. However, Molinari claims that search for God appears in his writings.
- September, 09, 1908
- Santo Stefano Belbo
- August, 27, 1950
- Turin, Italy
Cause of Death
- Cimitero di Santo Stefano Belbo
- Santo Stefano Belbo