Guide Bitter Spring: A Life of Ignazio Silone

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Date Edition Publisher Phys Desc. Language Availability Farrar, Straus and Giroux, xix, p. English On Shelf. More Info Place Hold. Add a Review. Add To List. Also in This Series. More Like This. Table of Contents. Loading Table Of Contents Loading Excerpt Author Notes. Loading Author Notes More Details. But there is always a clear, explicit, and sincere identification with the poor Christ, the sufferingChrist, the peasant Christ who figures in the mythology of the rural poor. And in his last, unfinished work, Severina, Silone for the first and only time identifies himself with a female protagonist.

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A member of the French underground, a writer, and a Jew who died by self-starvation in , Weil inspired Silone to create Severina as bystander to a crime, thus embodying what writing meant for him:"the absolute necessity of bearing witness. Lewis in a profile that, now almost a half century old, is still thebest critical analysis of the writer.

He believed that the true nature of any person could not be known because—following the Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico—he insisted that man is not nature. Is it true, as others now insist, that Silone offered a confession for his transgressions as a police spy in a minor protagonist? The transfiguration from Secondino Tranquilli to Ignazio Silone was neither the first nor the last of his many self-transformations. Of the few people alive who knew him personally, I am perhaps the one who knew him best, even if certainly not completely no one ever knew him completely.

Ignazio Silone

Rarely has an oeuvre been so autobiographical. Rarely has so cosmopolitan a writer been so closely identified with the place ofhis birth. Silone speaks to all of Europe. If I feel myself tied to him it is because he is incredibly rooted in his national and even local tradition. Indeed, one is struck by his complicated and ambivalent relationship with his hometown of Pescina. Notwithstanding all the autobiographical detail in his work, the problem of uncovering his identity still remains almost insurmountable for the biographer.

So close was that identification that the necessity of actually finishing a book was"an arbitrary and painfulact, an act against nature, at any rate, my nature. Like an ancient Hebrew prophet or oneof the early persecuted Christians, Silone insisted on a moral vision of the world. His writing—"bearing witness"—was to become the testimony of an age.

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Christianity for Silone was both a historical movement, tied to a certain place and time, and a transcendent, timeless moral force. This conflicting tension between an adamant historicism and a desire for transcendence are ever-present in his thought and writing.

Silone and his main protagonists are not so much searching for a hidden God as being hounded by the Lord. A doggedly persistent deity haunts Silone and his characters, seeking them out in desolate landscapes and humble farmhouses, donkey stalls, and empty churches.

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The moral and ethical impetus is more St. Despite his identification with both Christianity and socialism, Silone indelibly defined himself as"a Socialist without a Party, a Christian without a Church. There was no Dantean"comedic" vision of Christianity in Silone; he confessed to being an"absurd Christian. For Silone, the promise of Christianity as embodied in the Easter Resurrection has not come to pass. Instead, for the peasants of southern Italy—indeed, for peasants and workers around the world—it is, he insisted, still—and always—Good Friday.

Nor could Marxism offer salvation or redemption. In an early work he concluded:"The future belongs to Socialism. Just as he could not bring himself simply to accept a comedic teleology of Christianity, he eventually came to question and then reject Marxist eschatology and teleology. He once wrote that since pathos cannot be eliminated from human life,"a touchof irony is required to make it acceptable. Although tragedy and sorrow were inherent in the human condition— he often wrote of"our inhuman fate upon the earth"—there remained the possibility of hope. His politics could be described as a humanistic socialism combined with a compassionate libertarianism.

Nine years later, in a sympathetic response to the student uprisings of , Silone commented that"democracy has a duty to respect utopia. That kind of sadness has always been very prevalent among sensitive individuals in this part of the world. Once upon a time, to avoid suicide or madness, they entered monasteries. But painfully shy, uncomfortable in the public light, and perpetually doubtful of himself, Silone never had any of the qualities necessary for a successful political career.

He was a difficult husband, an exasperating friend, a mediocre politician, an aloof acquaintance, a morosepresence in public, a distant and cool relative, often manic-depressive, sometimes suicidal, and he carried out an epistolary exchange with a police official that has shadowed his reputation for the last decade. Yet, starting in the s, he crafted a body of work that testifies to a searing political and spiritual crisis and still bears fruitful reading.

Silone offers us today a critical commentary on everything that we as human beings experienced in the twentieth century: from the failed promise of political utopia to the disillusionment with art; from the nihilism of totalitarianism to the moral temptations and seductive corruption of an affluent but savage, consumerist culture. Curiously, Silone has never been the subject of a biography in English. Even in Italy, when not neglected by the literary and cultural establishment, he was often the object of scorn and derision, accused of writing"bad Italian.

But considering the ethical dimensions of his writing and the wide range of his literary production, it is surprising that his work has not attracted greater attention in America. When The School for Dictators first appeared in with dictators ascendant , Silone was acclaimed"a second Machiavelli" by some overly enthusiastic critics, as, conversely, his Manifesto for Civil Disobedience of December , in which he urges the peoples of Europe to rise up against the Fascist and Nazi dictatorships with nonviolent public resistance, makes one think of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Critics and readers of twentieth-century Italian literature are now familiar with the so-called caso Silone Silone case , first broached in the postwar years: Why was Silone so beloved and read abroad and so neglected at home in Italy? It was only late in his life that the Italian literary establishment issued a collective mea culpa and showered Silone with literaryprizes.

For them Silone would always be a standard-bearer of the cause of anti-Fascism and of the necessity for moral enquiry in literature. As such, he was to be set alongside Camus, Koestler, Malraux, Orwell, and others, and to be remembered principally for his earlier works, including Fontamara. Other critics more open to his later work did emerge, but in turn they tended toneglect Fontamara, where the themes of introspective morality and crisis are muted and poverty and politics are to the fore.

By , Iris Origo could write that admiration for Silone"has now become not only the fashion, but almost a certificate of integrity. Silone immediately resigned from the CCF and in closed down the journal, but the allegations that he was a spy for theCIA persisted.

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Documents from the National Archives in Washington, D. A careful reading of these documents reveals that Silone was no spy. It hardly seems likely that Silone was a spy for the CIA when, despite the intervention of both Adlai Stevenson and Clare Boothe Luce, he was denied a visa to visit the United States until the mids.


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In light of his beleaguered circumstances—denied by both the right and the left—Silone was adopted by the democratic socialists of the United States and lauded by the intellectual and literary circles of Partisan Review, Dissent, and The Nation. But over the last decade another caso Silone has darkened his reputation.

In , an Italian historian uncovered documents supposedly proving that Silone had been spying for theFascist police. In an early work he concluded: "The future belongs to Socialism. Just as he could not bring himself simply to accept a comedic teleology of Christianity, he eventually came to question and then reject Marxist eschatology and teleology.

Yet even his most astute readers, focused on his moral and political seriousness, often fail to note Silone's irony and humor. He once wrote that since pathos cannot be eliminated from human life, "a touch of irony is required to make it acceptable.

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Although tragedy and sorrow were inherent in the human condition — he often wrote of "our inhuman fate upon the earth" — there remained the possibility of hope. His politics could be described as a humanistic socialism combined with a compassionate libertarianism. Nine years later, in a sympathetic response to the student uprisings of , Silone commented that "democracy has a duty to respect utopia.

By nature silent, meditative, and melancholy, Silone belied the stereotype of the gregarious, outgoing, extroverted southern Italian. In The Seed Beneath the Snow, a sympathetic character remarks to Pietro Spina's grandmother modeled on Silone's own maternal grandmother : "There's a kind of sadness, a subtle kind of sadness that must not be confused with the more ordinary kind that's the result of remorse, disappointment, or suffering; there's a kind of intimate sadness and hopelessness that attaches itself for preference to chosen souls That kind of sadness has always been very prevalent among sensitive individuals in this part of the world.

Once upon a time, to avoid suicide or madness, they entered monasteries. Unable or unwilling to enter a monastery, Silone gravitated to politics at an early age. But painfully shy, uncomfortable in the public light, and perpetually doubtful of himself, Silone never had any of the qualities necessary for a successful political career. He was a difficult husband, an exasperating friend, a mediocre politician, an aloof acquaintance, a morose presence in public, a distant and cool relative, often manic-depressive, sometimes suicidal, and he carried out an epistolary exchange with a police official that has shadowed his reputation for the last decade.

Yet, starting in the s, he crafted a body of work that testifies to a searing political and spiritual crisis and still bears fruitful reading. Silone offers us today a critical commentary on everything that we as human beings experienced in the twentieth century: from the failed promise of political utopia to the disillusionment with art; from the nihilism of totalitarianism to the moral temptations and seductive corruption of an affluent but savage, consumerist culture.

Curiously, Silone has never been the subject of a biography in English. Even in Italy, when not neglected by the literary and cultural establishment, he was often the object of scorn and derision, accused of writing "bad Italian. But considering the ethical dimensions of his writing and the wide range of his literary production, it is surprising that his work has not attracted greater attention in America.

When The School for Dictators first appeared in with dictators ascendant , Silone was acclaimed "a second Machiavelli" by some overly enthusiastic critics, as, conversely, his Manifesto for Civil Disobedience of December , in which he urges the peoples of Europe to rise up against the Fascist and Nazi dictatorships with nonviolent public resistance, makes one think of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Critics and readers of twentieth-century Italian literature are now familiar with the so-called caso Silone Silone case , first broached in the postwar years: Why was Silone so beloved and read abroad and so neglected at home in Italy?

It was only late in his life that the Italian literary establishment issued a collective mea culpa and showered Silone with literary prizes. Robert Gordon has concisely delineated Silone's postwar critical reputation:. Ironically, the foreign writers and critics who had championed Silone in the s and s as a great writer gradually lost interest in his later work, unable or unwilling to stomach his increasingly intense libertarian Christianity. For them Silone would always be a standard-bearer of the cause of anti-Fascism and of the necessity for moral enquiry in literature.

As such, he was to be set alongside Camus, Koestler, Malraux, Orwell, and others, and to be remembered principally for his earlier works, including Fontamara.

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Other critics more open to his later work did emerge, but in turn they tended to neglect Fontamara, where the themes of introspective morality and crisis are muted and poverty and politics are to the fore. They tried to fit Silone into another company of writers, of Christian moralists such as Bernanos, Peguy, and Greene. Despite their best efforts, however, it is undeniable that Silone's international reputation faded somewhat, along with that of the anti-Fascist or existentialist generation. Tell us what you think.

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