- Francesco Jovine: The Quest for Realism
Francesco Jovine's talent lay in the rapid assimilation of prevailing ideologies. He was a modernist in the 1930s when Freud's views on memory and childhood defined reality. As a theater critic for the Communist newspaper Unità in the 1940s, Jovine had a ringside seat from which he witnessed and encouraged the merger of social analysis and art. Bliss it must have been to be alive, if not heaven to be forty-three, and reviewing Luchino Visconti's November 1945 production of Antigone on the same bill as an act from Sartre's No Exit.
Jovine's most important novel, Le terre del Sacramento, translated in 1952 as The Estate in Abruzzi, can be considered realistic only if we remember what Peter Bondanella characterizes as the "blatant melodrama" of a film like Roberto Rossellini's Rome, Open City (1945), where, for example, it is not enough that the head of the Gestapo is a monster; "he is also pictured as an effeminate homosexual, while his assistant Ingrid is a viperlike lesbian." Like Rossellini, Jovine sets simple characters and dramatic episodes in a plot that consists of a struggle between good and evil. The young man who leads the peasants in their struggle against fear and real estate interests is Luca Marano. He smokes cigarettes made of pipe tobacco and newspaper. He is bigger and more independent than others from his village. He has an iron grip. He hates fascists. When he and three friends can pool only enough money for two rounds at the local brothel, Luca wins their lottery, and then a half hour later wins again. Jovine's ideals were those of the era that gave us Sophia Loren. True women in this book have big breasts. Luca teams up with a socially superior woman named Laura to cultivate the lands, thought to be cursed because seized from the Church by the Cannivale family, into which Laura has married. But we know in advance, from her meager chest measurement, that Laura will let Luca down. Although she starts with good intentions, she is taken for a ride by an unscrupulous banker whose blonde Irish wife does literally to Luca what social forces are doing symbolically to the workers of the earth whom he represents.
Procaccini understands that the realism of Jovine's novel lies not in its heroically constructed central character but in the landscape against which the actors move. Jovine captures brilliantly the cycle of agrarian life east of Naples. Hills cut off the sun too early in the day. The land is rocky and steep. Peasants live [End Page 310] in villages. The town of Calena, with its lawyers, is provincial. Ideological discourse inheres in the social setting. As further proof of Procaccini's prescription, one might turn it around and suggest that if one wants to get away with an ideological discourse, a spectacular setting is in order. Soviet fiction of the factory or Jean-Luc Godard's film of an assembly line resists classification as neorealism not because of ideological faults but simply because neorealism could not exist outside emergent-industrial, postwar Italy. Where but in Italy could a realistic novelist's message be the idea that social action is Christian hope, as Procaccini argues? What other culture has the grounding in the classics that allows such an idea to be symbolically expressed, after Luca is gunned down by fascists while defending the peasants' land, by a stichomythia of wailing women?
Jovine created a body of work that gives depth to the cultural movement of mid-century. It may be that what will most distinguish modernism, as we look back, will be its attempt to spiritualize art, to offer art as a form of redemption because the world is a wasteland, as is the rocky, barren soil of Jovine's (and Procaccini's) native Molise. The impossibility of the task, perhaps, is what necessitated the move to postmodernism.
Procaccini has performed a valuable service in bringing Jovine to our attention, although this frankly academic study has...