restricted access Existence as Theme in Carlo Cassola's Fiction, and: Vengeance of the Victim: History and Symbol in Giorgio Bassani's Fiction (review)
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Peter N. Pedroni. Existence as Theme in Carlo Cassola's Fiction. Berne: Lang, 1985. 191 pp. sfr. 53.30.
Marilyn Schneider. Vengeance of the Victim: History and Symbol in Giorgio Bassani's Fiction. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1986. 259 pp. $35.00.

In his accurate and thorough monographic study, Peter Pedroni examines the development of Carlo Cassola's fiction from the early 1930s to the 1970s. Pedroni rejects the traditional placement of Cassola among neorealistic writers. Instead, he defines Cassola's primary narrative goal as the expression of "his existential emotions in the attempt to arouse similar feelings in his readers." According to the critic, only after 1975 does Cassola abandon existential themes in favor of sociopolitical ones. Pedroni identifies the inspiring force of Cassola's works in the "subliminal perception" of existence, accepting the famous formula coined by Manlio Cancogni, critic and lifelong friend of the author. With such a formula Cancogni refers to a joyful awareness of man's existential reality, which seems to be communicated through characters' interaction in common, everyday situations and through the earnest expression of their feelings and thoughts. Such recreation of life into fiction never declines into naturalistic banality—in Pedroni's view—and it tends toward poetic expression rather than social engagement or political propaganda.

Pedroni chooses a chronological approach, documenting the main turning points in the writer's technical development. In the first chapter, the critic illustrates the employment of the "film of the impossible" technique in Cassola's early stories (1937-1944). He explains that the author "used fixed or still images from which he allowed his imagination to develop the movement suggested by them"; existential emotions are thus represented through chains of images evoked by landscape description, characters' gestures, or childhood recollection. In the following chapter Pedroni points out the centrality of the themes of death (viewed as an obstacle to the pursuit of happiness) and fate (often manifested through apparently insignificant narrative details) in Cassola's postwar production. The critic claims that the symbolic import of characters' actions and environment points to a nonhistorical human condition of spiritual anxiety rather than postwar moral uncertainty and confusion. He offers a psychological and existential interpretation of Il taglio del bosco, a 1950 novel that constitutes a turning point in Cassola's career. Pedroni maintains that, starting with this novel, the author no longer limits himself to rendering an existential atmosphere but expresses a particular existential feeling; in this case, the protagonist's feeling of anguish also reflects the author's grief for the loss of his own wife; this autobiographical detail seems to have influenced Cassola's expressive mode.

In the third chapter the themes and the structure of Fausto e Anna (1952) are investigated. The critic describes Cassola's employment of new narrative techniques (such as suspense, dramatic effect, and so on) and his development of old ones. Chapter Four focuses on Cassola's literary production during the so-called [End Page 382] "neorealist phase" (1950-1960). Again the author is believed to have remained faithful to his basic existential themes, although the events presented in various novels of this period are inspired by the war and the Resistance. Pedroni argues that in the 1960s Cassola repudiates historical and political subjects and does not change his main writing purpose. In the following three chapters, the critic indicates Cassola's predilection for characters' introspection, a Bergsonian intuition of the passing of time, the significance of memorial recollection, and the important coexistence of opposite sexes in life; these elements are particularly evident in Cassola's fiction during the 1960s. Existential themes are best expressed in Paura e tristezza (1970), as Pedroni observes in Chapter Eight; the symbolic and structural elements of this novel effectively convey the emotions of fear and sadness, which are aroused by the contemplation of the human condition. Troppo tardi (1971), Monte Mario (1973), Gisella (1974), and L'antagonista (1976) fail in their narrative purpose, according to the critic. Pedroni attributes such failure to Cassola's choice of negative characters.

Pedroni portrays in an unusually antitraditional fashion a writer who seems to be fascinated by the mysterious and joyous experience of human life...