- Cesare Pavese and Anthony Chiuminatto: Their Correspondence
Cesare Pavese was still a university student in 1928 when, through his friend Massimo Mila, he met Anthony "Tony" Chiuminatto, an Italian-American musician who had been studying music in Italy for the previous three years. Chiuminatto moved back to Green Bay, Wisconsin, the following year, but while still living in Turin he gave the two young men English lessons. After returning to the United States, Chiuminatto would hold a four-year correspondence with Pavese, providing him with a number of glosses to American texts Pavese was reading, as well as serving as a foil for the Turinese writer's critical thoughts on translation, language, and cultural events. The encounter would deeply affect Pavese's career as a writer and was probably the single most important event in promoting Pavese's Americanism and developing his ideas pertaining to literary and linguistic aesthetics, an influence that is too often ignored or under-appreciated, even by those who have studied Pavese and his epistolary. This new volume, edited and with an introductory essay by Mark Pietralunga, a longtime Pavese scholar, finally collects their exchanges in their entirety and allows English-speaking scholars to follow the development of Pavese both as a translator and critic of the new American literature that was beginning to find its way into Italy during the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Pietralunga's introductory essay helps situate the correspondence in its historical and cultural context, providing the readers with an essential background to how the friendship between the two men developed, as well as with a critical interpretation of how it progressed and affected Pavese's increasing engagement with American culture. By analyzing excerpts from their correspondence in juxtaposition with Pavese's critical work on American authors (such as his university thesis on Walt Whitman and the articles he published in La Cultura on Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson and O. Henry), Pietralunga confirms that Chiuminatto was more than just an aide to Pavese's insatiable desire to learn American-English: he served as a foil who at times corrected and redirected Pavese's understanding of American slang and language in general. While earlier collections of Pavese's correspondence both in Italian (Mondo and Calvino's [End Page 168] Lettere of 1966) and in English (A.E. Murch's Selected Letters 1924–1950, 1969; R.W. Flint's Selected Works of Cesare Pavese, 2001) offered only a partial glimpse into the interaction between the two writers, Pietralunga's complete reconstruction of the letter exchanges between the two—as well as the appendixes he provides with the glosses Chiuminatto sent Pavese of Sherwood Anderson's Dark Laughter and Sinclair Lewis's Babbit and Arrowsmith—allows the readers to follow the shifting dynamics of the relationship.
Pavese eagerly initiated the correspondence, as he needed someone to help him understand and translate the complex colloquial language of the American writers he was reading, such as Lewis and Anderson. Chiuminatto was only too glad to oblige Pavese's interests. Between 1930 and 1933, he sent the Italian writer explanations to hundreds of slang expressions, and mailed him, either as requested or of his own initiative, dozens of books (even establishing a system by which he would borrow books from libraries, send them to Italy, and wait—often past the deadlines—for Pavese to send them back). In addition, his letters often proffered insights and criticisms about culture and life in the United States, suggestions for the publication of Pavese's articles in America and, in general, a friendly ear. As the appendices attest, Chiuminatto performed yeoman's work in satisfying Pavese's desire to understand American slang, though the benefits to himself were often minimal or nonexistent. Indeed, what strikes any reader of this correspondence is how the friendship became more and more parasitic on the part of Pavese, as his demands constantly outdid Chiuminatto's meager requests for reciprocation (when Chiuminatto finally asked Pavese's help in finding Italian texts to translate, the communication came to an abrupt halt).
The letters also reveal...