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B r i n g i n g C o n t e x t s C l o s e r : J a m e s W e l c h R e w r i t e s E l i o V i t t o r i n i ’s In S ic il y R o b e r t a O r l a n d i n i H aving openly declared his debt to Elio Vittorini (see Coltelli 193, Bevis 179), James Welch tempts his readers to explore the relation­ ship between his first novel, Winter in the Blood (1974), and Vittorini’s Conversazione in Sicilia (1941), which Welch almost certainly read in Wilfrid David’s English translation, In Sicily (1949). According to Welch, Vittorini’s novel helped him during his transition from poetry to narrative as he was searching for a new expressive medium. Welch found that the poetical prose adopted by Vittorini fit his own stylis­ tic needs at the time. However, Welch’s interest in Vittorini’s novel was not confined to formal matters. The Italian model helped Welch advance his Native American discourse begun in his poetry by giving him the opportunity of placing the subject of Native Americans in a wider context than American studies and of comparing the colonial process affecting the indigenous peoples of North America to similarly tragic chapters of European history, such as the Spanish Civil War and the Fascist regime that brought Italy to World War II.1 In order to dem­ onstrate that Welch’s first novel induces readers to juxtapose the two novels’ contexts, I will read Winter in the Blood as a rewriting of In Sicily with a cultural rather than an ideological focus. In the context of the literary relations between the United States and Italy, this rewriting act is further evidence that the road ofcultural exchange runs in both directions: in the 1930s and ’40s, Vittorini, an admirer and promoter of US literature in Italy, stated repeatedly his preference for poeti­ cal prose in some of his favorite American writers: Sinclair Lewis, James M. Cain, and Carl Sandburg at first; Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner later. Vittorini’s thought overlapped with that of other Italian readers of American literature who saw “anti-rhetorical fury” and “disdain for technique” as positive characteristics of overseas prose (Lombardo 358). Together with his collaborator Cesare Pavese, another major poet and novelist of those years, Vittorini thought that American writers could bring some badly W e s t e r n A m e r i c a n L i t e r a t u r e 42.2 (S u m m e r 2007): 165-86. 1 6 6 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e S u m m e r 2 0 0 7 needed fresh air into excessively academic Italian letters.^ Besides, Pavese and Vittorini shared a belief in the sociopolitical relevance of poetry and promoted American literature through translations and critical works because they thought it expressed the democracy, individual liberty, and moral stance they were denied by Fascist censorship. America became a political allegory in the period between the wars. In Italo Calvino’s words, America was “a complex symbol of different contemporary realities, a mixture of America, Russia, and Italy, with, on top, a touch of wilderness, a synthesis of all that fascism wanted to deny” (xiii).3 Clearly, a newly politicized myth of the United States was born. Vittorini’s enthusiasm about American writers was affected by his anti-Fascist ideology, his opposition to the regime in Italy, and the war itself. In his novel, the political weight of poetry strongly emerges through the protagonist’s father, a Shakespearean actor; it is thanks to poetry that people and events are not forgotten. In his critical work on American literature, Vittorini focused on the issue of poetical real­ ism. Some of his comments, for example those on Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), are indicative of his taste for poetical prose. The demonic...


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pp. 165-186
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