Tim Parks

The “Mito Amer­i­cano” and Ital­ian Lit­er­ary Cul­ture Un­der Fas­cism by Jane Dun­nett, with a fore­word by Mas­simo Baci­galupo

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Tim Parks

The “Mito Amer­i­cano” and Ital­ian Lit­er­ary Cul­ture Un­der Fas­cism by Jane Dun­nett, with a fore­word by Mas­simo Baci­galupo.

Rome: Aracne, 564 pp., €24.00

What was Amer­ica to Italy and Italy to Amer­ica dur­ing the twenty years of Fas­cist rule? Ar­riv­ing in Italy to live in 1981, and learn­ing Ital­ian very largely by read­ing the works of writ­ers who had come through Fas­cism, I soon be­came fa­mil­iar with the ac­cepted view of lit­er­ary life in that pe­riod. Fas­cism had been not only re­pres­sive but also in­ward-look­ing. For­eign and above all Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture had been cen­sored when not banned; anti-Fas­cist thinkers and ac­tivists had found com­fort in and taken in­spi­ra­tion from Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, which had been coura­geously trans­lated and pub­lished in the years im­me­di­ately be­fore and dur­ing the war by a group of ded­i­cated in­tel­lec­tu­als. The names of Ce­sare Pavese, Elio Vit­torini, and Fer­nanda Pi­vano were fre­quently re­peated. Par­tic­u­lar men­tion was made of a thou­sand-page an­thol­ogy, Amer­i­cana, fea­tur­ing thir­tythree writ­ers from Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing to John Fante, se­lected by Vit­torini and pub­lished by the Mi­lan-based pub­lisher Bom­piani in 1941. Hav­ing sur­vived var­i­ous in­ter­ven­tions from the cen­sor, this an­thol­ogy be­came em­blem­atic of the politi­ciz­ing of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture un­der Fas­cism.

In her rev­e­la­tory and ne­glected book The “Mito Amer­i­cano” and Ital­ian Lit­er­ary Cul­ture Un­der Fas­cism, the late Jane Dun­nett quotes a wide range of voices from the 1950s and 1960s who con­trib­uted to this ver­sion of events. “A whole gen­er­a­tion,” wrote the critic Domenico Porzio, “slaked them­selves on the ide­o­log­i­cal and cul­tural mes­sage smug­gled in through Vit­torini’s an­thol­ogy [which] con­sti­tuted . . . a se­ri­ous at­tack on the dic­ta­tor­ship.” “We re­al­ized that Amer­i­cana had opened the way,” re­called the highly re­spected aca­demic Ser­gio Perosa. “The book was . . . a song of free­dom, raised at the mo­ment when free­dom was most vi­o­lated,” agreed Agostino Lom­bardo, an­other well­known aca­demic. “Read­ing or study­ing English and Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture in those years, inevitably be­came a man­i­fes­ta­tion of in­de­pen­dence,” ob­served Sal­va­tore Rosati. Amer­ica was “ex­pe­ri­enced as an in­stru­ment of po­lit­i­cal and lit­er­ary polemic,” claimed Italo Calvino.

Born in 1917, hence some­what younger than Pavese and Vit­torini (both born in 1908), Fer­nanda Pi­vano would go on af­ter the war to have a long ca­reer as a trans­la­tor and in­ter­preter of Amer­i­can cul­ture, a vo­ca­tion that be­gan, she ex­plained in count­less in­ter­views, “as an ex­pres­sion of my an­tiFas­cism.” “The Amer­ica that Pavese and Vit­torini spoke of was...the very an­tithe­sis of of­fi­cial Fas­cist cul­ture.” In­deed it was Pavese’s and Vit­torini’s 1930s trans­la­tions, she ex­plained, that had led to a first “for­ma­tive in­ter­est, in Italy, for Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture,” al­though trans­lat­ing such works, she re­marked, “was ex­tremely polem­i­cal and even a lit­tle dan­ger­ous, since some of us had gone to jail for trans­lat­ing them.” Such an ac­count is en­cour­ag­ing for the flat­ter­ing light it throws on writ­ers, trans­la­tors, pub­lish­ers, and lit­er­ary cul­ture in gen­eral. It was also wel­come for Amer­i­can schol­ars, who saw their lit­er­a­ture as well as their army as­sum­ing a lib­er­at­ing role. Speak­ing ad­mir­ingly of the “clan­des­tine move­ment led by Pavese and Vit­torini” in 1964, the critic Don­ald Heiney ob­served that “to a gen­er­a­tion sub­merged in the fak­ery of of­fi­cial Fas­cist rhetoric, Amer­ica of­fered the pos­si­bil­ity of a re­turn to the prim­i­tive and el­e­men­tal, a re­turn to in­no­cence.”

Is the story true? In fact Fer­nanda Pi­vano was not im­pris­oned by the Fas­cists for trans­lat­ing Amer­i­can nov­els. On the con­trary, in 1941 she won an award from the Fas­cist-con­trolled Cen­tro Ital­iano di Studi Amer­i­cani for her grad­u­ate the­sis on Moby-Dick. In 1943, af­ter the col­lapse of Fas­cism and the Ital­ian sur­ren­der to the Al­lies, the oc­cu­py­ing Ger­man army in Turin ques­tioned Pi­vano and her brother over a con­tract as­sign­ing her the trans­la­tion of Hem­ing­way’s A Farewell to Arms. In some in­ter­views Pi­vano speaks of be­ing re­leased af­ter the in­ter­ro­ga­tion. In oth­ers she talks of im­pris­on­ment, but there is no ev­i­dence to support this and Pi­vano her­self never says for how long she was held.

Pavese and Vit­torini never led a clan­des­tine move­ment; their trans­la­tions were pub­lished by rep­utable pub­lish­ers in reg­u­lar con­tact with the Fas­cist au­thor­i­ties. It is true that Pavese was sent into in­ter­nal ex­ile in 1935, but this was be­cause he was found to be in pos­ses­sion of an in­crim­i­nat­ing let­ter from an im­pris­oned anti-Fas­cist that was meant for his girl­friend, the revo­lu­tion­ary Tina Piz­zardo. Con­demned to three years of ex­ile (in a sea­side vil­lage in Cal­abria), Pavese pe­ti­tioned for a par­don and was freed in just over a year. As for Vit­torini, as late as au­tumn 1942 he was at­tend­ing a lit­er­ary con­fer­ence in Weimar as an of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ital­ian govern­ment. He went into hid­ing shortly af­ter­ward, join­ing forces with the Re­sis­tance af­ter the Amer­i­can land­ings in Si­cily.

Jane Dun­nett (1960–2013) was a Bri­tish lin­guist who spent her life re­search­ing cul­tural ex­changes be­tween Italy and the US dur­ing the Fas­cist pe­riod. Pub­lished posthu­mously, her book is by no means the first to ques­tion whether there re­ally was any clear con­cern to re­sist Fas­cism through lit­er­ary trans­la­tion. She gives due credit to those who pre­ceded her, most no­tably the French scholar Michel Beynet, whose L’im­age de l’Amérique dans la cul­ture ital­i­enne de l’en­tre-deux-guer­res (1990) runs to three vol­umes. What makes Dun­nett’s book so en­light­en­ing and en­gag­ing is the way the specif­i­cally lit­er­ary his­tory of when and how Amer­i­can fic­tion was trans­lated and re­ceived in Italy is placed in the larger set­ting of cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal, and even in­dus­trial ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries.

The mito amer­i­cano—Amer­i­can myth—is a pat phrase in Ital­ian, but one whose mean­ing has changed through time. Only in the last years of Fas­cism, and in par­tic­u­lar dur­ing World War II, Dun­nett sug­gests, did Amer­ica come to be equated by some with po­lit­i­cal lib­erty and anti-Fas­cism. Long be­fore that, for Ital­ian em­i­grants to Amer­ica in the nine­teenth cen­tury, the myth was one of plenty, of wild and gen­er­ous abun­dance, and then, in the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, of mod­ern­iza­tion, wealth, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and ar­chi­tec­ture on a vast scale.

Be­tween 1876 and 1930 some­thing over five mil­lion Ital­ians em­i­grated to Amer­ica, most of them un­em­ployed south­ern peas­ants, look­ing not so much for free­dom as for free land. About two mil­lion would re­turn. Such a huge ex­o­dus was seen re­mark­ably pos­i­tively by many com­men­ta­tors in Italy. “Let’s face it,” wrote Gio­vanni Ni­cola Bat­tista in 1917, “if our econ­omy avoided a deficit in the first ten years of the present cen­tury, we owe it to the mil­lions of em­i­grants...who sent back rivers of gold to the mother coun­try.”

The level of em­i­gra­tion and ac­counts of fab­u­lous riches inevitably pro­moted in­tense in­ter­est in the US. In his book The Ital­ians, Luigi Barzini Jr. re­mem­bers the 1920s in Mi­lan:

Wild Amer­i­can dance tunes were in the air, gen­er­ally played on Amer­i­can Vic­tro­las. On Fa­ther’s desk was a brand-new Amer­i­can typewriter .... There were weekly in­stall­ments of Buf­falo Bill’s ad­ven­tures .... Amer­i­can cars could oc­ca­sion­ally be seen in the city streets, long, sleek, vis­i­bly ex­pen­sive, or ugly, black, prac­ti­cal, spi­der-like, and cheap.

Far from be­ing alien to Fas­cism, this land of vi­tal­ity, mass or­ga­ni­za­tion, and wealth was seen to be in line with Fas­cist goals. FIAT’s huge new fac­tory—opened in Turin in 1923 and very much in­spired by Ford’s fac­tory in Detroit—was ex­actly the sort of devel­op­ment Fas­cism sought to en­cour­age. From the be­gin­ning of his premier­ship in 1922, Mus­solini worked hard to at­tract Amer­i­can support and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment for such projects. “The sta­bil­i­sa­tion of the lira,” Dun­nett writes, “which was one of the cen­tral planks in the regime’s eco­nomic pol­icy for 1926–1927, was only achieved thanks to the di­rect fi­nan­cial, but also po­lit­i­cal, support of the USA.” In 1928 Mus­solini wrote My Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy specif­i­cally for an Amer­i­can au­di­ence and ap­par­ently with the help of the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador in Rome, Richard Wash­burn Child. “I ad­mire the dis­ci­pline of the Amer­i­can peo­ple and their sense of or­ga­ni­za­tion,” Mus­solini claimed. Se­ri­al­ized in The Satur­day

Evening Post, the book was a suc­cess in the US.

Thomas La­mont, se­nior part­ner of J.P. Mor­gan, lob­bied Amer­i­can politi­cians on Italy’s be­half. The head of Columbia Univer­sity, Ni­cholas Mur­ray But­ler, be­came, in the words of his­to­rian Gian Gi­a­como Migone, “a tire­less pro­pa­gan­dist for the Fas­cist regime.” Hearst’s news­pa­pers were sup­port­ive, like­wise Amer­i­can Catholi­cism. Af­ter a trip to Italy in 1934, Car­di­nal Wil­liam O’Con­nell de­clared him­self “en­thu­si­as­tic about con­di­tions in Italy un­der Mus­solini’s rule.” When Bri­tain and other coun­tries in the League of Na­tions im­posed sanc­tions on Italy in re­sponse to its 1935 in­va­sion of Ethiopia, the US did not join in.

Dun­nett is par­tic­u­larly in­trigu­ing when she doc­u­ments Ital­ian re­sponses to Roo­sevelt’s New Deal, which many in­tel­lec­tu­als in­ter­preted as an im­i­ta­tion of Fas­cism’s cor­po­ra­tive poli­cies. Roo­sevelt’s book, Look­ing For­ward (1933), was quickly trans­lated by Bom­piani (the later pub­lisher of Amer­i­cana) and mar­keted with a blurb that aligned Roo­sevelt and Mus­solini and spoke of the “suc­cess of the Fas­cist idea on the other side of the At­lantic.” The fol­low­ing year, Amer­ica Must Choose, writ­ten by Roo­sevelt’s sec­re­tary of agri­cul­ture, Henry Wal­lace, was re­viewed by Mus­solini him­self, who saw in it proof that “Amer­ica is mov­ing to­ward a cor­po­ra­tive econ­omy.”

Ex­am­in­ing dis­patches from Ital­ian for­eign cor­re­spon­dents and the books of a dozen and more Ital­ians who had trav­eled and lived in the States, Dun­nett is per­sua­sive in show­ing the in­ten­sity and va­ri­ety of the Ital­ian de­bate about Amer­ica through­out the 1920s and 1930s, in par­tic­u­lar the Ital­ian per­plex­ity over Amer­ica’s com­bi­na­tion of pu­ri­tanism and lib­er­tin­ism, and a cer­tain am­biva­lence to­ward the Amer­i­can drive for wealth at the sup­posed ex­pense of spir­i­tual empti­ness and a mech­a­nis­tic life­style. A short bi­og­ra­phy ac­com­pa­nies the anal­y­sis of each writer’s con­tri­bu­tion, sug­gest­ing a de­gree of back-and-forth be­tween the coun­tries at ev­ery so­cial level. Here is Mario Sol­dati in 1935, plung­ing into the New York sub­way:

In ev­ery face I saw a dif­fer­ent race, in ev­ery glance a coun­try. How many lips, al­beit si­lent, had the shape and se­duc­tion of un­known tongues. In the ir­re­sistible min­gling of peo­ples I for­got my own coun­try, my homes, my dis­tance friends . . . . I felt light and free.

And here, in 1933, is Leo Fer­rero in Santa Fe try­ing to un­der­stand the race prob­lem:

Here I have vi­o­lent ar­gu­ments about ne­groes. The at­ti­tude of the South to the ne­groes is ab­so­lutely crazy—no one seems to have the slight­est idea how much suf­fer­ing is be­ing in­flicted. What poverty of imag­i­na­tion! Hardly any­one is aware of the im­por­tance of po­lit­i­cal free­dom and le­gal rights. Ev­ery­one is nos­tal­gic for tyranny and lynch­ing.

Along­side this abun­dance of re­portage, en­thu­si­as­tic or hor­ri­fied, or of­ten both, Ital­ians could also en­joy a con­stant sup­ply of Amer­i­can fic­tion. Trans­la­tion had long been im­por­tant in Ital­ian lit­er­ary cul­ture. Since at the time of uni­fi­ca­tion in 1861, only around 5 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion was able to speak stan­dard­ized Ital­ian, trans­la­tion was en­cour­aged as a way of con­sol­i­dat­ing the lan­guage. By the early 1900s more than half of pop­u­lar books sold in Italy were trans­la­tions and by the end of the 1920s most Ital­ian pub­lish­ers had Amer­i­can au­thors on their lists, with writ­ers like Sin­clair Lewis, John Dos Pas­sos, Jack Lon­don, Claude McKay, and Scott Fitzger­ald all read­ily avail­able. In the early 1930s—which Pavese would fa­mously re­fer to as “the decade of trans­la­tion”—Ital­ians were trans­lat­ing over a thou­sand ti­tles a year, con­sid­er­ably more than any other Euro­pean coun­try.

One rea­son for this for­eign pres­ence was that Ital­ian au­thors were sim­ply not try­ing to ap­peal to low- and mid­dle-brow tastes. “In Italy,” wrote An­to­nio Gram­sci, “there is a gap be­tween writ­ers and the pub­lic who tend to look for their books from abroad be­cause for­eign lit­er­a­ture feels closer to them than their own.” The Fas­cist govern­ment, un­like its pre­de­ces­sors, had a pol­icy of en­cour­ag­ing read­ing, partly through sub­si­diz­ing pub­lish­ers, and pub­lish­ers found that the eas­i­est way to at­tract new read­ers was by trans­lat­ing genre nov­els from abroad. Of twen­ty­four de­tec­tive nov­els on Mon­dadori’s list in 1931, only one was writ­ten by an Ital­ian; Son­zogno’s list of ro­man­tic fic­tion was en­tirely made up of trans­la­tions. In 1934, re­ply­ing to com­plaints that Ital­ian writ­ers were be­ing ig­nored, Vit­torini re­sponded that “if it were not for trans­la­tions, ed­i­tors wouldn’t know whom to turn to.”

When it came to movies, the Amer­i­can pres­ence was over­whelm­ing. Be­tween 1925 and 1930, 80 per­cent of films seen in Italy were Amer­i­can. Dun­nett gives a hi­lar­i­ous ac­count of the gossip col­umns that grew up around movie stars, with one jour­nal­ist of­fer­ing reg­u­lar but en­tirely fake in­ter­views with ma­jor names in closely de­scribed Hol­ly­wood venues with­out ever visit­ing the US.

Mus­solini’s older son Vit­to­rio sought to re­form Ital­ian cin­ema on the Amer­i­can model, en­cour­ag­ing Ital­ian artists to learn from their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts, while the Duce’s youngest son, Ro­mano, born in 1927, held a sub­scrip­tion to Topolino, the Ital­ian trans­la­tion of Dis­ney’s Mickey Mouse, some­thing that may partly ex­plain why the mag­a­zine was al­lowed to re­main in cir­cu­la­tion right up to Mus­solini’s dec­la­ra­tion of war on Amer­ica in De­cem­ber 1941. When in 1936 the cen­sor hes­i­tated over Char­lie Chap­lin’s de­cid­edly nonFas­cist view of the world in Mod­ern Times, wor­ry­ing that Char­lot, as Ital­ians called him, might be too pop­u­lar to ban, Mus­solini watched the film him­self and gave it his bless­ing, with the ex­cep­tion of one scene “in which the in­car­cer­ated Chap­lin un­wit­tingly takes co­caine.”

In the light of all this Ital­ian ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Amer­i­can books and films through­out the 1920s and 1930s, the ques­tion arises of how a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ac­count of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the coun­tries emerged in the post­war pe­riod, the story of a small and valiant band of trans­la­tors bring­ing the mes­sage of Amer­i­can free­dom into Italy against all odds. The an­swer, Dun­nett shows, has to do with how from 1938 on­ward—when Mus­solini aligned his re­pres­sive poli­cies with Hitler’s, en­act­ing anti-Semitic laws—later events would be pro­jected back­ward across the en­tire Fas­cist pe­riod.

Not that the Fas­cist cen­sors had been idle in the early years of Fas­cism. They were al­ways se­vere with news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines; openly anti-Fas­cist jour­nal­ists did not eas­ily find work; all ref­er­ences to sui­cide, mur­der, abor­tion, and paci­fism were banned, since these were out of line with Fas­cist val­ues. Erich Maria Re­mar­que’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929), among oth­ers, was banned. In the book world, pub­lish­ers re­acted by ne­go­ti­at­ing and self-cen­sor­ing. Since their goals were more com­mer­cial than po­lit­i­cal, they em­ployed an army of read­ers to ex­am­ine forth­com­ing books for any­thing that might of­fend Fas­cist prin­ci­ples. Many sex scenes were toned down or sim­ply re­moved, along with dis­parag­ing ref­er­ences to Ital­ians. Where nov­els re­ferred openly to class strug­gle, as in Stein­beck’s Tor­tilla Flat, pref­aces were writ­ten in­sist­ing that the texts re­ferred ex­clu­sively to Amer­i­can so­ci­ety. Over­all it is sur­pris­ing how lit­tle for­eign fic­tion was cen­sored.

Then in 1938 the Fas­cist govern­ment moved to in­tro­duce quo­tas for for­eign films to pro­mote the do­mes­tic in­dus­try, caus­ing the ma­jor Amer­i­can pro­duc­ers to with­draw all their films in protest. In the same year the govern­ment made a cen­sus of Jewish writ­ers and banned their work. It was in this rapidly wors­en­ing at­mos­phere that in 1940 Bom­piani pre­pared to pub­lish the an­thol­ogy Amer­i­cana.

The two men later con­sid­ered most in­flu­en­tial in pro­mot­ing Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture at this crit­i­cal mo­ment could hardly have been more dif­fer­ent. Elio Vit­torini, re­spon­si­ble for com­pil­ing Amer­i­cana, was a Si­cil­ian who had eloped at nine­teen, tak­ing his wife to the main­land and strug­gling to earn a liv­ing as a jour­nal­ist and ed­i­to­rial ad­viser. Pre­sent­ing him­self, in his early twen­ties, as an ex­pert on for­eign fic­tion (he claimed to have learned English from a friend while work­ing as a proof cor­rec­tor for the Florence news­pa­per La Nazione), he loathed trans­la­tion and largely farmed out the huge amount of work he took on to the wellto-do Lu­cia Rodocanachi, whom he asked to pro­duce “lit­eral” ver­sions for him which he would then re­write. De­spite fre­quent prom­ises, she was never cred­ited for her con­tri­bu­tion.

Vit­torini, as Dun­nett shows, had no par­tic­u­lar pref­er­ence for Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, at least un­til the late 1930s. Com­mis­sioned to se­lect sto­ries for an­tholo­gies—of Faulkner, for ex­am­ple— he in­vited Rodocanachi to do it for him. Be­ing a writer him­self, he made no se­cret of the fact that he im­posed his own style on the trans­la­tions he put his name to. When he did write about Amer­i­can fic­tion—and it would be his in­tro­duc­tion to Amer­i­cana that the cen­sor most ob­jected to—he ar­gued that Amer­i­can writ­ing was univer­sal, be­cause prim­i­tive, pure, and free from crip­pling tra­di­tions, a lit­er­a­ture for all the world that spoke di­rectly across cul­tures and con­trib­uted to the con­struc­tion of “a new man.” Re­spond­ing to the in­tro­duc­tion, Pavese pointed out that this was sim­ply the aes­thetic con­cep­tion Vit­torini had been de­vel­op­ing for his own fic­tion for some time. Timid and with­drawn, tor­mented by his fail­ures with women, Pavese spent al­most his en­tire life liv­ing with his sis­ter’s fam­ily in Turin. Un­like Vit­torini, he had al­ways been pas­sion­ate about Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture, grad­u­at­ing with a the­sis on Whit­man and pro­duc­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary trans­la­tion of MobyDick in his early twen­ties. There is no sign of any po­lit­i­cal in­tent be­hind this work. Pavese loved trans­la­tion, loved Amer­i­can slang, sweated over it, sent scores of let­ters to friends in the US to track down the mean­ing of ob­scure terms, and sought in ev­ery way to keep the style of the orig­i­nal au­thors, pro­duc­ing a daz­zling ver­sion of Faulkner’s The Ham­let that made no con­ces­sion at all to the cen­sors, even where the novel’s hero Ike has in­ter­course with a cow. It was pub­lished with­out be­ing cen­sored in 1942.

Valentino Bom­piani, the pub­lisher who ex­pected a hand­some re­turn from Amer­i­cana, had al­ready be­gun print­ing the book when the cen­sor moved to block it in Novem­ber 1940. Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan. Far from be­ing ar­rested for his work, Vit­torini twice went to dis­cuss the mat­ter with the min­is­ter of cul­ture. Bom­piani claimed that not go­ing ahead would rep­re­sent a sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial loss and lead to the can­cel­la­tion of other planned an­tholo­gies, in­clud­ing one of Ger­man lit­er­a­ture. When Vit­torini’s in­tro­duc­tion was iden­ti­fied as the chief stum­bling block, Bom­piani sug­gested re­plac­ing it with a less pro-Amer­i­can es­say by the

more “re­li­able” scholar Emilio Cec­chi. Even­tu­ally Amer­i­cana was pub­lished in 1942, a year af­ter Italy de­clared war on the US, and reprinted in Jan­uary 1943 af­ter an im­me­di­ate suc­cess, only to be banned the fol­low­ing June when a new min­is­ter of cul­ture was ap­pointed. Need­less to say, the ban­ning en­hanced the book’s sta­tus as a po­lit­i­cal text. How­ever, Dun­nett is skep­ti­cal about any real in­flu­ence the an­thol­ogy might have had. Amer­i­can fic­tion was pop­u­lar among Fas­cists and anti-Fas­cists alike, she points out, not to men­tion the great ma­jor­ity who sim­ply did not think of fic­tion in po­lit­i­cal terms at all. Writ­ten with ex­em­plary straight­for­ward­ness, The “Mito Amer­i­cano” and Ital­ian Lit­er­ary Cul­ture Un­der Fas­cism avoids a polem­i­cal tone, rarely gen­er­al­izes, and never mor­al­izes. Nev­er­the­less, as Dun­nett traces the devel­op­ment of post­war myths about the trans­la­tion and pub­li­ca­tion of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture un­der Fas­cism, it’s clear that she be­lieves what we are look­ing at is a mix­ture of op­por­tunism and wish­ful think­ing, not only on the part of Vit­torini and Pi­vano (Pavese had com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1950), but an en­tire gen­er­a­tion of read­ers ea­ger to be­lieve they had been more sub­ver­sive and less sub­mis­sive than was ac­tu­ally the case. In our own trou­bled times, the book presents it­self as an in­vi­ta­tion to doubt the windy rhetoric of rel­e­vance and rec­ti­tude that blows about so much lit­er­ary en­deavor, and not to ex­pect too much of a pub­lish­ing in­dus­try whose rai­son d’être is profit.

A poster cel­e­brat­ing the Ital­ian Air Ar­mada’s transat­lantic flight from Rome to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair

Ernest Hem­ing­way pos­ing for the sculp­tor Toni Lu­carda on the Vene­tian is­land of Tor­cello, 1948

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