London, Peter Lang, 2011

Enrica Ferrara’s essay explores a side of Italo Calvino’s work which has partly remained in the shade. This attempt to work on an important and not completely examined topic is in itself one of the merits of this essay.

Reasons are given for the difficulty of the task in relation to Calvino’s early theatrical works. Some of these works are still unpublished and they are unfortunately not available to the scholar’s consultation. Some other works were rejected by the author and destroyed. Ferrara undertakes a work of reconstruction of the author’s theatrical poetics in the early 1940s by examining attentively Calvino’s correspondence with Eugenio Scalfari.

Later on in the late 1940s and 1950s Ferrara attempts to clarify both why Calvino rejected his early work and why he moved on towards mainly narrative rather than theatrical texts. Some of the material she uses is composed of so far unpublished reviews.

One of her answers is that Calvino’s politics had become more authentically and clearly antifascist, in fact he joined the Communist party beside fighting in the Italian Resistance movement. As a result of his newly focused politics, Calvino changed his views on some mof the authors he had considered positively in earlier years, in particular Pirandello and D’Annunzio. If, on the one hand, Pirandello was still valid in some respects, it was important to take distance from D’Annunzio who was now seen as a decadent author and was disliked by Communists. On a political level, Calvino also modified his judgment on foreign authors such as Bernard Shaw. Partly it was politics that contributed to Calvino’s conversion away from the writing of plays since fiction appeared as a more popular genre. Additionally there were commercial motivations.

Ferrara shows how, in the following years, Calvino sided by Brecht’s Marxist aesthetics instead of Lukacs’, and this choice certainly suited his experimental vein. Some of Brecht’s views on theatre were transferred onto Calvino’s own poetics. Other influential authors included Wilder. Focus on Bertold Brecht and Thornton Wilder is another of the merits of Ferrara’s book.

After leaving the Communist party and moving on also in the aesthetic field, some theatrical texts were written and published. Among the interesting results of this examination, may I insist especially on Ferrara’s view that, if the above mentioned texts are read in relation to some of Calvino’s other texts, most of all the short writing Dall’opaco, an interest in the allegory of theatrical space in connection with the native land and the early years of work-life can be identified. It would seem that in the last decade or so of his life, not only Calvino revitalized the weight of the unconscious but also returned to his vocation as a playwright. His initial tendency towards the theatre would then appear to have been psychoanalytically removed and partly recuperated in later years. This is a vital and new interpretation.

For all the reasons I have mentioned, and for other observations which this book contains, I consider it a relevant contribution to Calvino’s criticism.

[Roberto Bertoni]