Pratolini, Vasco 1913-1991

views updated

PRATOLINI, Vasco 1913-1991

PERSONAL: Born October 19, 1913, in Florence, Italy; died January 12, 1991, in Rome, Italy; married Cecilia Punzo (an actress), 1941.

CAREER: Novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. Founder and editor, with Alfonso Gatto, of the literary review magazine Campi di Marte.

AWARDS, HONORS: Libera Stampa prize, 1947, for Cronache di Poveri Amanti; Viareggio prize, 1955, for Metello; Premio Nazionale Feltrinelli (equivalent to the Italian Nobel Prize), Accademia dei Lincei, 1957, for entire body of work; Charles Veillon International prize, 1960, for Le Scialo.


Il tappeto verde, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1941, reprinted, 1978.

Cronache dal Giro d'Italia (maggio-giugno 1947), Lombardi (Milan, Italy), 1945, reprinted, 1992.

Via de' Magazzini, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1942.

Le amiche, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1943.

Il quartiere, Nuova Biblioteca Editrice (Milan, Italy), 1944, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1973, translation by Peter Duncan and Pamela Duncan published as The Naked Streets, Wyn (New York, NY), 1952, and as A Tale of Santa Croce, Peter Owen (London, England), 1952.

Cronaca familiare, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1947, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1973, translation by Barbara Kennedy published as Two Brothers, Orion (New York, NY), 1962, translation by Martha King published as Family Chronicle, Italica Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Cronache di poveri amanti, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1947, reprinted, Mondadori (Milano, Italy), 1971, translation published as A Tale of Poor Lovers, Viking (New York, NY), 1949, reprinted, Monthly Review Press (New York, NY), 1988.

Mestiere da vagabondo, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1947, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1978.

Un eroe del nostro tempo, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1949, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1972, translation by Eric Mosbacher published as A Hero of Our Time, Prentice-Hall (New York, NY), 1951, and as A Hero of Today, Hamilton (London, England), 1951.

Le ragazze di San Frediano (title means "The Young Women of San Frediano"), Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1949, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1975.

Gli uomini che si voltano. Diario di villa Rosa, Atlante (Rome, Italy), 1952.

Il mio cuore a Ponte Milvio (title means "My Heart at Ponte Milvio"), Edizioni di Cultura Sociale (Rome, Italy), 1954.

Metello (first novel in trilogy), Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1955, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1989, translation by Raymond Rosenthal published as Metello, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1968.

Diario sentimentale (title means "Sentimental Diary"), Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1956, reprinted, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1992.

Lo scialo (second novel in trilogy; two volumes; title means "The Waste"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1960, revised edition (three volumes), 1976.

La costanza della ragione, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1963, reprinted, 1987, translation by Raymond Rosenthal published as Bruno Santini, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1964.

Allegoria e derisione (third novel in trilogy; title means "Allegory and Derision"), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1966, reprinted, 1985.

La mia città ha trent'anni (poetry; title means "My City is Thirty Years Old"), Scheiwiller (Milan, Italy), 1967.

Diario del '67, Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1975.

Calendario del '67. Lettera agli amici salernitani, Catalogo (Salerno, Italy), 1978.

Il mannello di Natascia, Catalogo (Salerno, Italy), 1980, republished as Il mannello di Natascia e altre cronache in versi e in prosa (1920-1980), Mondadori (Milan, Italy), 1985.

La lunga attesa. Lettere a Romano Bilenchi, 1933-1972 (title means "The Long Wait: Letters to Romano Bilenchi"), Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1989.

La carriera di Nini (serial story originally published in eleven installments in Il Contemporaneo), Riuniti, 1997.


(Editor) Mario Pratesi, L'eredità, Bompiani (Milan, Italy), 1942, reprinted, 1965.

(Author of introduction) Victor Hugo, Cose viste, Einaudi (Turin, Italy), 1943.

(Editor, with Luigi Incoronato) Quello che scoprirai:Antologia per la scuola media, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1953.

(Editor, with Paolo Ricci) Raffaele Viviani, Poesie, Vallecchi (Florence, Italy), 1956.

(Editor, with Carlo Bernari) Giagni Giandomenico, Il confine, Basilicata (Matera, Italy), 1976.

(Editor, with Sergio Checconi and Franco Mollia) Il portolano: antologia di letture interdisciplinari, Calderini (Bologna, Italy), 1983.

Collaborator on several film productions, including La viacca/The Love Makers, 1962; Les mauvais chemins, 1993; and Rocco and His Brothers 1960.

Also contributed articles of political and literary commentary, short stories, and prose to numerous magazines. Author of produced plays La Domenica della povera gente (with G. D. Giagni) and Lungo Viaggio di Natale. Translator of French fiction into Italian. Works have been translated into many languages including French, German, and Chinese.

SIDELIGHTS: Vasco Pratolini has been heralded as one of the most important Italian fiction writers of the twentieth century. This self-taught author left a valuable legacy to the literature and culture of his generation. In an essay for Dictionary of Literary Biography, Anthony Costantini commented: "Few writers in the twentieth century have provoked such intense and conflicting reactions as has Pratolini. . . . His narratives always deal with social and historical reality even when, as in his early works, he gives lyrical expression to his personal life. Pratolini remained faithful to his vision of the novel as an enduring quest for truth marked by social and moral concerns."

Pratolini was born into a poor working-class family in a Florence tormented by war, in which the harsh realities of survival left no time for intellectual or aesthetic luxuries. Raised from early childhood by his maternal grandmother after his mother's death, Pratolini left home at the age of thirteen, supporting himself through various jobs. Encouraged by friends such as painter Ottone Rosai and writer Elio Vittorini, he studied works by Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, Franco Sacchetti, Aldo Palazzeschi, and Mario Pratesi (with whom Costantini said he shared a "spiritual affinity and strong social commitment"). He also studied foreign writers such as Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Pratolini's political, social, and moral consciousness influenced all his works. The disillusionment that deeply affected Italian society following World War I affected Pratolini as well. According to Frank Rosengarten, writing for MLN, Pratolini embraced fascism as a "movement that would vindicate the rights of the poor and the oppressed through a program of national regeneration . . . Mussolini's regime represented to him at once the triumph of order and social discipline over capitalist exploitation. . . . the enfranchisement of Italian youth, and the possibility of a great rebirth of artistic and literary endeavor." He was invited by the editor of Il Bargello, the official publication of the Florentine fascist movement, to contribute articles to the paper, and began doing so in 1932 at the age of nineteen. Thus began his literary career.

In 1935 Pratolini developed tuberculosis. He spent two years in sanitariums, where he became deeply introspective. In the 1954 preface to Diario di Villa Rosa, Pratolini wrote: "They were two decisive years in every sense. I was violent; I became submissive; I learned to fear death, to respect life—above all, the life of other people, because I had learned to value my own."

During a brief visit to Florence in 1936, Pratolini met Vittorini, the first intellectual in Florence to break with fascism. Rosengarten commented that "The friendship between the two writers was much more than literary in character, and it proved to be of crucial importance to Pratolini's intellectual and moral development." This relationship, and, as Costantini noted, Pratolini's "proletarian consciousness," led to a shift in his social and political perspective, a shift that would lay the foundation for the rest of his literary career.

Costantini called Pratolini's early works "tentative and amorphous in structure, reflecting the themes, style, and even the language of the authors he was reading." After founding the literary review Campo di Marte with poet Alfonso Gatto in 1938, however, his writing became more refined and focused. Rosengarten observed that both the tone and content suggested a "marked advance in his emotional and intellectual development," while his most interesting entries in the review concerned literary themes. "He felt a moral obligation to defend the ideal of literature as an instrument of human communication against the encroachments of propaganda, bombast, and sentimentality," wrote Rosengarten.

In a brief article posted on the Italica Press Web site following Pratolini's death, the contributor noted that Campo di Marte was heavily criticized for "being out of phase with the real needs of our times," and the ultimate suppression of its publication should have been no surprise to its editors. Perhaps not surprised but obviously affronted, Pratolini wrote that this had been "the last dispassionate attempt to initiate a dialectical exchange of views on a common and revolutionary level. . . . In the course of our work . . . we were besieged by the blasphemous assaults of all those who in the name of the established order attacked us, not with plausible reasons, but with vulgar invective and insults."

Pratolini moved to Rome in 1940, worked briefly for the Ministry of Culture, and then began writing a regular column for the literary review La Ruota, which encouraged greater realism in literature. His contribution to this and other magazines clarified his intense concern with social issues. By the beginning of World War II, Pratolini was vehemently anti-fascist. Joining the Resistance in 1943, he quickly emerged as a leader. Mario B. Mignone, writing for the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, commented that after this experience, and with the newfound political freedom in Italy during post-war reconstruction, Pratolini "advanced beyond the restricted dimensions of the autobiographical short story and delicate prose poem, giving a predominantly social character to his works." Mignone added that the author was "able to convey a strong confidence in man's capacity to change and to shape his own destiny." His Resistance activities were also highly influential in the composition of his book Il mio cuore a Ponte Milvio.

Pratolini decided to stay in Rome after the war, and lived there for the rest of his life, devoting himself to his writing. Cronaca familiare, written in one week of almost continuous effort following his brother's serious illness and subsequent death, is virtually a conversation with his dead brother that delves into the difficult relationship between the siblings, who barely knew each other. Costantini noted that the work is characterized by "emotional intensity and willful exclusion of fictional elements that would diminish or falsify the relationship."

Mignone observed that, in writing Il quartiere and Cronache di poveri amanti (the latter having more than fifty characters who collectively form a single protagonist), Pratolini "wove social and personal relationships with larger, historical events," thereby carrying the reader into the working-class world of Florence and exposing life under Mussolini's dictatorship as full of suffering and evil.

The success of Cronache di poveri amanti encouraged Pratolini to begin a trilogy, "Una Storia Italiana," in 1950. An ambitious work comprised of Metello, Lo Scialo, and Allegoria e derisione, the trilogy paints a lengthy portrait of Italian society from 1875 to 1945. Pratolini combines social realism and historical facts to portray what Costantini called "the slow progress toward economic prosperity of the lower classes, the loss of freedom during Fascism, and the failure to realize the yearnings for social justice nurtured by Italians since the unification of the country in 1864."

Mignone observed that Pratolini's major works portray the struggle against exploitation and a desire for solidarity and independence. "It is, indeed, primarily his moral and political commitment and the psychological insight with which he portrays his characters that distinguish Pratolini's work," Mignone wrote.

Pratolini remained relatively silent from 1966 to his death in 1991, publishing several books of poems and letters exchanged with Roman Bilenchi. Costantini called Pratolini an "innovative writer: he did not rewrite the same book but evolved from early lyricism to his neorealistic chronicles to his own version of realism. For the most part, critics have been unwilling to recognize his process of constant renewal. Since the 1980s a new generation of critics, less tied to partisan ideology, has attempted to reassess Pratolini's work, and his integrity as an artist has begun to be appreciated."



Bede, Albert, and William B. Edgerton, editors, Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, 2nd edition, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 177: ItalianNovelists since World War II, 1945-1965, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Encyclopedia of World Literature in the TwentiethCentury, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Seymour-Smith, Martin, editor, Novels and Novelists, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.


Choice, January, 1989, review of Family Chronicle, p. 811.

Contemporary Review, November, 1970, Paul Tabori, "An Interview with Vasco Pratolini," pp. 253-257.

Italian Culture, 1981, Janice M. Kozma, "Functions of Metaphor in Pratolini's Cronache di poveri amanti: Maciste and the Signora," pp. 87-102.

Italica, March, 1963, Frank Rosengarten, "Vasco Pratolini's Una Storia Italiana and the Question of Literary Realism," pp. 62-72.

MLN, January, 1964, Frank Rosengarten, "A Crucial Decade in the Career of Vasco Pratolini (1932-1942)," pp. 246-268.

Observer (London, England), November 10, 1991, review of Family Chronicle, p. 58.

Small Press Review, May, 1989, Robert Hauptman, review of Family Chronicle, p. 12.


Italica Press Web site, (June 4, 2001), "Vasco Pratolini."*

About this article

Pratolini, Vasco 1913-1991

Updated About content Print Article