Carlo Levi

views updated May 23 2018

Carlo Levi

The Italian writer and painter Carlo Levi (1902-1975), noted as an anti-Fascist leader during Mussolini's dictatorship, scored a sensational international success with his book "Christ Stopped at Eboli" in 1945.

Carlo Levi was born on Nov. 29, 1902, in Turin, Italy. Although he received a degree in medicine from Turin University, he never practiced medicine. Instead, he took up painting and followed literary pursuits. Levi directed the clandestine anti-Fascist publication Lotta politica and with a group of colleagues founded the Giustizia e Libertà movement.

His first arrest for anti-Fascist activities was in 1934. In 1935-1936 Levi lived in political exile under police surveillance in the southern province of Lucania because of his opposition to the Fascist government. Following his release, he joined the Resistance in Paris. In 1944 and 1945 he lived in Florence and was coeditor of La nazione del popolo. In 1945 and 1946 he directed L'Italia libera in Rome.

Most Famous Work

Levi's exile in the remote province of Lucania in surroundings hardly touched by modern civilization created a deep impression upon him. Out of this experience of a world almost outside of time grew his first book, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli). A combination of reportage, diary, and journalist chronicle, the work was written with an astute insight into the southern Italian dilemma. Upon its publication in the United States in 1947, the work was described in the New York Times Book Review by Paolo Milano as "a diary, an album of sketches, a novelette, a sociological study and a political essay."

Other Writings Varied

Ideologically, Levi denounced the rift between the classes and protested the exploitation of the lower classes. Thus, he saw in Italian history a continual struggle between contadini (peasants) and luigini (after Don Luigi, the local schoolteacher and party functionary of Cristo si è fermato a Eboli). Such ideas were at the root of his volume of essays Paura della libertà (1946).

Levi's next book, L'orologio (1950), showed his disillusion with the course Italian life took after the Liberation. The Rome of the immediate postwar era was the subject of this book, in which narration and critical observation alternate and in which facts are mixed with fancy.

In Levi's later writings his tendency to mix fact with fancy was resolved in favor of the factual and critical approach. Le parole sono pietre: Tre giornate in Sicilia (1955) was an account of a trip to Sicily and a further denunciation of the situation in the Italian south. Il futuro ha un cuore antico (1956) was a critical report on a trip to the Soviet Union, whose great traditions Levi viewed as being absorbed by the revolution. La doppia notte dei tigli (1959) was a critical, if not too accurate, travelog on a few days Levi spent in Germany. With Tutto il miele è finito (1964) Levi returned to a critical investigation of underprivileged Italian provinces. This book, which took its title from a Sardinian wake tune, was a description of a trip to Sardinia.

Political Career

Levi was elected to the Italian Senate in 1963 and served on the Communist ticket for two terms. He was not re-elected in 1972. Throughout his life, Levi was a prominent figure on the Roman artistic scene.

Many of Levi's paintings focus on the human figure and demonstrate his belief in man as the center of the universe: "Any art that doesn't address itself to the whole of man is destined to failure."

Levi died of pneumonia at the age of 72 in Rome on January 5, 1975.

Further Reading

A useful background work in English for the study of Levi is Sergio Pacifici, A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature from Futurism to Neorealism (1962). □

Levi, Carlo

views updated May 21 2018


LEVI, CARLO (1902–1975), Italian author and artist. Born in Turin, where he studied medicine, Levi became interested in art, literature, and politics. After Mussolini came to power he joined the anti-Fascist underground and was one of the founders of the radical movement Giustizia e Libertà. He was arrested in 1934 and in the following year was exiled to Lucania in southern Italy for a year. In 1939 he fled to France. He returned to Italy in 1942 to join the Resistance and was again arrested. After World War ii, he settled in Rome, where he was active in journalism and politics. He was elected a senator in 1963 on the Communist ticket, but retained an independent outlook.

Levi's experiences as a political exile inspired his masterpiece, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (1945; Christ Stopped at Eboli, 1947), the first major Italian literary work of the postwar era, which was translated into many languages. In it he describes the society of Lucania, its customs, addiction to magic, and pre-Christian traditions. Accepting their unending miseries and without hope of a better future, the peasants nevertheless show themselves to be lovers of justice, good neighbors, and loyal friends. Levi reveals all the poetry of this primitive world.

Using the documentary techniques of journalism or of a travel diary, Levi wrote about the cultural climate and problems of many countries: Sicily, in Le parole sono pietre (1955; Words are Stones, 1958); the Soviet Union, in Il futuro ha un cuore antico (1956); Germany, in La doppia notre dei tigli (1959; Linden Trees, 1962); and Sardinia, in Tutto il miele è finito (1964). His other works include the essay Paura della libertà (1946; Fear and Freedom, 1950) and the novel, L'Orologio (1950; The Watch, 1951). As a painter, Levi exhibited in oneman and collective shows, achieving particular success in the United States.


P. Pancrazi, Scrittori d'oggi, 4 (1946), 282–9; C.L. Ragghianti, Carlo Levi (It., 1948); L. Russo, l narratori 18501950 (19512), 335–9; G. Pullini, Il romanzo italiano del dopoguerra 19401960 (1961), 224–7, 263–6. add. bibliography: G. Falaschi, Carlo Levi, (1978); G. Sirovich, L'azione politica di Carlo Levi (1988); M. Miccinesi, Invito alla lettura di Carlo Levi (1989); G.B. Bronzini, Il viaggio antropologico di Carlo Levi: da eroe stendhaliano a guerriero birmano (1996); L. Sacco, L'Orologio della Repubblica: Carlo Levi e il caso Italia (1996); G. De Donato, Le parole del reale: ricerche sulla prosa di Carlo Levi (1998); N. Carducci, Storia intellettuale di Carlo Levi (1999); G. Barberi Squarotti, L'orologio d'Italia: Carlo Levi e altri racconti (2001); N. Longo, Letture novecentesche: Zeno, Agilulfo, Carlo Levi (2002, c2001); Ragusa, Un torinese del Sud: Carlo Levi: una biografia (2001); S. Ghiazza, Carlo Levi e Umberto Saba: storia du un'amicizia (2002); D. Ward, Carlo Levi: gli italiani e la paura della libertà (2002).

[Giorgio Romano]


S.H. Margulies, Dichter und Patriot (1896); L. Bulferetti, Socialismo risorgimentale (1949).

[Joseph Baruch Sermoneta]