The Intriguing Case of William Faulkner's Absence
from the Italian Contemporary Scene

Ugo Rubeo

     William Faulkner's name first appeared in Italy in 1931, when Mario Praz, the well-known essayist and critic, whose The Romantic Agony had just been published, introduced to the Italian reading public this new writer, who, while not "...disdaining to describe the most disgusting and horrid scenes that one can imagine, is, at bottom, a moralist."Praz's insight was proverbially keen, and his early appreciation of Faulkner's genius was much in the same line with his previous "discovery" of Ernest Hemingway, whom he had also introduced to Italian readers, a couple of years earlier, soon after A Farewell to Arms had first been published. However, while Hemingway's influence on the Italian literary landscape would continue to be heavily felt for nearly half a century, matched by his major success among the reading public at large, Faulkner's impact was to remain incomparably scantier, his literary steps never much followed. So much so, that throughout the Thirties and Forties many an American writer of considerably inferior stature--let alone his most accomplished colleagues--was to enjoy in Italy a wider recognition than his.Faulkner's style, admittedly, would certainly be apt to provoke more diffident reactions than most writers'--exception made, perhaps, for the French novelists moving in the line of the nouveau roman. Nonetheless, the lack of public recognition that his work has suffered, and bravely endured, appears to be in many ways more puzzling than the complexity of his writing would plausibly warrant--especially in the light of a number of considerations that, instead of helping clear up the matter, seem to make it somehow more obscure. Thus, the critic is forced to turn into a detective of sorts to try and solve this "mystery", starting with a synthetic recollection of the relatively few clues in his possession and letting his mind wander, as it were, among the many oddities of this unusual case. 

Early History of the Case 

     In a recent article dedicated to the Italian translations of Faulkner's novels, Rosella Mamoli Zorzi aptly contends that he "has always been a 'writer's writer,' more than a writer read by generation after generation of young people, as is the case, for instance, with Hemingway."  Underlying the common appeal that Faulkner's work has elicited from a number of major writers in Europe as well as in other parts of the world, she then goes on to observe that Italy in this respect was no exception, as prominent writers such as Elio Vittorini, Cesare Pavese and Eugenio Montale were among the early translators of Faulkner's novels and short stories.It is perhaps worth remembering that the early Forties were actually the peak of that discovery of American literature that, started a decade earlier, had resulted in an unprecedented, widespread interest among Italian intellectuals, particularly among those who, being also anti-Fascists, ill suffered the pompous imperial rhetoric and nationalistic propaganda of the regime. As Pavese himself put it in an article entitled "Yesterday and Today":

Around 1930, when Fascism was beginning to look like "the hope of the world," some young Italians happened to discover America in their books--a pensive barbaric America, happy and quarrelsome, corrupt, bountiful, heavy with the past of the whole world, and at the same time young and innocent. During several years those young Italians read, translated, and wrote, savoring the joy of discovery and rebelliousness which made official culture indignant but insured their success to the point where the regime was forced to tolerate them if it wanted to save the face.5

As many an observer has pointed out,6 while certainly being a clear demonstration of a genuine literary interest, such a deep involvement with the newly discovered literature of what was at that time an "enemy" country with a strong democratic tradition,  amounted, first and foremost, to a powerful, if implicit political statement against the domestic rule. It was precisely because of the double nature of that engagement, one could argue, that writers like Lewis and Caldwell, like Cain and Saroyan, whose novels' translations were being readily marketed, would become widely popular, not merely among common readers, but within literary and intellectual enclaves as well. Together with Hemingway and Dos Passos, "They, not Faulkner, were the writers most widely read, translated, imitated in the period between the wars...." 
     Not Faulkner, indeed--his sultry southern atmospheres of decadence and decay being, for one thing, too reminiscent of a reality which Italian progressive intellectuals were just too eager to leave behind, together with the all too recent memories of an archaic order, itself falling to pieces. To them, America--and its literature--was to mean something altogether different--a more exciting vision of equality and social justice, a goal that the administration was pursuing through its New Deal policies, and that citizens and literary characters alike were striving to reach through a new social consciousness, a heightened sense of personal responsibility and of group solidarity. However endowed with a fascinating use of language, with an exquisite power of suggestion, with an "accent of epic distance, as of trumpets in the darkness of the night,"8 to all practical purposes Faulkner's prose did not seem to fit properly into that scheme, into that largely abstract, and at the same time powerful, mythical image that America had by then become. With the end of the War, that impressive mosaic would eventually start changing, its pieces sometimes abruptly falling, only to be replaced with the new specks that the American movie industry would promptly supply, and that the Italian population --according to Leslie Fiedler, "a nation of moviegoers"9-- would, for the most part, just as promptly endorse without excessive criticism. William Faulkner's popularity in Italy, meanwhile, was to remain drastically confined to a rather limited group of readers--a fact in sharp contrast with the number of translations of his works that kept steadily appearing throughout the Forties.10 If few other foreign writers could count on such a considerable number of works translated into Italian, few other foreign writers, on the other hand, could claim the semi-anonimity that enshrouded Faulkner at the time and that, exception made for very rare occasions, was to surround him faithfully in the following decades. That Faulkner himself might have welcomed --if not directly encouraged--such a mild reception, is only an inference made on the basis of biographical accounts concerning his reactions at public meetings, and in private encounters with critics.11 As such, therefore, it cannot possibly be taken as an evidence of his virtual vanishing form a cultural scene that --it seems most likely-- would have hardly noticed his absence in the first place.

The Disappearance of a Nobel Prize Winner

     At the beginning of the 1950s, a definite break with the past seemed to be at hand, as several signs of change effaced, practically at the same time. First of all, the new decade saw the emergence of a new generation of Italian scholars and critics whose interest in American literature was no longer due to a general intellectual curiosity for the overseas cultural situation, but rather to a clear-cut professional choice. As a result of this--it will be seen later in greater detail-- William Faulkner's works, as well as those of several classic and contemporary writers, started getting a more systematic critical attention than before by an increasing number of scholars engaged, as it were, in what at the time was an entirely new field of research. Quite obviously, the Nobel Prize Faulkner had received at the beginning of the decade, and the renewed international attention that his works had started commanding since Malcolm Cowley's publication of the "portable" edition in 1946, seemed finally to offer unprecedented chances of commercial success in Italy too. A new, consistent set of translations was being prepared by Mondadori Editore, the major publisher in Milan that had marketed most of Faulkner's novels in Italy. Throughout the Fifties, seven new translations of his works,12 all by the same publisher, would appear--among them, Glauco Cambon's masterly rendering of Absalom, Absalom! Finally, to complete a picture that, seen all around, could have hardly been more conducive for a major breakthrough in "popularity," in 1955--the same year of the Seminar in Nagano--Faulkner himself showed up in flesh and bone in several Italian cities, as part of a tour organized by the U.S. State Department. Once more, however, the deeply-ingrained resistance and diffidence that Italian audiences had developed in the past, and would repeatedly keep showing in later years towards literary experiments somehow connected with "modernism," coupled with the historically documented lack of a strong national tradition in the novel, turned that unique opportunity into an occasion for failure. Faulkner was, and was strictly to remain, a writer's writer--such was the final verdict of the public jury. As a consequence of that, he would not only be banned permanently form the best-selling list, but, Nobel Prize winner that he was, he would have to endure what in fact amounted to a gentle, but definite removal from the public scene, for at least fifteen years.  As poet Eugenio Montale, himself a fellow Nobel Prize winner, wrote in an article on Faulkner's death, his condition seemed destined to remain that of  "a writer more famous, than read."13  In spite of the general indifference, or indeed because of it,  the efforts on the part of the limited group of enlightened supporters the author could truly count upon, multiplied. 1955 was also the year in which Fernanda Pivano --a journalist, translator and critic who has been extremely influential in introducing a number of contemporary American novelists and poets to Italian readers-- planned, with the help of Faulkner himself, a complete edition of his works, to be published by Mondadori, in a collection of ten volumes.14 Between 1960 and 1963, four of the planned volumes did actually come out, before the publisher called the series off, as a result of the obvious non profitability of the enterprise. 
     Commercial failures apart, the 1950s were a real turning point as far as Faulkner's scholarship in Italy is concerned--not only did a number of young critics start a much needed work of analysis which would result in an unprecedented bulk of specific studies on his narrative technique, but, thanks to that work, Faulkner's writing became finally known to a variety of intellectuals, including university students, literary operators, and emerging writers as well. Among the first critics who contributed most to make Faulkner's writing known in that period of time, one must recall Glauco Cambon, whose translation of Absalom, Absalom! appeared with an "Introduction" in which some of the author's technical achievements were openly compared with Dante's, Proust's, and Joyce's. Extremely influential, both as a scholar and as the editor of Studi Americani, the first literary periodical entirely dedicated to American literature to appear in Italy,15 has been the work of Agostino Lombardo, whose first article on Faulkner, also dated 1955, was to be followed by a number of essays, later to be grouped together in his Il diavolo nel manoscritto (1974). As the decade moved to and end, essays of an increasingly specialized nature appeared, often shedding light on yet unexamined aspects of Faulkner's literary technique. Among them, Angela Giannitrapani's series of interpretations of Faulkner's use of geographical settings and imagery, which eventually formed the basic structure for her book, Wistaria (1963), the first one to be entirely dedicated to the Mississippian writer's works by an Italian scholar.16 
     If, for better or worse,  the 1950s had proven a crucial time for Faulkner's recognition in Italy, the following decade would immediately show definite signs of an intellectual dynamism as well as of a more widespread interest among critics which implicitly meant that the age of pioneerism had come to an end. Thanks to its essential acquisitions, times seemed to be finally ripe for critical contributions that, delving into the complexities and the intrigues of Faulkner's entire production, could be of a more comprehensive nature than before, while at the same time affording the closeness and specificity that new critical theories and attitudes offered at hand. Once more, Studi Americani provided the forum in which, in the early Sixties, the first "installments"17  of a critical project of major proportions on Faulkner's writing started appearing. I romanzi di Faulkner, this is the title of the book as it appeared in its final form in 1968,18 was the work of Mario Materassi--since then acknowledged as the leading Faulkner scholar in Italy, as well as the author of a volume that would brilliantly help explaining to at least two generations of Italian students how to read, possibly understand, and hopefully appreciate William Faulkner's most intricate, startling and fascinating writing achievements. And it was largely thanks to university students indeed if, between the late Sixties and early Seventies, even Faulkner's "proverbial" unpopularity started somehow to falter, as a result not only of the deep cultural change that had meantime affected the Italian public opinion, his manners and taste, but especially of the intense reactions, by no means all homogeneous or positive, that Faulkner's prose was in most cases liable to provoke in those readers.19  Other voices, in those years, entered the academic debate, providing both students and scholars with new and original material for courses and seminars in which Faulkner's writings were increasingly being recognized as a keystone of XXth century American literature, the work of a contemporary master whose consistent attachment to "his own little stamp of native soil"20 could no longer be judged in terms of mere and restrictive regionalism. Among them, Nadia Fusini's and Barbara Lanati's readings, respectively stressing Faulkner's deep ingraining in the buildung's and in the modernistic traditions,21 were especially instrumental in placing his works in a larger, updated international scholarly context. In terms of this trend's impact on the public at large, it was not, to be sure, an official rehabilitation of a novelist ostracized by previous, and perhaps less fortunate generations of readers: nevertheless, it was certainly a first, relevant sign of the general maturity and intellectual liberality that contemporary audiences, in Italy as elsewhere, could finally afford. 
     By the mid Seventies, this slow but consistent process to reinstate Faulkner in the literary élite where he in the first place belonged was completed with the publication of yet another volume of criticism, by Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, whose intent to bridge the gap between the almost unanimous scholarly appreciation and the still quantitatively limited general audience was made explicit in the title itself of her book, Invito alla lettura di Faulkner.22  Engineered as an agile, but complete analysis of the author's entire production, Zorzi's essays has succeeded in the difficult task to encourage university students as well as conscious common readers to approach Faulkner's novels without the psychological restraints that have traditionally marred the relationship between large audiences and the Mississippian artist's work. Besides contributing to expand the number of readers, however, this carefully planned guided tour of Faulkner's production has at least yet another virtue--that of calling attention also on the carelessness of Italian publishers, who for decades have never felt the urgency to offer good and complete paperback editions of his novels, while at the same time reprinting old translations that, besides being dated, were often of a rather poor standard to begin with. Since then, this plea has often made itself heard --for the most part to no avail-- in printed articles and public forums on the subject, as well as among the participants to the international Conferences that Italian universities have dedicated to Faulkner in recent years. Among these last events, which have helped emphasize both the common intents that for at least  twenty years have been steadily uniting Italian and foreign experts on Faulkner, and the existence, within the domestic scene, of a number of emerging scholars, one must at least recall the 1989 International Symposium in Rome, entitled "The Artist and His Masks: William Faulkner's Metafiction," and the International Conference "William Faulkner: Language, Stylistics, Translations," recently held in Venice to celebrate the centenary of the author's birth.23  Both gatherings had several features in common that, in the light of what it has been said so far, are worth a brief comment: in the first place, the conferences were attended by a large number of celebrated Faulkner scholars who granted the events a unique scientific standard; in both cases, moreover, the presence within the audience of a consistent group of students and of lay people was an explicit sign that Faulkner's literary production in Italy was finally estimated also by non specialists; third, the extensive coverage of the events by the press and the media granted them a visibility that went well beyond the limits of academic circles, thus facilitating its public recognition; finally, both conferences were followed by the publication of a dense book of proceedings that, given its outstanding standard, greatly enriches the critical bibliography of books dedicated to Faulkner and published in Italy.24 

The Sicilian Connection

     One of the most interesting sides of the relationship between Faulkner and the Italian cultural scene, so far summarized in its chronological development, lies in the particular closeness that several of our most accomplished writers, all of them of Sicilian origins, have established with the American master's literary world. Odd as it may appear, this stimulating peculiarity, which practically extends from the early years of Faulkner's activity to the present, has rarely been discussed by critics, who have merely hinted at, or partially sketched, some of its essential traits. For this reason, it may be worth to conclude this essay with a few remarks on this aspect, whose aim is not simply that of documenting an episode that has remained in semi-obscurity, but also that of suggesting, and at least partially testing, critical hypotheses that might eventually be later on expanded and verified in greater detail. Mention of this feature may be found in a passage of the often quoted essay "Faulkner in Italy," in which A. Lombardo contends that:

Sicily is very like to be the starting point for the interest in Faulkner by Elio Vittorini, who translated Light in August in 1939, in a language which, even more than in other translations of his, succeeds in achieving those results which, for Vittorini, a good translation should achieve .... 25

Those results, as Vittorini would explain elsewhere, consisted essentially in the intent to have the new translation establish a dialectical process with the foreign literary tradition which the new book was to become part of. This idea of a dialogical relationship that a literary work should seek and establish with a substantially different cultural context, merely on the basis of its linguistic texture (i.e., of the quality of its translation) inevitably ends up by calling to mind what the author of that same article defines as "the 'poetic' impact of Faulkner's work, its evocative power "26--that is to say the hardest material for a translator to render, no matter what his/her skills may be. Vittorini, however--himself a writer used to squeeze into a word all that it could possibly contain, and perhaps even more-- had certainly grasped , among other things, that much of that "power," much of the impact of Faulkner's imaginative language, lay in the abstrusely coherent logic according to which the author is--and is to remain--the "sole owner and proprietor" of his fictitious domain. Writing about Faulkner, he emphasizes his "entirely internal necessity to grasp at the same time two or more different planes of reality, or the visible reality together with the invisible.27  This concept, which sums up perfectly Vittorini's poetic goals as well, implicitly helps explaining why his own fictional Sicily bears more than a casual resemblance to Yoknapatawpha County--an idea that he had already clearly suggested in the "Author's Note" to the 1949 New Directions translation of his In Sicily:

...I would like to point out that the protagonist of this story is not the Author, just as the country which provides the protagonist with a background and bears him company is called Sicily merely by accident; merely because the word Sicily sounds, to me, more harmonious than Persia or Venezuela. Moreover, I expect that all manuscripts come out of a single bottle. 28

Whether the bottle was truly the same as Faulkner's or not, the nature of their manuscripts has definitely something in common, and even though Sicily and Yoknapatawpha, at least phonetically, are very far apart  one from the other, they nonetheless show some striking similarities, most of all in terms of the heavy repercussions that the special setting provokes on the characters' personal and social behaviors. If Faulkner's relationship with Mississippi is intimate, intricate, unsolved and often paradoxical, Vittorini's ties with Sicily, even once he had moved away from his native piece of land, were to remain no less complex and problematic; and if Faulkner's imaginary American South becomes the  micro-setting which symbolically stands for the entire world, Vittorini's imaginary Italian South, in that novel, acquires a similar value and a parallel function. 
     But Sicily, not unlike Faulkner's Mississippi, is also a land in which the past seems to linger with an insistence that cannot be found elsewhere, eventually effacing in such a powerful manner as to sweep away the signs of modernity, sucking them in an a seemingly endless, spiraling flux. In this sense, both in terms of past traditions that still, albeit agonizingly, survive in the present, and of the inevitable decadence, material and moral, that this abnormal phenomenon brings about, several Sicilian writers, throughout this century, have developed a philosophy of time and a consciousness of  its literary use which have close connections with Faulkner's most characteristic devices. Among those artists, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, a peculiar figure of Southern intellectual who, until the publication of Il gattopardo--his only novel, which appeared just a few months after his death, in 1958--had remained perfectly unknown to the literary world. The novel, whose sudden success remains to date an unsolved case study, powerfully dramatizes the conflict between the vacuous grandeur of an old aristocratic family of Sicilian land owners, and the hypocritical aggressiveness and greed of an emerging middle class, exploiting the political and social upheavals that accompanied the War for Italy's Independence, in the central part of XIX century. In prefacing the volume, Giorgio Bassani, another important Italian contemporary writer, implicitly puts forward some of the reasons that may somehow suggest a similarity between Tomasi's and Faulkner's artistic accomplishment and goals, when he praises the Sicilian writer's novel for:

The amplitude of its historical vision, together with its extremely acute perception of the social and political reality of contemporary Italy...its delightful sense of humor; its authentic poetic power; its always perfect, at times enchanting, expressiveness.... 29

Nobody has yet indicated with certainty whether Tomasi di Lampedusa knew William Faulkner's work, nor whether he felt some sort of particular affinity or artistic kinship with the Mississippian writer. However, given Tomasi's particularly refined literary background and critical perception--an aspect that appears evident, for example, in his essays on Stendhal, Flaubert, Mérimé and the XIXth century French novel-- it seems highly unlikely that he should have ignored a contemporary master like Faulkner, particularly in the light of the fact that most of his novels could be found in translation and that, undoubtedly, his literary accomplishments were not apt to pass unobserved to a keen critical eye. On the other hand, though Tomasi's and Faulkner's prose styles are enormously different from one another, some interesting likenesses between the two can nevertheless be found, not only in terms of their pervasive use of a literary theme such as the endless clash between past and present, but also in the unexpectedly half-humourous undercurrent that one perceives as constantly running behind the tragic essence of that conflict. 
     This eerie mixture of tragic and comic aspects that occasionally ushers into pure grotesque is yet another point in common between the literary tradition of the American South and that Sicilian strain that in the past had reached its peak in Luigi Pirandello's tragedies and novels of the "absurd." On this ground, Leonardo Sciascia seems to stand out as the contemporary Italian author whose affinities with Faulkner are perhaps most striking--both because of his predilection for neo-gothic atmospheres deeply affected by a touch of nonsensical, and most of all because of his recurrent use of a geographical and social setting --namely, contemporary Sicily-- that, like Yoknapatawpha County, provides his novels with a common background which gives a strong sense of unity to his entire literary production. As in Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il gattopardo, Sciascia's special setting is a land in which the weight of tradition is deeply rooted within the soil as well as within human conscience, social attitudes and customs. Unlike Tomasi's historical novel, however, Sciascia's work is for the most part strongly embedded in a contemporary scene whose realistic atmosphere is repeatedly shaken and torn by the subtle intrusion of a seemingly paradoxical logic--at times a wild, all-encompassing incoherence which is the product of the uncanny, endless resurgence of atavistic beliefs and attitudes in the present time. Much of Sciascia's wry sense of humour, his corrosive criticism of social institutions whose ritualistic functioning keeps replicating itself in the present with no perception of its being frankly grotesque, stems directly from the fantastic patina that suddenly pervades his literary scenarios. Just as an impalpable shroud, the obscure, inextricable tangle of unwritten laws and unconfessed prejudices, of mute aspirations and exasperate pride that make up the unavoidable, unwelcome legacy of the past, slowly but steadily extends itself, wrapping around all characters with a smothering, paralysing atmosphere of  stillness in which no real break with the past is possible, no moral renewal is feasible. Leonardo Sciascia's Sicily too, in other words, is plagued by a curse of its own which somehow mirrors the curse impending on Faulkner's South, in that its roots reach far back into the past, into that intricate network of ancient relations and bloody conflicts that old families of land-owners had originally started waging against each other over their properties. 
     A non-native contemporary observer of that scene--like most of Sciascia's impersonal narrators--is inevitably baffled by what he often perceives as the apparent oddities that regulate all human and social relations in that peculiar land. Indeed, it is as if the central characters of his novels were constantly forced to come to grips with a reality intrinsically made of sound and fury--a reality in which they are utterly at a loss, as incomprehensible and mysterious as the tale told by an idiot. Fittingly enough, detection is an activity of capital importance in Sciascia's novels--his characters being repeatedly involved in the attempt to penetrate what to their alien eyes appear as intricate mysteries, in front of the general fatalism, passivity or annoyance of the indigenous crowds. In their sterile errands, police officers, stubborn detectives, private citizens with a particular bent for inquires repeatedly try to reconstruct the hidden dynamics of public crimes, to unveil major political scandals, to uncover the multiple connections between the local power structure and the State administration, only to face a final, often embarrassing failure. Thus, the story of their ill-fated quest for truth in Sicily becomes a bitter metaphor for the utter senselessness of reality in a country which, like contemporary Italy, appears to be still substantially anchored to a pre-modern, largely mysterious system. As the defeated protagonist of Sciascia's Il giorno della civetta finally admits, "one has to go to Sicily to realize how incredible Italy is."30 

Montalbano's final clue

     Like most riddles of a literary nature, the likenesses that have been indicated so far can be speculated upon, though not proven, since, apart from Vttorini's case, neither Tomasi di Lampedusa nor Sciascia have left any explicit evidence as to the nature of their possible affinities with Faulkner's writing, nor any critical appreciation of his work. Just recently, however, the vitality of this special relationship between contemporary Sicilian writers and the Mississippian artist has been once more reinforced by the novels of Andrea Camilleri--a recently discovered, mature author who in the last couple of years has been able to earn a critical and commercial success that has deeply stirred the attention of the Italian literary market.31  Camilleri, whose creative talent appears to be closely influenced by Sciascia's powerful philosophical and stylistic signatures, if not by the pervasiveness of his tragic vision, owes much of his success to the invention of Salvo Montalbano--an extraordinarily independent, hearty detective of the State police, heading a peripheral station in a small town of his native Sicily. Openly shunning public recognition, Montalbano works mostly behind the scene, in what appears to be a fierce defense of his independence, based on a profound sense of human dignity that leads him to a stubborn refusal to resort to violent methods--his only weaknesses being a tender love for good traditional food in which he frequently indulges with the religious attitude of a connoisseur, and a secret passion for literature, classics included. In the four novels and a collection of short stories published so far, all centered around the peculiar attitudes os this unorthodox policeman, Camilleri has succeeded in creating a fictional world in which something more than occasional glimpses of Faulkner's literary inventions may be easily caught. A first aspect of this similarity may be found in the fact that Montalbano operates in a Sicilian background that, though perfectly recognizable in terms of  landscape, climate, food, and population, is actually imaginary--Vigàta, Montelusa and Fela, the cities delimiting the triangle of space in which he lives and works, somewhere in the vicinity of Agrigento, are nowhere to be found in the maps, though their detailed descriptions appear entirely realistic. This quality gives Camilleri's writing a light, fascinating touch of exoticism. His imaginary land in fact becomes a crowded crucible in which historical reminiscences and cultural influences of the past--from the vestiges of the Greek, Norman, and Arabic dominations, to the memories of Turkish invasions, to the more recent impact of the English and Tunisian colonies in Marsala and in Mazara--are all essential parts of the cultural mixture that gives contemporary Sicily her inimitable appeal. Paradoxical as it may appear, this exotic component ends up by reinforcing, instead of diminishing, the realistic effect of Camilleri's prose, in that, as Montalbano repeatedly muses, it is precisely that strange accumulation of cross-cultural traits, that continuous synthesis of violent contrasts to make up the uncommon beauty of the Sicilian background, as well as the unique, truly peculiar quality of the indigenous way of life. Far from reaching the tragic depths of Faulkner's prose, Camilleri's smooth and deeply ironical handling of his material can be often deceiving--his imaginary "County" being at the bottom much less colorful and lively than it may appear at firsthand. In it, one often perceives a lingering sense of fatalistic submission, a latent solitude that haunts the mind of male and female characters alike, a quiet despair that suddenly explodes in bloody violence--in a word, a general sense of moral confusion which Montalbano fights against, often turning for help to his books. In Camilleri's Sicily, not unlike in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha, in other words, progress and modernity have deeply altered personal and social relationships, attitudes and customs, upsetting old balances without providing a new set of norms and values to substitute for them. 
     This is probably why, in his mid forties, Montalbano has come to a full appreciation of traditions; why he is always particularly alert to the needs and responsive to the suggestions of the large number of old people who frequently he gets in touch with, and whose company and friendship he eagerly cultivates. Old recipes, old, half-legendary tales, as well as the old dialect which Montalbano frequently uses are all different means to preserve a sense of identity that the present is dangerously threatening--they are all different ways of recapturing the cultural legacy of a past in which he and his old friends find a fuller sense of security, a reservoir of knowledge to make sense out of  the contemporary chaos. Again, though not in terms of proper "initiation," a parallel with Faulkner's recurrent motive centered on the relationship between old people and younger generations can be drawn, particularly as to the relevance that "talking," and the telling of tales, acquire in both authors’ works. Because of his profession as well as for a personal tendency, Montalbano has a particular inclination for human introspection, which he often practices in his conversations with his elder acquaintances, while at the same time testing theories and hypotheses linked to the criminal cases he is involved in. This way, the tales of old and half forgotten stories he apprehends from his senior friends become for him of a vital importance, both as a way of gathering information otherwise inaccessible, and as a way of mastering the use of narrative strategies--of the techniques intrinsically inherent to the making and the reconstruction of plots. Talking inevitably becomes an exercise in detection, a way of approaching and eventually solving a mystery, by creating imaginative verbal courses that, circle after circle, lead the protagonist, with the help of one or more of his friends, to unveil the truth. Apart from the self-reflexive implications that this pattern suggests, as well as from the numerous considerations that could be made in terms of the relationship between orality and writing--both fields open to deeper explorations--it is worth noting how, once more, Camilleri's novels offer yet another concrete possibility to further expand the comparison with Faulkner's so far discussed. 
     However,  since for police detectives and literary critics alike, hypotheses and evidences are two entirely different matters, I think it fit to conclude this essay moving, at long last, from the realm of the firsts to that of the seconds. Among Montalbano's closest friends, as previously suggested, there are a number of writers whom he often turns to when in need, as a logical source of help or enlightenment. Camilleri's impersonal narrator--himself a Sicilian born--has Montalbano establish with them a tight game of intertextual allusions, reminiscences and quotations that, while helping him with the intellectual and moral comfort he needs, provides the reader with a rich subtext of signs and signifiers that greatly enhances the philosophical nature of the hero's quest, while at the same time working as a viable foreshadowing layout, and a powerful scheme for metatextual suggestions. Common to all of Camilleri's novels,  the use of this technique appears to be particularly effective in his 1996 Il cane di terracotta, as in its final chapters it foregrounds the intricate, multi-voiced reconstruction of an unsolved and practically forgotten double homicide committed half a century earlier which Montalbano unwillingly revives, discovering, by chance, the mummified bodies of two killed lovers. In reading the final part of the novel, one has the distinct feeling of moving in an atmosphere somehow reminiscent of Absalom, Absalom!--a feeling strongly reinforced by a series of significant coincidences in the plot,32 but most of all because of the way in which the difficult, painful reconstruction of the missing parts of the story, the joint effort of the detective and of the only survivor of the ancient drama, becomes itself the central element of the tale. It is not until the concluding chapters of the book that Faulkner's name is directly mentioned by the narrator--three times in a few pages--to dispel, finally, the supplementary tension of the reader. As it turns out, it is precisely in the pages of Pylon--the first of his novels to be translated into Italian33 -- that Montalbano finds the idea for the stratagem that will enable him to solve the mystery:

Montalbano had sat back in the veranda to read Pylon, by Faulkner, for the fifth time... 
For Montalbano, in fact, it had been an agitated night, he had not been able to get any sleep, and he had spent it reading Faulkner... 
It was eleven o'clock--too early to hit the sack. He laid down on the bed, his clothes still on, to read Pylon.34 

The repeated mention of Faulkner's name gives us, at long last, one evidence we can count upon: true, he has been, and still is mainly a writer's writer, though his influence seems to be now much less obscure than before. Besides, given the popularity Camilleri's books have been recently enjoying, it is feasible that a number of readers, even though out of sheer curiosity, may pick up some of his novels and get entangled in the reading. Thus, as Montalbano is able to solve his mystery thanks to Faulkner's help, his clue allows us in turn to pronounce closed our case.


1.  Mario Praz, "William Faulkner,"  La Stampa (Dec. 4, 1931); reprinted in Cronache letterarie anglosassoni (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1951, II, p.247). For a full reconstruction of Praz's role, as well as for a comprehensive analysis of Faulkner's impact on Italian culture, see Agostino Lombardo, "Faulkner in Italy," Faulkner: International Perspectives, ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982) 121-38. 
2. Ibid. 121-24. 
3.  Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, "Italian Translations of Faulkner: the State of the Art," The Translations of Faulkner in Europe, ed. R. Mamoli Zorzi (Venice: University of Venice, Ca’ Foscari, 1998) 22-38. 
4.  Elio Vittorini was the translator of  "Wash Jones" ("Gli eroi," 1938; "Wash," 1941) and of Light in August (Luce d’agosto, 1939);  Eugenio Montale translated "That Evening Sun" ("Il sole della sera," 1941); Cesare Pavese was the translator of  "The Hamlet" ("Il borgo," 1942). 
5.  Cesare Pavese, "Ieri e oggi," La letteratura americana e altri saggi (Turin, Einaudi, 1959)  193-96; the essay appears in English in New World Journeys. Contemporary Italian Writers and the Experience of America, ed. and trans. Angela M. Jeannet, Louise K. Barnett (Westford-London: Greenwood Press, 1977); quoted in A. Lombardo, cit. 124. 
6.  On this subject, see: Dominque Fernandez, Il mito dell'America negli intellettuali italiani (Caltanissetta, S. Sciascia Editore, 1969); Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, Invito alla lettura di Faulkner (Milan: Mursia, 1976); Agostino Lombardo, L'America e la cultura letteraria italiana (Bologna: CLUEB, 1981); Giuseppe Massara, Americani (Palermo: Sellerio, 1982); Ugo Rubeo, Mal d'America. Da mito a realtà (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1987). 
7.  Agostino Lombardo, "Faulkner in Italy," cit. 126. 
8.  Emilio Cecchi, "Note su William Faulkner," ed. Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery, William Faulkner. Venti anni di critica (Parma: Guanda, 1957) 114. 
9.  Leslie E. Fiedler, An End to Innocence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1955) 91-102. On this same subject, see also Italo Calvino, "Memorie di uno spettatore," La strada di San Giovanni (Milan: Garzanti, 1988). 
10.  Apart from those already mentioned (see note 4), Faulkner's translations published in the decade include: "A Rose for Emily" ("Una Rosa per Emily," 1941); Sanctuary (Santuario, 1943); Sartoris (Sartoris, 1946); The Sound and the Fury (L'urlo e il furore, 1947); Go Down, Moses (Scendi Mosè, 1947); TheUnvanquished (Gli invitti, 1948), These Thirteen (Questi tredici, 1948). For a full account, with critical comments on single translations, see R. Mamoli Zorzi, "Italian Translations of Faulkner: the State of the Art," cit
11.  In his "Faulkner in Italy," cit., A. Lombardo discusses this aspect, as related to his own personal experience, and to those of Emilio Cecchi and of Mario Materssi, whose account of his visit at Rowan Oak, "Un incontro con William Faulkner," appeared as a preface to the Italian translation of Frederick J. Hoffman's Faulkner (Florence, 1968). 
12.  Faulkner's translations published by Mondadori in the 1950s were: Intruder in the Dust (Non si fruga nella polvere, 1951); Soldier's Pay (La paga del soldato, 1953); Absalom, Absalom! (Assalonne, Assalonne!, 1954); Requiem for a Nun (Requiem per una monaca, 1955); Wild Palms (Palme selvagge, 1956); As I Lay Dying (Mentre morivo, 1958). Two more of his works, published as individual books by Il Saggiatore, appeared in the 1950s: Miss Zilphia Gant (La pallida Zilphia Gant, 1959), and a selection from  New Orleans Sketches (Storie di New Orleans, 1959). 
13.  Eugenio Montale, "La morte di William Faulkner"  Il Corriere della Sera July 9 (1962). 
14.  On this subject, see Mario Materassi, I romanzi di Faulkner (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1968), 409,  and Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, Invito alla lettura di William Faulkner (Milan: Mursia, 1976) 141. 
15.  Founded in 1955 by A. Lombardo, who also edited it until the early 1980s, when it was discontinued, Studi Americani was the first, and for a long period of time the only literary Journal entirely dedicated to the critical debate on American literature and culture to be published in Italy. Most of the articles and essays, both by Italian and by foreign critics, published in Italy on Faulkner, appeared in it, starting with Nemi D'Agostino's first Italian comprehensive essay on the author, entitled "William Faulkner," which appeared in its No.1 issue (1955) 257-308. A. Lombardo's first article on the author was "William Faulkner. Mirrors of Chartres Street,"  Lo Spettatore Italiano 8 Sept. 1955: 374-75. 
16.  Angela M. Giannitrapani, "La New Orleans e la Louisiana di Faulkner," Annali dell'Orientale di Napoli II (1959); "Wistaria: le immagini in Faulkner," Studi Americani 5 (1959); "Il procedimento dello stupore in Faulkner," Studi Americani 6 (1960). Her book, Wistaria. Studi Faulkneriani, was published in Naples, Cymba, 1963. 
17.  See Mario Materassi, "Faulkner e la presentazione del personaggio,"  Studi Americani  7 (1961); "Le immagini in Soldier's Pay," Studi Americani  9 (1964). Other articles by Materassi devoted to Faulkner appeared in those years in the following Journals: Il Nuovo Osservatore  20 (1963); Paragone  16 (1966); Convivium  35 (1967); Il Ponte  23 (1967). 
18.  M. Materassi, I romanzi di Faulkner, cit
19.  I allude here to the widespread and often heated debates that the reading of Faulkner's novels has often been provoking among Italian students, both in terms of reactions to his technique, and particularly in terms of its ideological impact, on issues related to slavery, racism, the use of historical sources, the political ambiguities of the narrative stance, and the like. 
20.  William Faulkner, "Jean Stein: An Interview," William Faulkner: Three decades of Criticism, ed. F.J. Hoffman and O.W. Vickery  (East lansing: University of Michigan Press, 1960). 
21.  Nadia Fusini, "La caccia all'orso di Faulkner," Sudi Americani 14 (1968); Barbara Lanati, "Il primo Faulkner: As I Lay Dying," Sigma 19  Sept. (1968), later revised and enlarged, in her L'avanguardia americana: tre esperimenti  (Torino: Einaudi, 1976). 
22.  Rosella Mamoli Zorzi, Invito alla lettura di Faulkner, cit. Translated literally into English, Zorzi’s book title reads "An invitation to the reading of Faulkner." 
23.  The two international conferences were respectively held at the University of Rome "La Sapienza," in May 1989, and at the University of Venice "Ca' Foscari," in November 1997. 
24.  The first of the two books, edited by A. Lombardo, is entitled The Artist and His Masks: William Faulkner's Metafiction (Rome: Bulzoni, 1991); the second book, edited by R. Mamoli Zorzi, William Faulkner: Language, Stylistics, Translations, is currently in print. Sergio Perosa is the editor of another book issued from the Venice conference and dedicated to a discussion of Faulkner's Italian translations: Le traduzioni italiane di William Faulkner (Venice: Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere e Arti, 1998). 
25.   A. Lombardo, "Faulkner in Italy," cit. 131. 
26.   Ibid
27.  Elio Vittorini, "Faulkner come Picasso?" La Stampa  8 Dec. (1950); quoted in A. Lombardo, "Faulkner in Italy," cit. 131. 
28.   E. Vittorini, In Sicily (Scranton, Pa: New Directions, 1949) 10. 
29.  Giorgio Bassani, "Preface" to Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il gattopardo (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1958) 11-12. 
30.  Leonardo Sciascia, Il giorno della civetta (Turin: Einaudi, 1961) 116; olther novels by Sciascia in which Sicily plays a similar role include: Gli zii di Sicilia (Turin: Einaudi, 1958); A ciascuno il suo (Turin: Einaudi, 1966); Toto modo (Turin: Einaudi, 1974). 
31.  Born in Porto Empledocle, near Agrigento, in 1925, Andrea Camilleri has worked for years as a successful movie and television director and screen-writer. After having published his first novel in 1978 (Il corso delle cose, Milan: Garzanti), in 1995 he published Il birraio di Preston (Palermo: Sellerio), and has acquired sudden renown with his four novels centered around the police detective Salvo Montalbano, all published in Palermo by Sellerio: La forma dell'acqua (1994), Il cane di terracotta (1996), Il ladro di merendine (1996), and La voce del Violino (1997); Un mese con Montalbano, a collection of short stories, was published by Mondadori: Milan, 1998. 
32.  In the intricate plot of this novel, part of which set in the years of World War II, the reader chances upon a mean land-owner who, after committing incest with his daughter, kills her and her lover, to start a new life, and incurring no punishment. The two lovers' bodies, entombed together for fifty years, and set in an underground chamber according to an old Arabic funerary ritual, are found by Montalbano who entually succeeds in tracing back the now old author of the entombment who helps him reconstruct the missing parts of the story, before quietly passing away. 
33.  Pylon was the first novel by Faulkner to be translated into Italian, with the title Oggi si vola, in 1937. This, coupled with the fact that the novel's structure is much more traditional than most of Faulkner's other works of fiction, made it for a long time his best known novel in Italy. 
34.  Andrea Camilleri, Il cane di terracotta, cit.; the three quotations are taken from pp.234; 240; 245.

Copywright (C) 1999  Ugo Rubeo