Art and culture

Pavese and the Langhe: a “modest Divine Comedy” – Part III

May 31, 2016

Along these lines, another reason that binds Dante and The Moon and the Bonfires is the journey that the lead couple takes on the hills.

The journey and ascension

Just like the two boys in The Sea, Anguilla and Nuto take a journey with a distinct ascension dimension, which envisages the climb up the hill until they reach a mysterious point, the same where the novel ends:

Da ragazzo fin lassù non c’ero mai potuto salire; da giovane lavoravo e mi accontentavo delle fiere e dei balli. Adesso, senza decidermi, rimuginavo che doveva esserci qualcosa lassù, sui pianori, dietro le canne e le ultime cascine sperdute. Che cosa poteva esserci? Lassù tra incolto e bruciato dal sole.
Cesare Pavese, La luna e i falò, capitolo IX.

From this and other journeys, what clearly emerges is the physiology of the Langa, which takes on consistency thanks to the images of the Santo Stefano Belbo inhabitants; particularly of those who now inhabit the areas where the protagonist had lived during his childhood.

To this, we still need to add Anguilla’s wanderings, similar to the ones in Dante’s Inferno, which weave together the past with the present (the temporal background of the novel), from which comes the interpenetration between the two periods of the protagonist’s life.

Incidentally, what is extremely important is the figure of Dante’s Beatrice, depicting the love and the salvation of the man who seeks his liberation through her love. In the Comedy, it is precisely Virgil who leads Dante to the summit of Purgatory, then entrusts him to Beatrice, who will be his guide in Paradise and will, ultimately, lead him to the contemplation of God.

The Dantesque anti-model

However, in The Moon and the Bonfires, this redemption is not found, yet what is present is what critics have rightly called a “Dantesque anti-model”: in the latter part of the last chapter, after having completed their last ascent, Nuto and Anguilla arrive at the spot where the novel’s most deadly bonfire burned the body of Santina, the candid girl that the protagonist was bewitched by during his childhood.

Nuto tells the story to his friend, stating that the young girl’s life was ruined by politics and the bonfire represented the laical funeral which the partisans permitted to take place after having shot her because of her links with the fascists and the local Fascist headquarters.

In actual fact, the body was burned so as to not let such beauty fall into malicious hands; necrophiles might be tempted to possess such an alluring body.

The reversal of Beatrice, therefore, becomes effective with Nuto’s last words:

Nuto s’era seduto sul muretto e mi guardò col suo occhio testardo. Scosse il capo. – No, Santa no, – disse, non la trovano. Una donna come lei non si poteva coprirla di terra e lasciarla cosi. Faceva ancora gola a troppi. Ci pensò Baracca.
Fece tagliare tanto sarmento nella vigna e la coprimmo fin che bastò. Poi ci versammo la benzina e demmo fuoco. A mezzogiorno era tutta cenere. L’altr’anno c’era ancora il segno, come il letto di un falò.
Cesare Pavese, La luna e i falò, capitolo XXXII.

Pavese’s Beatrices

In addition to Santina, her older sisters too, Silvia and Irene (the daughters of Anguilla’s adoptive family), can be considered “the Beatrices” of the novel in question.

In fact, during their childhood, they were the ones who stimulated the boy with the pre-sentiment of love towards a woman: he was charmed by their sweet and delicate ways and later on this idea became real and physical when they began going out with older boys.

Pavese’s alter ego, therefore, developed its first thoughts regarding beauty and love thanks to the two sisters (given that Santina was still too small), aspiring to a salvation that he could never have received from them because of the difference in family rank (he was still and would always be a “bastard” adopted by their parents).

An example of this can be the angelic and heavenly vision of Irene while she performs a piece on the piano:

Nuto aveva detto a Irene che suonava come un’artista e che tutto il giorno lui sarebbe stato a ascoltare. E Irene allora l’aveva chiamato sul terrazzo (anch’io c’ero andato con lui) e a vetrata aperta aveva suonato dei pezzi difficili ma proprio belli, che riempivano la casa e si dovevano sentire fin nella vigna bianca sulla strada. Mi piaceva, accidenti.
Nuto ascoltava con le labbra in fuori come avesse imboccato il clarino, e io vedevo per la vetrata i fiori nella stanza, gli specchi, la schiena dritta d’Irene e le braccia che facevano sforzo, la testa bionda sul foglio. E vedevo la collina, le vigne, le rive – capivo che quella musica non era la musica che suonano le bande, parlava d’altro, non era fatta per Gaminella né per le albere di Belbo né per noi.
Cesare Pavese, La luna e i falò, capitolo XX.

Pavese & the Langhe: the other articles

Below is a list, in order of publication, of articles dedicated to Pavese’s relationship with the territory, language and literature: