Michele Maiolani (University of Cambridge)


Michele Maiolani recently obtained his PhD in Italian at the University of Cambridge, where he investigated the relationship between anthropology and literature in the novels of Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, and Gianni Celati. He is currently Postdoctoral Affiliate at the MMLL Department of the University of Cambridge, and has won an MHRA Scholarship for 2023/24. He has written extensively on the Italian post-war novel, publishing several articles and book chapters on Sciascia, Bianciardi, Calvino, Primo Levi, Camilleri, and Dario Fo. He organised the conference Defining the Italian Postmodernist Novel (Cambridge, 2021).


Calvino’s Early Short Stories: A Modernist Debut?

Traditionally interpreted within the problematic framework of Neorealism, Italo Calvino’s early production shows quite different styles of narration. In his essays and letters of the 1940s and 1950s, Calvino himself recounts the enormous efforts faced while developing a distinctive style, and seeking inspiration from the novels he read – among which we find many masterpieces of European Modernist literature (Joyce, Conrad, Kafka). But how influential were these readings? And can we identify a Modernist production in Calvino’s early narratives?

In the first part of my talk, I will argue that more than in Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno (1947), Modernist themes and tropes are particularly present in some short stories of Ultimo viene il corvo. Although printed only in 1949, many of the narratives collected in this book predate the publication of Calvino’s first novel. The adoption of a Modernist epistemological perspective and the reuse of Modernist narrative techniques is particularly evident in the first part of the book, where a homodiegetic (and clearly autobiographic) narrator tells us about his strong sense of displacement and the conflict with his father. But the short stories that show the strongest proximity to Modernist narrative experimentalism are undoubtedly the war tales ‘Attesa della morte in albergo’ and ‘Angoscia in caserma’, where reality is deformed and filtered through the protagonist’s conscience. Remarkably, these two short stories are the only ones (together with ‘La stessa cosa del sangue’) that Calvino excluded from all the following three editions of his short stories (1958, 1969, 1976) for stylistic reasons. Nevertheless, we can hypothesise that Modernism had a strong impact on Calvino’s formation as a writer, as shown by the later resurgences in works like La giornata di uno scrutatore (Toracca, 2022).