Tuesday 8 June 2021

Cesare Pavese, The Beautiful Summer

Now halfway through a second consecutive read of The Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese and just as pleasantly perplexed about what is so riveting about a tale of two girls in Northern Italy in the 1930s, posing for artists, eating ice cream and maybe falling in love. 

Pavese is always spoken of as a pre-eminent man of letters who ended his life by suicide during the period of Italian fascism. None of this gives any clue as to how and why he wanted to portray a young shop girl, Ginia, with an older girlfriend and a brother, as she emerged into womanhood. Call it that. Ginia and her  friend Amelia pursue their acquaintance with a couple of artists in an ideal seclusion of youth, with no distraction from the strangeness of first love except the local cafĂ© and a ride out into the countryside. 

She went downstairs, bewildered, and for the moment she was convinced that she had become somebody different and that they were all ignoring her. 'That is why love-making is frowned on; that must be the reason.'

The translation is from the 1950s and has a clunky correctness at times, though maybe that adds to the particularity of the read. Pavese's Italian doubtless has its own datedness. Somewhere there in the telling, in whatever register of language, 1950s or translation, there is a girl growing into whatever life offers in her town.

'It is obvious he likes the way I talk, look, and how I am. He likes me like a sweetheart; he loves me. He did not believe I was seventeen, but he kissed my eyes. I am a grown-up woman now.'

If you're trying to imagine a girl talking to herself, as Pavese imagines Giana, your strokes are bolder and simpler. Other people. Girls in their summer dresses, simmering.

I talked to myself in my diary at seventeen. If you're writing your own account you'll be prolix, evasive: more language, more diversions, school—for one thing, permeates every page, couched in a desire to be saying the right kind of thing in the right kind of way, to show affiliation and removal at the same time. 

Since the taxi wasn't coming till quarter to twelve, & it was only just gone eleven, we went down to the Pimpernel to have yet another cup of coffee. Despite the fact that he was drunk, I fell for Daguerre. I always liked him, & now I feel sorry for him (I'm sure he'd hate to be felt sorry for). I wonder if his change of father has anything to do with his fierce drinking and smoking. Possibly. He says it's always the same at any party he goes to, he can't help it.

This was Maldon, 1964, after a party which ended when someone broke a window. Irresponsible enough to break a window, responsible enough to get it repaired next day.

Giana, after her party with Amelia and the two artists:

When she was alone, she began to feel better because there was no one looking at her. She sat on the edge of the bed and stayed there for an hour staring at the floor. Then she suddenly got undressed, flung herself down and put out the light.

My beautiful summer of 1964 began with a trip to London with Daguerre (Ray) to hear Menuhin and Rostropovich play the Brahms Double Concerto in the Albert Hall. Ray wore an embarrassing blue suit and thought nothing of taking taxis.

I love the way RCD gets a taxi promptly, whereas JK would have started running. ... I'm not very good at describing such things as concerts or operas, but I thought it was wonderful. The music is beautiful anywhere, but when you hear it live, and with about the best artists in the world, there's just no comparison to radio or records.

Pavese made his Giana out of rural fantasy, a shop girl and her supposed simplicity. I made myself, in my diary, in anticipation of the next stage of life. 

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