Gente in Aspromonte is a collection of thirteen short stories written by Corrado Alvaro. The book was published in 1931 by the Florentine publisher Le Monnier. Set in the author's native Calabria, the narratives delve into the difficult realities of post-unification rural Southern Italian life. The collection's powerful exploration of the poverty, exploitation and injustice endemic to the Italian South renders it one of the finest examples of the return to realism of the 1930s. The eponymous opening story (and the longest, at just a little short of half the length of the whole book) sets the scene and tone of the whole collection. It recounts the desperate plight of the peasant Argirò and his family, left 'by history and reality' to a destiny of poverty and marginalization.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
Tackling the 'questione meridionale', often from the perspective of its peasant protagonists (the umili), the collection is a significant example of the return to realism in narrative which characterised the 1930s. Published just two years after Moravia's Gli indifferenti, Alvaro's novel also focused on the everyday reality of its protagonists, but in the radically different setting of one of the most deprived areas of the country.
Gente in Aspromonte also addressed another crucial issue for the regime: the question of regionalism, which split the artworld into two camps. One the one hand, there was the ultra-nationalist Strapaese movement led by Mino Maccari, and on the other, the cosmopolitan Stracittà, as pioneered by Massimo Bontempelli. From the early 1930s onwards, regionalism was also a bone of contention in architecture, with different schools of thought similarly divided into advocates of the national/regional tradition and those looking at the European scene.
Gente in Aspromonte responded to the call for a novel which was in touch with reality. It was characterised by a firm moral imperative, seeking to bear witness to the harshness of peasant life and to promote social change. The collection deals with the themes of emigration, illness, marginalization, sexuality, social ambition, resentment, resignation, and social injustice. Alvaro observed the lives of peasants in the region of the Aspromonte in the documentary style typical of the 1930s; refusing any ornament in a text punctuated by essential dialogical exchanges (again, like Moravia Gli indifferenti). There is no oneiric evocation of the past in Alvaro's writing. Rather, the hope for a change is a trait d'union across the thirteen short stories. Contrary to previous letteratura meriodionalistica, Alvaro's text had an almost militant ambition: his writing was an effort to record and raise awareness of the social condition of those obscured not seen by history. Such an ideological aspiration was in line with the idea of modernity as progress, able to change the social sphere, and therefore as part of a wider process of modernization. The characters, from the Argirò family to the prostitute, the priest, the immigrant, la Signora Flavia, Teresina, are all individuals but at the same time are part of a collective history. It is the history of the marginalised parts of the country where modernity has not yet arrived. The link between writing, social context and pedagogical/ethical mission was also a prominent theme in the youth culture related to the regime, especially in journals such as Il Saggiatore, Orpheus, L'Universale and Occidente towhich Alvaro contributed. Finally, it is important to note that Alvaro's brand of realism was distinct from the experimentalism of the avant-gardes; to him the idea of writing as a social construct with a clear moral message was more relevant than any form of writing understood as an experiment in representation.
Alvaro, Corrado. 1927b. 'Moralità.' 900 2, no. 5 (Autumn): 139-142.
Alvaro, Corrado. 1928. 'La prosa.' 900 3, no. 2, n.s. (August): 68-71.
Güntert, Georges. 2004. 'Né dannunziano né verista: Corrado Alvaro e i racconti di Gente in Aspromonte.' Esperienze Letterarie: Rivista Trimestrale di Critica e Cultura 29 (3): 19-42.
Mauro, Walter. 1973. Invito alla lettura di Corrado Alvaro. Milan: Mursia.
Mele, Angelo, 'Corrado Alvaro. La Calabria favolosa e lirica e la civiltà tecnologica dell'Europa borghese, l'idillio paesano e la babele urbana, fra mito poetico e saggio utopico'*. In Novecento. Gli scrittori e la cultura letteraria nella società italiana, edited by Giovanni Grana, vol. VI, 5305-5325. Milan: Marzorati.