Antonio Borgese, Rube' (1921)


Rubè was published in 1921 by Treves, a year before the regime came to power, and was reissued in 1928 by Mondadori, the year before the publication of Gli indifferenti by Alberto Moravia. The novel tells the story of Filippo Rubé, an ambitious young man who arrives in Rome from the provinces with a degree in law, ready to become a lawyer and then enter into the political arena. Blessed with great analytical abilities, Filippo Rubè is also profoundly neurotic – a dichotomy which, together with his split political beliefs, will accompany him throughout his short life. The novel takes place during WWI and ends with Filippo's death in Bologna. He is killed accidentally, hit during a police cavalry charge at a demonstration between Communists and Fascists Both factions declare him a martyr of their own cause. More broadly, Rubè documents the crisis of a nation between WWI and the rise of Fascism. It is not only the story of a man caught in an existential crisis, rather it is a portrait of a changing historical landscape, which will lead to violent social transformations. Borgese narrates the story of an inept young man, but unlike in the case of Svevo's protagonist, Rubè's way of existing in the world is not simply a response to a personal condition, an existential crisis, or an illness, to be resolved/cured with psychoanalytical tools, it is rather a human condition determined by a specific social situation.

Main Principles

  1. The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization

  2. The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities


Rubè sits on the threshold between the old Liberal regime and the new Fascist order. It is a novel about a man, Filippo Rubé, split between two worlds and between action and passivity. It is a realist novel with a strong historical drive, which spans WWI and the Red Biennium. At the beginning of his life, just like in Gadda's Il castello di UdineIl castello di Udine Filippo Rubè is an enthusiastic supporter/advocate of WWI: he sees it as a way of changing the status quo for the better. But he very quickly becomes disillusioned, and after the end of the war, like many men across the country, he struggles to find a place in the new social fabric of the country. His relationship with the socialist movement is equally accidental and lacks any real engagement and commitment. The novel draws a clear connection between economic precarity and social frustration, presenting these conditions as a prelude to the dictatorship. In this respect, Rubè is a social novel centred around a very particular individual, an indecisive character who fluctuates between existential ineptitude and social opportunism. Told in four parts and twenty-four chapters, Rubè represented the need for a new Italian novel with a 'constructive' dimension which rejected the 'frammentismo' of artistic prose. Moreover, it called for a reassessment of the failure of a generation and the need for social and, crucially, political change. It should be also read in relation to the collection of short essays entitled Tempo di edificare published by Borgese two years later, in 1923.

Rubè is therefore another novel which marks the need for modernity and moderniziation, understood as a transformation of the social sphere. Such a shift is necessary to accommodate the needs and aspirations of Filippo, the average man (l'uomo medio) who has intellectual aspirations, but lacks a clear ideological drive. This is a social and political situation which in 1921 was yet to be clearly defined but which will come to an end by the mid-1920s with the regime's consolidation into power after the murder of socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti. Finally, Rubè is a realist novel, which replaces La coscienza di Zeno's psychoanalytical, modernist narrative dimension with a socially aware and historically informed one. In contrast to the interior focus of Svevo's protagonist, Borgese's narrative constructs a character in relation to the external.


Biasin, Gian-Paolo. 1979. 'Il rosso o il nero: Testo e ideologia in Rubè.' Italica 56 (2): 172-197.

Campbell, Timothy C. 2005. 'Infinite Remoteness: Marinetti, Bontempelli, and the Emergence of Modern Italian Visual Culture.' MLN, 120 (1): 111-136.

Mondini, Marco. 2014.'The Construction of a Masculine Warrior Ideal in the Italian Narratives of the First World War, 1915-68.' Contemporary European History 23 (3): 307-327.

Terrile, Maria Cristina. 1995. 'La narrazione dell'inettitudine in Rubè di Giuseppe Antonio Borgese.' Italica 72 (1): 40-53.