Reconciling Word and World: Theories of Literature in the Age of Neorealism

Doctoral Dissertation


The cultural debates of the first decade after the Second World War mark a turning point in Italian literary and intellectual history. The convergence of trends in modern European literature with the social and political demands of post-Fascist Italy radically revised the theoretical and ideological foundations of textual representation. At the same time, the efforts to create a “new culture,” and to rethink the relationship between literature and society, transformed the social role and responsibilities of writers and intellectuals. The age of neorealism thus represents a crux in the development of modern Italian culture. Because its repercussions continue to shape Italian intellectual discourse, neorealism remains fundamental to our understanding of contemporary literature and culture. Yet the innovative thrust of the postwar intellectual climate has been obscured by historiorgraphic conventions that apply blanket categorization to diverse and contrasting literary currents, or conversely omit from consideration the period’s most inventive, original, and enduring literary production. This study presents a comprehensive model of the divergent theories of representation and interpretation that renewed Italian literature and culture after Fascism. I suggest that the transformation of the period’s theories of literature is dialogic, emerging within postwar literary, cultural, political, and religious debates, and articulated through the contest of ideologies. New, hybrid principles of narrativity and hermeneutics result from the clash between competing notions of literary representation and intellectual engagement. Chapter One addresses the most significant point of contention, the definition of realism, which authors alternately understand as the ethical imperative faithfully to memorialize the events of history, or as the invention of new truths through the process of literary creation. Chapter Two rethinks the dominant ideologies of literature’s political intervention, its “impegno,” suggesting that they are founded upon an unresolved conflict between descriptive accounts of culture’s societal foundations and prescriptive calls for greater cultural intercession. Chapter Three re-interprets the debates over culture’s complicity in Fascism in light of the emerging consensus regarding postwar literature’s borrowings from the culture of the Fascist ventennio. Chapter Four argues that, in the accounts of postwar Italian intellectuals, literature’s political impact is thought not to reside in the text’s capacity to inculcate a new belief system, but rather in its potential to explore and represent new modes of social consciousness, and to project a comprehensive social consciousness. The conclusion explores the implications of these discoveries for neorealist cinema and poetry, and for the postwar reception of the ideas of Gramsci, LukÌÄåÄÌâåÁcs, and Sartre.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-07222010-093135

Author Charles L. Leavitt IV
Advisor Zygmunt G. Baranski
Contributor Theodore J. Cachey, Jr., Committee Member
Contributor Joseph A. Buttigieg, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor Zygmunt G. Baranski, Committee Co-Chair
Contributor John P. Welle, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Romance Languages and Literatures
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2010-07-07

Submission Date 2010-07-22
  • United States of America

  • Italian

  • Fascism

  • Realism

  • Cesare Pavese

  • Alberto Moravia

  • Elio Vittorini

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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