Cultural Revolutions

Eugenio Corti, R.I.P.

With the death of Eugenio Corti on February 4, Italian literature has lost the last of its great masters.  Born in 1921, Corti grew up in the rolling countryside south of Lago di Como known as the Brianza.  His father was a textile manufacturer whose handsome brick factory in Besana had been converted into the villa in which Eugenio spent most of his life.

Besana is the fictional village of Nomentana in Corti’s masterpiece, Il cavallo rosso.  When I used to visit him and his gracious wife, we would sit in the garden before dinner and watch his “pets”: an undomesticated rabbit and a wild tortoise, which lived with the family on friendly terms, without cages or any restraint except the gate, which had to be locked to keep out the village dogs.  In the winter, we could look out beyond the back of the garden to see some of the ravages the 20th century had made on the beautiful Brianza, but for the most part, this little plot of green, with its trees and flowers and tame wild beasts, was a reflection both of Eugenio’s character and of the world he recreated in his novel.

Although he came from an industrial family in the most hard-working part of Italy, Corti’s mind was more than a little tinged by an agrarian spirit.  This is difficult to convey in Italian, and when, in the course of a lecture, I put Corti in the context of the...

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