Self-portraits in the work of Cesare Pavese

Flaubert declared of his best-known character, Emma Bovary, that: “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” While Pavese never explicitly made a similar claim, there are undoubtedly elements of self-portraiture in both Clelia and Rosetta in Among Women Only.

Clelia’s return to her native Turin, where she is evidently alienated, allows Pavese to explore his own alienation in Rome, and the deeper alienation he feels in his hometown of Turin. Like Pavese, Clelia possesses nothing but her work and, while it provides a financial and practical independence that would otherwise be unattainable, their respective dedication to their professions has impoverished them both emotionally.

In the piqued solipsism of Rosetta, however, and the infatuation, the dithering, the determination to self-destruct, Pavese lays himself bare.

It is in the relationship between the two women, however, that Pavese’s self-destructiveness takes on a more morbid presence. Clelia, able to observe Rosetta’s self-destruction, has no desire to become involved when she first sees her being carried out of their hotel unconscious by paramedics. Over time and against her will she becomes involved and develops compassion, only it is too late. Does this suggest that Pavese, similarly, had given up on himself long before he committed suicide?

Read more about Cesare Pavese and the self-reflective nature of Among Women Only in Jonathan Steffen’s essay here.

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