Stopping to notice

Cesare Pavese’s last novel, Among Women Only (Tra donne sole), is an example of the well-known maxim ‘life imitates art’. Pavese’s diaries, published posthumously after his suicide, showed a man tormented by depression who had considered suicide many times previously.

Among Women Only treads similar ground. The protagonist Clelia is an engine of survival through passive consumption by work as she busies herself setting up a shop in Turin, while Rosetta is an engine of self-determination through passive self-destructiveness.

This novel also raises the question of responsibility. Clelia puts her work above everything else and manages her relationships at arm’s length, but she begins to feel responsible for Rosetta. Nevertheless she cannot do anything to prevent Rosetta’s second suicide attempt, merely look on. Indeed, everyone can look on, but no one can help Rosetta.

The sense irresistibly grows that it can only be a matter of time before Rosetta attempts suicide once more. Clelia, however, is too busy, and too unable, to help.

Read more about Pavese’s self-reflective novel in Jonathan Steffen’s essay here.

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