Chapter 4  Nino Frank and Les Nouvelles littéraires; and two published stories

Fading hope

How different the outlook must have seemed to Nino Frank as 1928 dawned, from the glittering prospects of New Year 1926: Paris, city of dreams, had become a place of refuge, but also of exile. Overnight almost, he had lost his paid work, for the Corriere della Sera and the Fiera Letteraria, and had no immediate hope of finding a replacement.

At first, the setback must have seemed a temporary one. Frank had been a serious and prolific contributor to both these Italian papers, with almost weekly articles informing the Italian literary readership of the latest developments in Paris: articles on subjects ranging from Paul Valéry to Jean Cocteau, from the Ballets Russes to the Revue Nègre. He had contacts with Italian publishers, with a number of books already in print or in preparation. His ostracism had been engineered essentially by one person, Curzio Malaparte, and he believed that he had friends in Italy who would help him to find a new employer. He was quickly disabused.

Two letters from one of his closest colleagues and friends, Corrado Alvaro, give a clear indication of the problem: in the first one, fear of being associated with an anti-fascist scandal:

As you are a friend of Italian literature and of Italy herself, it won't be long before you'll be able to try to find work again with newspapers here, but for now I advise you to be prudent and not cause people to talk about you, and be very cautious about how you approach the papers.1 | original text

In the second, clear relief that Frank had found a job in Paris, albeit with a French paper, thus releasing Alvaro from any feeling of responsibility, and allowing him to sound blandly supportive:

I'm glad to hear that you've found a job. I always look at what you're writing in the Nouvelles littéraires...It hasn't been any effort for me to remain your friend. We've known each other a long time, I know you're a good chap, that you've done a lot for Italian literature abroad, and that you're a friend of Italy whatever the 'men of letters' who are not your friends claim about you.2 | orig

Two letters in April 1928 from G.B.Angioletti, now joint editor of the Fiera Letteraria with Malaparte, demonstrate clearly that the animosity between Frank and Malaparte was in fact the central issue, and that the young man had seriously underestimated the extent of Malaparte's influence. Only the most abject prostration before the altar of fascism could - perhaps - lead to Frank's reinstatement; but he remained firmly convinced that he was the injured party:

You need to know that Malaparte wrote the most violent polemic against you for the Fiera. I didn't want to publish it, and had a serious argument with Malaparte; we had a long correspondence about your attitude. As a result, the polemic will not be published; but Malaparte does not want any attacks from you, even indirect ones. He also considers deliberate silence to be an attack; and he's not wrong there. So now I too suggest you adopt a calmer attitude. (1.4.28)

and following what must have been an angry reply from Frank,

It seems to me that I spoke plainly to you. And it will be your fault if by persisting in this attitude you lose the last friend you have in Italy. (10.4.28)3 | orig

Only in Florence, at the journal Solaria, were the editors - Alberto Carocci and Giansiro Ferrata - sympathetic and happy to have his occasional collaboration. But they did not need a regular contributor in Paris. The only solution was to try to find work in French journals.

Help from Pierre Mac Orlan

il-cantoNino had been in regular touch with Mac Orlan, both on behalf of "900" and to inform him of progress on various translations into Italian. In 1926, he published an abbreviated version of La Casa del Ritorno Impossibile [La Maison du retour écœurant] in the literary magazine Novella4 . During 1927, Il Canto dell'Equipaggio, the translation of Le Chant de l'Equipage, was published, complete with a long and thoughtful critique by Nino of the author's works to date. Here is his brief summing-up of the atmosphere of Mac Orlan's books:

The strangest of atmospheres: the smell of tar, of smoke and a burning sun; rain falls - then the humid heat sets the blood racing; the sea is calm; there is a caterwaul of singing and someone is drunk; the women are often stupid, they talk little but stare with watchful eyes; and always the heady perfume of poisonous plants, and the voice of the harsh, violent wind, and perhaps - underlying it all - the smoking of opium...An adventurous atmosphere, heavy with regrets and brutality; within it, live men who are free and a bit mad - but square-shouldered, solid. Just so, square-shouldered: there is no romanticism in these books, everything is carefully weighed up; the art of the author harmonises and reins in fantasy.5 | orig

He had been working tirelessly to spread awareness of the writer in Italy, and his last article for the Corriere della Sera, on 20 December 1927, was a review of Mac Orlan's most recent book, La Seine. Again, his review plunged straight into the atmosphere of Mac Orlan's private world. It brought out the importance of the river - and river scenes - to Mac Orlan, emphasising both the personal pleasure he took in watching the Seine, especially its industrial banks where Eau de Javel and Citroën cars were created, and the inspiration he found in it for his maritime stories:

Mac Orlan seeks out the colours of poetry: in the quarter of the wine sellers and in the Jardin des Plantes, where the locomotives come to drink at the waters of the river and the apes, at night, locked up in their cages, squeal at the flickering lights of the Seine; on the two islands, ships eternally at anchor, most fragile of masterpieces formed from the secretions of long, exhausted centuries...But he draws his greatest pleasure from evoking the quays of Passy and Javel, of the Pont Mirabeau where Apollinaire watched the Seine flow to the glorious rhythm of his poetry, centre of a workers' universe, sordid, cosmopolitan, Parisian, where every day a new adventure takes shape, unknown to the world, but possessing more poetry than many famous lives.6 | orig

Now, uncertain where to turn, it was natural for Nino to seek help from him again, as he had in the early days of "900". And again, without hesitation, Mac Orlan helped him. As he wrote many years later in 10.7.2:

I remember another generous act of friendship: after my exclusion from Italy, when I was tramping the famous cobblestones of Paris, Mac Orlan, who had a weekly column on books and gramophone records in the magazine Vu, invented some temporary difficulties so that for a few weeks I could write the column in his place.7 | orig

The payment cannot have been great; what was striking was the spontaneous generosity of Mac Orlan.

But the main breakthrough came through Georges Charensol at Les Nouvelles littéraires - originally introduced to Nino through Mac Orlan, and possibly nudged by him again. For some time Nino had written a small, sporadic column on Italian life and letters in this journal, and its editors had also been among the most loyal supporters of "900". Now the experiment was agreed of giving him a substantial weekly column, entitled 'Malles et valises' ['Trunks and suitcases'], in which he would interview famous personalities travelling to or through Paris. The column ran from April to October 1928, giving him a much-needed lifeline, but also crystallising his talent as a writer of word-portraits.

'Malles et valises'

As described in an earlier chapter (Nino Frank and the Italian journal "900"), he had begun to write these portraits for "900"; and he had continued to do so in his humorous columns for the Fiera Letteraria, under the pseudonym 'Bébé Cadum'. Now, though, it would become a serious weapon in his armoury as a journalist, to the extent that quotations from his portraits and character-sketches appear to this day, to illustrate accounts by more recent writers of between-wars Paris. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he interviewed most of the important players in the literary, artistic and cinema worlds living or working in Paris, delighting contemporaries and later readers with vivid personal impressions and insights.

Later, in a radio interview, he explained what had spurred him on in this daunting task, of telephoning important personalities to ask for interviews and no doubt often meeting with reluctance or outright rebuffs. He had always been fascinated to know more about the creative writers and artists whose works he admired, and this gave him a first introduction to them, in fortunate cases leading on to friendship:

For me journalism was basically a way of getting to know people I wanted to know - writers, painters, musicians. The number of interviews and portraits I managed to fit in at that time was really rather extraordinary, now I come to think of it.8 | orig

It is impossible in brief quotations from this series of articles to give a rounded idea of the author's purpose and method; but the full texts in the Nouvelles littéraires can be read at the British Library, London, or the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Below are a few examples, to give a preliminary impression.

Italo Svevo

The series was heralded in March by an interview, much admired by James Joyce, with the Trieste writer Italo Svevo, on the occasion of a special lunch of the Pen Club in Paris to honour Svevo's work. As in previous articles in Italian papers, and as would become the pattern for the 'Malles et valises' series, Frank first gave a brief physical/psychological word-sketch of his subject, and then went on to discuss the author's latest work or preoccupations. Thus, he began:

A man of 67 years, who walks slowly, head bent, a big smile on his face, his eyes twinkling with malice and vivacity. He talks carefully, as if he were weighing each of his words in turn. His good nature, his innocent vanity, his kindness - you are afraid of them, for you sense that they hide so many ulterior thoughts, ulterior feelings as it were, waiting to show themselves at the first sign of conflict. How complicated they must be, the mental convolutions of this man, whose soul is a well of memories, of names, of reflexes, of numbers.

Then he went on to discuss Svevo's latest work, Zeno. Here is an excerpt, in which he challenges the claim (by Benjamin Crémieux and others) that there are strong similarities between Svevo and the French writer Proust:

... Zeno, true "recherche du temps perdu", based on a Freudian theme, with a precisely described introspection and meticulous attention to detail which have led some critics to compare Svevo to Proust. Yet the two works are very different: in Svevo (who is less "cosmic") humour never loses its place, and his minutely detailed analyses have nothing in common with the stylistic complexity of Proust, which flows from a poetic impulse. Proust has a lyric or even epic temperament. Svevo belongs to the family of Goldoni - a dramatist.9 | orig

Jean Cocteau

Naturally enough, when the opportunity arose, Nino interviewed his friends. Cocteau had just returned from Villefranche, in the South of France, so was an obvious candidate. Nino had written notes on him a number of times before, as witness his comments in the Fiera Letteraria in 1926:

At lunch with Cocteau. He announces that France disgusts him, and he wants to escape away from it all. But he does not want to travel. So, he'll go and live in a monastery. And, obviously, he won't write any more. So that'll be another farce... Cocteau needs movement: suppose he gets to a monastery, how could he possibly live there? And Cocteau will never confess the truth: that for the last 32 years he's been waiting for the end of the world.10 | orig

The 1928 article shows a direct progression in Cocteau's declared intention to turn away from the world:

For the last few years the work of M. Jean Cocteau has been nothing but a strange, despairing conference with death, a tragic to-and-fro between serenity and mystery. Opéra is the last phase the poet has reached. He welcomes us in his study, almost devoid now of human feeling and where he no longer seems to belong: his gaze constantly shifting, he smiles with the sad bewilderment of a man who has "come back from the other side".

In the interview, Cocteau declares that he has been burying himself in Villefranche to escape from the demands made on him - but is unable to resist boasting about his international fame:

Everywhere people ask me to go and give lectures, in Moscow, in Spain, in America: they offered me excellent terms, and even announced that I was off to Hollywood. I considered it: but it wasn't my path, you mustn't tangle up the threads of destiny! I wouldn't be able to stand the Americans: they have made themselves a false image of me, they would imagine they were being given a false Cocteau. I shall stay in France and let my legend travel for me. I'm losing money, but I don't need it.

Then out of the blue, in a bizarre non sequitur, he presents what might seem for this aesthete an incongruous picture of his pride in the speed of his car:

I had a little car, and I souped up the engine; how I adore seeing the fury of 'sportsmen' [in English, in the text], when they see a Citroën overtaking a racing car.11 | orig

This is a portrait of the poet constantly searching, constantly looking for escape - cerebral, spiritual, or in shocking those around him.

As a brief cross-section of international opinion in 1928, and for what these conversations reveal about views in Paris concerning other parts of the world, quotations from three more interviews are included below.

François Mauriac

First, the usual brief description of the man and his surroundings, to set the scene:

In a large house in Passy, on the top floor: an apartment filled with sunlight, a 'no man's land' [in English, in the text] separating the barbarians from the man of talent. You keep climbing, to a little study at the top of the tower. Books, a portrait of Rimbaud, the sun. M. François Mauriac is tall and thin, his movements are sudden and nervous like a cat's, his smile goes from ear to ear; on his high smooth forehead, when he frowns the only wrinkles you see are at the bridge of his nose, but they are deep and bitter, and give the lie to the even flow of his voice.

Then, Mauriac's description of his visit to Tunis, and the interest among Muslims in his Catholic faith: the impression of a coming-together of faiths, not the increasing divergence of the present day:

I had acquired the reputation of being a great Christian, a rather annoying reputation; I was concerned about it, but I would never have imagined that it would enable me to get closer to the Islamic world, which is what excited me the most there and left me with the most rewarding memories. I had arrived in Tunis right in the middle of Ramadan. I was struck by the strength and vitality of religion among the Mohammedans. You only have to mention religion to a Mohammedan to get his interest. My reputation as a Catholic novelist enabled me to have frequent discussions with Sufi mystics who talk to you with great erudition about Jean de la Croix or Saint François de Sales [sixteenth century Catholic mystics].12 | orig

Ilya Ehrenbourg

First, the Russian is characterised by his debt to Voltaire [his novel Julio Jurenito to Candide], and by his country's psychological distance from the West:

It would be hard to pinpoint what lurks behind the sarcastic humour of Ilya Ehrenbourg: this spiritual son of Voltaire is much more Russian than he looks, as he reveals from time to time by a word that transports you far away, or a strange, bitter look.

Then, Ehrenbourg's recent experience of Berlin - viewed through Russian eyes - is striking, in this year before the Wall Street Crash when he perceived Germany to be getting back on its feet, but in an uneasily feverish atmosphere:

a great construction boom turning Berlin into a city which is a model of our times. Tempelhof aerodrome, the new workers' quarter, the technical installations of the Babelsberg film studios, this Hollywood in Europe, all of this shows the will to construct and the ability to do so. The fever of German intellectuals, the eagerness with which they scoop up the spiritual movements of their neighbours, make Germany feel like a large transit station where everyone is waiting for their connection to arrive. In our age of earthquakes, this is an honourable enough occupation.13 | orig

Scott Fitzgerald

The interview with Fitzgerald shows the American writer at his most francophile, both in enjoying the time he spends in France:

At the age of 31, this thin blond boy, with piercing eyes and an infectious childlike laugh, is one of the authors most in vogue on the other side of the Ocean: he confirms this but cares little about it, and declares that he prefers his holiday months in France to his mansion in Delaware,

and in his belief that French writers, especially Proust, have been a powerful influence on the best young American talent:

The influence of French writers in America is very important: most of all Proust, whose complete works are being translated. Sodom and Gomorrah has just been published in a private edition, because publishers were afraid of the public. That doesn't stop writers like Hemingway, Cummings, Thornton Wilder especially, the author of The Bridge of San-Luis Rey, who will shortly be arriving in Europe with his friend Gene Tunney [the boxer] - our most original young writers - from accepting utterly the importance of Proust. Gide, who had a great success with his Vatican Cellars, seems to us less impressive since the publication of The Counterfeiters; he has become the victim of the snobs, who have not dared to touch Proust.14 | orig

During the same visit, Fitzgerald and Frank also spent a Sunday afternoon trying to find a drink of whisky in Paris, obliged finally to track one down at the Ritz, very dead at this time on a Sunday. Frank, a wine drinker, had never tried whisky, and the encounter is described amusingly in his book of memoirs, Le Bruit parmi le vent:

In the [Ritz] bar plunged in semi-darkness, there was only one customer, a sad fat man dozing, who started up and put his cigar back in his mouth, unlit: an American, most probably, who, just like our chauffeur, seemed to have lived through the worst bombardments of battle. The barman, impassive in his white coat, another who had seen it all before, poured out for us at the bar the drinks anticipated all afternoon; the whisky seemed peculiar to me, smelling a bit like a stinkbug, with no promise of Paradise, but nice and soft in colour. Scott Fitzgerald paced up and down, glass in hand, shifting nervously from one foot to the other: a messenger boy came and glanced at him, ironically I thought, exchanged a knowing look with the barman, then disappeared. As for the fat man, he made a vain attempt to relight his cigar, then, his capacity for astonishment exhausted, fell asleep again.15 | orig

These columns in the Nouvelles littéraires were stimulating, provided introductions to many important writers of the 1920s, and were invaluable in establishing him as a French magazine journalist. But his most important - and gratifying - achievement in 1928 was to see published, in Italian journals, two of his own short stories.

Stories by Nino Frank

'Il Mantello Rosso' ['The Red Cloak']

This story already existed in draft in 1926, when Bontempelli chose in preference 'Goût d'égout' for the second issue of "900", promising the other for later. It is not difficult to see why: 'Il mantello rosso' was a very evident experiment in the 'magic realism' content and style of the master, and he probably preferred to avoid too close a comparison. But now, in August 1928, with Nino expelled from "900" and the revue relaunched as an Italian-language magazine, he fulfilled his delayed promise to print the story (albeit translated into Italian by another hand, from the original French!).

The plot concerns a voluptuous young widow in a village in the Austrian Tyrol who marries an elderly ex-Colonel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, partly because of his bourgeois standing but especially because of his dress uniform with its splendid red cloak, which he allows her to wear. Unfortunately, it had not occurred to her before the wedding that when this elderly husband goes to bed, it will be to sleep:

He climbed between the blankets, grunting like a satisfied old cat and smiling paternally at his wife. She undressed, staring in disbelief: when all she had on was her nightshirt, the colonel was already snoring. She thumped down on the bed with the violence of a hammer blow: the colonel was not crushed, but gazed at her momentarily with the wide-eyed look of a frightened bureaucrat. He slept, the smile on his lips that of a man at peace; while Didy, chilled with foreboding, was afraid to close her eyes.16 | orig


Rudolph Valentino

The next day, horrified and angry at her mistake in marrying him, she goes walking in order to calm down, wearing the red cloak. She arrives at the next village, Mariahilfe17 , where there is a cinema: she has never been to a cinema. To give herself courage she drinks a bottle of red wine at the inn, and steals a knife, for protection. She buys a ticket for a front-row seat, sees on the screen Rudolph Valentino suffering from unrequited love, and suffers with him. But then he comes OUT of the screen, towards her, and she flees in terror back to the inn. He follows her, in black and white contrast to her scarlet cloak, "like a lamb". Suddenly her husband appears, she drops the knife and he stabs Valentino several times in the back. They wrap the body, the knife and other evidence in the red cloak, "this cloak which had been touched by an emperor and three archdukes". Now they are happy again - or are they? He suddenly remembers the red cloak - "my poor red cloak". She is adamant that it was hers - after all, she married him for it - but the colonel continues to bemoan its passing: "A pity, it was such a splendid garment." And then the final chilling line, "And for this the colonel will never forgive Didy."

The story, then, is a riff on the relationship betweens dreams and truth, desire and reality, on the possible terrible consequences of acts of mauvaise foi; and on the cinema as a vicarious experience, a safeguard, but perhaps sometimes a trigger, for real-life resentments and tragic acts. At the time, to have the on-screen character, the object of desire, step right out of the screen, was a highly original way of dealing with the magical link between the screen world and the real world. (Woody Allen would later use this theme in The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).)18 As a child, Nino had been a privileged observer in his local cinema in Barletta, part-owned by his father; aged 8 or 9, he soon tired of watching the constant parade of glamorous divas on the screen, and joined the projectionist in his box, fascinated to know what exactly was going on:

Always trying to outdo everyone, for a long time I concentrated on deciphering what was being projected not on the screen, but via the cone of light which issued from the projectionist's cabin and then became riveted on the square of white canvas. I had understood that in this strange dust there were hooked atoms of characters and landscapes, trying desperately to find each other and form into clusters, before arriving on the screen. So I got used to imagining what can't be seen.19 | orig

It also carries a wider symbolism, very pertinent at a time when there was a growing cultural split in Europe - and especially in Italy - between the conservative voices urging a 'return to order' after the chaos of the 1914-18 war, and the iconoclastic modern writers and artists who challenged and subverted all the certainties of the past. In this story, for the time being the old order seems to triumph, but only at the expense of burying its own past glory together with the upstart it has destroyed, and sowing new seeds of discord between old and young.

CLICK HERE for the full text of this story, in the original Italian

'Samuele Pallas e la sua felicità'
['The ecstasy of Samuel Pallas']

In 1927 Frank was already working on this short story in French, with the working title 'Emmanuel Borgue et son remords'. But his friend Alberto Carocci at Solaria, one of the few remaining loyal to him, was keen to publish it in his journal, where it appeared, in Italian, in autumn 1928. Carocci wanted him to use his own name, but Frank - concerned for the future of both his friend and the journal - insisted on signing 'Enrico Rossi' (like 'John Smith' in English, a name which would be recognised as a disguise).

On the surface, this story is deceptively simple, the description of the last hours of a solitary middle-aged man with a weak heart. Samuele Pallas, the protagonist, is well aware that he cuts a ridiculous figure, wearing outdated sidewhiskers to balance his bald pink head. He has cut himself off from all contacts, except for brief meetings in the hall with his landlady, whom he refuses to allow into his rooms. He sleeps badly, and is too lethargic in the mornings to wash properly, in the cold water. His heart is "feverish, uneven" and he has "renounced all the joys of life".

Now suddenly, one cold morning in early spring, he hears a noise in the next room; his heart seems to explode, as if struck by a hammer, followed by the feeling that his soul is fluttering "back and forth like the gold-leaf in an electroscope". Then "his heart split open, like the hull of a ship in its death-throes: he felt a flame in his chest, across his lungs". All these signs of a heart attack hit him before he opens the door; when he does, he sees a large white bird - "a stork, or something similar". He dashes out of the room and out of his flat, cutting short the landlady's questions as he crosses the hall.

He dare not return till far into the night, and when he does the bird is still there, motionless as before. Eventually, exhausted, he falls asleep with the bird in the room.

Over the next days, he tries to care for the bird, gives it meat which uneaten goes bad, and his heart pounds again. "The poor man could not get his breath under the weight of his heart, which felt as if it was hard, leaden, a dirty brick colour - exactly like this piece of rancid meat." Suddenly he loses his head and picks up a pistol he keeps for a possible suicide attempt. He shoots, and the beautiful bird collapses, its long neck sinking to the ground, and red blood begins to stain the white feathers. He staggers to the window and hurls the heavy corpse out, as if it were his own heart. Now nothing is left:

He has killed everything. It is over.
He turns to the wall.
And he dies, instantly, silently.
His heart.20 | orig

Clearly this story can be described as "magic realism". It works on two levels: the whole encounter with the bird may be the nightmare of a man who has entered his death-throes, with the realism of the heart pains juxtaposed to the magic of the fluttering heart as an imaginary bird. But a much deeper symbolism is also present - indeed, multiple symbolisms concerning birds and death. The most obvious is the white stork, named in the story: throughout its geographical range, this bird has been held to be sacred and to bring luck and fertility to human communities; it is a cardinal sin to kill one, and brings instant retribution. Further, the arrival of a bird at a sick-bed is an omen of death; and in some religions the soul of a person flies away in the form of a bird. The author has taken all these strands and woven them into a moving representation of the experience of a man undergoing a heart attack, up to the moment of death. The story is dramatic, the metaphor convincing and the outcome shocking.

However, Frank was introducing a further layer of significance, which would have been evident to perceptive readers at the time, but is largely lost to us today. In 1928, as described earlier in this chapter, the Trieste writer Italo Svevo had been greeted as an inspiring writer of "interior" novels and short stories. He had partricularly impressed James Joyce, French literary critics, and in Italy Eugenio Montale. Frank was an admirer of his work, and in the character of his protagonist in this story he nods to Svevo's Zeno (in La Coscienza di Zeno) and to the ineptitude ('inettitudine') and sickness ('malattia') which prevent Zeno, and characters in Svevo's earlier books, from leading a full life. It is not only his bad heart which has brought Samuele Pallas to such an empty, miserable life: it is something profoundly negative in his character, which may also be partly responsible for his untimely end.

By the time this story came out Svevo had also met an untimely end, following a car crash. It stands as a tribute to him, together with a special issue of Solaria the following spring.

CLICK HERE for the full text of this story, in the original Italian

Farewell to Italy

These minor triumphs in Italy were not enough, however. In spite of repeated requests to friends, there was no way back for Frank into the Italian literary scene. After publishing his story in Solaria under a pseudonym to avoid embarrassing his friends at the journal, he worked very hard to obtain contributions to the special number of Solaria in memory of Italo Svevo (notably from James Joyce and Valéry Larbaud), but was not able to contribute on his own account because of the blacklisting.

In the end, in an article 'Dernières nouvelles d'Italie' in the 'Lettres italiennes' section of the Revue Nouvelle of October 1928, he lost all patience - much as he had in Comœdia the previous year. He started with an acid description of Italian Fascism:

In Italy, it is 'picturesque'; the Italians find it very appealing, and they are right: this local, fascist colour, a mixture of the peplum of Raymond Duncan and the Neapolitan camorra, of the commedia dell'arte and the most inaccurate Americanism, sincere mysticism and a mania for contradiction, if it appears to us a bit too ridiculous, nonetheless it stirs hundreds of thousands of young men in black shirts. As for the rest of the population...Go and look closely at them.

All grave, enthusiastic. Fascist salute. Portrait of Mussolini. Hymnns and fasces. And this, from morning to night, as soon as they are in the presence of someone they distrust. There's nothing amusing about it; a salute which is not fascist enough, a refrain forgotten, a lapse in continuity for one second in the necessary enthusiasm, and you run the risk of spending five years on the [Aeolian] Isles.21 | orig

He went on to explain that it was necessary to give a general picture of the state of Italian society in order to indicate the reasons for (in his opinion) a current drought in interesting and inspiring works coming out of Italy. However, conservative Italian writers - in the majority, under Fascism - were extremely offended to see this young Swiss insulting Italian society, as well as denigrating their work.

With this article, he effectively ensured his permanent exclusion from Italy for more than a decade. Tommaso Sillani, the director of La Rassegna Italiana politica, letteraria e artistica, wrote a denunciation of Frank in the December issue of that journal, and 'invited' all Italian writers to sign up to it. Only Bontempelli and Barilli, established and confident in their own right, dared to refuse. It is a measure of the fear among writers that Alvaro, one of his closest friends, wrote that he "deplored the gross error of Nino Frank", while Eugenio Montale, after effectively being forced to sign, wrote (under a disguised name) to Frank:

When I was in Rome, I got an outright ukase, and I didn't really have a choice (you know that)...Have you the impression that it is possible to write directly to you without being read by the censor? Make a note of my address, but destroy this letter, and above all don't talk about this to anyone: it could get us into serious trouble...
Affectionately, Your Arsenio.22 | orig


Happily, the end of 1928 saw two new opportunities for him in Paris: the beginnings of a career in cinema journalism with the magazine Pour Vous, and the launch of a new literary journal, Bifur, for which he would be able to put into practice again the skills he had learnt at "900". The next chapter discusses these two new ventures.

All translations from European texts are my own.

This site uses cookies. For further information, please see our Privacy Policy.

I accept cookies from this site