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Pier Paolo Pasolini: Una vita violenta (A Violent Life)

This is Pasolini’s sub-proletariat novel, telling the tale of Tommaso Puzzilli, and his development, in the poorer part of Rome. His family had been bombed out during the Allied invasion of Italy and had moved to Rome, where they now live in a shanty town called Little Shanghai. The family lives in a hut. Tommaso soon joins up with a group of youths, who commit petty thefts, get drunk and generally behave badly. They are also linked with the Italian neo-Fascist Movimiento Sociale party. Tommaso meets and falls in love with Irene but does not treat her particularly well. When he gets involved in a knife fight, someone is stabbed and Tommaso is sent to prison.

The second part of the novel opens with his return from prison, to his family’s new flat in a block of flats set aside for low-income people. Tommaso, in his new surroundings, decides to adapt to these surroundings, becoming more bourgeois. He gives up the gang and even decides to join the Christian Democrat party. He also decides that he has to marry Irene and start a family. However, he then contracts tuberculosis and has to go to hospital. Both the patients and the nursing staff are objecting to the conditions in the hospital and go out on strike and Tommaso sympathises with them. He now develops a class consciousness and this is shown when the river floods and submerges Little Shanghai. Tommaso helps out and saves a poor woman from drowning but the effort exacerbates his tuberculosis and this ultimately kills him.

Pasolini’s novel is, of course, a traditional Bildungsroman, as we follow Tommaso’s development from being a poor outcast to a committed supporter of workers’ rights. Pasolini uses the Neorealism style, which he will soon shun both in his literary works and, more particularly, in his films. However, this remains an interesting stage in his artistic development.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Garzanti
First published in English 1968 by Jonathan Cape/Pantheon
Translated by William Weaver