The Beautiful Summer is the second title to be published in the Penguin European Writers series, a new collection of forgotten classics by European writers, with introductions by acclaimed contemporary authors. Cesare Pavese is one of Italy’s greatest writers. The Beautiful Summer is a gorgeous coming-of-age tale of lost innocence and first love, which has instantly gained a number of ardent fans amongst Foyles’ booksellers. Below, we have the opening chapter for you to read to see if this might be your perfect summer read too.
Life was a perpetual holiday in those days. We had only to leave the house and step across the street and we became quite mad. Everything was so wonderful, especially at night when on our way back, dead tired, we still longed for something to happen, for a fire to break out, for a baby to be born in the house or at least for a sudden coming of dawn that would bring all the people out into the streets, and we might walk on and on as far as the meadows and beyond the hills. ‘You are young and healthy’, they said, ‘Just girls without a care in the world, why should you have!’ Yet there was one of them, Tina it was, who had come out of hospital lame and did not get enough to eat at home. But even she could laugh at nothing, and one afternoon, as she limped along behind the others, she had stopped and begun to cry simply because going to sleep seemed silly and robbed you of time when you might be enjoying yourself.
Whenever Ginia was taken by a fit of that kind she would unobtrusively see one or other of her girl friends home and chatter on and on until she had nothing more left to say. So when they came to say goodbye, they had really been alone for some time and Ginia would go back home quite calmed down without missing her companion too badly. Saturday evenings were of course particularly wonderful when they went dancing and next morning she could lie in. But it did not take that to satisfy her and some mornings Ginia would leave the house on her way to work just enjoying the walk. The other girls would say, ‘If I get back late, I find I’m sleepy next day’, or ‘If I get back late, they give me a beating’. But Ginia was never tired and her brother who was a night-worker, slept in the day-time and only saw her at supper. In the middle of the day – Severino turned over in bed when she came in – Ginia laid the table. She was always desperately hungry and chewed slowly, at the same time listening to all the household noises. As is usually the case in empty lodgings, there was no sense of urgency, and Ginia had time to wash up the dishes that waited for her in the sink, do a bit of tidying round, then lie down on the sofa under the window and let herself drowse off to the tick of the alarm-clock in the next room. Sometimes she would close the shutters so as to darken the room and feel more cut off. At three o’clock Rosa would go downstairs, pausing to scratch gently at her door so as not to disturb Severino until Ginia let her know she was awake. Then they would set off together, parting company at the tram.
The only things Ginia and Rosa had in common were that short stretch of street and the star of small pearls in their hair. But once when they were walking past a shop-window Rosa said, ‘We look like sisters’, and Ginia saw that the star looked cheap and realized that she ought to wear a hat if she didn’t want to be taken for a factory-girl; especially as Rosa who was still under her parents’ thumb wouldn’t be able to afford one for heaven knows how long.
On her way down to call her, Rosa came in unless it was getting too late, and Ginia let her help her tidy round, laughing silently at Severino who, like all men, had no idea what house- keeping involved. Rosa referred to him as ‘Your husband’, to keep up the joke, but quite often Ginia’s face would darken and she complained that having all the bother of a house without the husband to go with it was no fun. In point of fact she was not serious, for her pleasure lay precisely in running a house on her own just like a housewife, but she felt she must remind Rosa from time to time that they were no longer babes. Rosa, however, seemed incapable of behaving in a dignified manner even in the street; she pulled faces, laughed and turned round. Ginia could have smacked her. Yet when they went off to a dance together, Rosa was indispensable; with her easy, familiar ways and her high spirits, she made Ginia’s superiority plain to the rest of the company. In that wonderful year when they began living on their own account, Ginia had soon realized that what made her different from the others was having the house to herself – Severino didn’t count – and being able to live like a lady at her present age of sixteen. She let Rosa go around with her for the same reason that she wore the star in her hair, simply because it amused her. No one else in the district could be as crazy as Rosa when she wanted. She could pull everybody’s leg, laughing and tossing her head back, and some evenings she did nothing but fool the whole time. And she could be as awkward as an old hen. ‘What’s up, Rosa?’ someone remarked while they were waiting for the orchestra to start up. ‘I’m scared’ – and her eyes started out of her head – ‘behind there I saw an old man staring at me and waiting for me outside, I’m scared’. Her partner was not convinced, ‘He must be your grandfather, then!’ ‘Silly fool!’ ‘Let’s dance, come on!’ ‘No, I tell you, I’m frightened!’ Half-way round, Ginia heard Rosa’s partner shout, ‘You’re an ignorant little fool; run away and play. Go back to the factory!’ Then Rosa laughed and made everybody else laugh but as Ginia went on dancing she thought that the factory was just the sort of place for a girl like her. You had only to look at the mechanics who picked up acquaintance with them by fooling around in a similar manner.
If there was one of these around you could be quite sure that before the evening was out one of the girls would get mad or, if she was more hysterical, start weeping. They teased you just like Rosa. They were always trying to get you to go down to the meadows; it was no use talking to them, all of a sudden you had to be on the defensive. But they had their good points: some evenings they would sing and they could sing well, especially if Ferruccio came along with his guitar. He was a tall blond fellow always out of a job but his fingers were still black and rough from handling coal. It did not seem possible that those large hands could be so skilful and Ginia, who had once felt them under her armpits when they were all on their way back from the hills, carefully avoided looking at them while he was playing. Rosa told her that this Ferruccio had enquired about her on two or three occasions and Ginia had replied, ‘Tell him to go and clean his nails first’. The next time she was hoping he would laugh at her but he had not even looked her way.
But a day came when Ginia emerged from the dressmaker’s shop adjusting her hat, and found Rosa of all people in the doorway, who rushed up to her. ‘What on earth’s the matter?’ ‘I’ve run away from the factory!’ They walked along the pavement together as far as the tram and Rosa did not bring the matter up again. Ginia felt irritated and did not know what to say. It was only when they got off the tram near the house that Rosa mumbled that she was afraid she was pregnant. Ginia said she was a little fool and they started arguing at the street-corner. Then it all passed off because Rosa had only frightened herself into thinking it. But Ginia in the meantime had got into much more of a state than her friend, feeling she had been cheated and left out of it as if she was a child while the rest of them had a good time, particularly by Rosa, who did not possess the least pride. ‘I’m worth two of her’, reflected Ginia, ‘sixteen’s too soon. So much the worse for her if she wants to chuck herself away’. Although she spoke like this, she was unable to think about it without feeling humiliated. She could not get over the idea that the others had gone down to the meadows without a word to her about it while she, who lived on her own, still felt thrilled at the touch of a man’s hand. ‘But why did you come and tell me about it that day?’ she asked Rosa one afternoon when they were out together. ‘And who did you expect me to tell? I was in a jam’. ‘But why hadn’t you ever told me anything before?’ Rosa, who was quite at her ease again now, merely laughed. She changed her tactics. ‘It’s much nicer when you don’t tell. It’s bad luck to talk about it’. ‘She’s a fool’, thought Ginia, ‘she laughs now but only a short while back she was going to commit suicide. She’s not grown up yet, that’s what it is’. Meanwhile when she did her journeying to and fro in the street, even on her own, she thought how they were all very young and how you would have to be twenty years old all of a sudden to know how to go on.
Ginia watched Rosa’s lover a whole evening, Pino with his bent nose, an undersized fellow whose only accomplishment was billiards; who never did anything and talked out of the side of his mouth. Ginia could not understand why Rosa still went to the pictures with him when she had found out what a nasty piece of work he was. She could not get that Sunday out of her head when they had all gone out in a boat together and she had noticed that Pino’s back was covered with freckles as if it was rusty. Now that she knew, she recalled that Rosa had gone off with him down under the trees. She had been stupid not to see how it was. But Rosa was stupider still and she told her so once more in the cinema-entrance.
To think they had all gone in the boat so many times, had laughed and joked and the various couples lay around in each other’s arms. Ginia had seen the rest of them but had failed to notice Rosa and Pino. In the hot midday sun she and Tina, the lame girl, had remained alone in the boat. The others had got out on to the bank where their shouts could be heard. Tina, who had kept on her petticoat and blouse, said to Ginia, ‘If no one comes along. I shall undress and sunbathe’. Ginia said she would stand on guard but she found herself listening, instead, to the voices and silences from the shore. For a short time everything was quiet on the peaceful water. Tina had stretched herself full length in the sun with a towel round her waist. Then Ginia had jumped down on to the grass and walked around barefooted. She could no longer hear Amelia’s voice which had retreated beyond the others. Ginia, like a fool, imagining they were playing hide-and-seek, had not looked for them and had gone back to the boat.
Cesare Pavese was born in northern Italy in 1908. Exiled by the Fascist regime to Calabria in 1935, Pavese eventually returned to Turin to work for the publishing house Einaudi. Pavese won the Strega Prize for fiction, Italy's most prestigious literary award, for The Beautiful Summer in 1950. Later the same year, after a brief affair with an American actress, he took his own life. His suicide note reads: "I forgive everyone and ask everyone's forgiveness. O.K.? Don't gossip too much."