Folly and the Holy Face: The Medievalism of Ignazio Silone

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Silone’s strong and highly public commitment to social justice and personal freedom, his direct criticism of the Catholic Church’s politics, and his belief that human energy and action could bring about social change more readily than a passive reliance on Divine Providence alone, make him an unlikely exponent of medieval thought. His writings show otherwise: Silone maintained a consistent, though complex, attachment to the medieval world and found in it powerful political analogues for his own day. In Silone’s works, references to the Middle Ages abound; he describes his native Abruzzo in medieval terms and features radical reformers like Saints Bernard and Francis of Assisi and Joachim of Fiore, men often thought mad or foolish by their contemporaries. His comments on their integral place in his background and thought, and the consistency with which they appear over a lifetime’s work call for a closer look; so too does his mention of his own literary career in terms of medieval monks who spent their lives repainting the Holy Face of Jesus, the literal imago Dei for believers. Silone’s medievalism is not the ornament of nostalgia, nor the vehicle for cynicism or escapism; it is essential to his political orientation, and to seeing in his fictive works that proximate defeat does not mean ultimate despair.

Original Citation

Crowley, James P. (2012). Folly and the Holy Face: The Medievalism of Ignazio Silone. Neophilologus, 96(1), 65-79. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11061-010-9233-1