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Literature/If on a Winters Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino


I recently finished the novel If on a Winter's Night a traveler, and as frustrated as I was by its lack of uniformity and inability to finish a storyline, I understood the author's intention by doing this and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I was thinking back on a class I took where we were asked to choose a novel from a list of titles and to read it and eventually be able to use it to respond to the statement "human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." Although I did not choose to read it at the time, I remember seeing If on a Winters Night a Traveler on the list of novels to choose from to write about. I was thinking about it, and I can't come up with a way that knowledge or education and catastrophe relate on Calvino's novel. I was wondering if you could provide any insight?


actually I do not think that in  "If on a Winter's Night a traveller" (Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore) Italo Calvino wanted to focus his attention on human history that becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe, i.e. a conflict between knowledge or education and catastrophe.

Instead, I think that this novel  is a kind of "game" where in a fairly provocative way the novelist shows his "tricks" to tell us that we cannot reach the knowledge of reality, but  such a “game” is however a serious, quite dramatic game which emphasizes  our impossibility of knowing reality.

Moreover  the theme of  "If on a Winter's Night a traveller", where the protagonist is the Reader who again and again  starts reading a book whose ending is never explained because of many strange occurrences, is  just the pleasure of reading novels, as Calvino himself said  in a press conference in 1984 when he pointed out that he himself was obliged to write the first  chapters of ten imaginary novels, written by ten imaginary authors who all are different from him as well as  different from each other.  

Calvino's original words read, in fact, as follows::”Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore” è un romanzo sul piacere di leggere romanzi; protagonista è il Lettore, che per dieci volte comincia a leggere un libro che per vicissitudini estranee alla sua volontà non riesce a finire. Ho dovuto dunque scrivere l'inizio di dieci romanzi d'autori immaginari, tutti in qualche modo diversi da me e diversi tra loro” (literally, ”If on a Winter's Night a traveller" is a novel about the pleasure of reading novels; the main character is the Reader who ten times starts reading a book that he cannot finish because of many strange occurrences. So, I was obliged to write the first  chapters of ten imaginary novels, written by ten imaginary authors, who all are somehow different from me as well as  different from each other”).

In short, I think that the novel  “If on a winter's night a traveller” is essentially a disenchanted  intelligent reflection  on some themes as the pleasure of reading, writer's objectivity , the subjectivity of meaning, the relationship between fiction and life, the impossibility of knowing reality and finally  the many different possibilities offered by literature and education.

Best regards,



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I am an expert in Italian, Latin and Ancient Greek Literature.


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I received my Ph.D. in Classics (summa cum laude) from Genova University (Italy). My graduation thesis was about ancient Greek drama: I carried out a detailed research on Aeschylus.

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