Obituary: Giulio Einaudi

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TO HIS critics, the publisher Giulio Einaudi was a pawn of the Italian Communist Party. But, writing after Einaudi's death, the literary historian Alberto Asor Rosa placed this giant of Italy's independent publishing world in a very different light: "When the stupid accusations of subservience to the Communist Party's cultural policy die down, it will become perfectly clear that Giulio Einaudi was not a product of Italy's left-wing culture: on the contrary, he created it himself."

He began doing so in his early twenties when, with Mussolini's Fascists firmly in power, he abandoned his medical studies at Turin University to work alongside his father Luigi, an eminent economist and editor of the liberal, anti-Fascist magazine Riforma Sociale ("Social Reform"). The young Giulio had been educated at D'Azeglio high school in Turin, a hotbed of anti-Fascist sentiment, and by his father, whose staunch defence of civil liberties throughout the Fascist period would lead to his election in 1948 as first president of the newborn Italian republic.

Little wonder, then, that Giulio Einaudi saw fit to pad out Riforma Sociale with a cultural supplement, edited by Cesare Pavese, which was deemed so subversive by the Mussolini regime that the whole operation was closed down and the staff arrested in 1935. Into prison with Einaudi (who was released after a few weeks) went colleagues who would become the brightest stars in Italy's post-war literary and philosophical firmament: Vittorio Foa, Massimo Mila, Carlo Levi, Pavese and Norberto Bobbio.

By that time, a handful of books had appeared under the label of Giulio Einaudi Editore, with its ostrich trademark which remains the Einaudi logo to this day. The first was a translation by Luigi Einaudi of Henry A. Wallace's What America Wants in 1933. In a delicate balancing act which kept Einaudi's publications just on the right side of what the regime's censors would tolerate, non-fiction would be followed throughout the remaining Fascist period by translations of foreign classics from Goethe to Defoe, by annotated editions of Italian classics, and, in 1941, by contemporary fiction, beginning with Pavese's Paesi tuoi ("Your Countries").

With the Second World War over, Einaudi's shoestring operation mushroomed to fill the void left by the demise of pro-regime publishing houses. Anything savouring even mildly of the right was anathema in Italy's post-Mussolini anti-Fascist fervour. Einaudi stepped in to give the nation the left-wing renaissance it craved, and with the same unerring eye for spotting talented youngsters which he was to retain to the end, he gave publishing breaks to newcomers like Natalia Ginsburg and Elsa Morante, Italo Calvino and Primo Levi. As his father took his place in the presidential palace, Einaudi assumed the role of elder statesman of the Italian literary world.

Known as "il principe" ("the prince") for his distinguished looks and his refusal to brook any lese- majeste from his employees (only Pavese and Italo Calvino ever dared contradict him), Einaudi was depicted in innumerable anecdotes as an insufferable snob. Crossing into Switzerland with a band of Italian partisans during the civil war which followed Mussolini's downfall in 1943, one such story goes, Einaudi haughtily demanded tea with a slice of lemon from the first impoverished peasants whose hovel he came across over the border.

In Wednesday editorial meetings, which soon became legendary, Einaudi would savage sub-editors whose work he considered not up to his own standards which were "very high: in fact, maniacal", according to a long-time employee, Guido Davico Bonino, who came in for "frighteningly aggressive" treatment on more than one occasion.

He would set one adviser against another in what the better-disposed amongst his staff would justify as a bid to reap literary benefit from the creative tension which resulted. Others were less generous. "He really enjoyed making his people jealous of each other," said the writer Carlo Fruttero. "He loved arguments, and the more heated they were, the more fun he had," said Corrado Vivanti, another Einaudi stalwart.

Einaudi's high-handed manner extended to finances. "For 50 years, he lived on the verge of economic crisis," wrote the ex-banker Nerio Nesi of his troublesome former client. When Nesi refused yet another bail-out in the early Eighties, a "frank exchange of views" took place, which reverberated for years afterwards, Nesi recalled. Einaudi was forced to stand trial, ordered to declare bankruptcy, and condemned to seeing his publishing house pass into the hands of one of the industrial giants he so despised. In 1994, the company was taken over by Mondadori, a publishing conglomerate controlled by the right-wing former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In 1983, as the final financial storm was brewing over the independent Einaudi publishing house, its founder's reaction was true to character: he produced what he described as "a perfect book", a complete catalogue of titles published by the company since 1933. The catalogue is a near- exhaustive list of the greatest writers of post-war Italy.

Of the pre-war generation which worked with Einaudi from the start, "only he and I were still going", recalled the political philosopher Norberto Bobbio. "And he was forever boasting to me that he was by far the best of the two."

Anne Hanley

Giulio Einaudi, publisher, translator and writer: born Turin, Italy 12 January 1912; married Renata Aldrovandi (six children); died Rome 5 April 1999.