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Written by Elizabeth Yuill
You, the Reader
Due to its modernist structure and meta-narrative plot, the reader is Calvino’s main character. He does not try to employ a universal reader, however, as the novel needs at least a semi-specific viewpoint, so the ‘you’ here refers to a middle-aged single man who is a fairly enthusiastic reader and is drawn to pretty, mysterious women. This may be a criticism of the assumed readership of novels at this time, as women in novels were often treated as sex objects for the appetites of this ‘average’ reader, rather than individual protagonists whose perspectives could be related to by the reader.
The reader is also ‘the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything’, suggesting a certain level of disappointment or disenchantment with his life. The only risk he takes is getting invested in books. This characterization sets up the reader to be taken out of his comfort zone later, but it also gives the actual reader normal, safe expectations for a normally structured plot (with a clear beginning, middle and end) that will be subverted. The character of the reader puts the actual reader at ease with its conventional viewpoint (that of a middle-aged man) and safe expectations, so that they are in a position to be shocked by the novel’s modernism and re-evaluate how they read books. The reader embodies the expected conventions of literature.
Ludmilla is an objective in the novel, similar to the books the reader has started; he wants to possess both of them because they are always just out of reach. Ludmilla is constantly enigmatic, but the items in her apartment create an idea of an ‘extroverted, clear-sighted woman, sensual and methodical’. She clearly sees the world in a different way from the reader.
This is shown through Calvino’s portrayal of her as the ideal reader, and her primary characterization through her approach to books. Contrary to the reader’s practical expectations for clear plotlines and interesting characters, Ludmilla does not want to think about method. She wants to stay innocent about the actual process because she wants books to be organic and full of magic, which is why she refuses to accompany the reader to the publishing house. She is certainly more open-minded than her sister, Lotaria, against whom the text juxtaposes her.
Lotaria is Ludmilla’s academic sister, who is far more socially aggressive towards others, as well as more politically motivated. She approaches books in an analytical manner, looking for their themes and context in order to force them into her personal theories. As opposed to Ludmilla’s open-mindedness, she reads with an agenda and finds the aforementioned openness ‘escapist and regressive’. This character’s viewpoint clearly represents a habit in academia that Calvino dislikes, because the character herself is so unlikeable.
Ermes is the duplicitous translator whose false translations and counterfeit books create all of the reader’s confusion, and the numerous interrupted readings. Despite initially seeming like an opportunist simply out to make money through posing as a translator, it is revealed that he has founded a group called the Organization of Apocryphal Power that produces counterfeit books worldwide. The character’s aim is to show readers that ‘behind the written page is the void’, subverting the idea of any truth or meaning in literature. Everything Marana does is supposed to undermine the joy of reading and create chaos and uncertainty, so he serves as the novel’s most obvious antagonist.
Silas is an ageing author who considers himself a sellout, as he has been using a successful formula for best-selling detective books for years, and allowing brands to advertise themselves in those books for money. This shameless superficiality only brings him misery, conveying Calvino’s message about the importance of artistic integrity.
In his diary, Silas writes about his longing to do something more with his writing; rather than selling thousands of copies, he longs to ‘annul himself in order to give voice to what is outside him, becoming a conduit. He later meets a group of young boys who assert that extraterrestrials are using him to channel secret messages, and realizes that he would never be aware of becoming a conduit even if it actually happened. He could never enjoy his ideal writing situation even if it became reality.
The Professor is an eccentric academic who admits to his department being ‘dead literature in a dead language’. He surrounds himself with books in his cramped office and seems to have an enthusiasm for literature, but gets too caught up in pointless small details (for example, the debate he has with another Professor about an author’s nationality).
Mr Cavedagna is the browbeaten lackey of Ermes Marana, who works hard to clean up his messes. He has a sense of nostalgia for his childhood, when he read books with total innocence in his small village. He wishes to return to that mindset when he retires, but has already seen too much of the unpleasant publishing industry under Marana.
The reader meets Irnerio in the university hall, while looking for Ludmilla, and is immediately jealous about his presumed relationship with Ludmilla. The primary feature of this character, however, is that he has taught himself to be illiterate again, in protest of being ‘the slave of all the written stuff they fling in front of us’. He has trained his brain to stop recognizing groups of letters as words, and instead turns books into artworks, neglecting their original purpose to make new meaning out of them.
The Main Characters of the Interrupted Novels
In the novel, the reader gets to see the first chapters of ten different novels, and the protagonists of these novels are all males with a focus on women as attainable sex objects. This reflects the reader’s curiosity about Ludmilla and therefore links his desperate need to know what happens in the story and his desperate need to understand this mysterious woman. These characters exist so the reader can get invested in the stories and experience the disappointment of having those stories, and the relatable characters, ripped away from him, subverting the normal reading experience to emphasize the potential of stories.
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If on a Winter's Night a Traveler literature essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of If on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino.