In 1939, the Italian writer Giuseppe Jorio (1902-1995) enjoyed great success with his debut novel, La Morte di un Uomo (Death of a Man), but, soon after the war, his career was ruined when he was prosecuted, subjected to five trials in six years, and found guilty of having written an obscene novel, Il Fuoco del Mondo (The Fire of the World). He was the first writer in post-war Italy to receive such a conviction, and the only one to receive a prison sentence.
In An Author on Trial, his son, Luciano Iorio, reveals how bigoted judges, in alignment with the illiberal and aggressive censorship policies ‘in defence of decency’ adopted by the ruling Christian Democracy party, openly fuelled by the Vatican, were determined to make an example of Giuseppe Jorio – even if that meant to misapply the law.
With the help of family letters and his father’s diaries, Luciano Iorio tells the dramatic events in his father’s life which inspired the novel. He describes the difficult times in which the novel was written, the enormous strain of the five trials, and their effect on his father’s work, life and family. Particular attention is given to the father-son relationship, which was painfully shaped by the events that took place before and after the novel was written.
Creating a book about a novel – why telling the story of a story matters
When in 2013 my father’s partner and executor of his will died, she left to me all his surviving papers, manuscripts and documents. Among these was a working copy of Il Fuoco del Mondo, the novel for which he was prosecuted, tried five times between 1948 and 1954, and eventually convicted for obscenity. I say “working copy” because when it was sequestered by the Rome police the book was still at the printers in unbound sheets, and a number of copies were hurriedly put together for the trial.
On the front page of this book is a note in my father’s handwriting, which says: “This is the copy I used when I spoke at the trials.” The book is full of my father’s markings and annotations in the margins and on scraps of paper in between pages. On seeing it, my memory went back to my adolescent years, when I saw him addressing the court, holding and reading from that very book.
I had no idea that such a copy of the book existed. I was eleven years old when it was sequestered, and although eventually I knew that my father had been convicted for it, I had never read it: the judges had ordered that all the copies of the book, even those still in unbound sheets, had to be destroyed, and my father had obviously kept his clandestine copy under lock and key. All I knew about the novel itself, until I read it in 2013, was that it was based on an extramarital affair that my father had had between 1935 and 1937, when he and my mother where childless.
As I read it I was struck by the fact that the passages and words considered obscene by the judges were not at all coarse or offensive, even for those times, but they simply described the sensations and feelings of a man and a woman making love, albeit outside marriage. Despite the fact that my relationship with my father had broken down many years before his death (he died in 1995, at the age of ninety three), and that I was seventy six years old at the time of reading the novel, I decided to find out what actually happened to my father and his book.
I collected and studied books on Italian law, history and censorship during the post war years, and I read and re-read the five sentences and the papers on my father defence, until I was convinced and able to demonstrate that his conviction had been totally unjust. My father was the first writer in post-war Italy to be prosecuted for obscenity, and a bigot judiciary, which was aligned with the illiberal and aggressive censorship policies “in defence of decency” adopted by the Christian Democracy ruling party and openly fuelled by the Vatican, were determined to make an example of him even this meant to twist and misapply the relevant law. He was convicted, and became the only such author in post-war Italy to receive a prison sentence (he didn’t go to prison because of unrelated reasons). The injustice had devastating consequences on him. His first novel, published in 1939, had enjoyed considerable success, but now his career was virtually destroyed: despite the fact that he kept writing until old age (altogether he wrote seventeen novels as well as numerous short stories and a number of stage and television plays), no major publisher had the courage to touch a writer which had been so devastatingly punished for a book which the general public had not been allowed to read, because it was unpublished, and which had been judged without a jury.
I wanted to put the record straight, not only for my wife, my children and grandchildren, but also publicly, so that everyone could, if interested, know about it. I decided that I would write it in English instead of Italian, because I have been based in London since 1971, and because, after so long, I don’t believe that in Italy there is anybody interested in my father, who was already totally forgotten even before his death.
Reading my father’s book I became also very curious about the story which was its subject, described by my father as “the story of a man and two women, who find their humanity through nature”, i.e. love and procreation. Could I connect the story with my real-life parents? Who was the fictionalized lover? How real were the events described in the novel? With the help of my father’s diary, as well as letters and other documents, I was able to conclude that my father’s fictional story had indeed deep roots in reality.
I did find, however, much more than that. By fictionalising himself and my mother, my father has revealed to me not only what had happened to them in real life, but also their human essence, warts and all. He has also allowed me to discover who his young lover was, and how, despite ending alone and deeply hurt, she was able to react with a maturity and a sensitivity of rare quality.
Finally, I also learnt that the fictional boy, whose birth saves his parents’ relationship, is also my parents’ real son: me.
All this is candidly revealed in my book, An Author on Trial.
Thank you, Luciano Iorio and Literally PR
About the Author
Luciano Iorio was born in Rome in 1937 and moved to London in 1971. In his native country he gained a music diploma and a degree in law. He decided to become a professional musician, and has enjoyed a long and distinguished international career. Since his retirement he has taken up pottery, and has spent five years researching and writing this book. He has been happily married for 52 years and lives in London. Luciano has three children, now in their 40s and three grandchildren.