The Unlikely Persistence of Antonio Gramsci

Thomas Meaney in The New Republic:

Antonio Gramsci’s near-feral Sardinian childhood set him apart from most other leading communist revolutionaries of the interwar years, who tended to originate in cities. His father was imprisoned for petty embezzling as a state functionary in the Kingdom of Italy; his mother scraped by a living mending clothes. When Gramsci was four, a boil on his back began hemorrhaging, and he nearly bled to death. His mother bought a shroud and a small coffin, which stood in a corner of the house for the rest of his youth.

As Gramsci’s latest biographer, the French historian Jean-Yves Frétigné, reports in To Live Is to Resist: The Life of Antonio Gramsci, Gramsci was buckled for hours each day into a leather harness contraption that hung from the rafters, intended to repair his spine. He hardened himself with tests of endurance, such as hammering his fingers with a stone until they bled. He kept a pet hawk, and idolized the Sardinian bandit Giovanni Tolu, who outfoxed the local Carabinieri. At school he was rebellious and insolent. Once, he had a dispute with a teacher who did not believe Gramsci had found a monstrous, snakelike lizard with feet. (He had: It was an ocellated skink.)

More here.