History of Literature

Modern Italian literature



Alberto Moravia


Alberto Moravia

Italian writer
pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle
born Nov. 28, 1907, Rome, Italy
died Sept. 26, 1990, Rome

Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist known for his fictional portrayals of social alienation and loveless sexuality. He was a major figure in 20th-century Italian literature.

Moravia contracted tuberculosis of the bone (a form of osteomyelitis usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis) at the age of 8, but, during several years in which he was confined to bed and two years in sanatoriums, he studied French, German, and English; read Giovanni Boccaccio, Ludovico Ariosto, William Shakespeare, and Molière; and began to write. Moravia was a journalist for a time in Turin and a foreign correspondent in London. His first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; Time of Indifference), is a scathingly realistic study of the moral corruption of a middle-class mother and two of her children. It became a sensation. Some of his more important novels are Agostino (1944; Two Adolescents); La Romana (1947; The Woman of Rome); La disubbidienza (1948; Disobedience); and Il conformista (1951; The Conformist), all on themes of isolation and alienation. La ciociara (1957; Two Women) tells of an adaptation to post-World War II Italian life. La noia (1960; The Empty Canvas) is the story of a painter unable to find meaning either in love or work. Many of Moravia’s books were made into motion pictures.

His books of short stories include Racconti romani (1954; Roman Tales) and Nuovi racconti romani (1959; More Roman Tales). Racconti di Alberto Moravia (1968) is a collection of earlier stories. Later short-story collections include Il paradiso (1970; “Paradise”) and Boh (1976; The Voice of the Sea and Other Stories).

Most of Moravia’s works deal with emotional aridity, isolation, and existential frustration and express the futility of either sexual promiscuity or conjugal love as an escape. Critics have praised the author’s stark, unadorned style, his psychological penetration, his narrative skill, and his ability to create authentic characters and realistic dialogue.

Moravia’s views on literature and realism are expressed in a stimulating book of essays, L’uomo come fine (1963; Man as an End), and his autobiography, Alberto Moravia’s Life, was published in 1990. He was married for a time to the novelist Elsa Morante.



A Ghost at Noon

Alberto Moravia

Like most of Moravia's work, this novel is a political accusationrcapitalist culture reduces the intellectual to a mere producer of goods. Riccardo Molteni, the protagonist, is a failed intellectual who betrays his ambition to become a playwright and sells his soul to consumerism to make money by writing screenplays. He convinces himself that he does this to pay for the apartment he bought to make his wife, Emilia, happy. Molteni increasingly loses sight of reality and becomes incapable of noticing what is happening around him, unable to see that his wife no longer loves him. In a nostalgic and regretful way, he carries on loving a semblance, or a "ghost," of what Emilia once was (hence the English translation ofthenovel's title).
Molteni takes refuge in Greek myths, with their protagonists who lived in a world where the relationship with reality was straightforward and unmediated. When faced with the challenging task of transforming the Odyssey into a movie, Molteni discovers that a text such as Homer's holds the key to his existence. Odysseus and Molteni are united by a similar destiny. Their wives, Penelope and Emilia. despise their passivity and self-assurance. Molteni is excessively confident that Emilia is faithful and disregards the producer's courtship of her. She is hurt, and feels she is being sold cheaply to secure her husband's occupation. Her contempt for him grows and is finally shouted into his face before she abandons him on the island of Capri.



The Time of Indifference

Alberto Moravia

Moravia's early masterpiece, produced when he was eighteen, was written after the murder of Matteotti, who openly opposed Mussolini in parliament, when the Fascist regime enjoyed popular consensus. Although the work does not contain explicit references to the Italian political situation, the story of a middle class family, depicted as helpless victims of the corruption of their social entourage, clearly has a political message. The novel's central motif highlights the inadequacy and incapacity of the characters to deal with reality, marked by an indelible and congenital weakness. Mariagrazia, her son Michele, and daughter Carla, although afflicted by a serious financial crisis, keep up appearances and carry on a life of ostentatious bourgeois wealth. Slowly but inexorably they drift toward a miserable end. Michele, the central character, is oblivious to the dramas around him, indifferent to a reality that is disintegrating before his eyes. He is painfully unable to play by the social rules of his class or find the moral energy to react and rebel against them. He tries to eliminate Leo, his mother's—and later his sister's—loathsome lover, but (farcically) his gun is not loaded. With this novel, Moravia commenced his long-term investigation into the existential human condition. He went on to pursue the themes of conformism, contempt, and tedium as he portrayed the limitations of a social class at the end of its historical trajectory yet profoundly unable to renovate and transform itself.



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