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Alberto Moravia

Alberto Moravia

Alberto Moravia (1907-1990) was one of the most important, and certainly the most prolific, of modern Italian authors. His keen moralistic approach focuses mainly on the iniquities of bourgeois society.

Alberto Moravia was born Alberto Pincherle on November 28, 1907, in Rome, the son of a well-to-do architect. Stricken with osteomyelitis at the age of nine, he was in a hospital in Cortina d'Ampezzo until 1925. During these years he studied French, English, and German, became a voracious reader, and started writing fiction at the age of 11.

Moravia's first published novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Time of Indifference), was an immediate success. The following year he went abroad as a journalist for various newspapers, an activity which thereafter always accompanied his creative writing. He lived in Paris and London and visited the United States and Mexico (1935), China (1937), and Greece (1938). In the early 1940s he lived on Capri with his wife, the novelist Elsa Morante. Since his relations with the Fascist regime had more and more deteriorated over the years, Moravia went into hiding after Mussolini's return to power in July 1943, and he spent some nine months among peasants and shepherds near Fondi. After the war he returned to Rome.

Moravia held several literary awards, including the Strega (1952) and Viareggio (1961) prizes. In 1952, the year his collected works began to appear, the Roman Catholic Church put all his writings on the Index. Moravia's works have been translated into 27 languages.

His Works

After the appearance of his first novel, Moravia worked toward broadening the spectrum of his moralistic canvas without any discernible evolution, and his works may be called variations on one theme, the caustic portrayal of the disintegration of middle-class mores as revealed through the prism of sex. His critics called him to task for being a novelist who not only believes in simply representing a given reality without any pretense of modifying it but also does not entertain the slightest thought of an interpretation. For Moravia, "an intellectual is nothing else than a witness of his time."

At the root of the modern malaise of alienation, Moravia sees a complete lack of rapport with reality. Of the two possible approaches to objectify this crisis of rapport, critical realism and experimentalism, as he calls them, he opts for the former and its "objective and in a sense scientific representation of the phenomena of the crisis in all its psychological and social aspects."

Gli indifferenti is characteristic of his approach, recording with impassibility two days in the life of a Roman family. As a rather candid and unfavorable picture of certain strata of Roman society, it originated a social polemic, albeit unintended by its author, and after a fifth edition the publisher was advised not to undertake a sixth.

The long novel Le ambizioni sbagliate (1935; The Wheel of Fortune) in a sense depicts the same subject matter within the framework of a precise structure. The story is divided into three parts, each representing a single day in the life of its characters seen at intervals of one month. Against the desolate background of accepted defeat, ambition is analyzed as one of the basic and destructive drives behind human egoism.

L'imbroglio (1937), a collection of five long stories, centers on the familiar theme of man's incapacity to achieve love. La mascherata (1941; The Garden Party), written in the satirical and surrealist vein of the stories contained in I sogni del pigro (1940), and L'epidemia (1944) satirize dictatorial government.

The short novel Agostino (1944) belongs to the best of Moravia's fiction. Its subject matter being the discovery of evil and sex, the novel minutely analyzes the feelings of a young boy who discovers sex in his mother. La romana (1947; The Woman of Rome), a novel in first person narrative that established Moravia's fame abroad, is an absorbing inquiry into the psyche of Adriana, a Roman prostitute. At the center of the plot stands the existentialist issue of choice. La disubbidienza (1948), treating the discovery of sex by a 15-year-old, pursues the issues raised in Agostino on a higher level (these two novels were published in English as Two Adolescents).

II conformista (1951; The Conformist), which some critics consider Moravia's worst novel, is on the surface the story of a man who embraces fascism to become "normal." In a deeper sense, however, it should be seen as a comment on the modern tendency to abandon rationalistic and individual positions and to seek the protection of great collective myths. L'amore conjugale (1951; Conjugal Love) and II disprezzo (1954; A Ghost at Noon) portray a relationship between husband and wife that falters because of the husband's excessive concern with his profession. The short-story collections Racconti romani (1954; Roman Tales) and Nuovi racconti romani (1959; More Roman Tales) represent a specific aspect of Moravia's approach to reality. La ciociara (1957; Two Women), considered his contribution to neorealism, depicts the violence of war as he experienced it during the time of his hiding.

La noia (1960; The Empty Canvas) is a tightly constructed work that harks back to the topic of Moravia's first book. It is a tribute to the existential malaise as well as a sum total of his other fiction. L'attenzione (1965) is perhaps his most differentiated and intricately constructed novel. Besides being concerned with the problem of "authenticity" of man's being and his actions, it is a novel about the inability to write a novel which—in the end—is written nevertheless in the form of a diary.

Moravia's plays include II mondo è quello che è (1966), in which a professor divulges his language therapy during a holiday in a country villa that ends with the death of one of his "pupils"; L'intervista (1966), representing an interview between an envoy from the moon and the minister of propaganda of an imaginary state on earth; and II dio Kurt (1968), laid in a German concentration camp in Poland in 1944. Throughout his career Moravia also wrote travel literature, such as Un'idea dell'India (1961), and criticism, the most important of which was collected in L'uomo come fine (1964; Man as an End).

Despite the negative criticism Moravia received in his later years, he continued to write. He wrote 1934 (1982), a story set in the middle of the Fascist era. The novel La Cosa (released in Italy in 1983), was released in the United States a few years later under the title Erotic Tales. Two of his better known works were Time of Desecration (1980) and The Voyeur (1987). He died in Rome at the age of 82, on September 26, 1990.

Further Reading

Discussions in English of Moravia's work are Dego Giuliano, Moravia (1966), and Donald W. Heiney, Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini (1968). Recommended for general background is Sergio Pacifici, A Guide to Contemporary Italian Literature from Futurism to Neorealism (1962). His obituary appeared in the September 27, 1990 edition of the New York Times.

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Moravia, Alberto

Alberto Moravia (älbĕr´tō mōrä´vyä), 1907–90, Italian novelist, b. Alberto Pincherle; husband of Elsa Morante. Moravia is considered one of the foremost 20th-century Italian novelists. He employs taut prose in disturbing realist narratives that shed light on such issues as the relation of the individual to society; many of his characters have lost faith in the values on which moral foundations are based. His first novel, The Indifferent Ones (1929, tr. 1932), is a powerful and pitiless portrayal of the Italian bourgeoisie at the beginning of fascism. The Conformist (1951), often considered his most important novel, explores the links between sex and politics in a cynical Italian society. The Empty Canvas (1960, tr. 1961) grimly depicts the conflict and interaction between the creative and the sensual; its underlying theme is the apathy and despair of people in the modern world. Two Women (1957, tr. 1958) is a compelling story of wartime flight. His other works include Disobedience (1948, tr. 1950), Contempt (1954, tr. 1999), Two: A Phallic Novel (tr. 1972), the novellas Two Friends (c.1953, tr. 2011), the short-story collection Bought and Sold (1970, tr. 1973), and the essay collection Which Tribe Do You Belong To? (tr. 1974). Several of his novels were made into films by outstanding 20th-century directors: Two Women by Vitorio De Sica (1960), Contempt by Jean-Luc Godard (1963), and The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci (1970).

See biography by J. Cottrell (1974); studies by L. Rebay (1970) and J. Ross and D. Freed (1972).

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neo-realism

neo-realism Italian film movement (1945–50) that dealt with the harshness of life and death. Roberto Rossellini directed the first such film, called Open City (1945), using non-professionals and real locations. Perhaps the finest example of neo-realism was Vittorio De Sica's Bicycle Thieves (1948). Neo-realist writers included Alberto Moravia and Cesare Pavese.

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Moravia, Alberto

Moravia, Alberto (1907–90) Italian novelist. His early novels, including The Time of Indifference (1929) and The Fancy Dress Party (1940), were critical of fascism, and he was forced into hiding until 1944. Later works include The Woman of Rome (1947), The Conformist (1951), and Two Women (1957).

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Moravia, Alberto

MORAVIA, Alberto

Pseudonym for Alberto Pincherle. Nationality: Italian. Born: Rome, 28 November 1907. Education: Home; received high school equivalency diploma 1967. Family: Married 1) Elsa Morante in 1941 (divorced 1962; died 1985); 2) Dacia Maraini in 1963; 3) Carmen Llera in 1986. Career: Contracted tuberculosis in 1916 and spent much time in sanatoriums. Foreign correspondent, La Stampa, Milan, and Gazzetta del Popolo, Turin, in the 1930s; film critic, La Nuova Europa, 1944-46; editor, with Alberto Carocci, Nuovi Argomenti, Milan, from 1953; film critic, L'Espresso, Milan, from 1955; State Department lecturer in the United States, 1955. President, International P.E.N., 1959. Awards: Corriere Lombardo prize, 1945; Strega prize, 1952; Marzotto prize, 1954; Viareggio prize, 1961. Member: American Academy (honorary member); Chevalier, 1952, and Commander, 1984, Legion of Honor (France). Died: 26 September 1990.

Publications

Short Stories

L'epidemia: Racconti surrealistici e satirici. 1944.

L'amore coniugale e altri racconti. 1949; selection as Conjugal Love, 1951; in Five Novels, 1955.

Two Adolescents: The Stories of Agostino and Luca (includesAgostino and Disobedience). 1950.

I racconti. 1952; selections as Bitter Honeymoon and Other Stories, 1954; and The Wayward Wife and Other Stories, 1960.

Racconti romani. 1954; translated in part as Roman Tales, 1956.

Nuovi racconti romani. 1959; selection as More Roman Tales, 1963.

L'automa. 1963; as The Fetish and Other Stories, 1964.

Una cosa è una cosa. 1967; selection as Command and I Will Obey You, 1969.

Il paradiso. 1970; as Paradise and Other Stories, 1971; as Bought and Sold, 1973.

Io e lui. 1971; as Two: A Phallic Novel, 1972; as The Two of Us, 1972.

Un'altra vita. 1973; as Lady Godiva and Other Stories, 1975.

Boh! 1976; as The Voice of the Sea and Other Stories, 1978.

La cosa e altri racconti. 1983; as Erotic Tales, 1986.

La villa del venerdi; e altri racconti. 1990; as The Friday Villa, 1990.

Novels

Gli indifferenti. 1929; as The Indifferent Ones, 1932; as The Time of Indifference, 1953.

Le ambizioni sbagliate. 1935; as The Wheel of Fortune, 1937; asMistaken Ambitions, 1955.

La bella vita. 1935.

L'imbroglio. 1937.

I sogni del pigro. 1940.

La mascherata. 1941; as The Fancy Dress Party, 1947.

L'amante infelice. 1943.

Agostino. 1944; translated as Agostino, 1947.

Due cortigiane; Serata di Don Giovanni. 1945.

La romana. 1947; as The Woman of Rome, 1949.

La disubbidienza. 1948; as Disobedience, 1950.

Il conformista. 1951; as The Conformist, 195l.

Il disprezzo. 1954; as A Ghost at Noon, 1955.

Five Novels. 1955.

La ciociara. 1957; as Two Women, 1958.

La noia. 1960; as The Empty Canvas, 1961.

Cortigiana stanca. 1965.

L'attenzione. 1965; as The Lie, 1966.

La vita interiore. 1978; as Time of Desecration, 1980.

1934. 1982; translated as 1934, 1983.

Storie della preistoria Favole. 1983.

L'uomo che guarda. 1985; as The Voyuer, 1986.

Plays

Gli indifferenti, with Luigi Squarzini, from the novel by Moravia (produced 1948).In Sipario, 1948.

Il provino (produced 1955).

Non approfondire (produced 1957).

Teatro (includes Beatrice Cenci and La mascherata, from his own novel). 1958; Beatrice Cenci (in English), 1965.

Il mondo è quello che è (produced 1966). 1966.

Il dio Kurt (produced 1969). 1968.

La vita è gioco (produced 1970). 1969.

Screenplays:

Un colpo di pistola, 1941; Zazà, 1942; Ultimo incontro, 1951; Sensualità, 1951; Tempi nostri, 1952; La provinciale (The Wayward Wife), 1952; Villa Borghese, 1953; La donna del Fiume, 1954; La romana (The Woman of Rome), 1955; Racconti romani (Roman Tales), 1956; Racconti d'estate (Love on the Riviera), 1958; I delfini (The Dauphins), 1960; La giornata balorda (From a Roman Balcony), 1960; Una domenica d'es-tate, 1961; Agostino, 1962; Ieri oggi domani (Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow), 1963; Le ore nude, 1964; L'occhio selvaggio (The Wild Eye), 1967.

Other

La speranza: Ossia cristianesimo e comunismo. 1944.

Opere complete. 17 vols., 1952-67.

Un mese in U.R.S.S. 1958.

I moralisti moderni, with Elemire Zolla. 1960.

Women of Rome, photographs by Sam Waagenaar. 1960.

Un'idea dell'India. 1962.

Claudia Cardinale. 1963.

L'uomo come fine e altri saggi. 1964; as Man as an End: A Defence of Humanism, 1965.

La rivoluzione culturale in Cina ovvero il convitato di pietra. 1967; as The Red Book and the Great Wall: An Impression of Mao's China, 1968.

A quale tribù appartieni? 1972; as Which Tribe Do You Belong To?, 1974.

Al cinema: Centoquarantotto film d'autore. 1975.

La mutazione femminile: Conversazione con Moravia sulla donna, by Carla Ravaiola. 1975.

Intervista sullo scrittore scomodo, edited by Nello Ajello. 1978.

Quando Ba Lena era tanto piccola. 1978.

Cosma e i briganti. 1980.

Impegno controvoglia: Saggi, articoli, interviste, edited by RenzoParis. 1980.

Lettere del Sahara. 1981.

La tempesta. 1984.

L'angelo dell'informazione e altri testi teatrali. 1986.

L'inverno nucleare, edited by Renzo Paris. 1986.

Opere, 1927-1947, edited by Geno Pampaloni. 1986.

Passeggiate africane (autobiography). 1987.

Il viaggio a Roma. 1988.

Opere, 1948-1968, edited by Enzo Siciliano. 1989.

La donna leopardo. 1991.

Editor, with Elemire Zolla, Saggi italiani. 1960.

*

Bibliography:

An Annotated Bibliography of Moravia Criticism in Italy and in the English-Speaking World (1929-1975) by Ferdinando Alfonsi, 1976.

Critical Studies:

Moravia by Giuliano Dego, 1966; Three Italian Novelists by Donald W. Heiney, 1968; The Existentialism ofMoravia by Joan Ross and D. Freed, 1972; Moravia by Jane E. Cottrell, 1974; Women as Object: Language and Gender in the Work of Moravia by Sharon Wood, 1990; Alberto Moravia by Thomas E. Peterson, 1996.

* * *

The life and career of Alberto Moravia spanned some of the most turbulent years and events of recent Italian history. Novelist, short story writer, essayist, journalist, and cultural observer, Moravia constantly engaged with the social, cultural, and political life of his country. While the experimentation in literature of the late twentieth century makes Moravia's more gritty realism look a little dated, his best works offer an acute analytical insight into a society, and a class, in moral decay.

Moravia burst upon the literary scene in 1929, when he was barely 20 years old, with Gli indifferenti, a novel immediately perceived, if not consciously intended, as a violent social polemic against a decadent Italian bourgeoisie that provided fascism with its most fertile soil. The novel's attack on the bankrupt morality of the bourgeoisie, for whom sex and money had displaced any higher value, had inevitable political implications that went to the heart of the fledgling fascist state.

Moravia's writing continued to be dominated by the social and moral impact of fascism on the class he knew best, the bourgeoisie. After a brief period of experimentation with surrealism and political satire (I sogni del pigro and La mascherata) he began writing in a realist, moralist mode in short stories such as "Inverno di malato" (1935), which drew on his own youth spent in a tuberculosis sanatorium; "L'amante infelice" (1943); and Agostino, a masterly short novel describing vividly an adolescent's emergence from innocence, the discovery of his mother's femininity, and his initiation into sexuality by a group of urchins he meets at the seaside resort where he is on vacation. La romana (The Woman of Rome) is about the life of Adriana told from her own perspective, that of a working-class girl drawn into prostitution; her character is in stark contrast to the morality of her middle-class clients. This perspective on the impotent middle classes is maintained in La ciociara. Based on Moravia's own experience when he was forced to flee Rome in 1943, when the city was taken over by the Nazis after the fall of Mussolini, the novel deals powerfully with the experience of war and the loss of innocence symbolized by a brutal rape. Compassion and the wisdom of experience are the only way out of the moral quagmire of war and the selfishness and greed it generates. In Il conformista (The Conformist) Moravia addressed himself less to the drastic effects than to the psychosexual underpinning of allegiance to a specific ideology: Marcello, the protagonist, identifies himself with fascism in a desperate attempt to appear normal, only gradually realizing that so-called normality consists precisely of perversion and aberration.

While writing these last novels, Moravia was also writing a large number of short stories, the Racconti romani, considered by some to be his best work, first published in 1954. The stories have been compared to the work of the Milanese Belli with their sense of historical and psychological authenticity and their mixture of standard language and dialect. Here Moravia is not writing to demonstrate a thesis or a philosophical point, as he increasingly appeared to do in his later work, and the stories retain both freshness and spontaneity in their evocation of a lower middle-class Rome in the postwar years. Three later volumes of short stories, Il paradiso (Paradise and Other Stories), Un'altra vita (Lady Godiva and Other Stories), and Boh! (The Voice of the Sea and Other Stories), were collected from stories published in the Corriere della Sera in the 1950s and 1960s. These stories are all linked by their use of a first-person female narrator; if his dramatic characters are women, he has declared, it is because women live most dramatically the tensions and contradictions of the modern world. Many of the stories portray family life and marriage, which is seen as collective violence by society on the woman or as a systematic means of exploitation. The role of mother is seen to be inconsistent with an autonomous female identity, and the other side of bourgeois marriage is prostitution. Women are constantly denied subjectivity and autonomy by the world of men and work. In search of their identity, they lose it.

Moravia's achievement was to probe and reveal the relationship between the economic, the erotic, and the political. While his narratives owed much intellectually to Freud and Marx, it is the dramatic events of twentieth-century Italy, and the artist's response to the spiritual and material conflicts of the modern world, that form the heart of his work.

—Sharon Wood

See the essay on "Conjugal Love."

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