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|Alberto Moravia (1907-1990) - pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle|
Italian journalist, short-story writer, and novelist. Moravia explored in his books sex, social alienation, and other contemporary issues – he was a major figure in the 20th-century Italian literature. Moravia was married to Elsa Morante (1941-1963), who also was a writer, best known for her novel La Storia (1974). Several of Moravia's books have been filmed, among them Two Women by Vittorio De Sica (1960), A Ghost at Noon by Jean-Luc Godard (1964), and The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci (1970).
"Alas, Fausta had told the truth: everything was left exactly as it had been on the day I went away. One seemed to be poking one's nose into the study of one of those long-dead writers whose rooms have been transformed into museums, which are visited by people reverently and hat in hand. Except that there was a difference: those writers whose rooms have been transformed into museums were for the most part real, genuine writers; or were, in their lifetime, sublimated artists of the first water, and their studies are faithful mirrors of their sublimation. I, on the contrary, am desublimated, and my study was clearly a museum of mediocrity, of approximation, of self-didactism, of foolish aspirations, of the near miss, of amateurishness." (from The Two of Us, 1971)
Alberto Pincherle (Alberto Moravia) was born in Rome into a well-to-do middle-class Jewish-Catholic family. His mother was Teresa (de Marcanich) Pincherle, and father, Carlo Pincherle, an architect and a painter. At the age of nine Moravia was stricken with tubercular infection of the leg bones, which he considered the most important factor in his early development. He spent considerable periods from 1916 to 1925 in sanatoriums. During these years Moravia began to write. His first published story, 'Cortigiana stance,' appeared in French in 1927. Gli indifferenti (1929, Time of Indifference), his first major novel, which was written between 1925 and 1929, Moravia published at his own expense. A poor translation into English, under the title The Indifferent Ones appeared in 1932. From the late 1940s, Moravia's regular translator was Angus Davidson, a writer and publisher who was associated with the Bloomsbury Group.
Time of Indifference was a great success and perhaps the first modern European Existentialist novel. It tells about three days in the life of a Roman family, Mariagrazia and her children Carla and Michele, who keep up a bourgeois front while living at the edge of poverty. Mariagrazia lover and her debtor seduces Carla, who is bored. Michele do not seem to care about anything. The condemnation of the Roman bourgeoisie under fascism became a sensation. "It is astonishing that Il Duce should have permitted this morbid and life-denying novel to circulate freely among the inheritors of the tradition of the Caesars", one reviewer said.
Not to arouse more disapproval of the authorities, Moravia adopted an allegorical style, but his increasing involvement in politics at the same time led to his books being banned, although his maternal uncle, Augusto De Marsanich, was an influential Italian National Fascist Party politician and his patron. Moravia utilized the typical characters of an impotent intellectual, his virile rival, a voluptuous seductress, and an aging mistress. Generally Moravia regarded women as being superior to men. He saw sex as the enemy of love. Variations on the women of Time of Indifference are found in La romana (1947, The Woman of Rome), in which the protagonist, Adriana, is a prostitute, and La ciociara (1957, Two Women). The loose, rambling narrative recounts the war experiences of a calculating, widowed businesswoman, Cesira, and her daughter, Rosetta, who flee into the mountains to escape Fascist soldiers and Allied bombings. There they meet Michele, the son of a shopkeeper, a committed idealist. She starts to feel that if there had been a man who had attracted her "and who I could have loved, love itself would have had a new savor, more profound and more intense". Rosetta is raped by Moroccan soldiers – allies of the liberation army. The American soldiers are "indifferent and distant", and "all of them were chewing gum". Rosetta becomes a prostitute and her mother a thief, who in her suicidal despair sees a vision of Michele telling her that life is better than death. Moravia's criticism of society is presented on an allegorical level - proletariat is raped by capitalism, Italy loses her innocence under Fascism. The book was adapted for screen by Vittorio De Sica, starring Sophia Loren, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Eleonora Brown. In De Sica's film, the relationship between Cesira and Rosetta is paralleled with the image of Madonna and Child; Rosetta is the sacrificial victim. The rape scene is set in a church, with the question where is God?
In the 1930s Moravia worked as a foreign correspondent for La Stampa and La Gazetta del Popolo. He travelled in the U.S., Poland, China, Mexico, and other countries. His works were censored by Benito Mussolini's fascist government, and placed by the Vatican on the Index librorum prohibitarum (Index of Forbidden Books). Moravia sharply criticized the dehumanized, capitalist world. He was especially influenced by the thoughts of Marx and Freud. After the publication of Le ambizioni sbagliate (1935, The Wheel of Fortune), Moravia lost his job at the Gazetta del Popolo.
L'imbroglio (1937), a collection of short stories, included L'Architetto, La Tempesta, and La Provinciale. Several of his stories were first published in newspapers. Racconti romani (1954, Roman Tales) and Nuovi racconti romani (1959, More Roman Tales) include some of Moravia's best sketches of working-class characters in everyday situations.
From 1941 to 1943 Moravia lived in Anacapri (Capri). In 1943 he tried to escape to Naples, but unable to cross the frontier, fled with his wife Elsa Morante into the mountains of Ciociaria. He had written in 1941 a comic parody of the Mussolini government, La mascherata, attacked fascism in his articles in Il Popolo di Roma, and in danger of being arrested, Moravia went into hiding in the peasant community in Fondi, near Cassino, until the Allied Liberation.
In 1944 Moravia began to write Two Women, and took up the work again ten years later, when he had gained more distance from his own experiences. However, the nine months among peasants had strengthened his social conscience and new sympathy for the people, which was evident in the short novel Agostino (1944). Il conformista (1951) portrays a person, Marcello, who has dedicated himself to total conformity. He joins the Fascist party, "as an abstract whole, as a great, existing army held together by common feelings, common ideas, common aims, and army of which it was comforting to form a part". Bernardo Bertolucci's film version was according to the director a "story about me and Godard... I'm Marcello and I make Fascist movies and I want to kill Godard who's revolutionary, and who makes revolutionary movies and who was my teacher..." (Bertolucci in Sight and Sound, Vol. 40, No. 2, Spring 1971) When Moravia stressed Marcello's inevitable fate and followed a logical chronology, Bertolucci confused the narrative progression of the text. Otherwise the film deviates little from Moravia's storyline. One of the characters was given Godard's phone number, address, and middle name. Also Bertolucci smuggled in his film a line from Godard's Le petit soldat: "The time of reflection is over. Now begins the time of action."
The Woman of Rome, which originally started out as a short story, was in the postwar period the bestselling Italian novel in the United States. It sold well over a million copies. In the 1950s Moravia abandoned the third-person narrative, and used the limited, non-objective first person narrative in tune with the modernist literature theories. Il disprezzo (1954, A Ghost at Noon) was the basis of Jean-Luc Godard's film Le Mépris (1963), starring Brigitte Bardot. The director considered the novel "a nice, vulgar one for a train journey, full of classical, old fashioned sentiments in spite of the modernity of the situation. But it is with this kind of novel that one can often make the best films." Godard played with the theme of the book – the adapting of Homer's Odyssey to film – and developed further the triangle drama of Odysseus, Penelope, and Poseidon. In the novel Riccardo Molteni, a not so reliable narrator, tries to keep some sense of balance after the death of his wife, Emilia. "How beautiful Emilia had been, sitting in the stern of my boat, no longer hostile, but full of love, how sweet her words; how disturbing, how violent the feeling I had experienced when I told her I wanted to make love to her and she had answered me with that faint nod of agreement!" In Le Mépris Bardot imitated the gestures of Godard's ex-wife Anna Karina, and the director kept her half-dressed throughout the film, and showed her swimming in the nude. The American actor Jack Palance played Prokosch, a producer, and on another level Poseidon, Odysseus' archenemy. Moravia'a attitude toward cinema was not admiring. "The camera is a less complete instrument of expression than the pen, even in the hands of an Eisenstein," he once said in an interview in The Paris Review.
In 1953 with Alberto Carocci Moravia edited Nuovi Argomenti; he wrote film reviews from 1955 for L'Espresso, and in 1955 he was a State Department lecturer in the United States. Moravia's major novels from the 1960s include La noia (1960, The Empty Canvas), an examination of the relationship between reality and art, and L'attenzione (1965, The Lie), about a novelist writing a work entitled L'attenzione.
Between the years 1958 and 1970 Motavia travelled widely throughout the world, and produced such books as Un mese in URSS (1958), La rivoluzione culturale in Cina (1968, The Red Book and the Great Wall), A quale tribù appartieni? (1972, Which Tribe Do You Belong To?), and Viaggi. Articoli 1930-1990 (1994). In 1982 he edited Nuovi Argomenti with Leonardo Sciascia and Enzo Siciliano. Moravia's later works include Io e lui (1971, The Two of Us), a story of a screenwriter who tries to understand his independently behaving large penis, which constantly leads him into humiliating situations. La vita interiore (1978, Time of Desecration) was composed in the form of an interview between the ostensible narrator and the interviewee, Desideria. To Corriere della Sera, the most prestigious Italian newspaper, he contributed regularly from 1946.
Moravia's autobiography Vita di Motavia came out in 1990. His philosophical and political scepticism did not prevent him from entering politics, nor the voters expected him to be a run-of-the mill politician. In 1984 he was elected Italian representative to the European Parliament. Moravia died in Rome on September 26, 1990. He lived most of his life in Rome; one apartment was situated in the nearby Via dell’Oca, close to the Piazza del Popolo. The city and its people played an important role in his fiction.
For further reading: Alberto Moravia by E. Sanguineti (1962); Moravia by Giuliano Dego (1966); Three Italian Novelist by D. Heiney (1968); The Existentialism of Albeto Moravia by J. Ross and D. Freed (1972); Alberto Moravia by J. Cottrell (1974); Selected Essays by E. Montale (1978); Modern European Filmmakers and the Art of Adaptation, ed. by Andrew S. Horton and Joan Magretta (1981); 'Bertolucci's The Conformist: A Morals Change', in Italian Film in the Light of Neorealism by Millicent Joy Marcus (1986); Vita di Moravia (Alberto Moravia's Life) by Alberto Moravia and Alain Elkann (1990); Woman as Object: Language and Gender in the Work of Alberto Moravia by Sharon Wood (1990); The Architecture of Imagery in Alberto Moravia's Fiction by J.M. Kozma (1993); Homage to Alberto Moravia, ed. by Rocco Capozzi and Mario B. Mignone (1993); Alberto Moravia by Thomas Erling Peterson (1996) - Other films based on Moravia's works: Peccato che sia una canaglia, dir. by Alessandro Blasetti (1954). See also: Alba de Céspedes