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Alberto Moravia


Alberto Moravia
(1907 - 1990)

Alberto Moravia, 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.

Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante

“And we all know love is a glass which makes even a monster appear fascinating.” 
― Alberto Moravia, The Woman of Rome

“This thought strengthened in me my belief that all men, without exception, deserve to be pitied, if only because they are alive.” 
― Alberto Moravia, The Woman of Rome

“Every true writer is like a bird; he repeats the same song, the same theme, all his life. For me, this theme as always been revolt.” 
― Alberto Moravia

Alberto Moravia, Novelist, Is Dead at 82
By CLYDE HABERMAN, Special to The New York Times
Published: September 27, 1990

ROME, Sept. 26— Alberto Moravia, whose many novels explored alienation and other social traumas while focusing almost obsessively on human sexuality, died today at his apartment overlooking the Tiber River here. He was 82 years old.

He had either a stroke or a heart attack, his doctor said in a preliminary report.

Mr. Moravia was Italy's most widely read author in this century, his works having been translated into some 30 languages and selling in the millions around the world.

Movie versions of several novels further enhanced his popularity, perhaps none more so than the 1961 film ''Two Women,'' directed by Vittorio De Sica.

Reflecting a Fear

Based on ''La Ciociara,'' a highly acclaimed Moravia book published in 1957, it is a wrenching tale of the deprivations endured by a widowed Roman shopkeeper and her daughter toward the end of World War II. Their ordeal in the mountains south of Rome reflected the writer's own experiences during that period, when he feared arrest by Italy's Nazi occupiers.

Many literary scholars argue that Mr. Moravia was not only his country's best-selling modern writer but also simply its best, on the strength of his starkly worded studies of emotional aridity and his blunt openness about sex. None would dispute that he ranked high among Italian literary giants of the century, including Primo Levi, Ignazio Silone, Luigi Pirandello, Italo Calvino and Leonardo Sciascia.

Critics have frequently pointed out that most of Mr. Moravia's most fertile years were in the 1940's and 1950's, when he produced a dozen novels and collections of short stories. His more recent works often fell far short of the earlier standards of critical success.

Nevertheless, he endured as a national monument and was considered almost an institution in his native Rome. He could be cranky and not always the most pleasant companion, said those who knew him well. But always he remained Moravia, quotable and free with opinions.

'Biting but Also Highly Sensitive'

Upon word of his death this morning, the tributes flowed freely, and several prominent writers, including Natalia Ginzburg and Enzo Siciliano, made pilgrimages to his apartment along a northern curve of the capital's winding river.

The President of Italy, Francesco Cossiga, issued a statement in which he praised Mr. Moravia as a ''biting but also highly sensitive narrator of Italian society in the 20th century: its contradictions, bewilderments and anxious search for values.''

For himself, the author left no dearth of self-opinions and asides that could serve as epitaphs. In a memoir called ''The Life of Alberto Moravia,'' which is written in the form of an interview by a French writer, Alain Elkann, and is to be issued next week by the Italian publisher Bompiani, Mr. Moravia said, ''My life, like everyone's life, is a chaos, and the only continuous thread is literature.''

About Some Priorities

''I have been a writer, and that's it,'' he said. ''I have taken literature seriously above all else. The rest has been subordinated.''

His wife, Carmen Llera, a Spanish advertising executive whom he married in 1986 when she was 32 and he 78, was in Morocco at his death and was reported to be flying back to Rome.

Mr. Moravia had no children either by her or his first wife, the writer Elsa Morante, who died four years ago a few months before his remarriage. They had been separated for many years, a period that included Mr. Moravia's long relationship with a young Italian writer, Dacia Maraini.

Mr. Moravia's body was taken to a room on Capitol Hill, Rome's civic heart. It is to be put on public view there on Thursday. A nonreligious memorial service is to be held on Friday morning on the hill's elegant main square, designed by Michelangelo in the 16th century, and burial is to be at the Verano Cemetery in Rome.

Sheltered and Lonely

Moravia was his pen name.

He was born on Nov. 28, 1907, and was named Alberto Pincherle. He was the son of a prosperous Jewish architect and painter from Venice and an Austro-Hungarian countess. His childhood was sheltered but also lonely, for at the age of 8 he contracted tuberculosis of the leg bones, a crippling disease that was eventually cured but left him with a distinct limp.

The illness also kept him out of school. Bedridden for much of the next 10 years, he read voraciously on his own and received his education from French, English and German governesses who taught him their languages as well as Italian.

''To understand my character,'' Mr. Moravia says in his memoir, ''you must keep in mind that I was ill in infancy, and because of it I was alone, completely alone, until I was 18. I never went to school. I never had other children to play with. Solitude entered my soul so deeply that even today I feel a profound detachment from others.''

At 16, he entered a sanitarium in the Italian Alps and began work on a novel, continuing to polish it for several years after leaving the institution in 1925. In the meantime, moving about on crutches, he started contributing to avant-garde literary reviews, publications hardly in favor with the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, which by then had taken over Italy.

Winning Critical Praise

The young Moravia had a hard time finding someone to print his novel, and finally in 1929 he arranged for its publication on his own, paying a small printing house what he later said was the equivalent of $1,500.

It was called ''Gli Indifferenti,'' translated many years later into English as ''The Time of Indifference.'' The book attacked the exaggerated mother cult that the Fascists had encouraged, describing the moral corruption of a grasping widow and her relationship with her daughter and son.

While the novel won critical praise, it raised eyebrows and hackles among Fascist censors. And it left the young novelist a marked man.

A second novel, ''Mistaken Ambitions,'' was published in 1935, but the Government ordered newspapers not to review it. In 1941 - the year that he married Elsa Morante, who was then not the prominent writer she would later become - literary matters grew even worse for Mr. Moravia. He produced ''The Fancy Dress Party,'' an easily recognized satire of Italy's dictatorship, and afterward the censors ordered that he write nothing, not even newspaper articles.

The Necessity of Travel

Even so, he managed to elude the authorities by writing novels, short stories and even film scripts under an assumed name. Starting in the mid-1930's, he also avoided Fascist pressures by traveling widely abroad, including a seven-month period in 1934 and 1935 when he lectured at Columbia University in New York City.

Politically, Mr. Moravia was left of center, entering active politics relatively late in life. In 1984, he was elected to the European Parliament as a representative of Italy's Independent Left. To the end, however, he insisted that politics held no fascination for him, and in his memoir he dismisses the entire profession as ''very boring.''

It was less so in 1943, when Nazi Germany occupied Rome and Mr. Moravia discovered that he was on a list of anti-Facist subversives who were to be arrested. He fled to the mountains outside the capital, enduring nine months of hunger and cold, until the Allied liberation in 1944 enabled him to return to Rome for good.

From then on, for at least the next 16 years, Moravia novels and short stories poured forth in rapid succession.

One important work was ''La Romana,'' published in the United States by Farrar, Straus as ''The Woman of Rome,'' a 1947 novel that follows the career of a prostitute and her relationships with a series of lovers.

In 1951, Mr. Moravia wrote ''The Conformist,'' whose central character is an unsavory young man so afraid of his homosexual and sadistic tendencies that he masks them by becoming a Fascist police agent.

Other novels and collections from that prolific period include ''Roman Tales,'' ''More Roman Tales,'' ''Disobedience,'' ''The Empty Canvas'' and ''Conjugal Love.''

With Plays, Essays and Articles

During his long career, Mr. Moravia produced more than two dozen works of fiction, including a collection of stories called ''The Friday Villa,'' published here in August and reported to have already sold 50,000 copies. He also wrote half a dozen plays and countless essays and magazine articles, many of them on his frequent journeys around the globe.

Critics often praised him, especially in his earlier years, for his stark writing style, his realistic dialogue and his narrative skills, all of which he poured into explorations of disillusion, alienation and - most conspicuously - sexual experience.

''Moravia was a very daring writer,'' said Frank MacShane, a writer and a professor in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. ''He was one of the first European authors to write honestly about sex. Especially after World War II, he liberated the thoughts of many writers by his own example in fiction.''

'No Love Without Sex'

Discussing sex in his memoir, Mr. Moravia himself says:

''There can be sex without love, but there can be no love without sex. That is to say, that you can very well have a quick sexual relationship, even a very happy one, without love. However, the opposite is not possible. It is like a match thrown away in a forest. The forest bursts into flame and the match is lost, but at the beginning there was that match.''

Given such views, it was perhaps not surprising that in 1952 Mr. Moravia's novels and stories were declared immoral by the Vatican and placed on its Index of Forbidden Books. The Index was discontinued in the mid-1960's amid the liberalizing reforms set into motion by the Second Vatican Council. But traces of possible displeasure linger at the Holy See, perhaps suggested in the brief notice given to Mr. Moravia's death on Vatican Radio and in this afternoon's edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

A Writer's Beliefs

Presumably, Mr. Moravia would have shrugged off the scant attention. Organized religion held little interest for him.

''I don't know if I believe in God,'' he says in the memoir. ''I never thought seriously about it.''

In his later years, critics treated him less than kindly when he produced works like ''1934,'' a 1982 novel set in the middle of the Fascist era, and ''La Cosa'' a highly libidinous book published here in 1983 and issued a few years later in the United States under the title ''Erotic Tales.''

But Mr. Moravia continued to write, ignoring the critics and insisting to the end that vanity did not govern his soul.

''To be satisfied with success, one needs to be conceited,'' he says in his memoir. ''And I am not conceited, sincerely.''

Writing of Sex And Trauma

The prolific Alberto Moravia published his first novel, ''Time of Indifference,'' in 1929 and established an international reputation after World War II with ''The Woman of Rome.'' His books were frequently translated into English and published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Here is a list of his best-known works:

The Woman of Rome, 1949

Two Adolescents, 1950

The Conformist, 1951

Conjugal Love, 1951

The Time of Indifference, 1953

Roman Tales, 1957

Two Women, 1958

The Empty Canvas, 1961)

Time of Desecration, 1980

The Voyeur,1987

La cortigiana stanca (1927) (Tired Courtesan)
Gli indifferenti (Time of Indifference, 1929)
Inverno di malato (1930) (A Sick Boy's Winter)
Le ambizioni sbagliate (1935)
La bella vita (1935)
L'imbroglio (1937, novellas) (The Imbroglio)
I sogni del pigro (1940)
La caduta (1940) (The Fall)
La mascherata (1941) (The Fancy Dress Party, 1952)
La cetonia (1943)
L'amante infelice (1943) (The Unfortunate Lover)
Agostino (Two Adolescents, 1944)
L'epidemia (1944, short story collection)
Ritorno al mare (1945) (Return to the Sea)
L'ufficiale inglese (1946) (The English Officer)
La romana (The Woman of Rome, 1947)
La disubbidienza (Disobedience, 1947)
L'amore coniugale (1947, short story collection)(Conjugal Love, Other Press, 2007)
Il conformista (The Conformist, 1947)
L'amore coniugale (The Conjugal Love, 1949)
Luna di miele, sole di fiele (1952) (Bitter Honeymoon)
Racconti romani (Roman Tales, 1954)
Il disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon or Contempt, 1954)
La ciociara (Two Women, 1957)
Nuovi racconti romani (1959)
La noia (The Empty Canvas or Boredom, 1960)
L'automa (The Fetish, 1962, collection of short stories)
L'uomo come fine (1963, essay)
L'attenzione (The Lie, 1965)
Una cosa e una cosa (Command, and I Will Obey You, 1967, short story collection)
Il dio Kurt (drama, 1969)
La vita è gioco (1969)
Il paradiso (1970)
Io e lui (Him and Me, 1971)
A quale tribù appartieni (1972)
Un'altra vita (1973)
Al cinema (1975, essays)
Boh (1976)
La vita interiore (1978)
Impegno controvoglia (1980)
"1934" (1982)
La cosa e altri racconti (1983, short story collection)
L'uomo che guarda (1985)
L'inverno nucleare (1986, essays and interviews)
Il viaggio a Roma (1988)
La villa del venerdì e altri racconti (1990)

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