Critical Context

Increasingly, the modernist answer to this query is negative. As R.W.B. Lewis has remarked, “sadness is...the supreme emotion in the Moravian universe,” and that emotion certainly pervades 1934. The historical setting lends credence to the dominant feeling of despair, as the world seemed increasingly to be falling under the domination of ruthless dictators. Personally, too, the 1930’s were bad for Moravia, who has said that “the years between 1933 and 1943...were, from the point of view of public life, the worst of my life; and even today, I cannot remember them without horror.” Moravia also noted that the book reflects the time of its composition in the early 1980’s, commenting in a 1983 interview, “Communism is going badly, and so is capitalism.”

1934 suggests, then, that uncertainties are less the product of an age or political system than of the human condition. For Moravia, as for his contemporary existentialist writers, that condition is one of isolation, of an inability to relate to any reality outside oneself. Lucio has trouble finding Beate/ Trude’s message in the volume of Kleist’s letters; a month passes before he discovers the suicide note she left for him during their final night on Capri. In an effort to overcome their loneliness, people will huddle around a radio to listen to a familiar language and voice, even if the speaker is Adolf Hitler, or they will consent to lovemaking even at the cost of life itself. Like Lucio during his last night on Capri, they think they are waking up to reach out in the dark to embrace reality, but instead they find that they clasp the void.