Critical Context

When As a Man Grows Older was published in 1898, it could have been regarded as part of an advance in fiction: a movement from naturalistic fiction, in which details are accumulated for their own sake, to modern fiction, in which, as in Joyce’s works, details may be accumulated in a manner superficially naturalistic but in fact every detail is carefully selected for a total effect. Thus, for example, Svevo’s descriptions of the furniture of Emilio’s and Angiolina’s apartments, of the house of assignation, and of Balli’s studio are all significantly revealing. The novel, however, whether because it was privately printed in a city which was then part of Austria or because it was written in a kind of “business Italian,” received almost no attention, and Svevo wrote nothing further until after World War I. Something significant happened in the interval, however; from 1907 on Svevo took English lessons from Joyce, who had come to Trieste to work in the Berlitz School. The two became friends and literary confidants; the character of Leopold Bloom owes something to Svevo, and his wife Livia, with her magnificent blonde hair, was one of the models for Anna Livia Plurabelle in Finnegans Wake (1939). They maintained only casual contact after Joyce left Trieste, but when Svevo published La coscienza di Zeno (1928; Confessions of Zeno, 1930), only to have it fall flat, he appealed to Joyce, and Joyce appealed to the French critics. The novel was translated and reprinted, and Svevo’s fame spread back to Italy, where the younger novelists hailed him as “the aged great-uncle of our literature.” It is pleasantly ironic that the author of As a Man Grows Older should have ended his life in a blaze of glory.