Time of Desecration

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)
ph_0111207100-Moravia.jpg Alberto Moravia Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alberto Moravia, whose first novel, The Time of Indifference (Gli indifferenti) written when he was eighteen years old, has now completed what he says is his last novel. Called Time of Desecration by the translator, Angus Davidson, the novel was published in Italy in 1978 under the title La Vita Interiore.

The new novel, like many of Moravia’s others, is set in Rome and is a description of the prevailing social and political state of Italy today. It, also, like many of his other novels, uses two women, mother and daughter, and their relationship as the base of the allegory.

At the time of the telling of the story, the daughter, Desideria, is a beautiful young woman. Her story begins, however, when at the age of twelve, as a lonely and unattractive child, she ate and masturbated obsessively, because, as she says, she was fat. Viola, her adoptive mother is passionately involved in maintaining a façade of respectability, although she is involved with Tiberi, her business manager, in a series of affairs with her daughter’s young governesses. Identified as American and just as passionate concerning her wealth and position, Viola is the symbol for capitalism. Erostrato, a young man who also is Viola’s lover, lives on “an existential see-saw.” At one time Fascist, then Communist, he is also a pious Christian, who is drawn into the occult. Paid by the police as an informer, he is, in addition, a revolutionist. The shifts in his beliefs from one extreme to another present no difficulty for him. He is an opportunist and profits materially from all of his alliances.

Desideria, at the age of twelve and while going to her mother’s room for the key to the refrigerator, accidentally witnesses her mother, her governess, and Tiberi in a sexual scene. Infuriated, Viola, with puritanical hypocrisy, attacks Desideria for her gluttony, telling Desideria for the first time that she is the child of a prostitute, who had been willing to sell her baby. The child is almost destroyed by her mother’s cruelty. The trauma leaves Desideria with a great hatred for her mother and a compelling desire for revenge. At the same time, food becomes revolting to her and she stops eating, soon growing into a beautiful young woman. Because Desideria is so attractive, Viola’s behavior becomes indulgent and seductive. At this point, a “Voice,” which only Desideria hears, takes over her life and attempts to control and direct her, first in symbolic acts of transgression and desecration against class, property, money, marriage, and religion. Later, as Desideria grows older, the Voice takes her deep into Marxist rhetoric and finally into open revolt. Desideria welcomes the Voice. Its presence gives her identity. Fear of the Voice, however, leads her into almost total compliance with it; and when the Voice directs her to use her beauty to entrap and destroy Viola, Desideria complies up to the point of actually accepting Viola as a lover. The Voice grows increasingly strident and demanding, but Desideria, in spite of Viola’s gross behavior, retains a daughter’s love for mother and, although it alternates with a savage hatred, the bond is there and it prevents the Voice from taking absolute control over the daughter. Her revolutionary acts are symbolic ones until, through Erostrato, Desideria meets Quinto and, directed by the Voice, she is led into real violence and pointlessly kills both Quinto and Tiberi.

In spite of the Voice and in spite of the struggle waged by Desideria, however, Viola and Erostrato do survive. As in all political struggles, decisive victories are not possible; Moravia points out, and by the same analogy, that all political systems are corrupting and exploitative forces from which there is no escape.

In the novel Moravia explores a political system which has become perverted and irrational in its attempts to destroy the middle class and its power and institutions. Individuals become instruments of a dehumanizing power. Desideria is as a nation under seige from the forces of both the left and the right. She retains her virginity, despite the efforts of Viola and her two lovers, Tiberi and Erostrato, until she is raped at gunpoint by Quinto, the proletarian leader of a revolutionary group. He is her first contact with a real member of the proletarian force, and she despises and fears him. She kills him not because of the rape but because of her...

(The entire section is 1810 words.)