Moravia, Alberto 1907-1990
(Born Alberto Pincherle) Italian short story writer, novelist, essayist, critic, dramatist, translator, scriptwriter, travel writer, editor, and journalist. See also Alberto Moravia Literary Criticism (Introduction), and Volumes 2, 18.
Moravia is considered one of the foremost Italian literary figures of the twentieth century. His depiction of existential themes, based upon mass indifference and the selfish concerns of the bourgeois world, predate the writings of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Deeply informed by the theories of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, Moravia's work commonly focuses upon such subjects as politics, sexuality, psychology, phenomenological philosophy, and art. In his exploration of humanity's conceptions of reality, Moravia presents a world of decadence and corruption in which individuals are guided primarily by their senses and sex serves as a comfort for spiritual barrenness as well as a substitute for love.
Moravia was born in Rome and educated at home. His father was a moderately wealthy Jewish Venetian architect and painter. His mother was a Dalmatian Catholic. At eight, Moravia was stricken with tuberculosis of the bone, which left him bedridden and isolated during his adolescent years. He spent much of this time avidly reading and writing and achieved major success with his first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Time of Indifference, 1953), written while Moravia was in his teens and published when he was twenty-two. He travelled extensively throughout Europe, North America, and Asia, and soon became a correspondent for La stampa and later La gaietta del popolo, newspapers in which Moravia wrote several travel articles. While his first published short story, "La cortigiana stanca" ("Tired Courtesan," 1954), appeared in the review Novecento in 1927, it was not until 1935 that Moravia published his first collection, La bella vita. His dissatisfaction with fascist Italy and growing appreciation of Marxism led to his dismissal from La gazzetta del popolo and made publication of his second collection of short fiction (L'imbroglio, 1937) difficult.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s, during Benito Mussolini's regime, Moravia's perceived antifascist ideas were subjected to close scrutiny, and he came close to being labeled an enemy of the state. Consequently, his fiction of the period is laden with satire and allegory. With Nazi occupation of Italy in 1943, Moravia and his wife, writer Elsa Morante, were forced to flee Rome and live for several months among peasants in rural Italy. This first exposure to the lower class profoundly affected Moravia's later work, which often features characters suffering from poverty and unemployment. Moravia enjoyed great professional success in the 1950s; I racconti (1952; The Wayward Wife, and Other Stories, 1960) was awarded the Strega Prize in 1952. He also cofounded the cultural journal Nuovi argomenti with Alberto Carocci. His turbulent marriage to Elsa, however, ended with their separation in 1963. For many years he lived with playwright and novelist Dacia Maraini, whom he often referred to as his second wife. Moravia received his high school diploma after passing equivalency tests at age 60, and in his seventies entered politics as a member of the European Parliament, backed by the Italian Communist Party. In 1986, shortly after his first wife's death, Moravia married writer Carmen Llera. He continued writing until his death in Rome in 1990.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Moravia's early fiction frequently attacks the Italian upper-middle class. In his acclaimed story "Inverno di malato" ("A Sick Boy's Winter"), published in La bella vita, the young protagonist has some difficulty with class differences and his own sexuality. In the fiction Moravia wrote during the Mussolini years, including the short stories collected in I sogini del pigro (1940) and L'epidemia (1944), the author portrayed characters who abused others as a means of self-satisfaction, but he cloaked in allegory and satire material that could be construed by censors as containing allusions to fascist politics. After his expulsion from Rome, Moravia's fiction became more socially conscious, displaying Marxist elements and expressing sympathy for the lives of common people. In the novella Agostino (1944; Agostino, 1947), which was awarded the Corriere Lombardo, an adolescent loses his innocence when he becomes increasingly aware of both his sexuality and the plight of the lower classes. The short stories Moravia wrote during the postwar decade, like his novels from this period, are influenced by his preoccupation with populist concerns. He also abandoned the use of a third-person narrator in favor of first-person narration in order to depict the world subjectively. In the short fiction collections Racconti romani (1954; Roman Tales, 1957) and Nuovi racconti romani (1959; More Roman Tales, 1964)—which contain many of his best works—Moravia uses colloquial language to depict commonplace occurrences in the lives of working-class characters. By the 1960s, Moravia had strayed from Marxism and began employing basic Freudian and phenomenological principles to resolve his characters' conflicts. Later short story collections, Un'altra vita (1973; Lady Godiva, and Other Stories, 1975) and La cosa e altri racconti (1983; Erotic Tales, 1986), center upon sexuality and the alienation of the human psyche.
Moravia felt the pressure of censors throughout his literary career. He was accused of immorality, lewdness, and obsessiveness. Some of his works have been banned, and in 1952 all of his works were placed on the Papal Index. He was attacked for his frank treatment of sex in his later works as well, including Erotic Tales, written when Moravia was in his seventies. Because of his repetitive themes and journalistic style of writing, many critics have concluded that Moravia is most effective when writing within the short story framework. Moravia's tendency to rework a limited number of themes has led some critics to fault him as a writer of narrow range who has done little to advance the techniques of the novel or the short story. Most, however, appraise Moravia as an artist who realizes the full potential of his subjects and uses classic storytelling devices to examine the preoccupations of modern civilization.