Moravia, Alberto (Generally Considered a Pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle; See Rebay Excerpt Below)
Moravia, Alberto (Generally Considered a Pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle; See Rebay Excerpt Below) 1907–
Moravia, an Italian novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, and essayist, is noted for themes of loneliness, alienation, and indifference. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)
The thirty-four short stories collected in [Il Paradiso] have several characteristics in common. First there is the fictitious identity of the narrator: the stories are all told (in the first person) by women of more or less the same (moneyed) class. Then the length: they vary from six to nine pages, but most of them are just eight pages long, the tailor-made length most suitable to the newspaper for which they were intended. They all contain something which is more or less incredible, paradoxical or openly monstrous, and they all tend more or less to convey the message that present-day life is soaked in alienation. The idea of Italian society that one gets from Il Paradiso (just as from a film by Antonioni) is that it is a sort of lunatic asylum….
That Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis may be a source of inspiration for the novelist should not surprise anyone, and even less in the case of Moravia, whose literary debut was made with a sort of variation on the theme of the Oedipus complex. What is surprising is that this paragon of modernity should fall back on cheap, worn-out devices….
Moravia's imagination, however, his inexhaustible invention of plots, situations and characters, preposterous though they may be, commands our admiration. The story that gives the book its title, for instance, with its brilliant display of surprise, suspense, sudden explosions of violence and contrasting pauses of meditation, is as enjoyable and dazzling as a firework. Yet one wonders after all whether there is not something in common between the undeniable mastery of the writer and the aimless, useless, gratuitous lives of his characters: what purpose do they serve? have they any meaning?
"Alienation All'Italiana," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1970; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), November 6, 1970, p. 1291.
Alberto Pincherle Moravia was born in Rome on November 28, 1907. The commonly held belief that "Moravia" is a pseudonym has no foundation in fact; nevertheless, a number of serious critics have attributed to him the authorship of a book of poems, Diciotto liriche in memoria di Bianca Pesenti (Eighteen Lyrics in Memory of Bianca Pesenti), by one Alberto Pincherle, even though it was published in Rome in 1920 when Moravia was thirteen years old. When I inquired about this alleged "opus primum," Moravia dismissed the whole matter with an ironic smile. True, he said, he had written many poems—"bad" poems—up to the age of sixteen, but they were never published and they have now disappeared. As for the 1920 book, its author, it turns out, is now a university professor of religion by the name of Alberto Pincherle, and, so far as Moravia knows, not a relative. He termed the attribution of the volume in question to a thirteen-year-old child as "monstrous." Pincherle, he said, had been his family's name until the early nineteenth century, at which time he believes his great-grandfather added the name Moravia as a tribute to a Triestine friend who had left him an inheritance. (Alberto Moravia has not used his middle name since 1928 precisely to avoid confusion with Alberto Pincherle.) (pp. 4-5)
"Crime at the Tennis Club" … is a fast-moving story. Its style, somewhat reminiscent of Hemingway, whom Moravia admired, is rapid and precise. Free of wasted words and lengthy, drawn-out descriptions, it reveals a deftness and a formal control which are truly remarkable in an author barely twenty years old…. Basically the characters of this chilling story belong to the same human cast that composes The Time of Indifference: members of a corrupt society which has lost all sense of proportion and purpose, individuals who drift through life unable to resist the attraction of even the most degrading experiences in an attempt to find an escape from the immense boredom that afflicts them. (pp. 9-10)
[The Time of Indifference] is the detailed account of what happens to the members of a Roman family, the Ardengos, and to two of their friends in the course of forty-eight hours. The general structure is thus distantly reminiscent of Joyce's Ulysses…. He points out, however, that what prompted him to limit the narrative to a very brief time-span was chiefly his desire to write a novel that would have some of the characteristics of a play and would respect as much as possible the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. He did not want, he says, so much to "narrate," as to "represent." The Time of Indifference is, in other words, a dramatic fiction. (p. 11)
In retrospect there seems no doubt that this first novel remains one of Moravia's most impressive achievements; some regard it as his very best. Apart from its purely literary qualities—its verbal freshness and aggressiveness, its almost clinical style, bare of external embellishment—The Time of Indifference holds a place of prominence in the history of twentieth-century fiction. Preceding by nine years Sartre's La Nausée (Nausea) and by thirteen Camus's L'Etranger (The Stranger), it is a forerunner of the existentialist novel…. When [Moravia] wrote The Time of Indifference, he assures us, he was not familiar with the writings of Heidegger or Jaspers. By the same token he had not read either Freud or Marx, with whose works he became superficially acquainted only years later. The father of modern fiction—hence of literary existentialism—is, in his opinion, Dostoevsky. And it is to the Russian master, on the one side, and to French nineteenth-century "decadent" writers, on the other, that he personally feels most indebted. Michele's problem in The Time of Indifference is the relationship between man and action, and this is a problem that takes us back to The Brothers Karamazov, to The Obsessed, and of course to Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. (p. 15)
Le ambizioni sbagliate [Mistaken Ambitions] is Moravia's longest book, almost 500 pages of small print. The title derives from the fact that ambition, which the author singles out as perhaps the most destructive aspect of human egoism, is the passion that dominates every activity of the characters in the story. These are no longer, like Michele and Carla [in The Time of Indifference], apathetic and indifferent, but avid, aggressive, cruel, and vengeful. Yet, encumbered as it is by too many characters and plot entanglements, the novel lacks the sharpness of focus of The Time of Indifference. While agreeing that Le ambizioni sbagliate was not successful, indeed while stating flatly that he does not like it, Moravia points out that this book was useful to him insofar as it clarified his own limitations. "It freed me from the obsession of trying to identify with and follow the different viewpoints of different characters," he states. "And it convinced me that, for me at least, the best approach to fiction in our century was that of The Time of Indifference: very few characters and a fairly simple plot. I therefore decided that henceforth I would adopt the viewpoint of only one character." In his subsequent works he abided by this resolution. (p. 17)
The opening pages [of Agostino], which describe the serene, idyllic entente between the thirteen-year-old Agostino and his widowed mother before the arrival of her young suitor—the event that sets in motion Agostino's crisis of alienation and confidence—are possibly the most moving and stylistically brilliant in all Moravia's fiction. These pages are the more remarkable for being the work of a clear, lucid, analytical writer who is much more interested in "substance" than in stylistic effects per se…. In Agostino he sees a poetic component that is perhaps stronger than in other works of his, possibly because of the partly autobiographical aspect of the protagonist. This in turn may account for the "elegance" of the prose even though his main concern was, as always, with the story itself—the drama of the boy's painful initiation into sex and the discovery of sin, his yearning to be a man, the conflict between his tender attachment to his mother and the surging hostility toward her that gradually draws him away. (pp. 20-1)
La romana [The Woman of Rome] is scarcely one of Moravia's best works, despite the fact that it immediately became a best-seller and contributed substantially to his popularity, particularly abroad. It is diffuse, slow-moving, and it suffers especially from failure on the plane of credibility. Paralleling the structure of Moll Flanders, the book is the first-person account of the life of a prostitute and thief, Adriana. Although Moravia tries hard not to intellectualize the narration, only too often the discrepancy between the uneducated, peasant-class girl that the twenty-one-year-old Adriana is supposed to be and certain of her reflections and statements of a social, religious, and philosophical nature is simply too wide to be plausible. Yet, apart from its shortcomings, La romana marks a turning point in Moravia's development as a writer and announces two significant innovations—the introduction into his fiction of peasant- and working-class characters, and the use of first-person narrative—which will lead eventually to remarkable results in I racconti romani (1954), La ciociara (1957), and the brilliant "essay-novels" La noia (1960) and L'attenzione (1965). (pp. 22-3)
[La ciociara (Two Women)] is the story of a country at war, I would say the only major historical novel (with Manzoni's Promessi sposi a distant point of reference) written by an Italian to date with the second world conflict as background. Other fine books, of course, have come out of that matrix; one has only to mention the names of Calvino, Rimanelli, Pavese, Rigoni-Stern, Vittorini, Malaparte, Pirro, Ottieri, and Fenoglio. All these authors, however, have concerned themselves with special, single aspects or individual episodes of those years. La ciociara alone attempts to grasp and portray the collective, choral element of the war experience of the Italian people. In a sense the war is the real protagonist here, since around it revolve all the various characters that make up the large fresco—the soldiers, the peasants, the refugees, the Nazis, the Fascists, the anti-Fascists, the racketeers. Three different planes are clearly distinguishable within the novel's structure, all in relation to the war. First, immediately before the war strikes the civilian population directly, life is almost happy despite the prevailing egoism and general indifference to the suffering of others. Then, as the war's full impact makes itself felt, there is the ever-present sense of physical danger, the anguish of not knowing what the future has in store, and the long, tormenting wait. This second phase has its historical counterpart in the interminable nine months during which the German and Allied forces faced each other across the Garigliano river between September, 1943, and June, 1944, and is typified by the minute, at times even exasperating description of the refugees' daily existence in Sant'Eufemia—a description of over 200 pages, more than half of the book. From this central portion of the novel emerges the only other main figure, Michele [the first being Cesira] perhaps the most "positive" character Moravia has created (and it is significant for an understanding of his development as an author that he should have called the youth by the same name he had given almost thirty years before to the anti-hero of Gli indifferenti). (pp. 30-1)
The third plane in the novel's structure carries us into the period following the arrival of the Allies and the liberation—days of short-lived exultation and hope after which things grow worse than before: the country in ruin, unemployment, and poverty; the sense of guilt for the Nazi and Fascist atrocities; renewed violence, insecurity, despair. To this section belong Rosetta's rape and consequent depravity and perversion, her lover's murder, and the theft of his money by Cesira. Thus, if one keeps in mind that La ciociara's underlying theme is the war, one can also perceive that the figures of the two women have a symbolic meaning: they stand for Italy and the Italians. It is remarkable that Moravia should have achieved a choral effect of this kind with a novel narrated in the first person by a woman like Cesira. The obvious reason is that here he was able to overcome the dichotomy between narrating protagonist and author so often disturbing in La romana, and to attain, in the wake of the emotional impact of his personal experiences, a nearly perfect degree of identification with Cesira and her story. It was a success, however, that Moravia was well aware he could not duplicate, and with La ciociara his period of experimentation with narrating female characters as well as with people from the peasant and working classes comes virtually to an end. In his next two and, at the time of this writing, last novels, La noia and L'attenzione, he has concerned himself anew with the world closest to him, that of the Roman bourgeoisie scrutinized by a male intellectual. (pp. 32-3)
Taking us back in many ways to Gli indifferenti, La noia [The Empty Canvas] is, with that first novel, probably Moravia's most important achievement. Moreover, its interest stems not only from the author's obvious literary mastery—notably his terse, lucid style and highly skillful characterization—but also from the fact that with it Moravia explicitly answers for the first time the question left open by all his works: in an age of insecure, estranged, and boredom-oppressed people, what hope does man—Moravia's contemporary man—have of being able to live at peace with himself, of coming to terms with and finding an acceptable modus vivendi within the reality of his time? (p. 33)
[With] La noia, Moravia breaks the vicious circle of despair and self-destruction in which some of his most typical characters are imprisoned, and in his own way tries to bring to a solution that psychological crisis of modern man's rapport with reality around which, as Moravia himself stated, his entire work revolves. Dino, unable to face reality, attempts suicide: it is the "plunge to the bottom of the abyss" of which Baudelaire spoke. He is saved, one might say, because the abyss somehow rejects him. But his salvation—although he does not realize it until after his narrow escape from death, and possibly not quite fully even then—began with his encounter with Cecilia, who by her elusiveness made it impossible for him to "possess" her and thus to relapse into boredom. And so, Moravia seems to say, if there is hope for man, it lies in the discovering of an "object" which cannot be fully possessed, which refuses to yield the key to its secret, its mystery, its individuality, but can be accepted only as it is, in its unique diversity. (p. 39)
The main interest of L'attenzione [Attention] as well as its message, hinges upon [the] "incestuous" attraction between stepfather and stepdaughter, together with its implications and perils. Moravia, of course, is not concerned with morality in a conventional sense but with the "authenticity" or, if one likes, the quality of love. Francesco's love for Cora had proved "unauthentic" and had led to estrangement and boredom because it was acted upon and consummated. To preserve the "authenticity" of his love for Baba, Francesco now realizes that the only relationship they can have is the one that exists between an author and his characters—a rapport of "contemplation," as he explains to the girl. (p. 43)
To act, then, is by Moravia's definition unauthentic, for authenticity can exist only before one acts. Our world, says Moravia in one of the most striking images in the novel, was authentic before God created it. To maintain oneself, as it were, in a state of authenticity, one must pay "attention" to avoid consuming and degrading by actions what is authentic in man—that is, thought in all its manifestations, from fantasies and dreams to contemplation. Thought-not-translated-into-action is one thing in cosmic creation that is not false: the world—the idea of the world—was genuine and pure in God's mind. And so the only authentic novel is the "diary" in its most spontaneous and direct form, in its closest, most faithful coincidence with thought—even, or rather all the more so, when it records alongside with actual events those that are imagined or invented, as is often the case with Francesco's diary in L'attenzione.
There is of course an obvious and inescapable contradiction in all this. Even a "diary," once written, let alone published and sold commercially, is necessarily an act, and therefore unauthentic. Absolute authenticity in this respect is impossible, but the concept nevertheless subsists meaningfully as an ideal, a myth. The same is true for the ideal of "absolute silence" in poetry: the poet may pursue it in his own mind as the ultimate goal, but must know he will never be able to share it with others, as art. What we are witnessing in L'attenzione is therefore a novelist's search for a compromise between the unattainable absolute—wordless contemplation—and the urge to speak and be heard. The "diary" is described as the purest narrative because it is essentially an anti-novel, a form capable in the highest possible degree of preserving that authenticity of thought which is lost, according to Moravia, in traditional novels, all of which are based on "action."
Certainly with La noia and L'attenzione Moravia has reached an extreme limit in his development as a novelist, and he is well aware of it. "L'attenzione," he admits, "is a turning point in my career, a self-critique of my own work. In a way," he adds, "it is something of a catastrophe for me as a novelist. I know now there are certain things I can no longer do; I do not think I could write another realistic novel, for example. The theatre, I believe, is today the only medium left to me for expressing my ideas." (pp. 43-5)
Luciano Rebay, in his Alberto Moravia (Columbia Essays on Modern Writers, Pamphlet No. 52; copyright © 1970 Columbia University Press; reprinted by permission of the publisher), Columbia University Press, 1970.
"I prefer symbol to reality", the narrator of The Two of Us remarks; and Alberto Moravia himself might truthfully say the same. The great mistake is to hang a label on him saying "realist"; yet this has been done so often that at a popular level he is well established as the Italian realist, telling all, sparing nothing, about the gloomy, sexy Romans…. In spite of exact descriptions, his people are physically nebulous, his places totally unimaginable. One never walks through a real street with him, sits in a solid armchair, tastes his food, touches the flesh or fabric he describes; one has no sense of familiarity with his world. He uses the trappings of realism but achieves no realistic results.
Perhaps he does not want them; perhaps he is deliberately making patterns out of snippets of experience and description, a collage with a meaning beyond the sum of its parts, broader and more suggestive, more interesting. Perhaps; but one never knows; the effect is uncertain, the atmosphere strained. That Moravia is no realist is not necessarily a limitation: realism is not necessarily the highest form of art, after all. But one has a feeling that he seeks to be one; that in spite of a temperamental inability to do so he is still striving to present a world which the reader will find tangible, warm and recognizable—this, even when he deals in allegory or touches on surrealism. Throughout his life he has varied the forms of his fiction, the patterns of the whole; his recent novels and short stories have experimented boldly with new narrative methods. Yet an odd sense of sameness hangs over everything he writes. The pattern of it may vary, but the pieces that make up the pattern (style, plot, contents, characters; more basically and importantly, ideas and attitudes) have varied remarkably little over more than forty years.
In the old unpermissive days Moravia was thought daring. Today, such daring is commonplace; permissiveness means that he can go further in description, but his method is much the same as before. In The Two of Us he writes, as he has always written, of a world in which people are linked by sexual feeling and nothing else; their world is totally without grace or beauty, they themselves are almost always repulsive, yet they fill others and themselves are filled with ferocious, illimitable sexual desire….
The Two of Us is called by its English publishers "savage comedy"; part of its trouble seems to be that (apart from making dull comedy) it is not really savage enough. There is something soft-centred and self-indulgent about it; finally, a sense of triviality, of emptiness. Moravia was at one time much overrated, and is now perhaps underestimated; in this book, he seems to caricature himself, to be grimacing wildly at his own reflection.
"Unaltered Ego," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1972; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), May 5, 1972, p. 509.
Un' altra vita is another collection of short stories by Moravia which, like his Il Paradiso …, is also dedicated to female characters. Although apparently common in inspiration and well rooted in the banality of daily routine, these stories are precise, vividly actual, real, and undoubtedly humoristic and bizarre. Like most of Moravia's works they are concerned with characters who have been stripped of faith and hope, who are often indifferent, lethargic, and incapable of loving or of being loved.
The stories while having an appearance of banality, at the same time reveal the strict tie existing between appearance and reality, normality and madness. One thinks of Pirandello and his world, since, as in Pirandello, madness often seems to be the last refuge of human dignity; also, Moravia, too, is a virtuoso of the cold, unpitiful art of conciseness.
One of the dominant themes in this work, as in most of Moravia's fiction, is the moral decadence of the middle class. The characters, female or male, are largely depicted as aimless human beings who seem only to be preoccupied with material, sensuous, or hedonistic concerns. Their family make-up is often inadequate in some way and these antiheroines breathe an air of sterility, meaninglessness, and unsatisfying relations in a world which is defective in some way….
The everpresent dichotomy between illusion and reality, bad faith and authenticity, is one of the most powerful messages and themes of the stories. Thus, for every character there exist possibilities of unveiling "another life" that would have to be created but which almost invariably reveals itself as unseizeable, elusive, and impossible. (p. 156)
The world of language as a means of communication, or non-communication, in this universe of duality where the image of "another life" is always present or possible depicts the alienated, futile, aimless lives of Moravia's characters. And if the atmosphere which pervades their existence is one of boredom and indifference, of "noia" in a word, then their language remains a faithful mirror of their world. (p. 157)
Anna M. Kinsella, in International Fiction Review, July, 1974.
Alberto Moravia's collection of essays, Which Tribe Do You Belong To?, focuses initially on the contrast between traditional and modern Africa, and the incongruities in the juxtaposition of the two. But it soon becomes evident that what really interests Moravia is a deeper contrast—between himself as Western man, clothed in many centuries of history, and Africa, naked, natural and "antihistorical."…
As a reporter, Moravia is both richly observant and severely honest. Perhaps because he is not attracted to what is modern or European in the countries he visits, he does not concern himself with the interpretation educated Africans give of their own society and is entirely unselfconscious about his reaction to what he sees. Throughout, his account of both the natural setting and the people is imbued with the idea that Africa represents "pre-history."…
In his encounters with the human inhabitants of this land, Moravia is fascinated chiefly by the extent to which they still represent what he calls "antihistory" or "nature itself."… [Sometimes] he is the rather severe European, a thinking reed, and at other times he is empathetically absorbed into their primitive environment. (pp. 22-3)
Instead of trying to close the gap or to locate human traits he has in common with these people (his detachment would be almost impossible for an American), he finds a new sense of himself in perceiving the differences. His observations as a layman are sometimes simplistic, but he still manages to illuminate for other laymen a rather mysterious social milieu….
The Westerners who colonized the continent get short shift from Moravia…. He is not always immune from the same errors himself, however, as when he—repeatedly—speaks of Africans in general as "childish."
He is also insensitive to contemporary African politics….
[Beyond] the essential glibness of his [economic] analysis (he does not, after all, claim to be writing a book about "development"), he is limited in this area by his focus on the continent's past. (p. 23)
Jennifer Seymour Whitaker, "Visiting the 'Other Africa'," in The New Leader (© 1974 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), December 9, 1974, pp. 21-3.
Moravia, who has composed a fresh, even impudent book about his tour of Red China [The Red Book and the Great Wall], is one of the best travel writers in the world; in English only V. S. Pritchett can match his sharpness of phrase and flair for generalization. Before the muddled, stubborn refusal by everything save the animals to be picturesque gets to him, he says [in "Which Tribe Do You Belong To?"] a number of beautiful things about the Dark Continent and its inhabitants:
The Africans walk; for their long, indefatigable legs space is needed.
Indeed, all these Africans who were hurrying in small groups toward the market seemed already to be having a foretaste of the moment when they would plunge into the crowd and, mingling with a great number of others in the clouds of dust, in the sweat and the noise, would rid themselves of the unstable, troublesome superfluity of individual difference….
[Of a masked dancer] This mask, in fact, was not intended to arouse fear; it was fear…. The face, enclosed in the stocking and covered with shells like a reef under the sea, was an allusion to the inability of man to show his face in competition with prolific, overpowering nature. (p. 109)
Some of Moravia's perceptions, like the things perceived, repeat to the point of monotony; the image of a red-dirt road as a bloody wound recurs close to a dozen times. But his eye remains basically attentive, his attention basically loving; some of the best pieces (few more than six pages long) are among the last, as he wanders from Timbuktu to the Mountains of the Moon. He combines the passive, even dazed traveller's receptivity to random detail with the thinker's determination to see through—to observe, as it were, aggressively. His essays not only describe to us wonders we will never visit, they tell some of us who were there what it is we saw. (p. 110)
John Updike, "Through a Continent, Darkly," in The New Yorker (© 1975 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), March 24, 1975, pp. 109-15.
Alberto Moravia's study of alienation in The Conformist goes far beyond both political ideology and philosophical persuasion to the origins of identity and social behavior. By Moravia's own admission, the plot structure of the novel is weakened by implausible contrivance; yet the strange personality of Marcello Clerici is an absorbing fictional presentation of a pattern which has interested psychoanalysts and social psychologists for over a generation. (p. 79)
[Moravia's characterization of Marcello] is consistent with the conclusions of social psychologists and psychoanalysts. To study Moravia's fiction in this way is not to convert literary criticism to clinical analysis, but to observe the skill of a writer through a distinct but parallel discipline, and ultimately to understand his strategy better. Moravia's "conformist" is a fictional variant of the classic authoritarian personality, haunted by guilt, psychotically anxious when confronted with the possibility of being different, hostile, masochistic, ruled, as he thinks, by an implacable fate, and surviving on a construct of lovelessness and indifference….
Moravia's problem artistically was to bring his character to a vision of freedom, but such freedom is a new world…. Marcello as fictional character was not created, however, for freedom…. His death is the only possible solution artistically, for a new perspective—a different Weltanschauung would destroy the universe in which as personality type he survives. (p. 84)
Diana Culbertson and John A. Valley, "Alberto Moravia's Melancholy Murderer: The Conformist as Personality Type," in Literature and Psychology (copyright © Morton Kaplan 1975), Vol. XXV, No. 2, 1975, pp. 79-85.
Moravia's continuing obsession with writing in the first person as a woman gives one the sneaking impression that a drag queen has been lurking all the while under that lugubrious, thin-lipped exterior. The stories in Lady Godiva, neatly tailored to newspaper length, i.e. about five pages in a book, tend to begin with some such sentence as … 'Two days before my wedding I was in my bedroom, with the dressmaker who was fitting my wedding-dress'. There follows usually rather banal philosophisings about the nature of matrimony, the problems of children and clothes, the boredom of domestic routine, the consequences of jealousy…. The heroines dream, sleepwalk, or muse about a past they cannot quite remember, a present they can't clearly identify…. Each anecdote, few of them with either narrative interest or local flavour, ends on a dying fall, with a calendar-like bromide…. [Their] flat conclusions, true though they may be for the dispirited and listless women of Moravia's Rome, give to this new collection a dejected pointlessness that is as devoid of irony as it is of life.
A sense of humour was never much in evidence in Moravia's writing, and his prose has grown plainer as the years go by. But in his earlier books, whether written under Fascism in a deceptively allegorical style, such as The Fancy Dress Party, or showing such touching empathy with adolescent affection and distress, like Agostino and Disobedience, or those in which sexual awakening, lust or jealousy created unbearable tensions—The Time of Indifference, written in 1929 when he was only 22, Conjugal Love, A Ghost at Noon, up even to The Lie (1966), there was a sense of real people reacting to real situations, however much they felt confined or pressurised by them.
Few of Moravia's main characters, either then or since, have given the impression that ideas or relationships were quite worth the candle, and his apparent distaste for Italian middle-class affluence and the ways in which capitalist life works itself out, gives nearly all his post-war novels a lowering atmosphere of disapproval never compensated for by any alternative vision. His numerous novels and stories about prostitutes and workers have an air of mechanical contrivance, his obvious sympathies weakened by the puppet-like creatures to whom his allegiance is extended. With the sex in his books becoming increasingly perfunctory and the air of impotent alienation stronger, the one motivating force that led his men and women to act, however despairingly and disillusioningly, has largely disappeared. What remains are characters who exist only through their clothes or their domestic environments, their situations manipulated by an author who no longer seems to care about the outcome, let alone about the reasons for it.
The themes of Moravia's Roman stories, and such later novels as The Empty Canvas, seem, in consequence depressingly repetitive and monotonous in a way that is not merely the expression of dull people trapped in their banality…. Moravia describes lives that have neither vitality nor validity, and whose apparent aimlessness he projects into a sour philosophy that Sartre, Beckett, Ionesco have contributed to. (pp. 109-11)
Moravia has shown little interest in the form of the novel or in the writing of prose as an adventure in texture or shape or elision. He is, despite his involvement in films, a curiously non-visual writer, his prose free of both striking images and metaphors. In a basic sense, compared, say, with Gadda or Fenoglio, he is old-fashioned. Yet for over 30 years he seemed a master of his craft, modern in sensibility, politically and socially aware, rewardingly vulnerable to human crisis and swings of mood. What has failed, perhaps, has been a personal conviction stronger than the essential melancholy of his temperament. Without adequate belief in the sustaining magic of love or the restorative powers of art, he has in recent years set out on long journeys round the world, his brooding moroseness confirmed rather than removed, his curiosity scarcely engaged.
He still spins his stories for the readers of newspapers—even quite good ones in a modest way, like the title story of this book—but the zest and the involvement are no longer evident. Those who got from Moravia in the thirties, forties and fifties a sense of being part of their time, of seeing its hopes and failures, as also its excitements and humiliations, given a quickening context, will, it seems, now need to look elsewhere. There are in Italy many good novelists, but none, alas, who take hold of the imagination quite as Moravia did in his heyday. (p. 111)
Alan Ross, "Drag," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1975), August/September, 1975, pp. 109-11.
How sad that a writer of Alberto Moravia's distinction should descend to the banalities of Lady Godiva. This is a collection of tasteless, packaged anecdotes, all the same size and texture, like sliced bread. You would have to be a literary transvestite to receive the faintest frisson. The narrator is always a woman, often wearing 'a bulging blouse' with only one button, and sometimes carrying a revolver or a dagger. The phrase déjà vu is used frequently, but there are only flat, perfunctory statements about being-here-before or lost identity, and, with the possible exception of the title-story, little real attempt to evoke atmosphere or character. (p. 386)
John Mellors, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1975; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), September 18, 1975.
Alberto Moravia is a brass-necked pig. I am surprised that [Lady Godiva and Other Stories] together with all the chauvinist monstrosities perpetrated by those other lackeys of male domination Henry Miller, Norman Mailer, Sigmund Freud, Enid Blyton et al, has not been publicly burned.
The man has had the impudence to write a bestiary of modern Italian womanhood. As if women were quaint insects for him to mock at will. He encages them in prose and labels each species with denigratory titles like 'A Good Daughter', 'A Sleepwalker', 'Suburbanite' and 'Lady Godiva'. Then, even worse, as if unsatisfied by playing the gentleman naturalist, he turns transvestite and inveigles himself into skirts and tights, writes all his scurrilous tales in the first person singular.
But seriously now, if I were a woman—which thank the Lord I'm not, sir—and 'conscious' of the oppression of my sex, I would regard Moravia with some alarm and grudging admiration. To invade the female preserve with such confidence you need a sound knowledge of your subject. By producing characters which consistently ring true, Moravia reveals a compassion and perception which make Miller and Mailer look like naughty boys writing dirty words in a urinal.
It is perhaps a bit misleading to say all his characters ring true. Most of them are completely nutty, and nasty with it. They rattle around like peanuts in a can in a personal world circumscribed by neurosis, convention and intellectual penury. Presented individually as they are in these stories they seem very bizarre. But as I look around me, I realise I am indeed surrounded by such creatures. There is no reason why Moravia should not have devoted these stories to men. Certainly the men who do appear are just as loony as the women, and others of their kind could be afforded hours of bewildered scrutiny. But Signor Moravia obviously does not have the same compassion for men, and I suspect that he would not feel quite as comfortable in brogues as he does in heels….
All Moravia's women are animal women, although they do not all, like the horse woman, see themselves as such. Quite the contrary; they are all too concerned with trying to be socialised humans. Their efforts make them utterly humourless people but very amusing to read about. (p. 56)
Robert Eagle, in Books and Bookmen (© copyright Robert Eagle 1975; reprinted with permission), January, 1976.