Alberto (Pincherle) Moravia 1907–1990
Italian novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, playwright, scriptwriter, travel writer, editor, and journalist.
Moravia is one of the foremost literary figures of twentieth-century Italy, certainly the most widely known internationally. His use of existentialist themes, based on mass indifference and the selfish concerns of the bourgeois world, predate the writings of Sartre and Camus. In his exploration of the human relationship with reality, Moravia presents a world of decadence and corruption in which humans are guided primarily by their senses and where sex is valued over love. These themes have been repeatedly explored and reworked in all of Moravia's writings.
Moravia's sensibility was shaped in part by a painful battle with tuberculosis that left him bedridden and isolated during his adolescent years. He spent the time reading and writing avidly and then achieved major success with his first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Time of Indifference). The novel depicts sex as the basic psychological principle and most significant activity of modern humans. In a world of isolation and apathy, the characters in The Time of Indifference use sex (or money, or politics, in ways that relate to sexual obsession) as a means toward achieving happiness, but are doomed because their sex is loveless. The novel drew praise for its psychological insights and its portrayal of a world approaching total disillusionment.
As an antifascist during Mussolini's regime, Moravia came precariously close to being labeled an enemy of the state. In the fiction he wrote at this time, he depicted people using others as a means of self-satisfaction but cloaked what could be seen as allusions to fascist politics in allegory and satire. During this time he traveled extensively as a journalist. He was forced to flee Rome in 1943, living for several months among peasants in rural Italy. His fiction became more socially conscious and Marxist-oriented at this time. In the long short story Agostino (1947), widely regarded as a classic of the genre, an adolescent becomes aware of sexuality and also the plight of the lower classes in a story of deep psychological probings and social implications.
During the 1950s Moravia turned from Marxism, advocating instead intellectual solutions to world problems. He began writing "essay novels" in which ideology plays as important a role as the story itself. He also abandoned use of an objective, third-person narrator in favor of first-person narration in order to depict the world subjectively. The two volumes of short stories that make up Racconti romani (1954 and 1959; Roman Tales), contain many of Moravia's best works. Because of his repetitive themes and his journalistic style of writing, many critics have concluded that Moravia is most effective when writing within the short story framework.
Moravia's concerns in more recent years have been the dehumanizing effects of society and technology, the human psyche, and the breakdown of communication. With the recent novels La vita interiore (Time of Desecration, 1980) and 1934 (1982), Moravia again concentrates on the obsessive qualities of politics, money, and sex. Time of Desecration examines mod-ern day terrorism while 1934 takes place during Mussolini's regime at the time of Hitler's rise to power. The critic Stephen Spender views 1934 as a brilliant work, especially in its contrasting of Germany's active and Italy's passive acceptance of totalitarianism.
That all of Moravia's work is essentially an extension of themes presented in The Time of Indifference has led to contrasting critical opinion of his oeuvre. Some critics judge him an artist of limited range who has contributed no stylistic or structural innovations to the novel or the short story and who covers the same ground over and over. Most critics, however, appraise Moravia as an artist who is exploiting the full potential of his concerns, using classic storytelling devices to present the preoccupations of modern human beings. Indeed, Moravia's work displays many of the leading schools of thought of the twentieth century: existentialism, Marxism, psychology, phenomenology, and the role of the artist. Moravia himself is oblivious to charges of monotony, believing that all artists must pursue the single problem they are born to understand.
(See also CLC, Vols. 2, 7, 11, 18 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)