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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...

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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.)

JOAN ROSS and DONALD FREED

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First, and foremost, Moravia is a storyteller and human behavior is at the core of his fictional world. Though at times the writing is tedious, a little contrived, or a little too polished, it is always very much alive. At his best, Moravia emerges as a rare cynical genius who illuminates his world with a penetrating psychic understanding. Indeed, his insights are handled with the depth and subtlety of a master psychologist. As his characters reveal their needs; our own necessities are disclosed. To understand Moravia fully is to lose our "intolerance"; he makes us aware, conscious, knowing. We cannot escape facing the challenge to be compassionate and different. In Moravia's work it is always the individual that counts. (pp. 151-52)

Moravia's view of life emerges as essentially tragic. His great fear is that man has become a machine, an automaton or "thing," more fearful still, a means. "The use of man as a means and not as an end is the root of all evil." He has said, "Man is automatically not to be happy, that is the human situation." However, it is out of this very morbidity, this unflinching courage in portraying man as he is, that Moravia's vision becomes heroic. Faced with the absurdity of life, an absurdity which equals suffering, his characters nevertheless survive. Man can rise above adversity…. Man does not have to be destroyed by circumstances; he has the inner resources to conquer defeat and avoid destruction. Whatever the horrors, man can survive.

Over and over Moravia uses crime and brutality to illuminate man's absurd condition. Violence and crime make man aware of the other extreme he is capable of through love; hence, a higher existence is revealed. Compassion, that capacity to feel sorrow, solidarity, sympathy—to suffer, not only for your own predicament but for that of others—is the key to Moravian love. To be willing to assume the sorrows of others and to suffer because of (and with) others is the challenge which Moravia would demand us to accept. Instead of the old pity and terror of literature, the existentialists present us with anguish and radical solidarity.

Moravia has gone beyond the bleak, sordid vision of [his first novel] Time of Indifference. In subsequent works his perception has deepened and matured. Out of this intense vision we sense a true empathy for the condition of modern man. This growth toward understanding and compassion is that factor which earmarks Moravia's greatness; he has gone beyond the existential nausea of Time of Indifference to existential compassion in the later works.

The author has made the statement that, "The writer's task is to perfect the one problem he was born to understand." Certainly, he himself has taken this task seriously. Over and over in his desolate, gloomy, ironic world, the central theme that emerges is the relationship between man and reality. Further, as Moravia's world is a carnal one, his characters most often establish their own reality through a relationship with the opposite sex. As this is accomplished, all other relationships fall into proper perspective…. Moravia's preoccupation with the sexual motif is not carried to the point of abuse as some critics feel. He, himself, is willing to clarify this motif.

My concentration on the sexual act, which is one of the most primitive and unalterable motives in our relation to reality, is due precisely to this urgency; and the same can be said of my consideration of the economic factor, which is also primitive and unalterable, in that it is founded on the instinct of self-preservation that man has in common with animals … sex in the modern world is synonymous with love.

Who can deny that love is a very frequent subject in the literature of all times and all places? But, someone will say, has love been transformed into sex in modern literature … has it lost the indirect, metaphorical and idealized character it had in the past, and so ended up by being identified with the sexual act? The reasons for this identification are many; the chief one is the decline in the taboos and prohibitions which too often compelled false idealizations of the erotic act in an artificial way.

In this existential framework of Moravia's, the quartet of love, existence, reality, and suffering are irrevocably joined. They interlock, interrelate, overlap; they are interdependent. Without love man does not really exist—"he is a mere dehumanized item of existence." Existing implies a new perception and enlargement of reality. As the struggle to exist (conversion) defeats the forces of nonexistence, nihilism, and absurdity, everything changes. All things are seen in a new way—a new reality emerges. Camus, too, seems to traverse this same path back to life via the absurd and suicide. He would have us jolted from the monotonous pattern of our everyday lives…. A new vision is the beginning of revolt for Camus, as therapeutic in its consequences as conversion is for Moravia.

Moravian reality, as we now understand it, is inextricably linked to love, to compassion; that capacity to feel anguish, solidarity, tenderness, and sympathy. Further, through this love, this compassion, man suffers; not only out of his own predicament but for the predicament of others. He must be willing to assume the sorrows of others—to suffer because of, and with others. This reality is filled with pathos as it is intimately merged with the sense of experience as suffering. It is through love that man suffers. Suffering becomes the contingency of love. Man is exalted through love when he can face this contingency; when he has the courage to commit himself to love even though he knows that this exposes him to the possibility of great suffering. Commitment to love, without the possibility of overlooking the risks, is what makes man, fine, elevated, superior, the overman.

Man establishes the sense of his own identity, his own reality, becomes himself in the most profound terms when he loses himself in a love relationship. As man loves, he transcends the banal, the common, the narcissism of everyday existence; he experiences that which is better than himself. His perception of himself, of objects, of nature, of the world around him becomes valid and meaningful. Through love he suffers, and by suffering he can understand, he can know, he can experience, he can feel, he can act—he is alive.

Reality is coeval with love. As man loves he gains the sense of reality. But love is fleeting, this is the paradox. Man is expelled from the world (reality) through loss of love. He can find ways of loving—never permanently, but he is sustained by the memory of love; hence, exile then return through memory to love. (pp. 152-56)

There is in Luca a long dream passage of exquisite nature imagery [in which a character dreams he is a tree]. This passage might be interpreted as a hymn to the totality of Moravia's life-view. It is, at the same time, a summary of the lyric existential reality. (p. 156)

Like a tree, man, too, springs from the earth and is nurtured by it. Man, his arms raised to the sun, is free—he captures that sense of "aggressive freedom" and "unlimited exploration." He may be limited by the bounds of his own imagination, but Moravia sets him free to exploit these bounds. Man must live his life to the fullness of his freedom and his imagination. In reading this dream passage we feel the rush and joy of life pulsating in our veins, I-Thou.

Moravia is wholeheartedly committed to the writer's greatest task, that of explaining the condition of man in a chaotic universe. From the very start of his literary career Moravia has always asked the fundamental question—how is man to deal with reality? How is he to conduct himself in a world which has become "dark and unplumbable—worse still, had disappeared"? To that singular problem Moravia addressed himself in his first novel and continues the quest to this day with a deepening understanding of man's predicament. Propelled by this quest he endeavors to give us as complete a picture of man as possible. And always, the cause and cure of problems must be found in man's inner self. As if he were born to write endless variations on one story, his style is persistent. Persistence of style—that is the existential equivalent to the old "character."

Moravia comes to grips with the torments, the pettiness, the emptiness, and the hollowness which plague contemporary humanity. He does feel compassion for man's lot and he has intimate knowledge, through personal deprivation, of man's suffering. And the perceptiveness and penetration with which he delineates man's suffering is a measure of this radical solidarity. He opts, finally, for love, but like the older Mediterraneans he knows that Eros, as Hesiod wrote, breaks the bones. He is able to stand this risk. He instructs us that if man is to sustain himself in a brutal society he must do so by love—a total commitment to another human being. Moravia speaks to us of ourselves. He is truthful, he is authentic. Is not authenticity the highest praise we can accord any artist in these times or, for that matter, any man? (pp. 158-59)

Joan Ross and Donald Freed, in their The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia (copyright © 1972 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), Southern Illinois University Press, 1972, 172 p.

Michael Wood

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Albert Camus suggested that suicide was the only philosophical question, and Alberto Moravia's new novel ["1934"] centers on a character who thinks of little else. More precisely, he wonders whether suicide is the only solution to despair or whether despair may not, as he puts it, be stabilized, accepted as "the normal condition of man … as natural as the air we breathe." "What did I mean by 'stabilize'? Somehow, imagining my life as a Nation, to institutionalize despair, recognize it officially … as a law of that same Nation."

Lucio is a young Italian hanging about Capri, peering into the melancholy eyes of Beate, a German woman he has met there. He is a student of literature, a translator of Heinrich von Kleist, the German dramatic poet whose short life ended in a double suicide, and he sees in the girl's "unhappy and stubborn look" not only a trace of moody German Romanticism but also "the sorrow of the world." Sure enough, Beate is contemplating suicide and would like to make Lucio a partner in a pact. High tragedy and silliness mix here—"It's all bad literature," Lucio thinks—and there are wry, awkward jokes…. Then Beate leaves Capri with her husband and is replaced in Lucio's pensione by her twin sister, who is also her moral opposite, full of sauciness and life. After that the plot takes a couple of fancy twists it would be unkind to reveal. (p. 11)

In 1934, the time of the novel's title and action, Mussolini had been in power for 12 years and Hitler for one. Hitler speaks on the radio and is heard by eager German holidaymakers—"He was not a concise speaker," Lucio laconically says—and word of the Night of the Long Knives reaches Capri by telephone. We are meant, I take it, to connect what Lucio calls his "psychological adventure" with the larger shifts of history. But how? Beate says her husband "horrifies" her, because "his hands are stained with blood." Does she simply mean that he is a Nazi and she is not? Or has she more specific violences in mind? Does she mean anything at all, or is she playing a gloomy game for Lucio's benefit?

There are, I think, two major implications in the novel. The first is that Fascism creates a world of salutes and gestures, a bullying theater where people either perform or are persecuted and where, therefore, many of the performers are merely hiding behind the tokens of loyalty. It will be hard to tell believers from pretenders in such a world, and zeal itself will begin to look like a parody, since, as Lucio slyly says, there are "things too true not to be feigned." At the same time, as is made clear by a story Lucio gets from a Russian exile he has run into, dictatorships need not only spies but agents provocateurs, who can tamper with reality more substantially. "An informer seeks the truth; the provocateur constructs it."

Despair is especially relevant in this context, because it is what must be concealed in forward-looking epochs. "What … could be more authentic than despair in times of terrorist dictatorship, and what, in the same times, less authentic than a healthy joy in living?" We are given a striking image of this treacherous, distorted universe very early in the book, when Lucio describes the landscape of Capri as "lying": The mountain looms, menacing, while the sea looks calm and reassuring, yet the sea is in fact the more dangerous. Which is realer, Beate's romantic sadness or her twin's hearty appetite for food and sex? Which is more German? What if both are only disguises?

The other implication is subtler and more profound. Lucio wants to "institutionalize" his despair. We may feel he is not thinking of despair at all, merely flirting with some distant relative of it, and indeed another character says to him that "true despair is not talkative." But then Lucio's doubts actually reinforce the sinister point. To glorify a despair that is less than real is frivolous as well as morbid. And either way the whole procedure plays into Hitler's hands, makes Lucio, the declared anti-Fascist, the unwitting accomplice of his enemies. He wants what they want. They too want to institutionalize despair, except that they are calling it joy.

The novel raises good questions and shows that Moravia, at 75, is far from flagging. It is perhaps a little too tricky for its own good, and Lucio is something of a stooge, as characters in Moravia's works often are, a creepy, cerebral fellow who is always several steps behind events. Moravia has craftily built ratiocinative, literary habits of mind into Lucio's character, and I suppose this disarms the critic. Or maybe not. Lucio thinks like a book. Perhaps his being in a book is not the perfect alibi. (pp. 11, 30)

Michael Wood, "Desperate Remedies," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1983 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 8, 1983, pp. 11, 30.

John Shepley

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Durer's famous angel, Melencolia, has a way of alighting in some unexpected places. One of these is the first page of Alberto Moravia's new novel [1934] …, where the symbol of intellectual depression turns up as a passenger on a boat from Naples to Capri…. If [the narrator Lucio] can plausibly contrive the suicide of his novel's hero, he thinks, there will be no need for him to follow suit: "I would save myself through writing."

The sight of the woman on the boat overturns this resolution. Lucio embarks on a prolonged flirtation with her, endures the insults of her husband and pursues the couple (who turn out to be Germans) to a pensione in Anacapri. So attuned is he to the situation he has created that he even guesses their name out of thin air: Müller.

Before long, he is attributing to Beate Müller, with apparent confirmation forthcoming at every step, the motives of Heinrich von Kleist, and casting himself as a male Henriette Vogel, the woman with whom the German Romantic writer carried out a double suicide pact. The game is suspended only temporarily when the Müllers leave the island to return to Germany. They will be replaced by Beate's mother and twin sister, Trude, with whom, Beate explains, she and her husband will cross paths in Naples.

It is soon obvious, of course, that the twin sisters are a fiction: Beate and Trude are the same woman. The problem is which, if either, is the "real" one—the melancholy, suffering, suicidal Beate, or the vulgar, gluttonous "life-loving" Trude, an exuberant Nazi. From then on, nothing is quite what it seems. Lucio, in fact, is the victim of a hoax. Mother and daughter turn out to be a lesbian couple. A package containing shoes is replaced by one with a bomb, and before it has a chance to go off, the package is found to contain shoes after all….

[Lucio] undergoes humiliation and sexual manipulation. An anti-Fascist, he is conned by Herr Müller into giving a Fascist salute in the dining room of the pensione. On a boat with Trude, she obliges him to lower his bathing trunks so that she can inspect him and be sure he is not circumcised. She then uses his foot to masturbate herself. One grows a little impatient with this fellow; he seems a poseur, a prig and a fool. The project for "stabilizing despair" that he describes to everyone seems all too literary and artificial, especially since he acknowledges his "familiar mood of despair at not being in despair."

Yet it is precisely this ambiguity that enables him to carry out his assigned role: to interrogate himself and others, to probe, to ask what are often the wrong questions and thereby elicit lengthy confessions. Capri itself—at first an unlikely setting for the somber thoughts and morbid impulses accompanying an examination of political sadism—suddenly becomes the ideal stage for this masquerade and the proper destination for Dürer's gloomy angel. The sphinx that overlooks the sea as Lucio follows Sonia up the steps of Shapiro's villa ensures that although a charade is being enacted, the right questions will ultimately be asked.

It takes the intrusion of Hitler (talking on the radio) to restore these actors—and the reader—to reality. In a brilliantly executed and appalling scene in the stuffy, oppressive, 19th-century parlor of the pensione, the German guests gather to listen to their Führer, while an animated argument breaks out between two of them over the supposed virtues of the traditional German student duel. This is too much for Lucio, who for the moment abandons his efforts to separate the personae of Beate and Trude. The art collector Shapiro (clearly modeled on Bernard Berenson) is trundled on stage to impart a cynical and ironic bit of advice to the younger man on how to overcome despair: "Get rich." Then Hitler is heard congratulating himself on the crushing of a "conspiracy" in Germany—it is the Night of the Long Knives. A double suicide takes place on schedule, and a tragic dimension is restored.

John Shepley, "In the Fascist Shadow," in The New Leader (© 1983 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), Vol. LXVI, No. 10, May 16, 1983, p. 21.

Joshua Gilder

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Alberto Moravia's The Conformist, perhaps his most famous novel, was in many ways a convincing portrait of fascist psychology, but I for one never understood what lesbianism had to do with it all…. Still less could I make out in Moravia's last novel, Time of Desecration, what mother-daughter incest, troilism, and sodomy had to do with terrorism in present-day Italy. Now 1934 returns us to the lesbian-fascist nexus (again with incestuous overtones), and in a subplot we hear about two sodomitical Trotskyites in pre-revolutionary Russia. Don't Christian Democrats ever get kinky?

Moravia's earlier stories were often brilliant little studies of erotic compulsion. But the erotic component has steadily drained away, until all we are now left with is the compulsion. Time of Desecration read less like a novel than a case study of sexual pathology, and one notices an almost clinical quality to Moravia's writing in 1934 as well….

[The novel] proceeds through a number of Magus-like changes of identity, leaving Lucio bewildered and the reader, unless he is a Fowles fan, increasingly irritated. The most frustrating aspect of it all is the feeling of having ended up precisely where one began. The revelations of identity beneath the disguises don't add up to revelations of character, and Lucio, for all his psychic turmoil, never seems to change.

The connection between sex and politics remains just as much a mystery as ever. Perhaps they're both just plausible motivations for an obsession that, by this point, seems to have taken on a life of its own. Moravia writes with a fetishistic intensity that, for a while at least, draws you in and carries you along. But one soon realizes that the logic of his obsession has brought him full circle, and that he's traveling in a tighter and tighter orbit around an ultimately inaccessible center. The third or so time around, one begins to weary of the trip.

Joshua Gilder, "Love on the Right: '1934'," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1983 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 16, No. 21, May 23, 1983, p. 88.

Stephen Spender

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The contrast between the Italian and the German temperament is a central theme of [1934]. Since in 1934 both countries were under dictatorships that distorted the way people behaved, the contrast is seen ultimately as one between different styles of playacting: Mussolini-style fascism, which for the Italians was a matter of rather superficial conformism, and Hitler-style Nazism, which for the Germans demanded a total submergence of all individuality within the party, and which dragged the Italians down with it. Lucio and Beate are both opposed to the dictatorial regimes of their countries. Yet when Lucio is greeted by Herr Müller raising his arm vertically in the Hitler salute, he gets a sign from Beate and raises his arm horizontally in that of the Italian fascists.

The point surely is that all personal values, even those of the opponents of totalitarianism, are falsified by such dictatorships. (p. 25)

The year 1934 is the year of the falsification of everyone's values, the dissolution even of his or her personal identity, the destruction of personal relations. Lucio discovers that in his love for Beate he is forced into the role of playacting when—Beate and her husband, Herr Müller, having returned to Germany—they are replaced by Beate's twin sister, Trude, and her mother. Trude is in every way the opposite of Beate: instead of being doomed and intellectual, she is frivolous and vulgar, indeed obscene. Beate was anti-Nazi, just as Lucio is antifascist (despite, as we have seen, his having given at a sign from her the Fascist raised-arm salute).

Beate, in their one snatched conversation, has told Lucio that she detests her husband because "his hands are stained with blood." Trude talks with religious fervor of the bliss of submerging one's identity in the party. She contrives a situation in which Lucio exposes his penis in order that, before making love to him, she may discover whether he is circumcised. It would be blasphemy against the party for her to sleep with a Jew. But after all this, she reveals to Lucio that in fact she is not Beate's twin. She is, in fact, Beate. Nor is her mother her mother. Both of them are actresses who have been playing roles in order to teach a lesson to Lucio whom, in his harassment of Beate and her husband, they take to be, like all Italians who go to resorts in order to seduce girls, a Casanova.

The reader, like Lucio, may disbelieve all this, except that at the end the story takes a tragic turn, which is perhaps evidence of the truth of one relationship—that of Beate/Trude with the fellow actress who has been playing the role of her mother. The morning after Hitler's speech Paula and Beate telephone Germany, and learn that Beate's husband is one of the victims of the Hitler purge of Roehm's followers. On hearing this, they go to a place called La Migliara and commit suicide by swallowing cyanide tablets which Beate has stolen from her husband. Thus the German lesbian couple achieve the double suicide which is the logical conclusion of Kleist's double suicide with Henriette Vogel.

To convince the reader a story such as this, with a plot so full of seeming improbabilities, has to be a tour de force, written with great virtuosity—and Moravia succeeds triumphantly in this (he is also beautifully supported by his translator, William Weaver). The reader has to be kept not just looking forward while following a story which, like the one of Kleist that Lucio is translating, seems always to be thrusting him on, but also looking back so that every new and unexpected turn of events elucidates what has happened before. For instance, when Trude explains that she is really Beate and has no twin sister, the reader has mentally to reinterpret Beate's behavior from the moment when Lucio first sees her on the ship going to Anacapri. When he does so, he finds that everything Beate has done, which perhaps he took at face value, is indeed elucidated by the revelation that she has, in the opening scenes of the novel, been acting a role. The difficulty produced by the narrator, of course, is that the reader does not know what to believe. And this is the truth of the book: that within the external situation of the Italian fascist-German Nazi relationship it is impossible to accept as authentic virtually anything people do.

This is underlined by a curious episode—the relationship between Lucio and a character extraneous to the rest of the action, a Russian refugee, a woman of middle age, who sleeps around with waiters, sailors, everyone who will have her. Lucio goes to her with the intention of working off some of his repressed sexual energy reserved for Beate. In fact, at the last moment (a very depraved one) Sonia rejects him, saying that there is something about him that is cruel and that scares her. She then tells him her story: she was a Russian revolutionary who disobeyed orders to kill her lover, a double agent. The episode, which took place when she was twenty-seven, killed her, she says. She is really a living corpse. The character and her situation underline what must certainly be taken as the moral of Moravia's book, but Sonia seems superfluous to the story of Lucio and Beate/Trude. The insistence on political truth intrudes on the truth of the imagination.

Another episode that seems extraneous occurs in the penultimate chapter when Lucio visits the famous art dealer and collector Shapiro, who is Sonia's employer, in order to discuss with this wise and famous art historian the problem of his despair. The evocation of Bernard Berenson, very exactly described, is wholly enjoyable, even though it has little to do with the rest of the novel. Shapiro/Berenson's advice to Lucio illuminates Berenson's cynicism more than Lucio's despair. It is, quite simply, "Get rich." He then launches into a description of his Latvian childhood that Moravia must surely have heard from Berenson himself.

The episode of Sonia is perhaps too politically schematic, identifying Russian communism with Italian and German fascism; and that of Shapiro/Berenson is perhaps too journalistic. Nevertheless, 1934 is a wonderful invention. It starts with Kleist and Kafka and never loses its sense of them; but it is also a book in which fantasy, reality, and some deep truth about how personal relations are disfigured by the loss of freedom are all fused with Italian bravura. (p. 26)

Stephen Spender, "Victims of Politics," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; copyright © 1983 Nyrev, Inc.), Vol. XXX, No. 11, June 30, 1983, pp. 25-6.

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