Alberto Moravia Moravia, Alberto (Pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle) (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Moravia, Alberto (Pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle) 1907–

Moravia is an Italian novelist, short story writer, dramatist, essayist, and film critic. In his fiction Moravia depicts a world of bourgeois decadence, peopled with characters whose response to life is alienation and indifference. His work is noted for its unsentimental depiction of sexual relationships, stressing the unfeeling, amoral qualities of man in the modern world. Considered to be the leader of the neorealist school of writing in Italy, Moravia produces prose that is spare and colloquial. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 7, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed.)

Douglas Radcliff-Umstead

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The theater of the Italian futurists and Pirandello, in which] man is at the best a machine or at the least an impassive block of wood,… influenced the youthful Alberto Moravia in writing his first novel The Indifferent Ones…. The plot was consciously structured into two days, like two acts of a drama. The cast of characters was restricted to five figures. Indeed, as in a stage work, the author maintained a strict economy of words and gestures for the characters. There is an obvious theatricality about the novel. The characters move from a living-room to a dining-room as if the stage sets were shifted. Some of the characters hide behind a curtain to spy on others. Just as a crucial moment is about to be reached, a door opens and a maid enters to hinder an extreme solution. Although the scene is Rome, the city is but a backdrop for the theatrical action of the novel….

Of the main characters Cavalier Leo Merumeci is the most dynamic and resolute, crass but concrete. He holds a position with the Ministry of Justice and Mercy; the irony is transparent here as Leo is neither merciful nor just toward others but predatory. He is a petty capitalist, not a grandscale entrepreneur but a manipulator of property and a cautious stock exchange speculator. With his business affairs Leo is enthusiastically involved in the false relationships of the world. (p. 45)

Unlike the other characters Leo has no tormenting secret desire, and thus his activities are limited to an animal level. He never investigates his life as does his hesitant adversary Michele. The nonintellectual dynamism of a self-satisfied character like Leo can transform a man into a puppet. He turns on emotions like a machine…. (pp. 45-6)

[Mariagrazia is also puppet-like,] a walking grotesque mask…. The thickly powdered face, with all the vain efforts to conceal age, is both silly and indecisive. The widow never understands what is going on about her. Her behavior is childish. She struts about with a wounded sense of dignity which is ridiculous in a person of her licentious character…. Her movements are like those of a jerkily operated marionette…. It is as if Mariagrazia has no mind.

But the widow does have her value standards, those of a snob who has always led a life of ease and fears poverty…. Her children are at the most for her an extension of the widow's ego. Mariagrazia is a...

(The entire section is 996 words.)

Louis Kibler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Moravia] considers himself a realist writer: … he has steadfastly defended realism against all other artistic currents. His defense is founded on humanism, on the idea of man as an end and not as a means; and among the arts, realism alone is humanistic…. (p. 4)

When Moravia speaks of reality, he is often referring to objective reality, that reality which exists independently of human consciousness and which would still have intrinsic value even if there were no men. In the novels of Moravia objective reality is most commonly evident in things, in the object experienced by Moravia's characters as a physical presence. It is simply there, contingent (in that there is no apparent reason for it to be there, but it cannot not be there) and autonomous, for it exists in a dimension different from that of human beings, lending itself to neither definition nor explanation nor possession by men. The object can have meaning but it does not have a meaning. This is the conclusion at which Dino, the protagonist of La noia, finally arrives…. Recognition of the existence of things "outside" is the first step toward creating a rapport with objective reality, which in La noia is analogous to Dino's relation with Cecilia, his enigmatic mistress whom he has tried in the past to possess completely. By renouncing possession of her …, Dino affirms the autonomous existence of Cecilia and of objective reality…. (pp. 4-5)

What a thing is cannot be explained; one can only say how it is, and even that unsatisfactorily: a thing is … a thing…. Ever since Leo in Gli indifferenti said: "La vita non è né nuova né vecchia, è quello che ê" [Life is neither new nor old, it is what it is] …, Moravia has consistently and with increasing frequency used the tautology. Since the publication of La noia in 1960, it has become the proposition around which revolves his expression of objective reality. The tautology is congruous to Moravia's predilection for word games and paradoxes. It says nothing—and everything; it turns back on itself reflecting the autonomy and contingency of the object. Certainly the tautology is not a satisfactory definition of objective reality; yet it is the only proposition conceivable because, as Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out, it is undeniably true, and it does not limit reality whose limits, if any, are not known. (pp. 5-6)

[Objects] in Moravia often possess a curious vital force …. This mysterious life force is … present in the objects that appear in the story "Invischiato."… (p. 6)

The life force or Eros or, as Moravia usually calls it, nature, is also evident in less concrete phenomena such as intuition, a quality that in the Moravian scheme of nature is antithetic to reason and will. Intuition has its origin in nature; reason and will, which seek to dominate nature, are potentially anti-life forces in the service of Thanatos, the force of death and chaos. Despite its contradictions, variety, caprices, and freedom, nature is not chaotic; it possesses an unfathomable but nonetheless certain coherence manifested in the continuity of life. Among Moravia's characters, those most closely attuned to nature are women like Cesira in La ciociara … and, especially, Adriana, in La romana…. The Roman prostitute has no illusions about her life: she has a clear and apparently innate sense of what life is and of what she is, and she accepts both. For Adriana life is not abstract but concrete, neither the dream of a future paradise nor the memory of Eden lost; it is not what will be or was or ought to be but what is, here and now, in the present…. Mino is just the opposite. Having founded his life on reason and will, he can accept neither life nor himself; his destiny is controlled by the forces of death, and he ends a suicide. Adriana is Eros incarnate and, like nature, she guarantees the continuity of life: she ends her story bearing within her womb a child. Of all Moravia's characters, Adriana is the most deeply infused with the life force; in harmony with things and nature, she has achieved a total rapport with physical and non-physical objective reality.

The very form of the phrase "rapport with reality" implies a second term, that which is in rapport with objective reality. This second term is subjective reality: man's consciousness of himself as something other than and different from an object. Subjective reality is not limited by objective reality: it encompasses thought, will, emotion, memory, dreams, imagination. The central problem of...

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Zahir Jamal

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A finely attentive and judging engagement with the female predicament has always disinguished Alberto Moravia's work from that of conventional male well-wishers. The speaking subjects of the 30 self-portraits voiced in [The Voice of The Sea and Other Stories] make up an alertly differentiated chorus of ever more recognisable and unsettling identity. In brief, lucid accounts of harmonising or counter-pointed theme, Moravia's women interpret, with ominous detachment, their estrangement in contexts where they figure chiefly as commodities. (pp. 219-20)

Moravia's watchful prose alertly notices the bewildered, involuntary nature of these self-assertions; the puzzled, distant challenge to themselves of women who confront, behind their 'enigmatic' narrations, the strangers of their consciousness. (p. 220)

Zahir Jamal, in New Statesman (© 1978 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), August 18, 1978.

Paul Bailey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Voice of the Sea is a collection of thirty stories—all written in the first person, and all narrated by women. Moravia's Roman ladies are a predatory bunch, maintaining a firm metaphorical grip on the balls of the men they choose to make contact with. What is interesting about them is the fact that they are curiously insubstantial, in spite of the numerous references to their bodies: those carefully described breasts and pudenda could just as well belong to some other species. Their various states of mind are set down rather clinically, so that one seems to be reading a series of case-histories. The psychological dossier is no substitute for the achieved work of the imagination.

With one exception, the monologues in The Voice of the Sea are mercifully short—the screams fade away after three or four pages. Some of the trick endings would make O. Henry's ghost blush; the contrived conclusion of the story called "Thunder and Lightning" for example, is signalled as early as the third paragraph….

Of Moravia's concern for the plight of women in present-day Italy I am not in doubt; I am convinced, too, by his contempt for the men who run his country. His message is always clear. The Voice of the Sea is a tract for the times. I expect more than tub-thumping, though, from a novelist hailed as "foremost". I expect from him those insights that Bassani so agonizingly, and with such effortless artistry, conveys in The Smell of Hay; I expect fantasy that comes without contrivance, as it does in the novels of Calvino; I expect to find the atmosphere of a city suggested with the minimum of scene-setting: Moravia's Rome could be anywhere, unlike Sciascia's Palermo, which is its unique and awful self. The Voice of the Sea is a shrill book; shrill with Message, and oddly lacking any sense of the individual life.

Paul Bailey, "Ladies of Prey," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), August 18, 1978, p. 924.