Alberto Moravia Moravia, Alberto (Pseudonym of Alberto Pincherle) (Vol. 18) - 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 amorality of contemporary Italy. Moravia is considered the leader of the neorealist school of writing in Italy. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 7, and 11.)

Giose Rimanelli

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Moravia is to be differentiated from the first generation of writers in this century for he does not speak about the "call of Art," and his style is the opposite of that of the former Italian school of "prosa d'arte." He is intensely concerned with the problems of Being and Existence in our epoch and sheds much light on the sexual aspect. His achievement is certainly important and impressive, but he can convey only one aspect of the present metaphysical illness. This is as it should be. Moravia has not tried to force on us an acceptance of his aspect as the whole picture, but has tried to develop as deeply and as thoroughly as possible the different facets of his main themes…. (p. 39)

Moravia's first works read with the same effect as a psychology laboratory report…. The importance of such works as Gli indifferenti (1929) cannot be underestimated from the point of view of theme development, but the later works (post-1945) are of much more importance. The switch from the traditional third-person narrative that is omnipresent and all-knowing to the subjective first-person narrative is one important change. Moravia is able, by using this technique, to convey a lived feeling of experience of isolation, alienation, and indifferentness.

Moravia's work develops in three directions: the social, the Freudian and the existential. Either in Agostino (1945) or La disubbidienza (1948), the social aspect—again centered upon the bourgeois society—remains in the background while the psychological study, embroidered with the existential vision of the world, becomes very detailed in these two short novels. (p. 40)

Moravia is characterized by his majority of novels in the first person. These are also his best literary achievements. Injecting his ego into the protagonist he tends to view the world from the inside out, revealing in the process his own psyche, his own emotions and frustrations.

Moravia reveals himself to us in diverse forms. He usually concentrates on the lives of the bourgeois and the lower classes, giving us a cross-section of the two in conflict, or both operating together in hierarchical order. There is no doubt that his best literary accomplishments are the short stories, the Racconti romani (1954) of which he is an undisputed master. In this realm he concentrates on the lower classes of Roman society offering us many facets of their quotidian existence, which are at once valuable as source material for this particular stratum of society and a rich source of Moravian psychological motivation. The longer novels are sometimes boring and overly stuffed with descriptive padding. One has the notion that the longer novel form simply proportions Moravia a more extensive means of releasing his own psychological tensions while the short story concentrates on a more predetermined form within the classical elements of Aristotelian drama, complete with catharsis.

It is a well-known fact that Moravia strives to create a vivid sense of dramatic participation through just such an element as the theatre itself. The novels all participate in a strikingly theatrical resemblance to character entrance and exit, dialogue and final cathartic release. (pp. 43-4)

Moravia's novels are repetitious on the theme of sex-money and the theme of sex-death (which is left ambiguous), and it should be recalled that Moravia feels that one good tune is good enough, that good writers have a truth that is self-repeating. And repetition is an essential and recurrent ideal in existentialist thinking. Marcel's fidelity, Heidegger's interest in the reaffirmation of primitive philosophical questions, the rhythm of withdrawal and choice in Jaspers or Sartre, are merely the most obvious examples of this characteristic of a philosophical approach which is interested in exploring and deepening individually-realized experiences. Moravia shares a peculiarity of existentialism in...

(The entire section is 1627 words.)

Louis Kibler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Among Moravia's works, Gli indifferenti is the best example of a novel written in advance of its time. The ideology to which it adheres is most commonly identified as existentialism, yet Moravia denies having written the novel under a conscious influence of existentialism. Gli indifferenti is exemplary also of those secret and dark sources of creativity that, as if by miracle, make coherent what should by reason be chaotic: just as Moravia was ignorant of the existential content of the novel, so is it likely that he was unaware of the original and effective technique of imagery in Gli indifferenti. Through images Moravia suggests, coherently and systematically, the contingency and chaos of objective reality. (p. 316)

Moravia has stated that the years following World War I were marked by a collapse of the traditional ethics upon which the established scale of values had been founded. The resultant crisis in the "relationship between man and reality" has been the dominating theme of his work. In Gli indifferenti [this] theme is most evident in the characters of Michele and Carla…. (pp. 316-17)

[Carla] is fascinated by the physical state of things. She seems to sense that objects conceal some secret from her, a knowledge or a reality that is denied her…. [Yet] Carla never fully understands things and her relation to them…. [Her] confrontation with existence induces a trancelike state…. Carla nonetheless in certain privileged moments perceives in objects a coherence looming so real that she can almost grasp it; yet it fades inevitably at her approach…. (pp. 317-18)

Carla's problem is [thus] her incapacity for understanding or even accepting the contingency of objective reality. (p. 318)

Michele is an intellectual, and his relation to objective reality is more complex than his sister's. He is less interested in static "thingness," more interested in movement and in the way the various phenomena of objective reality interrelate. Above all, Michele seeks the relation between his subjective reality and objective reality. He wants to use objective reality to transform his feelings into actions, to create a bond between cause and effect. And he will be satisfied with nothing less than the establishment, between these terms, of an equation having all the cogency and substance of a mathematical proportion. (p. 319)

Carla's experience with objective reality may be studied in a few privileged moments represented by single images; this is not true of Michele. For him objective reality is not for contemplation; he values it either instrumentally (as the means to achieve an end), or symbolically (as the representation of an abstract reality). Since Michele always considers objective reality in its relation with something else, it is in the relations among images that one must seek his experience and the expression of his rapport—or lack of it—with objective reality. Yet despite their different attitudes, Michele and Carla share in the anguish born from their common desires for the impossible: they are like Tantalus reaching out for a reality that recedes forever from his grasp. Michele would like for abstractions to have the concreteness of objective reality, Carla wants objective reality to have a soul. Brother and sister are victims of an existential pathetic fallacy. (p. 320)

The recurrent metaphor of the mask [in Gli indifferenti] epitomizes the deception of appearances. Although it most frequently characterizes the expression of Mariagrazia's face …, it is equally appropriate to the others; for each at times conceals his feelings, his anguish, and often his emptiness behind a mask of acceptable social behavior. And just as Michele and Carla hide themselves from others, so do they feel that a more certain and absolute reality is hidden from them. Their vision is beclouded, a veil separates them from the full perception and attainment of that reality. When they try to see, to understand, the veil is there in all its many forms.

One of these forms is rain…. But rain, like many of Moravia's images, has more than one symbolic value: it is also the objectified inability of the characters to escape from their present situation to a new life. It is as though they were trapped in an aquarium or drowning without hope of rescue in a limitless sea. The rain in Gli indifferenti, like the omnipresent clouds and fog, has a peculiarly oppressive quality. Dense far beyond its weight of water, it involves and suffocates like the veil of cloth with which it is often associated. (pp. 320-21)

Throughout the novel the efforts of Michele—and to a lesser degree those of Carla—are directed toward the achievement of a new kind of life…. Both hope to find some means that will cut through the veil that separates them from their ideal reality, something that will take them beyond the fog and the rain.

The two images most prominently associated with what Carla terms the "new life" are those of the automobile and the blade. The former appears frequently in the novel, providing a cinematic link between the theatrical scenes of the novel…. [The] auto is a mobile refuge from their immobile daily lives. With the drone of the motor and the swish of the tires on the wet pavement filling the silence …, they can give themselves...

(The entire section is 2213 words.)

Robert Alter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"Time of Desecration," Alberto Moravia's 21st volume of fiction, is an odd and intriguing experiment in using the erotic novel as an instrument for the scrutiny of political behavior. Though occasional allusions are made to the ideal of revolution, though Marx is once actually discussed by two of the characters, scarcely anything happens in the novel that is not explicitly, claustrophobically, steamily sexual. The effect of the book, however, is quite the reverse of the conventional erotic novel. There is nothing rousing or arousing about the relentless sequence of sexual scenes: Sex for the female protagonist is alternately a sordid means to an end and a ghastly trap; and her flat-toned narration of her erotic...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Anne DuchêNe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


[Time of Desecration is] unremittingly cold, cruel, claustrophobic lubriciousness.

It is Moravia's first novel for eight years. His very first—we should remember—appeared in 1925. Several novels, in the almost uninterruptedly productive career since, have made honourable places for themselves; and many in the vast crop of short stories were legitimate and skilful peelings off the pain and panic and dissociation in modern minds.

Benign convention has accepted for a long time now that Moravia's novels have been becoming increasingly pornographic; but even the last, The Two Of Us, in 1972—chiefly a dialogue between a man and his over-large, over-active penis—was still slightly humanized by comedy, a little tenderness, and some glimpses, however unsurprising, of chicanery in the Italian film world. This new book allows no such relief….

Some wider metaphor may, loyally, be sought beyond the time-honoured écrasement of the bourgeoisie, which is really a pretty worm-eaten and hollow old statue now, and easy to knock over. The book's English title may suggest we have descended another rung or two in the Dantesque spiral since Time of Indifference (1929), one of the Moravia's better novels. The Italian title of the new novel, La Vita Interiore, from which the English publishers presumably decently withdrew, suggests Moravia may really want to lament that chaos is come again—on the basis of the nasty influences on silly Desideria, and her ludicrous reactions to them?—and darkness closing in over men's minds.

Yet on the evidence here, he is one of those engaged in putting out the lights all over Europe, and helping to rot the remaining fabric even while deploring its decay.

Anne Duchêne, "Putting Out the Light," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1980; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4029, June 13, 1980, p. 664.

Vivian Gornick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Alberto Moravia, has now, with the publication of his new book Time of Desecration, announced that he … is finished writing novels…. [He declares] that the time is so spiritually destroyed, it is no longer possible to write. This last novel of his, he implies, will supply the final literary proof of the barrenness in which we endure, more dead than alive, without the thought or feeling necessary to the act of self-creation embodied in the writing of fiction. (p. 37)

Time of Desecration is an extraordinarily controlled piece of work, heavy-handed in its allegorical intentions, emotionally unconvincing, narrow, obsessive, ungenerous. The limits of discovery seem to have been set well...

(The entire section is 530 words.)


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Almost alone among established Italian novelists, Alberto Moravia has tried to adapt to present-day reality the techniques he has developed over decades of professional writing. His new novel, Time of Desecration, is an attempt to reveal the psychology of young people who are in rebellion and who are desperate enough to engage in anti-social activity. The Italian title, Inner Life, more accurately reflects Moravia's intention than the English title, for he is concerned with the private motivations of his characters and cares little about political slogans or the details of terrorist activities. (p. 34)

[Desideria] reveals herself as one caught between two worlds, each of which is filled...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Robert M. Adams

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like other novels by Moravia, Time of Desecration is set in Rome, its central character is a woman, its action concerns the contamination of sex by money, politics, guilt, and revenge—or vice versa. The prose is precise, seemingly effortless, unmannered, a deft instrument for analysis and definition; yet the sharp outlines and primary colors in Moravia's work mask interior violence reminiscent of a Pirandello play. External description is sparse. But there are two rather striking differences in Time of Desecration. The story is told in the form of an interview—that is, in questions formulated by the narrator "I" and answered by the heroine Desideria. Moreover the heroine, in addition to (or, rather,...

(The entire section is 980 words.)

Jeffrey Burke

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I began by liking Moravia's Time of Desecration. In its interview format (a pointed nod to the legendary Oriana Fallaci), an inquisitor, designated I, extracts from a young woman named Desideria the story of her early introduction to sex, politics, and terrorism….

I admire Moravia's ability to sustain an interesting story in the tiresome format of question and answer. His I is appropriately objective, curious, and skeptical, maintaining the same distance from Desideria as he interposes, by the journalistic format and tonal flatness of the writing, between the novel and the reader. The technique serves both narrative and ideology. In short, I appreciate the author's art.


(The entire section is 270 words.)