Alberto Moravia Analysis

Other Literary Forms

ph_0111207100-Moravia.jpg Alberto Moravia Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Alberto Moravia’s role as a leading figure in twentieth century Italian literature resulted from his lifelong commitment to writing prose fiction in what he described as theatrical form. A prolific author of novels, short stories, essays, film scripts, travel books, and movie reviews, Moravia achieved international respect. He collaborated with other authors and noted directors on screenplays for the more than twenty of his novels that were adapted for film. For a time he coedited the magazine Nuovi argomenti and regularly contributed articles to the Milan newspaper Corriere della sera. He also wrote a weekly movie column for L’esspresso. Moravia traveled a great deal, often meeting with significant political figures and regularly interacting with other artists. As a young author, he served as a special correspondent to the periodicals Libera Stampa and later to La gazzetta del popolo. His travel writings include volumes of exceptional quality on India, China, and Africa.

Achievements

The immediate success of Alberto Moravia’s first work, Gli Indifferenti (1929; The Indifferent Ones, 1932), signaled the beginning of a new era for Italian literature. Published when he was only twenty-two years old, the novel is considered by many to have been his greatest. Moravia’s replacement of the traditionally ornamental Italian prose with unrelenting realism and his themes of ennui and despair paved the way for the development of existential literature. In the postwar years, he became the first Italian writer of the twentieth century to achieve international recognition. The consistent popularity and sale of his works contributed to his later prominence and wealth. In 1952 he received the prestigious Strega prize for a collection of short stories, I racconti, 1927-1951 (1952), selections from which have been translated and published as Bitter Honeymoon and Other Stories (1954) and as The Wayward Wife and Other Stories (1960). He received the Viareggio Prize in 1961 for La noia (1960; The Empty Canvas, 1961). Throughout the 1970’s Moravia occupied a prominent role in Italy. Political parties vied for his support and the press routinely reported his views on a variety of events and people, including his own literary achievements and personal life. In 1984 he became a Communist member of the European Parliament, planning to devote his entire tenure solely to promoting nuclear disarmament.

Other Literary Forms

Alberto Moravia was a very prolific writer, with the novel and short story his preferred forms. His most famous work, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Indifferent Ones, 1932; also as The Time of Indifference, 1953), called Italy’s first European novel, is also the first distinctively existential literature of the twentieth century. In addition to penning several translations, plays, and screenplays, Moravia wrote critical essays about drama and the cinema and adapted several of his novels—Il conformista (1951; The Conformist, 1951) and La ciociara (1957; Two Women, 1958), for example—to film. Besides his travelogues covering disparate locations and some thirty years, in the final decade or so of his life he created some delightfully irreverent children’s literature.

Achievements

In The Indifferent Ones, Alberto Moravia created the first existentialist novel. With the success of that book, Moravia emerged as one of Italy’s leading literary figures, and with the translation of La romana (1947; The Woman of Rome, 1949) twenty years later, his reputation spread to the English-speaking world. He received a number of awards for his writing: the Corriere Lombardo Prize in 1945 for Agostino (1944; English translation, 1947), the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1952), the Strega Literary Prize for Il disprezzo (1954; A Ghost at Noon, 1955), and the Viareggio Prize for La noia (1960; The Empty Canvas, 1961). Although his fiction rarely strays far from Rome and his themes hardly vary in his many works, he created an impressive body of work that depicts the plight and struggles of modern humans regardless of geographical location.

Other literary forms

Though he is known primarily as a novelist, especially outside Italy, Alberto Moravia was equally productive as a short-story writer. Not available in translation until the 1950’s, Moravia’s short stories brought him considerable recognition in his own country. The majority of Moravia’s short stories appeared in collected form, usually after an initial publication in a literary journal or newspaper, in the following volumes: La bella vita (1935), L’epidema: Racconti surrealistici e satirici (1944), Due cortigiane (1945), Racconti romani (1954; Roman Tales, 1956), Nuovi racconti romani (1959; More Roman Tales, 1963), L’automa (1963; The Fetish, 1964), Una cosa è una cosa (1967; Command and I Will Obey You, 1969), Il paradisio (1970; Paradise, and Other Stories, 1971; also known as Bought and Sold, 1973), Un’altra vita (1973; Lady Godiva, and Other Stories, 1975; also known as Mother Love, 1976), and Boh (1976; The Voice of the Sea, and Other Stories, 1978). Two useful comprehensive editions of Moravia’s stories are I racconti, 1927-1951 (1952) and I racconti di Alberto Moravia (1968), though they must be supplemented by the collections published subsequently.

In addition to his fiction, Moravia also published and produced a number of plays, including...

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Achievements

Alberto Moravia is an important figure in the history of modern Italian literature for several reasons. First, and for some literary historians most important, is Moravia’s popularity with a large, widely dispersed international reading audience. He is, by far, the most widely translated modern Italian novelist. Every one of his novels has been translated into English, for example, as well as nearly all of his shorter fiction. This international popularity is, no doubt, helped by the frequent practice of marketing his works as soft-core pornography in paperback editions, so that his work is made to appeal to an audience much wider than those who would read it solely for its literary qualities. This practice is made possible by the prominence of sexuality in Moravia’s fiction, but it would be misleading to think of this erotic content as an end in itself.

In his own country, Moravia’s reputation is based primarily upon his relation to the neorealist movement in the arts, in which he occupies a key position. The neorealist aesthetic was first defined in a critical essay published by Arnaldo Bocelli in 1930. In this essay, Bocelli used Moravia’s first novel, The Time of Indifference, as an example of the advent of a neorealist aesthetic that—in attempting to present the everyday experience of typical, representative characters in a concrete, realistic way—opposed the convention-bound formalism of the Hermetic tradition. In the eyes of the public, however, it was not so much Moravia’s first novel that established him as an important neorealist as it was the popular series of tales he wrote describing the life of the Roman working classes. These stories—most of which first appeared in the Milan newspaper Il corriere della sera—were told by lower-class characters themselves in their Roman vernacular. It was these Roman tales that brought Moravia widespread recognition as a leading neorealist and won for him the Strega Prize in 1952.

Bibliography

Aillaud, Charlotte. “A Visit with Italy’s Man of Letters.” Architectural Digest 45 (March, 1988): 210. Discusses Moravia’s childhood, during which he read extensively while convalescing from tuberculosis; Moravia contends he would like to have been a painter because painting is “closer to reality than writing.”

Dego, Giuliano. Writers and Critics: Moravia. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1967. A valuable overview of Moravia’s early production, with discussion centering on his naturalistic presentation, his remarkable descriptive ability, his major theme of alienation, and his ceaseless exploration of crisis....

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