Aron Hector Schmitz Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Italo Svevo (SVAY-voh) is an important author whose works have never quite achieved popular success. He was born Aron Hector Schmitz, in Trieste, in what was then Austria, in 1861, the fifth child of Jewish parents Francesco and Allegra Moravia Schmitz. The household was affluent, and Svevo, called Ettore Schmitz in those years, had a happy childhood. His father, more through diligence than astuteness, had become a prosperous businessman, a feat of which he was intensely proud. Hoping that his sons would follow in his footsteps, in 1873 he sent Ettore and his brother Adolfo to business school in Germany, where Ettore displayed utter indifference to commerce, preferring philosophy and literature. Several years later, however, he found himself forced into the business world when his father’s business dealings suddenly failed, and Francesco, who had taken such pride in being self-made, spiraled into depression and senility. This event left a great mark on Svevo, who as a writer was to imbue his characters with a sort of self-induced senility. As a result of this catastrophe, Svevo went to work as a bank clerk to help support the family, and this job provided the inspiration for his first novel, A Life. Published in 1892 at his own expense, the book recounted, with the ironic character analysis that would be Svevo’s stock-in-trade, the day-to-day existence of a daydreaming bank clerk. Six years later, he published a second novel, As a Man Grows Older, which describes a man’s attempts to aggrandize his unremarkable love affair. Both books were ignored.{$S[A]Schmitz, Ettore;Svevo, Italo}

Svevo’s marriage to his cousin Livia Veneziani in 1895 eventually afforded him a position in his father-in-law’s very successful paint manufacturing company. Daydreaming and writing seemed inextricably bound for Svevo, so when he went to work for Livia’s parents, he swore to abandon writing in order to concentrate on his job and, amazingly, kept his vow for more than two decades, indulging his creative desire only to the extent of producing an occasional article or short story for his own amusement.

During these years, however, at least one person provided encouragement. Svevo had engaged an English tutor, a struggling Irish writer named James Joyce, to whom he gave copies of his books. To Svevo’s surprise, Joyce responded enthusiastically, yet the books remained in oblivion until the paint factory temporarily closed during World War I and, twenty years after the publication of his last novel, Svevo’s thoughts again returned to serious literature. He began to compose what is today generally acknowledged as his masterpiece,...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Aron Hector “Ettore” Schmitz, who took the pen name Italo Svevo, lived in and wrote about Trieste. He grew up in a patriarchal Jewish family but in 1896 reluctantly converted to Catholicism when he married his cousin, Livia Veneziani. Even as a young boy Svevo was obsessed with writing, but his domineering father, Francesco Schmitz, decided his son had to prepare for a business career. Svevo first attended a Jewish elementary school and then completed his education in business schools. In 1890 he went to work for a bank and later joined his wife’s family business. Throughout his adult life, Svevo led a dual existence, spending his days engaged in business and devoting his free time to his real love, literature.

After Italian literary circles ignored his first two novels, Svevo, considering himself a failure, dropped his plans for further novels. “I can’t fathom this incomprehension,” he wrote: “It shows that people just do not understand. It’s useless for me to write and publish.” He did continue to publish but confined himself to essays and short stories. In 1905 he met James Joyce, who praised his novels and encouraged him to continue his work. In 1923 Svevo published Confessions of Zeno and sent a copy to Joyce, who introduced it to leading figures in the literary world. Prominent European critics took notice, and starting in 1926 Svevo finally began to be honored as a major writer. By that time his health was failing, and on September 13, 1928, after being injured in an automobile accident, he died.