Characters Discussed

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Riccardo Molteni

Riccardo Molteni (mohl-TEH-nee), a screenwriter. When he was an impoverished theater critic, Molteni lived happily with his wife, Emilia, although he always yearned to do more for her. When a film producer named Battista hires him to write a screenplay, he does so and is a success. From the moment he begins his new career and acquires more money, however, Emilia gradually turns away from him and rejects him. Insecure and puzzled by Emilia’s cold behavior, Riccardo is driven frantic by her rejection. He seeks ways to recapture her love and return to the old days when they were happy. He does not give up his screenwriting or his affluence and loses Emilia.

Emilia Molteni

Emilia Molteni, Riccardo’s wife, a former typist. A beautiful young woman, she was content when she and Riccardo lived simply and together in spirit. She secretly comes to resent Riccardo’s new job, their new apartment, and his extravagance, but she refuses to admit that her feelings have changed and continues to deny her indifference to him, even though it makes him unhappy and insanely jealous. Emilia is unable to adapt to the new level of affluence that Riccardo has earned for her.

Signor Battista

Signor Battista, the film producer who gives Riccardo his first job as a screenwriter. Battista is a middle-aged man, short and sometimes called “the big ape.” He has found rich success in the Italian film industry of the postwar era. Materialistic and vain, he nevertheless pretends to be interested in films only as art. He considers using Homer’s The Odyssey as the subject of a film and views the various events in the story as opportunities to titillate film audiences. Battista symbolizes the crass and sensational aspects of the Italian film industry and films in general. In his speech, Battista also represents “culture” as traduced by commerce, and he becomes upset with anyone who hints that he is materialistic.

Herr Rheingold

Herr Rheingold (RIN-gold), a German film director called in to direct the film of The Odyssey that Battista proposes. Silver-haired and with the “Olympian” features of a great thinker, he is a man of the past, having reached fame in the 1930’s as a director of German films in the colossal style. Rheingold disagrees with Battista that Homer’s poem can provide the basis of a sensational film. Instead, Rheingold wants to make the film a psychological study of a man who is unhappy with his wife and hesitates to return home. This view in a way harmonizes with Riccardo’s worry over his own dilemma about Emilia. Thus, Riccardo often agrees with Rheingold during script discussions, though he does not agree with Rheingold’s personal interpretations of the story.


Pasetti (pah-SEHT-tee), the director of Molteni’s first film. A maker of small commercial films, Pasetti nevertheless professes great admiration for the arts and presents himself as a cultured man. He lives with his devoted wife, and Riccardo envies him tremendously for this domestic bliss, although he dislikes Pasetti’s pretensions. Pasetti is typical of the kind of entertainment people with artistic ambitions who filled the Italian film business in the 1950’s. Pasetti also displays the pettiness of the little tyrant when he pretends to withhold Riccardo’s check temporarily. It is this gesture that makes Molteni despise and envy the director.

The Characters

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The three male characters are defined by their attitudes toward success, Emilia, and the Odyssey. The personality of the film magnate is shown by his possessions, his films, and the tasteless desecration of the palace in which he works. Battista is apelike in appearance and drives a luxurious red sportscar. His fast driving, his womanizing, his villa on Capri, his habit of judging everything ultimately by the profit it will make are used by Moravia to establish the contrast between the superficial and amoral “glitz” which marks modern success and the ancient traditions and simplicities of Mediterranean life, which live on in Emilia.

The fact that Emilia comes from an old Roman family in decline immediately suggests the fate of tradition and older values in the modern world. Emilia’s beauty, her struggle against the mode of life and the friend her husband has chosen, her love of home, of integrity, her sound instincts and the uneducated and uncorrupted simplicity of her judgment give her dignity. Her husband’s incomprehension, hysteria, and self-pity arouse the reader’s sympathy for her. Her largely passive resistance, her entrapment, and her occasional telling statements enable the reader to understand her, though the narrator does not.

Molteni is not an attractive character. He is arrogant, chauvinistic, and largely incapable of self-criticism. Ultimately, perhaps, he is childish; for him everyone exists solely in relation to himself. Yet he does love Emilia, and he has a real appreciation of the Odyssey, of the lands of antiquity, and of ancient honor and faithful love.

In these traits he is opposed to Rheingold, the nattily attired, arty, blond German just back from America. Rheingold represents the Freudian, psychologically reductive aspect of modern thought, its lack of respect for tradition and its pursuit of novelty. It may be that the narrator, while functioning primarily as a vehicle for the story and as the husband of Emilia, should also be seen as a representative modern man, seeking his way in a world of conflicting values, living in a society which offers substantial rewards for the meretricious.

Only Emilia has a counterpart in the Odyssey: Penelope, the Queen, the keeper of the house, the child, and the Kingdom. Emilia is killed because an oxcart gets in the way of a fast car driven by Battista, who represents the tawdriness of the modern world.


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Cottrell, Jane. Alberto Moravia, 1974.

Heiney, Donald. Three Italian Novelists: Moravia, Pavese, Vittorini, 1968.

Pacifici, Sergio. The Modern Italian Novel: From Pea to Moravia, 1967.

Ross, Joan, and Donald Freed. The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia, 1972.




Critical Essays