Alberto Moravia’s first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Indifferent Ones, 1932; also known as The Time of Indifference, 1953), published when he was only twenty-one years old, preceded by several years the existential writings of Jean-Paul Sartre. Existentialism, in Sartre’s words, is nothing more than an attempt to draw all the consequences of a coherent atheistic position. Existentialism declares that even if God exists, God’s existence changes nothing. Existentialism, being a doctrine of action, is basically optimistic. It has frequently been found to be the opposite, however, given its severe and uncompromising bleakness. Existentialism was born of the falling away in Europe from the Christian faith. Philosophers and writers such as Albert Camus and Sartre in France, Martin Heidegger in Germany, and Moravia in Italy, in taking a hard look at the truth of existence in the twentieth century, have been dubbed pessimists. Messengers of a wicked world, they have been mistakenly called wicked themselves.
Existentialism is interested in authentic acts, acts done for their own sake, for the sake of the conscience of the doer, and not to impress others. At times, Moravia takes an extreme view, whereby the authentic can exist only as a dream, fantasy, or thought; any attempt to implement the authentic is bound to degrade it. Throughout Two Women, Cesira, the narrator, displays differing qualities of thought. As soon as it enters the world of action, her mental life finds itself compromised. Existence is filled with contradictions; for example, Cesira is forced to depend on the goodwill of people she loathes and despises. People justify even the most barbaric behavior with words. The double role of language is shown clearly in this book: how it is used to cover things up, even to hide the meaning of a person’s deeds from the speaker, but how, from time to time, language can speak truth.
Moravia is very skillful at depicting Cesira’s inner life through her narration. As the narrator; she is the reader’s primary source of information, but her judgment of situations and persons is not necessarily accurate—it is colored by her own biases. She can be admired or deplored according to whether her thought is firsthand and forthright or secondhand and (often) manipulative. The reader’s...
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