Alberto Moravia self-published his first novel, Gli indifferenti (1929; The Indifferent Ones, 1932; also known as The Time of Indifference, 1953), at the age of twenty-two, and it became an overnight scandal in Italy. Controversy swirled about Moravia, who was called immoral by some, while others pointed out that he was simply the messenger bringing the bad news about the collapse of Italian society. Six more novels consolidated his reputation in Italy, but it was not until The Woman of Rome was published in English in 1949 that he achieved an international reputation.
Moravia was a thinker who wrote novels to embody his ideas, which often concerned the present and the ways in which it differed from the past in European civilization. People were losing touch with their humanity, he said, and they were becoming caught up in a life of action rather than in a life of contemplation. Humanity was no longer its own goal; human beings were being turned into a means to another end. Moravia believed that the mindless, uncontemplative activity of modern people, whether acquiring money or squandering it, amounts to nothing, and that, he added, is what modern art embodies: nothingness.
The bustle of Euro-American civilization in the twentieth century was inauthentic, he declared, and he went so far as to maintain that, given that state of affairs, authenticity existed solely in thought and fantasy. The Woman of Rome can be read as part demonstration and part embodiment of Moravia’s beliefs. Adriana’s first step on the road to prostitution is taken when she allows herself to be date-raped by Giacinta, a man she does not desire, because he threatens to tell her fiancé, Gino, that he, Giacinta, has already had sex with her. Adriana, instead of holding firm to her feelings, is betrayed by the end she has in mind: her forthcoming happy marriage with Gino. She permits herself to be blackmailed into having sex with an unappealing stranger because she doesn’t want to risk losing her marriage. For that afternoon, Adriana turns herself into the means...
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