Saturday, November 19, 2005

Alberto Moravia

Tina Kaszinski

Alberto Moravia was an Italian novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet, and essayist. Moravia became ill as a child with tuberculosis so he was deprived of a formal education. He studied at home throughout his childhood and became very good at reading and writing. He was at home with this illness until he was twenty-five years old so studying was about the only activity possible. It was during this time that Moravia began to respect books.

By the time he was twenty-two years old he took the literary world by storm with The Time of Indifference, which criticized fascism and the social situation that began the flourishment. "This is a novel that is a realistic picture of middle-class corruption that flaunted the ruling fascist government's policy of idealistic formalism in art; the novel depicts sex as a basic psychological need and the most significant human activity.(Ross and Freed, 1972)

Moravia is one of the best known Italian writers outside of his country. His early works deserve great respect, but during the early 1970s his work started having a falling out of quality. He uses his sense of humor to express his two main themes: he is a critic of `bad faith' and explores the strains on males by their loneliness that lets them escape by exploiting women.

In his writings, the world, is presented as being corrupt (in which humans are guided by their senses,) and sex is valued over love. He is a specialist in sex but he feels sex is a means of power. The goal of sex is not pleasure, or reproduction; it is dominance over others.(Heiney, 1968) We all have problems of communication and this is true all over the world so people can relate to his writings. All of his writings include the theme of finding oneself due to having some kind of contact with the opposite sex. Some people believe that Moravia is a `sex freak' and I somewhat agree. Moravia's males have always been more satisfactory creations than the females. Moravia has females in his stories seem shallow, unbelievable, and most of the time sexually promiscuous.

Moravia has always been on the left side of the government, and has been criticized for it. During the war he spent most of the time on the run because his writings criticized fascism. He did not like Mussolini so he depicted a comical portrait of him, which made Mussolini's police clerks harass him. Moravia was warned that the Gestapo was planning his arrest because of certain antifascist articles he had written after the fall of Mussolini in July 1943, so he packed up and headed south. He spent nine months with the peasants and shepherds with led to a new outlook in his writings on lower class people.( Rebay, 1970,) Living with peasants, he developed a great interest in them and a sincere sympathy for their problems. He wrote four novels out of this era about this lower class.(Cottrell, 1974)

As an antifascist during Mussolini's regime, he was almost close to being labeled an enemy of the state.

During the 1940s his writings were directed towards Marxism. It was during this time that he had fled from Rome to live with the peasants in rural Italy. In 1941, he was forbidden to publish at all or even to write for newspapers but he still wrote under the pseudonym "Pseudo."(Heiney, 1968) In the 1950s Moravia's focus left Marxism and settled on intellectual solutions to world problems. In the more recent years, Moravia's concerns have been "the dehumanizing effects of society and technology, the human psyche, and the breakdown of communication." During Mussolini's regime he wrote a novel, 1934, which concentrated on the obsessive qualities of politics, money, and sex. In fascist society Moravia depicts that love, friendship, trust, and honesty cannot exist; only self-interests exist.(Cottrell, 1974) Everyone must be a trickster to survive and Moravia was against this.

Some critics have judged him as an author who covers the same ground over and over again. They feel that he is not very inventive or stylish, but most critics believe Moravia is trying to express his concerns to the full potential.

Moravia's view of life is tragic because he fears that man has become a machine. He states, "the use of man as a means, and not as an end, is the root of all evil." He believes in survival out of life's circumstances and suffering. He uses crime and brutality over and over in his writing. Fascism was very hard on Italians, and Mussolini thought war was ideal, so he organized it. Moravia is an antifascist and was against violence. He had many concerns about fascism and stressed them in his writings.

Compassion is the key to life, not only for yourself but for others. Moravia wants us to accept the challenge of assuming the sorrows of others, and to suffer because of others. People should work together, as the antifascist groups did in opposing Mussolini.

As an antifascist in the 1930s and 1940s during Benito Mussolini's regime, Moravia was subject to careful scrutiny. It was during this time "Moravia depicted characters who abused others as a means of self-satisfaction...which could be construed by censors as allusions to fascist politics."(Heiney, 1968) The rise of fascism took off after WWI when the territorial gains were less than promised. Italy was promised territory in the Alps but the war was a disaster and 600,000 lives were lost. Many people looked down on the government and were conditioned to adopt fascism.

Italy was prepared for Mussolini to rise to power because of high unemployment and inflation due to the war. Fascism replaced an ineffective and insufficient government. Mussolini was a very strong leader but had to have complete control. This is one reason Moravia was harassed by Mussolini for speaking out against fascism. He was losing power if he would allow an antifascist to diminish Mussolini's character.
During this fascist period, Mussolini produced unemployed, bitter people. Anyone hoping for a job had to be a fascist so Moravia turned to writing. In 1926, Mussolini moved people who spoke against him to islands, so Moravia was lucky he was only harassed instead of banned from the state. Government officials were appointed because he wanted fascists to take these spots. It was quite impossible to live in Italy as an antifascist during this time. When Moravia wrote, he had to be very careful of what he said because Italy did not have free speech. It is a law that you cannot speak against the dictator. It was either be a fascist and live a normal life or be an antifascist and live a life of silence.

In 1939, Mussolini joined alliance with Germany under Hitler. The Nazis flooded into Italy and these events caused his popularity to drop dramatically. Moravia was born a Jew but was baptized as a Catholic so he was even more against fascism since Mussolini sided with the Nazis. It was a great accomplishment for the antifascists because after Mussolini's dismissal in 1943, Italy voted for a democratic government with antifascist ideas. Italians felt betrayed and wanted nothing to do with fascism.

Moravia was influential during the fascist period and after it. Many influential writers hailed him as a "creative genius," but Mussolini's brother Arnaldo stated in a public speech that he was opposed to having young Italians read an author such as Moravia, "a destroyer of every human value." The fascists hated his books which painted such an unflattering picture of Italian society and youth, even if they spoke the truth. Both before and after the war he worked frequently in the cinema, and several of his novels ere made into films.(Heiney, 1968)

On January 1, 1948 a new Italian Constitution was written and finished. This is an antifascist constitution which determines civil liberties which were taken away by fascism. It wasn't until this time that antifascists actually had a chance to express their ideas in Italy. In 1941, Moravia even had a novel confiscated by Fascist authorities. There is no democracy in that situation and it is ridiculous that Mussolini had that much power by himself.

Moravia believed that the ultimate political sin was egotism or failure to comprehend or take into account the political needs of others; it is this characteristic that made fascism possible. In almost all of his novels Moravia is in disguise, such as in Il Conformista he is a fascist spy.(Heiney, 1968)

Moravia saw Italy as a deteriorating country under fascism. He expressed this view through the more than 30 books he published in his lifetime. He was one of the best Italian novelists throughout his life, and he is well respected to this day. Alberto Moravia died in 1990 of a cerebral hemorrhage and his final novel was published in 1991. He remained faithful to himself over his forty-odd years of writing. He followed personal lines of development, reaching the goals he set for himself. Moravia used the same themes again and again but for the purpose of getting his message across effectively. He would have liked to change his theme, but his fiction reflects the world he lived in. Moravia hopes for a change in the world and believes we can achieve this by exposing the problems through his writing.


Bergin, T. G. (1953, Spring). The Moravian Muse. The Virginia Quarterly Review, 215-25.
Cottrell, J. E. (1974). Alberto Moravia. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.
Freed, D., Ross, J. (1972). Contemporary Literary Criticism. (Vol. 27, p. 353-355). Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press.
Heiney, D. (1968). Three Italian Novelists. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press.
Peterson, T. E. (1996). Alberto Moravia. New York: Twayne Publishers.
Rebay, L. (1970). Alberto Moravia. Columbia University Press. Seymour-Smith, M. (1976). Who's Who in Twentieth Century Literature. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Revised 5/20/97