ALBERTO MORAVIA, 25 YEARS ON. WHO READS HIM NOW?

 

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Some eleven film versions of Moravia’s novels appeared in the ten years between 1960 and 1970, three in 1963 alone. Few were outstanding, though Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris (starring Brigitte Bardot) offered a memorably stylish interpretation of Il disprezzo.

 

 

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As Moravia’s novels became increasingly salacious in the sexually permissive 1960s, so they often fell far short of the earlier standards of critical success. Io e lui (1972, The Two of Us), about a man’s unhappy relationship with his penis, suggested that Moravia’s chief influence was now less Dostoevsky than pornography. The 1984 film of his novel L’Attenzione (1965, The Lie), about an incestuous relationship between a stepfather and his stepdaughter, starred a semi-naked Stefania Sandrelli and carried the inevitable censor’s warning: VIETATO AI MINORI DI 18 ANNI.

 

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Moravia’s earlier insistence that he wrote about sex because it allowed him to reflect on questions of dominance and attitudes to boredom began to look bogus. To his less charitable critics, his literary treatment of sex had become merely tawdry. Moravia retorted that if his novels had turned steadily more “audacious” over the years it was not because he wanted them that way. What was possible for him to say in Gli indifferenti half a century earlier was not the same as in the late 20th century. While Moravia’s debut novel had been considered “pornographic” by the Fascist censors, by today’s standards it is decidedly demure.

 

As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s, Moravia found a new literary theme in the nuclear bomb. Although the USSR had accused Moravia in 1971 of anti-Sovietism after he signed a statement defending Russian dissidents, he remained a vigorous campaigner within the Italian Communist Party for unilateral disarmament. L’uomo che guarda (1985, The Voyeur), a rather soporific science fiction about a nuclear holocaust, containe a heavy-handed political message. If the “indifferents” of Gli indifferenti had been indifferent about the devastating effects of Fascism, their contemporary equivalent manifested a similar indifference about the bomb. “The nuclear bomb is a disease of contemporary society”, Moravia informed his readers.

 

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Towards the end of his life, Moravia undertook journeys across Africa with his second wife Dacia Maraini (the daughter of the Japanese scholar Fosco Maraini).

 

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Passegiate africane (1988, African Excursions), a superior collection of newspaper articles, saw Moravia bumping along in a Land-Rover as he mused on such diverse subjects as the longevity of the tortoise and the convoluted ramifications of the baobab tree. On New Year’s Day in Gabon, typically, he shut himself in his hotel room with a bottle of warm Verve Clicquot and mused bitterly on the “inferno” of modern life. Of his thirty novels, Gli indifferenti, La ciociara, Agostino, Il conformista and La noia have secured him a lasting place in European letters. Alberto Moravia was a Roman to the bone; he died in Rome on 26 September 1999 in his apartment overlooking the River Tiber and the green hills of Parioli beyond; he was 82.

 

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Ian Thomson, 26 September 2015

 

(This is a longer version of an article which appeared in the Times Literary Supplement on 25 September 2015.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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