September 14, 2011

Alberto Moravia : purveyor of tales

Alberto Moravia (1907-1990) was an iconic figure of modern literature that marked the 50s and 60s. Suffering from tuberculosis, he never finished his studies. Perhaps that explains his thirst for knowledge. He has apprehended the mains currents  of his time (surrealism, existentialism, psychoanalysis) and rejuvenated literature, sometimes making some scandal, to address three main themes: fascism, bourgeoisie and  male/female relationships. His work finds a particular resonance with filmmakers who relay the richness of his view on society: Two Women (1960) De Sica, Contempt (1963) Godard or The Conformist (1970) Bertolucci.

Published in Italy in 1941, The Fancy Dress Party (La Mascherata) is a farce in which Moravia, mixing comic opera love and dictatorship, criticizes Mussolini fascism  (see a summary below published by Gallimard) :

 General Tereso hated the Duchess Gorina, in which he saw embodied all the pride, ignorance, corruption and vanity of the old nobility. Gorina invited him  to a fancy party and he made his usual answer: to his great regret, the affairs of the state forbade him to indulge in this kind of distractions.
The Duchess, impassive and haughty, dropped casually  that this refusal would distress the Marquise Fausta Sanchez, who hoped to meet him at the festival. Tereso, who  chased  for months and in vain Fausta, felt at that name his heart, despite his age and his experience, pumped with juveniles beatings  in his chest.
"I understand," thought Tereso, "the price of Fausta is my first participation in the party".
More the plot advances and  more the quadrille bteween the protagonists slides to a dance of death. Satire is blatant and the novel was censored. It was not until 1950 that the book was published in France.

Published later (1967 for Italy and 1968 for France), Command, and I Will Obey You (Una cosa e una cosa) is a collection of short stories in which Moravoia express is taste for caricature, sometimes to surrealism.  In "The Law of Laws", the protagonist, Ettore, has the sensation that a bomb exploded in his head. If there is no external changes, he can no longer do anything unless he finds a law or rule, or a standard indicating how he should behave.

In one of his last interviews, given to the Magazine Littéraire in November 1990, Moravia recall with simplicity: "My goal is to write a fable and, pursuing this story, I come into contact with the culture of the time."

Currently, the librairie Loliée offers : 
  • Moravia (Alberto). Le Quadrille des masques (La Mascherata). Traduit de l’italien par Armand Pierhal et Viviana Paques. Roman.  Paris, Gallimard "Du monde entier", 1950, in-12. First french edition. One of the 250 copies on Lafuma vellum, only deluxe paper.
  • Moravia (Alberto). Une Chose est une chose. Nouvelles. Traduit de l’italien par Simone de Vergennes. Paris, Flammarion "Lettres Etrangères", 1968, in-8. First french edition. One of the 30 copies on Alfa vellum, only deluxe paper.