The Woman of Rome
Censored under Mussolini and persecuted by the Vatican, Alberto Moravia, Italy’s premier man of letters, took to writing under a pseudonym, holing up in the mountains south of Rome until the liberation. While Moravia was a prodigy, publishing his first work at 21, his novels of post-war Rome are the real cause célèbre. Anthony Burgess once described him as a writer who was “always trying to get to the bottom of the human imbroglio.” In his novels, Moravia dispassionately freeze-frames the spectrum of human behavior—capturing more of the naughty than of the nice—luring readers in with a deceptively simple prose style that gradually offers deeper revelations about modern Italian society. In the 1949 novel The Woman of Rome, Adriana, a voluptuous young woman whose only wealth is her beauty, can’t quite recall when she gave up her hopes for home and hearth and became a prostitute. Without shame or remorse, though, she plies her trade avidly, coupling with failed revolutionaries, corrupt civil officials and brutal criminals in an increasingly tense tale that turns out to be no less than a metaphor for the second fall of Rome. Whether you make the work out as an inverse love story or a political statement, it’s engrossing stuff. Better yet, you’ll easily find a copy. Until recently, we common schlubs had to scrounge used bookstores for Moravia’s numerous books and essays. But Steerforth Press, a publishing house of “serious works,” recently launched its Italian imprint, Steerforth Italia, and the goods are pouring out: updated translations of such Moravia classics as The Conformist and The Time of Indifference, along with gems from Carlo Levi, Aldo Buzzi and Elsa Morante on a variety of topics including food, travel, history and, of course, politics.