Conjugal Love

Overview

To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved.
--From Conjugal Love

When Silvio, a rich Italian dilettante, and his beautiful wife agree to move to the country and forgo sex so that he will have the energy to write a successful novel, something is bound to go wrong: Silvio’s literary ambitions are far too big for his second-rate talent, and his...

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Overview

To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved.
--From Conjugal Love

When Silvio, a rich Italian dilettante, and his beautiful wife agree to move to the country and forgo sex so that he will have the energy to write a successful novel, something is bound to go wrong: Silvio’s literary ambitions are far too big for his second-rate talent, and his wife Leda is a passionate woman. This dangerously combustible situation is set off when Leda accuses Antonio, the local barber who comes every morning to shave Silvio, of trying to molest her. Silvio obstinately refuses to dismiss him, and the quarrel and its shattering consequences put the couple’s love to the test.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly

Italian stylist Moravia (1907–1990) had his novels The Conformist and Contempt filmed by Bertolucci and Godard, respectively; this novel, freshly translated by Harss (who provides a short note), was written in 1949.

Moravia...achieves a sly, convincing portrait in the voice of Silvio, whose love for Leda emasculates him, yet fuels his work.

Library Journal

In this brief novel, celebrated Italian novelist Moravia probes many issues, including literary inspiration, the effect of a muse on both creativity and self-discovery, and the possibilities of platonic and conjugal love.

Boasting a fluid style that is elegant yet simple, Moravia is a master of writing about men and women and their love lives.

Vogue

Alberto Moravia crafts a delectably arch tale of a wealthy dilettante and his sensually neglected wife.

Washington Post

Michael Dirda
Reading Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love will take only a couple of hours -- fortunately. For once you start this intense short novel, you won't be able to turn your eyes away....

Marina Harss's English carries us smoothly into Silvio's mind, as he reflects on his art and on his wife until each gradually grows into an aspect of the other.

A short, first-person novel, such as Conjugal Love, is frequently the genre of confession and confusion, of emotional uncertainty and torment. And not just for the protagonist. The reader, unable to gain any viewpoint on events except through the narrator's consciousness, experiences a peculiar claustrophobia, trapped in the mind of a madman -- or of a poor doomed innocent en route to the slaughterhouse. Slowly we begin to suspect terrible things, but it takes a long time before we actually know.

The New Yorker

A wealthy, idle man with literary aspirations retreats to an isolated villa in Tuscany with his new wife, where they make a pact: to abstain from sex until he finishes writing a story. The only intrusion is a local barber, who arrives daily to give the husband a shave and possibly put the moves on the wife. In other hands, these would be the ingredients of farce, but Moravia, who died in 1990 and is considered one of the preëminent Italian writers of the twentieth century, delivers something at once more bitter and more tender: a parable of marriage, that odd mixture of violent devotion and legitimate lust, in which desire eventually gives way to a forced and decorous composure that captures the essential opacity of even one's most intimate partner.

Time Out New York

Caroline McCloskey
Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love is a short novel whose surface clarity shellacs over its shriekingly bizarre underpinnings. When the book was published in 1951, the Italian author was well known for his moody portraits of sexuality, and this excellent new translation shows why.

All the usual Moravian themes are present and accounted for: the perverse psychosexual dynamics; the ways in which even our intimates are unknowable to us; the existential brooding on isolation and illusion—all set against the elegant tableaux of the leisure class. Silvio, with his vague aspirations and idle existence, is a classic dilettante. His ideas about love and art are initially benign, even endearing. By the book's end, however, Silvio's naïveté has morphed into something far more alarming. He’s not just insulated from struggle, but from reality.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Moravia... is a master storyteller and his political commentary never overpowers his narrative. The beauty of Conjugal Love is that, politics aside, it can be read simply as a compelling tale of love and betrayal.

Complete Review

Silvio's very open, almost confessional style—he reveals (and seems to almost revel in) warts and all—is very appealing and makes the story all the more convincing. Conjugal Love is not a happy tale, but it is a satisfying one. And very well told. Recommended.

Without Borders

Throughout his long and astonishingly productive career, Alberto Moravia never stopped exploring the erotic highways and byways. Of course, he tended to look on the dark side. Readers of his many fictions will search in vain for a life-affirming roll in the hay. Instead Moravia zoomed in on the pitfalls, power struggles, and multiple deceptions of eros. Think of him as the Beethoven of bad sex, blessed with a glittering style and the emotional temperature of an icebox. Conjugal Love is no exception to the rule.

The Washington Times

Carol Herman
To read Alberto Moravia's Conjugal Love is to be transported to the lush landscape of 1930s Tuscany. But the pleasure that comes from this amazing little book rests squarely with Silvio, the beguiling protagonist who leads readers to the story's central conceit...

Read this terrific book. It will make you want to say something kind to someone you love.

Michael Dirda
Moravia's novel was first published in 1951, and this is a new translation. Certainly, Marina Harss's English carries us smoothly into Silvio's mind, as he reflects on his art and on his wife until each gradually grows into an aspect of the other. It comes as no surprise that the title of the story he is writing is "Conjugal Love."
— The Washington Post
The New Yorker
A wealthy, idle man with literary aspirations retreats to an isolated villa in Tuscany with his new wife, where they make a pact: to abstain from sex until he finishes writing a story. The only intrusion is a local barber, who arrives daily to give the husband a shave—and possibly put the moves on the wife. In other hands, these would be the ingredients of farce, but Moravia, who died in 1990 and is considered one of the preëminent Italian writers of the twentieth century, delivers something at once more bitter and more tender: a parable of marriage—“that odd mixture of violent devotion and legitimate lust,” in which desire eventually gives way to “a forced and decorous composure”—that captures the essential opacity of even one’s most intimate partner.
Publishers Weekly
Italian stylist Moravia (1907-1990) had his novels The Conformist and Contempt filmed by Bertolucci and Godard, respectively; this novel, freshly translated by Harss (who provides a short note), was written in 1949. Independently wealthy narrator Silvio Baldeschi is in his early 30s, an aesthete whose two elusive desires in life are to love a woman and create a great work of literature. He marries the sensuous Leda, a woman unschooled in everything except love, with whom he feels harmoniously suited. Together they move to his isolated villa in Tuscany for several months, where Leda is to act as muse for Silvio's great work. But Silvio decides their nightly lovemaking saps the energy he needs to write his masterpiece: over 20 days of intensive writing, they abstain while village barber and notorious womanizer Antonio, who comes daily to shave Silvio, moves in on Leda. The writer's inability to defend his wife's honor as the barber makes advances, let alone take her desire for Antonio seriously, begins the unraveling of their marriage. Moravia, in this Contempt-like setup, achieves a sly, convincing portrait in the voice of Silvio, whose love for Leda emasculates him, yet fuels his work. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this brief novel, celebrated Italian novelist Moravia (The Conformist) probes many issues, including literary inspiration, the effect of a muse on both creativity and self-discovery, and the possibilities of platonic and conjugal love. Silvio Baldeschi is a wealthy man with a beautiful young wife named Leda. A successful critic, Silvio believes that there is a literary masterpiece inside him somewhere. After giving up the nightly pleasures of his wife's bed so that he can concentrate on his writing, he discovers that she is having an affair with his barber, Antonio. In a fury of inspiration he writes out their own story and, upon typing it from his handwritten pages, discovers that it is as mediocre as his true relationship with Leda. Boasting a fluid style that is elegant yet simple, Moravia is a master of writing about men and women and their love lives. Recommended for all libraries that collect classics and novels about male-female relationships.-Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590512210
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/23/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 4.98 (w) x 7.72 (h) x 0.48 (d)

Meet the Author

Alberto Moravia

Alberto Moravia, born in Rome in 1907, was one of the greatest Italian writers of the twentieth century. His novels, which include The Woman of Rome, The Conformist, Contempt, and Two Women, have been turned into films by Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard. He died in 1990.

Marina Harss

Marina Harss translations include For Solo Violin (Per Vionlino Solo), a war memoir by Aldo Zargani, and stories in The Forbidden Stories of Marta Veneranda, by Sonia Rivera-Vald. Her translations have also appeared in Bomb, Brooklyn Rail, and Autadafe. She is a researcher at The New Yorker, and lives in New York City.
Also by this author: A Week in October, Stories from the City of God

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Read an Excerpt

Conjugal Love


By Alberto Moravia

Other Press

Copyright © 2007 Alberto Moravia
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781590512210

To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved. And this means delighting not only in the contemplation of the beloved's charms, but also in her imperfections, few or many as they may be. From the very first days of our married life, I took an immeasur-able pleasure in observing Leda (for that is her name), and I loved studying her face and her person down to the smallest gesture and the most fleeting expression. When we were married, my wife (later, after bearing three children, certain traits became, not exactly different, but somewhat modified) was just over thirty years old. She was tall, though not excessively so, with a face and body that were beautiful, though far from perfect. Her long, thin face had an ephemeral, lost, almost washed-out quality, like the classical dei-ties in certain mediocre old paintings, executed tentatively and rendered even more tenta-tive by the patina of time. This singular quality, an ungraspable beauty which, like a speck of sunlight on the wall, or the shadow of a moving cloud on the sea, can disappear at any moment, surely had something to do with her hair, which was of a metallic blond color and hung messily in long tresses, suggesting the fluttering of fear or flight; and with her enormous eyes, which were blue and slightly slanted, with moist, dilated pupils, whose humiliated, evasive gaze, like her hair, suggested a guarded, frightened disposi-tion. She had a large, straight, noble nose, and a wide red, sinuously drawn mouth, the bottom lip protruding over a smallish chin, hinting at a heavy, brooding sensuality. Hers was an irregular and yet very beautiful face, with a beauty, as I have said, that was un-graspable and that in certain moments and in certain situations, as I will describe later on, seemed to dissolve and even disappear altogether. The same could be said of her body. From the waist up, she was as thin and delicate as a young girl; but her hips, belly, and legs were solid, strong, and well developed, imbued with muscular and carnal vigor. But the disharmony of her body, like that of her face, was neutralized by her beauty which, like a familiar intangible melody or a mysteriously transformative light, wrapped her from head to toe in a halo of perfection. Oddly enough, sometimes, as I gazed at her, I thought of her as a person with classical contours and forms, without defects, the essence of harmony, serenity, and symmetry. Such was the extent to which her beauty, which, for lack of another word, I will call spiritual, deceived and seduced me. But there were mo-ments when this golden veil was torn away, and in those moments not only did I see her numerous imperfections, but I observed a painful transformation of her entire person.

Continues...

Excerpted from Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia Copyright © 2007 by Alberto Moravia. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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