cover image Conjugal Love

Conjugal Love

Alberto Moravia, , trans. by Marina Harss. . Other Press, $14 (142pp) ISBN 978-1-59051-221-0

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.)