The Arty Semite

Alberto Moravia's Artistic Activism

By Benjamin Ivry

  • Print
  • Share Share

Art is its own form of activism, we are reminded by a major new biography of the Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, published by les éditions Flammarion in Paris. Born Alberto Pincherle (his father was a Jewish architect) in 1907, Moravia was a cousin of Carlo and Nello Rosselli, the Jewish anti-fascist activists who were murdered in 1937 by French right wing extremists on Mussolini’s orders, as described in “Carlo Rosselli: Socialist Heretic and Antifascist Exile” by Stanislao Pugliese.

Moravia’s activism was expressed in novels like “The Conformist,” (1951) which explores how educated and cultured Europeans can be so morally paralyzed as to allow events like the Rosselli murders to occur. His first novel, “The Time of Indifference,” (1929) already scorned the suffocating stasis of Italian bourgeois life during the early years of Mussolini’s reign.

Long married to another writer, Elsa Morante, from a Modena Jewish family, Moravia was forced to publish anonymously as antisemitic laws developed in the 1930s. In 1968 his play, “Il Dio Kurt” (Kurt the God) revisited the theme of the Shoah, while Moravia’s preface to a 1976 edition of Giacomo Debenedetti’s remarkable “16 October 1943,” about the deportation of Rome’s Jews, expresses explicit “solidarity with the unfortunate people whom Kappler’s SS arrested on that distant October morning in order to send them to their deaths in the death camp gas chambers.”

Throughout Moravia’s career he had close alliances with Jewish authors, including the Frenchman Benjamin Crémieux, who died in Buchenwald; painter/writer Carlo Levi; and art historian Meyer Schapiro. When Moravia decided to create his memoirs, “Life of Moravia,” in dialogue form, his chosen interlocutor was the Italian Jewish writer Alain Elkann. Although clueless on English language literature, referring to “Pickwick’s Papers” by Dickens and the “intellectual couple” Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, this dense, indeed Proustian, new biography by critic and translator René de Ceccatty urgently deserves translation into English.

Watch a humorous 1960s video, in which Moravia attempts to get work done despite distractions, below:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Alberto Moravia, Elsa Morante, Giacomo Debenedetti

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.