After reading ARACOELI (truly brilliant novel), I became curious to know more about Elsa Morante. I did know a few tidbits: her friendship with Pier Paolo Pasolini; her affair with the filmmaker Viscontii; and her marriage to Alberto Moravia. Not much more. Many years ago I had waded through the first third of her difficult novel History . Since I couldn’t go to the end, Morante fell outside my interest and my corral of favorite Italian writers.
Just so happens this last month Lily Tuck came out with a biography of Morante–the first in the English language and a noteworthy recognition. Morante is underrated in the States. The angle of the biography is rather interesting. Tuck places herself in the biography. She starts as a child in Rome, sitting in cafes with her father, a filmmaker. Possibly Tuck sat across the table from Morante at a cafe in the Piazza del Popolo, but she does not remember for sure. The book plays off many possible past encounters with its subject Morante throughout its pages. Tuck also intersperses a narrative about her own experiences in Rome as she wrote the biography. Tuck, for instance, suffered a harangue from Morante’s ex-landlady when she ring the landlady’s doorbell during lunch time.
What sticks to me after reading the biography–besides recognition of her great talent– is Morante’s wild, stubborn, almost mean independence, her vanity, and her proud triumph over an economically thin and unusual background to become a writer on top of her world. A writer who, with the help of her ambitious nudgy mother, her body, her brains, clawed her way to the top and was not obliged to politeness. She called it telling the truth.
Whenever a journalist interviewed her, and mentioned her marriage to Moravia, she abruptly ended the discussion. Morante refused to be compared to her husband, to be his mouthpiece, or to enter into a conversation that might shadow her own work. I had been under the impression that Morante and Moravia were married for only a few years. Not true. They met in 1937, the same year Moravia pointed out that Mussolini met Hitler. She was 25. Moravia was 5 years older and a foot taller. They were married twenty years. Moravia left Morante and moved in with Sicilian writer Dacia Maraini.
Too is the surprise that Morante was prolific. Internet sites–and the back cover of ARACOELI –say Morante didn’t produce much. In fact, she had success early in her career, writing in newspapers, and continued writing essays, children’s books, articles and novels until her death in 1985. However, compared to Moravia, who wrote a novel a year and a short story a day. . . well…..
Since my blog is “art is art.” here are a few words from Morante about art.
“The atomic bomb, Morante claimed, was the ”flower” or natural expression for contemporary society (as were Platonic dialogues for the Greeks, Raphael’s Madonnas for the Italian humanist, etc) and the sign of approaching disintegration. Art, however, was the opposite of disintegration, because its function was precisely to prevent it and to restore the integrity of reality. The duty of poets was to open their own consciousness and the consciousness of others to reality and the reason for the presence of poets in the world was to find an answer for themselves and for others.”
Ha! Morante had a good sense of humor. She wrote “ When I die I’ll leave a note under my pillow “torno subito” ( I’ll be right back.)