Two Friends, p.28Alberto Moravia
The composition of Version C evolved in two phases, as suggested by the change in the name of the female character, from “Lalla” (as in the previous version) to “Nella.” Her characterization is profoundly different in each phase. As we will see, we are talking about an important rethinking of the character. This new version introduces, for the first time, the theme of “contempt” which will eventually lead to the abandonment of this project and the starting point of a new novel. For reasons of clarity, we will refer to phases C1 and C2.
The draft of C1 proceeds, without interruption, for about ten pages (226–29, 158–60, and 242–44). Lalla is self-assured, “rough,” provocative. But beginning on page 245, she becomes Nella, and is characterized by her timidity and gentleness. In this context, Moravia rewrites the pages describing their first meeting in the offices of the Allied Services, but does not bother to rewrite the pages that precede or follow this scene. He replaces pages 158–60 of C1 with pages 230 and 238–41 of C2. He hastily ties the the new pages together with the previous pages, crossing out (with a pen) the sections of page 229 in which the young woman first appears under the name “Lalla.” But he does not bother to do this on following pages. This creates a confusing deformation of the text, caused by a lack of agreement between pages 241 (C2) and 242 (C1). The sequence and the author’s intentions are clear, but it seems that a revision parallel to the one on page 229 never took place.
In accordance with our decision to publish the text in its most advanced form, we have adopted phase C2, while including the corresponding pages from C1 in the appendix. In addition, we have made a few indispensible changes in order to connect pages 241 and 242. To begin with, we eliminated the first seven lines of page 242 (which appear in the appendix), just as the author did on page 229. As we have already observed, in this phase of composition, Moravia was not overly concerned with eliminating earlier versions but was careful to distinguish between abandoned versions and more recent ones. Once again we can theorize that the author was simply saving time and was planning to correct the draft in a later revision. Secondly, we changed the name “Lalla” to “Nella” in the three pages from C1 preserved with C2 (242–44). Despite these small edits, there are a few spots in which these pages refer to elements that have been either cut or altered. For example, the beginning of page 243 (“I said earlier that this was a difficult period in my life but in truth it was probably the happiest time I had known”) refers to a phrase that the reader will not find in the text but rather in the version that appears in the appendix. The same is true of the reference to the “radio service” (page 243), rather than to a generic office of the Allied Services, which refers back to one of the abandoned pages. Nella’s “clumsiness,” to which Sergio refers on page 243, is also a leftover from the character of Lalla.
In C2, as we have indicated, the theme of “contempt” is developed for the first time (page 240). It is mentioned only in passing in C1 (page 160). The importance of the appearance of this theme is clear in Moravia’s process—this is the point at which the author probably decided to abandon the project at hand, which was centered on the ideological rivalry between two friends, and to instead proceed with a different novel, which would eventually be titled Il disprezzo (Contempt). Thus, the development of Il disprezzo can be said to have begun in July 1952, at the moment the current project was abandoned. We should keep in mind that the feelings of contempt described by the narrator Sergio are quite different from the contempt which provides the subject of the subsequent, eponymous novel. In fact, the original title of the latter novel was Il fantasma di mezzogiorno (A Ghost at Noon). One significant difference: in the earlier novel, the feeling is experienced by the narrator toward the woman whom he is using as a means to an end, while in the later book, published in 1954, the feeling is experienced by the woman toward her husband.
Among the abandoned pages, a few (219*–220*, included in the appendix) suggest a different narrative direction. Instead of bumping into Maurizio and being invited to a party at his house, Sergio and Nella are invited to “a little gathering at the house of a man called Moroni, a friend, or more specifically a student, of Nella’s” (page 219*). As we know, this character and situation already appear in Version B, and it would seem that early on, Moravia intended to continue along those lines. Nella refuses to attend Moroni’s “little gathering” because of the poor state of her wardrobe, and Sergio becomes violent. The writer picks up this scene once again in Version C, but in reference to Maurizio’s party. One can therefore posit that these three pages were meant to follow the “prologue” (after page 249) and to constitute the first version of the party. The party will later become a gathering organized by Maurizio, and Moroni will become a guest, a small-time cinema producer.
II. EXTERNAL HISTORY
In order to reconstruct the external history of these typescripts, we must first gather all the information that can illuminate Moravia’s working process in the period between Il conformista (The Conformist), which he finished in November 1950 and published in April 1951 (see Opere, volume 3, pages 2972–82) and Il disprezzo (Contempt), which was begun, as we shall see, in July 1952 and published in 1954 (see Opere, volume 3, pages 2127–36). We will try to reconstruct, as far as the documents allow, the temporal arc spanning the period from the end of 1950 to the summer of 1952. We must consider the rare references in interviews and letters, even though, as we shall see, they are vague and contradictory.
Two interviews are particularly relevant. Moravia was interviewed by Pasquale Festa Campanile on January 8, 1952, for the journal La Fiera Letteraria (The book fair) and one year later, on February 8, 1953, for the journal Il Lavoro Illustrato (Illustrated work). The first interview allows us some insight into the author’s literary and publishing situation during those years. Moravia says:
I have been suffering from insomnia. I work in the morning, and in the afternoon I rest. I’ve never been a very assiduous worker. It took me two years to finish Il conformista. I think it will take me some time to recover from this book. After all, I’ve written fifteen books. I’m preparing a volume of 600 pages for Bompiani, an anthology of stories […] all of the stories I have written from 1927 onward. I am currently writing a very modern play; I’d rather not say any more about it, perhaps I’ll never finish it. And besides, I don’t even know what the title will be, or how many acts it will have. On the other hand, I’ve been writing a lot of stories for the Corriere della sera. Have you seen them? They are all set in Rome. I am very attached to these stories; I’ve written fifty so far; I’m from Rome, I know it well, and I like its inhabitants. So I love to write about them in my own way […] I’ve been publishing these stories in the Corriere, and toward the end of the year I’m planning to gather them all into a volume. I think I will simply call it Racconti romani. I’ve also been thinking about a very short novel; but this is a project that I am not yet ready to discuss.
It seems that in early 1952 Moravia was mainly thinking about stories. The omnibus volume (I racconti) was in fact published in April 1952. Meanwhile, almost every month, Moravia published twenty more Roman tales in the Corriere, in addition to the fifty he had already published; they were all collected in a single volume in 1953. The reference to a project for the theater is more mysterious; it was probably abandoned. Even more mysterious and probably more relevant is the mention of a “very short novel,” which he is still “thinking about.” It seems that at this point early in 1952 Moravia had not yet begun work on the novel, and that he was still feeling tired and discouraged in the aftermath of Il conformista.
But a year later, in the 1953 interview, a different picture emerges. In the interviewer’s words:
Between 1950 and 1952, for example, [Moravia] wrote a long novel; he was not happy with it and decided to burn it. This novel recounted the story of a group of young Communists and the relationship between their romantic lives and their political ideologies. In other words, he wanted to show the degr
Fantasma di mezzogiorno was the original title of Il disprezzo; in fact, the English edition was published under the title A Ghost at Noon. But the reference to a “long novel,” written between 1950 and 1952 and then incinerated, is a mystery. All we know is its subject (“the story of a group of young Communists and the relationship between their romantic lives and their political ideologies”) and the overriding idea (“the degree to which a political party which does not allow space for individuality can influence the relations of the heart”).
There are no other explicit references to this project in other interviews, unless we include a mention in the first autobiographical interview given by the author to Enzo Siciliano, published in 1971. The author recalls a sketch for an abandoned novel with a similar plot but dates it to the period after the publication of Il disprezzo and before La ciociara (Two Women); in other words, between 1954 and 1956:
Q: So, with La ciociara you returned to a Roman subject.
A: Yes. Well, if not a Roman subject, at least a choral theme, like the rest of my Roman writings. I had begun writing a very different novel: I had already written about two hundred pages, but I didn’t like them. It was the story of a very rich man who is responsible for the disillusionment of a young Communist because he manipulates him into going to bed with his wife, a very beautiful woman. Some time later I made a story out of it.
The plot sounds similar to the one regarding “a group of young Communists and the relationship between their romantic lives and their political ideologies,” or at least it seems to emerge from the same thematic intention. This sketch for a novel, which could be dated to the period 1954–1956, seems to be linked, like the one from the period 1950–1952, to the idea of the romantic life of a young Communist. Among the pages from the suitcase that appear to date from the period of La ciociara and La noia (Boredom), there are none that contain a similar plot featuring a Communist character (see Opere, volume 4), nor has a story with a similar subject been identified. This discrepancy could be explained simply by a lack of chronological precision on Moravia’s part during the interview, which took place twenty years after the fact. It is possible that in this interview Moravia was in fact referring to the project which he undertook in the period 1951–1952.
But we have no further details with which to support this hypothesis.
Leaving behind the contradictory references in his public declarations, we turn our attention to possible clues in Moravia’s private correspondence, especially the correspondence with his editor (see Opere, volume 3, pages 2063–2087 and 2126–2149). In this case too there are possible distortions, which may result from the fact that Moravia was attempting to obtain more advantageous conditions and financial assistance, especially during the years after the enormous success of La romana (The Woman of Rome), when he was seeking financial autonomy.
The failure of Il conformista, which the author attributed, not incorrectly, to the hostility of the critics, caused a kind of depression in him, thereby rendering the second half of 1951 unproductive. He writes, in a letter dated July 20: “A great listlessness has come over me after the Italian critics’ unjust and stupid reception of my last novel. I have almost no desire to work” (Archivio Bompiani). The first interview with Festa Campanile confirms this state of mind (“I think it will take me some time to recover from this book”) as well as his diffidence toward the critics: “Most of the critics are against me; they would be happy if I were to slip on the banana peel of a misguided book.”
He seems to have gone back to work around December 1951, after two weeks in Paris, whence he wrote a Christmas letter to his editor: “I feel well again after the exhaustion of the past months, and I’ve begun to work” (Archivio Bompiani). As we can decipher from fragmentary references over the following months, between January and March 1952 Moravia worked on and off on the “very brief novel” which he later refers to in the January 8, 1952, interview and completed a first version of the book.
But work on the novel was rendered more difficult and later interrupted by financial difficulties, the leitmotif of his correspondence with Valentino Bompiani during these months. It makes sense to take these difficulties into consideration, because they have a real effect, as well as a thematic influence, on the novel. After a first alarm bell sounded in a letter dated January 30 (“I would be very grateful, given that I find myself in a tight spot, if you could speed up the payment of those five hundred dollars”), the author blames the editor for his fiscal problems on February 27:
Dear Bompiani, having declared my income, as you advised me to, I now find myself in a very unpleasant situation which, in part, I had predicted: I must pay so much in taxes that I don’t know if I will be able to pull it off. And, even if I am able to do so, I will have to begin writing for money, articles, screenplays, in other words quick projects etc., etc., etc., and no novels. Therefore I will not be able to exercise the profession for which I was born, that of writing novels. I leave it up to you to judge how useful this is to me at this time, when I could, with greater financial tranquility, have produced my best work. So be it. […] I feel that I have many things to say, important things, but unfortunately I am oppressed by material needs. When I think that Armenise, the producer of penicillin, declares a lower income than I do, it makes me laugh.
The complaints return again and again, and Moravia threatens to suspend his literary efforts in order to dedicate himself to screenplays, as in a letter dated March 18: “What will suffer will be my literary output. The taxman must be paid. So for the past two months or so I’ve been working on a screenplay and have set aside all my beloved manuscripts.” The message to the editor is clear: if you want me to write novels, you must offer more support. It is important to note how Moravia distinguishes between the literary work of the novelist and the commercial work of the screenwriter, which will later become an important structural element of Il disprezzo, set in the early years of the postwar period.
But despite his work on a screenplay, Moravia did not completely abandon his “beloved manuscripts” (by which he means both the handwritten and the typed scripts). In fact, he completed the first version of a novel, as he writes in a letter dated March 20, 1952, to Bompiani: “I have finished a short romanzetto [novella]. But who knows when I will be able to revise it and clean it up. Woe is me, I work to pay the taxman.”
Note the wording: “short novella.” This does not seem to match the “long novel” that, according to the second interview with Festa Campanile, Moravia completed in 1952, but rather the “very brief novel” mentioned in the first interview. In other words, he is referring not to one of his lengthy novels, such as La romana and Il conformista, but rather to one of his so-called novellas, such as La mascherata (The Fancy Dress Party), Agostino (Two Adolescents), La disubbidienza (Disobedience), and L’amore coniugale (Conjugal Love), none of which exceeded 150 typewritten pages and which Moravia would collect in 1953 in a volume titled Romanzi brevi (Short novels). (In the same letter, he refers to the English editions of Agostino and La disubbidienza as romanzetti, “novellas.”) Note also two other terms—“revise” and “clean up”—which further illuminate Moravia’s working methods. A revision refers to a complete rewriting, resulting in a text substantially different from the previous version; cleaning up, on the other hand, refers to small adjustments to the narrative and to the expressive coherence of a definitive text.
It is difficult to ascertain which screenplay in particular was draining time and energy from Moravia’s novella. According to the letter dated March 18, he had already been working on it for “the past two months or so.” In the M
Unfortunately, it has been impossible to establish the title of the “accursed film” by Claude Autant-Lara that Moravia was working on during this period. In the midst of his work for the movies, the literary project was advancing slowly. It would seem that in this letter he is referring to revisions of the “brief romanzetto” he had completed in March; in other words, Version B.
In order to fully reconstruct the months between April and July, we must recall two important, connected episodes. First, the publication in April of the volume of collected stories (I racconti), which Moravia would have seen on his return from France and which constitutes the first volume of the Opere complete, with its blue and black dust jackets. And, perhaps more important, the Church’s condemnation of Moravia’s entire oeuvre, which, along with André Gide’s, was placed in the Index of Forbidden Books maintained by the Congregation of the Holy See, with a decree published in the Osservatore romano newspaper on May 27. This ban would be removed only in 1966, after the abolition of the Index during the Second Vatican Council. The ban would cause intense public discussion and a general feeling of solidarity toward the author, especially in cultural circles. This support would be translated into an award, the Premio Strega, for I racconti in July of the following year, and Moravia’s subsequent liberation from economic worries and the need to work in the film industry. The day after the Strega award ceremony, Moravia left for Sorrento and Capri, where he planned to “finish preparing the novellas for the second volume of the complete works,” as he wrote to Bompiani on July 15. It is possible that the project of collecting his four earlier romanzetti or “brief novels” (La mascherata, Agostino, La disubbidienza, and L’amore coniugale) was somehow connected to his work on the mysterious new romanzetto, which would have become the fifth work in the collection.
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