‘The Woman of Rome’ by Al­berto Mo­ravia (1947)

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - JULIE PAR­SONS

“‘I’m a whore,’ I said aloud at last, to see what ef­fect the words would have on me. They did not seem to have any ef­fect.’”

This is Adriana, the woman of Rome. It is the time of Mus­solini. Adriana is young, poor and beau­ti­ful. Her mother is a seam­stress. Adriana’s beauty is their way out of poverty.

I read the book as a pre­co­cious 10 year old. It was my mother’s, a tat­tered Pen­guin pa­per­back. I lay on the dusty car­pet be­side her bed and con­sumed Adriana’s story. “The an­cient smell of dust and fluff in the car­pet. . . Mino lay on me and his weight made me con­scious of the de­light­ful hard­ness of the floor­boards. . . I felt he was kiss­ing my neck and my cheeks and I was filled with joy.”

Sex on the floor. It seemed to me, then, un­sur­pris­ing. Read­ing the novel now, I see its bru­tal­ity.

Adriana hopes to marry Gino, a chauf­feur. But she drifts into pros­ti­tu­tion. Her first en­counter is with As­tarita, “a big pot in the po­lit­i­cal po­lice.” Adriana is more than pleased to take his money. “I felt strangely thrilled, my face was burn­ing and my breath­ing laboured.”

Adriana seems to be in con­trol of her world. She chooses her men; she of­ten en­joys her sex­ual en­coun­ters. Her loved one, Mino, is a wealthy stu­dent en­gaged in sedi­tion. When he is ar­rested she asks As­tarita to in­ter­vene. But Mino, ter­ri­fied, con­fesses, in­crim­i­nat­ing his friends. In de­spair he kills him­self. Adriana is preg­nant. She has told Mino the child is his; she has lied. She knows its fa­ther is Son­zogno, a mur­derer. But Mino’s fam­ily will now se­cure her fu­ture.

You can read the book as the story of a pros­ti­tute. Or as a com­men­tary on fas­cism. Mo­ravia’s work was banned; dur­ing the sec­ond World War he went into hid­ing. The stench of Mus­solini’s dic­ta­tor­ship per­me­ates ev­ery page. Read it and shud­der. Or read it as a tes­ta­ment to sur­vival.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.