Initially meant as a short story, The Woman of Rome was first conceived by its author Alberto Moravia in 1945. The Roman writer started it at the beginning of November, intending to only write a few pages, but by the following Spring he found himself with the first draft of a full novel in his hands. The book was then published in 1947. Set in Rome during the years of Mussolini’s dictatorship, the novel depicts a city that hasn’t yet experienced the horrors of the racial laws and the war. Adriana is a modest and naive girl from a poor background, who is encouraged by her mother to exploit her beauty in seek of a better life. At first introduced to try nude modeling for a painter, Adriana is soon drawn into prostitution, her life becoming entangled with those of a deceitful chauffeur, a secret police officer, a brutal criminal, and a failed revolutionary student. In this book, Moravia’s agile and profound prose explores the complexity of one of the most modern and vivid female figures in Italian literature.
One of the masterpieces of modern Italian literature, written by one of its most outstanding representatives, That Awful Mess On The Via Merulana was first published as episodes and later as a volume in 1957. The mess refers to an intricate double criminal case involving a robbery and the murder of a young woman in an apartment building on the Via Merulana, in central Rome, during the years of the fascist regime. Detective Ciccio Ingravallo is called to lead the investigation only to find that almost everyone in the building seems to be involved. With a multilayered language that is often compared to James Joyce’s, and sublime irony, Gadda draws together different strands of Roman life in a detective story that ultimately gravitates around the elusiveness of truth.
20 short stories follow one another in this volume to trace a portrait of Rome that spans hundreds of years. Drawing together classic authors of the Italian literary tradition and some of the finest voices in modern and contemporary literature, this book presents sketches of the Eternal City in a combination of comic, tragic, and dramatic tales. From a Casanova adventure, to Pope John Francis II, from the years of La Dolce Vita to the hustle of the modern metropolis, Rome emerges from these pages in all the splendour of its imperial past, as well as in the multifaceted identity of its bustling streets in the present day. With a diverse selection of writings by Bocaccio, Alberto Moravia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Melania Mazzucco, and Igiaba Scego among others, Rome Tales captures the essence of one of the most fascinating cities in the world and frames it into a vibrant mosaic.
The second bilingual work of the Algerian-born Italian writer Amara Lakhous, Clash of Civilisations Over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio was first written in Arabic and then rewritten by its author in the Italian language. In ways resonant of Gadda’s Awful Mess, Lakhous’s book presents the multicultural community living in an apartment building in Piazza Vittorio, Rome, a short walk away from Via Merulana. Life in the building is shaken as of one of its inhabitants, a sinister man known as ‘the Gladiator’, is found dead in the elevator. The novel unfolds as a sequence of all the neighbours’ testimonies, revealing the many-sided and colourful essence of one of the most culturally mixed neighbourhoods in Rome. In a delicate style strewn with at times comic, at times bitter and satirical tones, Lakhous paints an affectionate portrait of the present day Eternal City.
‘One must make one’s life as one makes a work of art’. Living a life that most resembles that of Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, Andrea Sperelli is an well-educated and refined aesthete, the young descendent of a noble family, whose quest for beauty and pursuit of an extraordinary existence unfold amongst the aristocratic circles of a late 19th century Rome. In his disdain for bourgeois morality and search for the exalted heights of aesthetic perfection, Sperelli weaves intricate and corrosive love affairs with Elena Muti and Maria Ferres. Set against the backdrop of the sumptuous residences and gardens of the Eternal City, walking the reader through the marvels of Palazzo Zuccari, Palazzo Barberini, Villa Medici. Pleasure, first published in 1889, was D’Annunzio’s first novel and remains one of the greatest literary works in the Italian tradition.
Told in the first person as the autobiographical memoir of the Roman Emperor Claudius, I, Claudius is an historical novel set in the first half on the 1st century AD. In a book that has been numbered among the best novels of the 20th century, Robert Graves assumes the point of view of the fourth Emperor of Rome to retrace its imperial history from the birth of Claudius in 10 BC until his coronation in 41 AD. Left limp by a childhood illness and afflicted with stammering, Claudius’s physical impediments spared him the violence and brutality of the palace intrigues and murders during the reign of his predecessors Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. Dismissed from state affairs, and under the aegis of Livy, Claudius became an historian and an attentive observer of his contemporaries. With I, Claudius, Graves crafts an elaborate portrait of the imperial history of Rome through the eyes of one of its most powerful witnesses.
The first of Tennessee Williams’ two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone was published in 1950 and received by Gore Vidal as a ‘splendidly written, precise, short, complete and fine’ book. Set in the Italian capital in the years following the end of World War II, the book is centred around the figure of Mrs Stone, a former American stage actress and wealthy widow. As time goes by, the grandeur of a fine American lady is replacing the traces of a fading beauty on Mrs Stone’s appearance. In a tentative adjustment to aging and to a new life perceived as purposeless, Mrs Stone drifts into an affair with a young Italian gigolo. Placed against the backdrop of the luminous Roman architectures, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone is the powerful portrait of a woman struggling with her own stray existence.
Carefully researched and exclusively based on historical documents, this historical novel won Maria Bellonci the renowned Viareggio Prize for Italian Literature in 1939, the year of its publication. The daughter of Pope Alexander IV and the sister of Cesare, Lucrezia Borgia is generally associated with the cruelties, the unbridled passions, and the treacherous plots for which her controversial family is known. Challenging the common assumptions surrounding her figure, Bellonci interlaces strict factual reconstruction with a story of sentiments, depicting Lucrezia Borgia as a passionate, contradictory, and complex woman moving amongst the intrigues and ploys of the papal court in Renaissance Rome. A profoundly original work of literature, Bellonci’s book fuses rigorous research into a highly narrative rhythm in an elegantly depictive style.
Published in 1968 and shortlisted for the Booker Prize the following year, The Public Image numbers among a long list of novels by Dame Muriel Spark. The book tells of Annabelle Christopher, a glamorous actress adored by her public, who has just moved to Rome with her husband Frederick and her baby son Carl. In a shimmering show business atmosphere, Spark gracefully reveals the duplicity of her characters and exposes the strains behind a celebrity obsessed culture in the figure of her protagonist. The public image of Annabelle must be glittery and perfect, attentively cultivated to the smallest detail, including her family. Only the reality of her life does not exactly look as smooth as its gleaming surface.
The last finished novel to be published by the author of The Scarlet Letter, The Marble Faun was inspired by the Faun of Praxiteles, which Hawthorne had seen during his stay in Italy in the late 1850s. Immersed in a evocative Italian atmosphere, with landscapes and classical historical sites vividly pictured by the author, the novel summons upon the theme of the fall of man from amoral innocence to discrimination between good and evil, an idea which is symbolised in the double nature, half human and half animal, of the Faun. Often enjoyed by Victorian tourists as a guide to the Eternal City, the book centres around the time spent in Rome by three American artists and their faunlike Italian friend Donatello. In a richly symbolic novel, the characters find their lives thrown into disarray, as a murder irrevocably entangles their existences forcing them to confront the most awful effects of human impulse.