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Contempt by Alberto Moravio

Reviewed by Gail Vida Hamburg
Author of The Edge of the World (Mirare Press)

Contempt is a disturbing work by Italian author, Alberto Moravia that casts a penetrating gaze at two people flailing about in the sticky molasses of a decaying marriage. With deep psychological insight, Moravia tells the story of Moltari, a failed public intellectual turned screenwriter and his beautiful wife, Emilia.

Moltari is one of the most appallingly selfish and self-destructive protagonists to be encountered in literature. He installs his trophy wife in a rented hovel that she furnishes and cares for, with all the attention due to a love nest. “Her love of home,” Moltari [the narrator] explains “was an unconscious means of expression for the frustrated aspirations of generations of disinherited people who were chronically incapable of setting up an abode of their own. The actual power of that dream was for her, more a reason for living than just a dream.” Nevertheless, Moltari, who is nothing if not solipsistic, consigns her yearning for a real home and roots, to greed and selfishness. He blames her and the cost of maintaining her in an expensive new house, for his indentured labor as a well paid, artistically bankrupt screenwriter.

Based on Moravia’s tempestuous marriage to the brilliant writer, Elsa Morante , Contempt unfolds at the agonizingly slow pace of daily life, basted in pain, anger, fear, need, loyalty, and love. Moravia once said of his wife: “There were days I wanted to kill her. Not to split up, which would have been the reasonable solution, but to kill her, because our relationship was so intimate, and so complex, and in the end so vital that murder seemed easier than separation,” Contempt is a bloodletting, and a cautionary tale about the examined life: that marriage is an enigmatic intuition better left unsolved; and that it will crumble into bits under the weight of scrutiny , self regard, and intellectualism.

   

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