The Woman of Rome by Alberto Moravia (1947)
“‘I’m a whore,’ I finally said out loud, to see what effect the words would have on me. They didn’t seem to have any effect ”.
This is Adriana, the woman from Rome. It’s Mussolini’s time. Adriana is young, poor and beautiful. Her mother is a seamstress. Adriana’s beauty is their way out of poverty.
I read the book when I was 10 years old. It was my mother’s, a tattered Penguin paperback. I lay down on the dusty carpet next to her bed and consumed Adriana’s story. “The old smell of dust and lint in the carpet. . . Mino lay down on me and his weight made me aware of the delicious hardness of the parquet. . I felt him kiss my neck and cheeks and I was filled with joy.
Sex on the floor. So it seemed to me no surprise. Reading the novel now, I see its brutality.
Adriana hopes to marry Gino, a driver. But she sinks into prostitution. His first meeting is with Astarita, “a big pot in the political police”. Adriana is more than happy to take her money. “I felt strangely delighted, my face was burning and my breathing was labored. “
Adriana seems to be in control of her world. She chooses her men; she often enjoys his sexual encounters. Her beloved, Mino, is a wealthy student engaged in sedition. When he is arrested, she asks Astarita to intervene. But Mino, terrified, confesses, incriminating his friends. Desperate, he commits suicide. Adriana is pregnant. She told Mino that the child was his; she lied. She knows her father is Sonzogno, a murderer. But Mino’s family will now secure his future.
You can read the book like the story of a prostitute. Or as a commentary on fascism. Moravia’s work was banned; during World War II he went into hiding. The stench of Mussolini’s dictatorship permeates every page. Read it and shudder. Or read it as a testimonial to survival.