Reading Alberto Moravia’s Conjugal Love


“To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved. And this means delighting not only in the contemplation of the beloved’s charms, but also in her imperfections, few or many as they may be.”

At 144 pages, this is a rather short book and that’s a good thing. Not because the writing is bad, oh not that at all. But more because I just detested the main character – a self-absorbed rich guy who fancies himself a writer. After a year of marriage, he and his wife Leda take off to the countryside so that he can write his masterpiece. The catch is, no sex for them until he is done.

Oh boy. You can see where that will end up. Then Moravia throws a spanner into the works, with the daily visit of the portly village barber who comes to shave Silvio – he claims he can’t shave himself. Well, let’s just say that things just go downhill from there.

This is my first time reading a book by Alberto Moravia (Words without Borders calls him ‘the Beethoven of bad sex‘), and it was rather fascinating to see how he developed the story, short as it may be. The way Silvio acutely observes Leda, describing her features, her beauty, as well as some darker and uglier aspects of her that occasionally lash out.

“Her entire body would cringe, like a person who is afraid or revolted by something; like a mime or a dancer, she thrust her arms and legs forward in a gesture of defense and repugnance, but at the same time, her body arched in a gesture of invitation and provocation.”

And yet, this keen observer is unable to see what is happening with his wife. So since the reader is, in a sense, trapped, seeing things only from Silvio’s (rather opaque) point of view, we are slow to understand what is going on.

This parable of marriage is a quick intense read. It was a random grab off the library shelves, mostly because I was attracted to its length (short) and cover (ooh typewriter) and the fact that it’s a work in translation (translated by Marina Harss).

I am curious about his other books. Have you read anything by Alberto Moravia before? He’s written so many other books, which would you recommend I read next?



I read this book (published in 1951) for the Back to the Classics Challenge – a classic in translation

Conjugal Love was first published in Italian in 1947, first translated into English in 1951. I read the version published in 2007 by Other Press, translated by Marina Harss