Sunday 3 April 2016

For the last two nights there has been a direct line from my reading to my dreams.

The Woman of Rome by Alberto Moravia, 'this powerful modern novel' as the 1950s Penguin blurb has it, is 'told entirely in the first person' by a young prostitute. Moravia sees off criticism with a brief note at the beginning; he knows a young (or old) prostitute is unlikely to be able to articulate her acceptance or her bewilderment. Her life is not her own; it belongs to the composite lover, the author.

Italian novels often involve prostitutes. Giorgio Bassani's young, thoughtful, male characters visit them. Moravia has no note on why he chose to narrate as a prostitute. I have gone rapidly past this book on my shelves ever since I first bought it, as if its modernity (and indeed its translation) were long past their moment.
The scene is Mussolini's Rome, and against this background of squalor and cynicism the novelist has painted the figure of a dauntless, fascinating personality.
At the start of the novel she is an artist's model. At the beginning of Part Two she meets a young intellectual and falls in love. The nakedness of her body and then her soul prompted my two dreams. In the first I went out with no clothes on, thinking, it doesn't matter, no one will notice, or maybe they will, maybe I should put on a t shirt. In the second I was talking to a young soldier, so close up I could overlook his uniform. Twin souls we were, such as I imagined when I was about 17, which is roughly when I first read The Woman of Rome. I don't know what we talked about but at the end I said, 'that was one of the best conversations of my entire life', and woke up feeling enlightened and refreshed.

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