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[121] Contempt – Alberto Moravia

moravia.jpgIf Mrs. Craddock (W. Somerset Maugham) is about an unequal marriage in terms of difference in the expectation of love, Moravia’s Contempt is the story of a marriage in collapse–a caustic dispatch from one man’s self-made hell. It is an examination of a man, who despite of his sensitivity and intelligence, is blind to his own nature. The cruel determination of the prose generates a sense of pathos and danger that is reminiscent of The Kreutzer Sonata (Leo Tolstoy). Riccardo Molteni’s story is one of a tortured, distressing marriage, but beneath this crisis is a melancholy and alienated individual who seeks to identify his source of happiness.

As befit works in modernist literature (Kafka, Camus, Joyce), Contempt does not have much of a plot; it’s musing of a man who tries to understand why his wife suddenly becomes indifferent to him, and ceases to love him and even feels contempt for him. Frustrated by his work as a screenwriter, which he takes to support her and the new flat he bought for her, he becomes convinced that she never loves him. Feeling a painful nausea at the thought that their intimacy has turned to estrangement, he loses motivation for work altogether. He can only recall and blame on an incident in which he acts like prostituting her to the wealthy producer who commissions him to write the scripts of The Odessey.

Whatever the true reason of Emilia’s contempt for Her husband is beyond the scope of the book. But it might have been born out of the daily proximity of their characters, the re-examination of their past relations. It might well be a sudden awakening to her sense that that her husband is less of a man. This realization therefore deprives him of all possibility of exculpating and justifying himself and as a result the narrative takes on the form of a monologue, exploring this issue from different angles. Contradiction between facts and emotions, collision of reason and bewilderment–this marriage melodrama quickly turns into a mental conversation, generating an aura of the surreal.

An interesting subplot emerges and it gains ground as it seriously appeals to Moteni’s relation with his wife. An interpretation of The Odessey asserts that the epic is not an extended adventure through geographical space, but on the contrary a reflection of Ulysses’ subconscious mind. Molteni protests against the interpretation that the poem is an interior drama of a man entangled in the contradiction of a psychosis because it reflects his own predicament. As his mental battle becomes hallucinatory, a sense of apprehension arises. His rational voice and hish seriousness in the prose only serves to heighten this shocking effect in the end.

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