The self-deceiving lover
Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia
First published 1943 as L’amore coniugale
In his villa in Tuscany in October 1937, Silvio — a rich dilettante who dreams of becoming a famous writer — decides that his most important story, perhaps his only story, is his intense, unlimited love for his wife Leda. He admires her affectionate nature, her obedience to his whims, and what he insists is her great beauty — although he notes that her nose is too long and she has other imperfections, besides not being, in his view, especially bright. But her lack of wit and culture — which he tries to remedy by reading poetry to her — is more than compensated by her erotic experience, with her first husband and other previous lovers. This history makes her more exciting to Silvio, who observes Leda only to the extent that her behavior, in bed or at the dinner table, affects his own sensual comfort. So unobservant is he that he doesn’t even notice what every reader suspects from the earliest hint, that she is about to have an adventure with the most un-Silvio man in sight, the swarthy, hairy, balding Sicilian barber that Silvio has hired to shave him every morning. We never see Leda except through Silvio’s eyes, but even with such limited vision, we glimpse a bolder personality. In the end, though Silvio discovers her adventure, he finds it easier to deny it, and thus commits this book-length declaration of conjugal love which may deceive only himself. The novel is an amusing intrigue, as much for what it says about the hesitations and delusions of a beginning writer as for its erotic escapade. It takes place in a rich man’s bubble, untouched by tensions and conflicts of Fascist Italy.