“The Fancy Dress Party” by Alberto Moravia

“The Fancy Dress Party” by Alberto Moravia   (1941)  – 185 pages

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I’ve read a lot of Alberto Moravia, perhaps a dozen of his novels and story collections, and I hope to read more.  “The Fancy Dress Party” is a fun little romp of a novel.   Fun romp or not, this is the novel which had its second edition seized and banned by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime in Italy, because it contains an unflattering portrayal of a dictator who may or may not have been based on Mussolini himself.  After that Moravia and his novelist wife Elsa Morante had to flee Rome and hide out in the rural town of Fondi in central Italy until after the liberation of Rome.

“The Fancy Dress Story” is a farcical novel which takes place in ‘a country across the sea’. Strong-man dictator General Tereso Arango has one weakness – women.  The duchess Gorina hopes to enhance her status among the elite by getting the General to come to her party.  She knows the General has his eye on the young and beautiful widow Fausta.  The duchess invites the General telling him that Fausta will be there.  Meanwhile Fausta arrives while taking up with nearly every guy who crosses her path.  The General’s police chief wants to increase his own prestige, so he invents a fake plot against the General’s life , and the fervent hapless revolutionary Saverio is recruited to be the assassin.  Meanwhile Saverio’s brother Sebastiano joins the plot so he can get up next to Fausta.

This is a farce which is not the kind of novel Moravia usually wrote.  His works are usually much more intense and serious.  For example Moravia’s later novel ‘Contempt’ is focused on a woman’s contempt for her husband, quite serious fare.  Alberto Moravia was closely involved in the movie industry, and ‘Contempt’ was made into a really good movie which starred Brigitte Bardot.  If I were recommending an Alberto Moravia novel to someone who has not read him before, I would probably recommend ‘Contempt’ which has recently been re-published by New York Book Review (NYBR) Classics.  But several of his novels such as ‘The Woman of Rome’, ‘The Time of Indifference’, ‘Boredom’, and ‘The Conformist’ as well as “The Fancy Dress Party” are excellent.  His stories, most collected in books called ‘Roman Tales’, are fine too.  He also wrote screenplays, and several of his novels were made into movies.

729-1Alberto Moravia is at the top of my short list of my favorite novelists along with Patrick White, Elizabeth Taylor, Graham Greene, and Dawn Powell.  Whereas Patrick White may present some difficulty for some readers, the rest are very accessible to the average reader.  One thing I like about Alberto Moravia is his bluntness, because he can capture a person’s good and bad essence in just a few sentences.

Moravia handles comedy well here in “A Fancy Dress Party”.  It is one of those stories where you smile the whole while you are reading it.  Each of the characters has his or her own angle, and no one comes out looking particularly good.  It is hard to understand how the Fascists could have taken offense at this novel.  They must not have had much of a sense of humor.

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7 responses to this post.

  1. Another author that’s lurking on my TBR! I have The Conformist and Two Adolescents on my TBR, Op Shop finds that I’ve had for ages and ages.
    The good thing is, he’s an M. My M shelf has burst its banks, so I am having an assault on it until it gets back under control. If I can maintain a semblance of self-discipline, there will be no more As, Bs, or Cs etc for a while until order is restored …

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Wow, a shelf for every letter. I can see that if you attacked your TBR always alphabetically you would be reading a lot of A, B, and C authors, but would rarely make it to the W, X, Y, Z ones.

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      • True, but of course I am much more haphazard than that.
        But I don’t have a shelf for every letter. Most of them are pairs of letters e.g. C and D share a shelf. It’s only the Ms that are misbehaving … though G is starting to get a bit uppity and may need restraining soon too.

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  2. This is an astonishing coincidence. I’d never heard of Moravia but 30 mins after reading your post I opened my current read – Edna O’Brien’s memoir – to find his name staring back at me.

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    • Hi Karen,
      I’ve had coincidences like that occasionally. Interesting there is an Edna O’Brien / Alberto Moravia connection, although Alberto Moravia was a very active author in his time much involved in movie-making.

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  3. I inherited a couple of old Penguin editions of Moravia – wasn’t sure about them, but I think I’m definitely tempted to read one now. Thanks,

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    • Hi gaskella,
      Alberto Moravia is definitely one of my favorite writers. He is also my link to Elena Ferrante. They both have this blunt way of writing about people that appeals to me.

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