Agostino’ by Alberto Moravia (1942) – 102 pages Translated by Michael F. Moore
‘Agostino’ begins with an idyllic summer morning scene of a thirteen year old boy, Agostino, out in a rowboat on the Mediterranean with his mother.
“Agostino’s mother was a big and beautiful woman still in her prime, and Agostino was filled with pride every time he got in the boat with her for one of their morning rides.”
Agostino’s father has died, so he spends a lot of time with his mother. On their boat trips, sometimes his mother would dive into the sea.
“Agostino would see the mother’s body plunge into a circle of green bubbles, and he would jump in right after her, ready to follow her anywhere, even to the bottom of the sea. He would dive into the mother’s wake and feel as if even the cold compact water conserved traces of the passage of that beloved body.”
Later while Agostino rowed the boat, his mother would remove the top of her bathing suit to expose her whole body to the sunlight. Agostino steered the boat and did not look back at his mother.
One morning however a tanned young man appears, intruding upon the mother and son’s profound intimacy. In a couple of days the young man and Agostino’s mother go off rowing by themselves, leaving Agostino behind. After that Agostino must fend for himself.
He encounters a gang of rough boys his own age or older who hang around the beach with an adult lecherous homosexual sailor. These ragged boys have disdain for Agostino since they can tell by the way he talks and dresses that he is upper class, not one of them. With nothing else to do, Agostino soon runs with the gang every day.
“The dark realization came to him that a difficult and miserable age had begun for him, and he couldn’t imagine when it would end.”
‘Agostino’ is a fine novella, and as always in Alberto Moravia’s fiction, it deals with elemental issues. Here we have a young boy enraptured by his beautiful mother who must move on and grow up, and growing up is not easy. He must come to terms with his mother being just another woman.
Alberto Moravia captures the real down-to-earth drama that occurs in our lives, not on the glamorous or noteworthy occasions, but instead the subtle every day transformations each of us must undergo. A boy growing up to become a man (‘Agostino’), a wife whose attitude changes toward her husband after two years of marriage (‘Contempt’), a woman who works as a prostitute (‘The Woman of Rome’). By tracing problems that face individuals, he can deal with what causes the fascism sickness of entire societies (‘The Time of Indifference’, ‘The Conformist’).
The lyrical and passionate realism of the novels and stories of Alberto Moravia is just as strong and meaningful today as it was back when they were written in the middle of the twentieth century.