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Alberto Moravia: La romana (The Woman of Rome)

Nearly twenty years after the publication of his first novel, Gli indifferenti (The Indifferent Ones; The Time of Indifference), Moravia was little known outside Italy. This novel changed that. The character of Adriana made a huge impact. Here was a woman but a positive, down-to-earth, sensual woman. Think Gina Lollobrigida, who played her in the Italian film of the book. Moravia has always swung between existentialism and Dostoevskianism and this is definitely one of his Dostoevsky novels. Yes, it is about a woman who is larger than life, sensual, erotic even, who, despite becoming a nude model, a prostitute, the lover of a secret police officer, retains her sense of self-respect and independence. But it is also about fascism, set, as it is, during the Fascist era.

Adriana is from a poor background and dreams of nothing more than having a caring husband and children. She hopes to marry Mino but when she finds out that he is already married, she becomes disillusioned. Gradually, she sinks into prostitution. We follow her – unlike his previous novels, this one is in the first person – as she makes her way around Fascist Rome. We see priests and thugs, secret policeman and intellectuals, all subject to Moravia’s barbed attacks. But Adriana somehow manages to remain true to herself, despite all this and, of course, ends out on top. Moravia tells a wonderful story and this remains his best-known book.

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Bompiani
First English translation 1949 by Farrar, Straus
Translated by lydia Holland and Tami Calliope