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Italo Svevo: Senilità (As a Man Grows Older)

Svevo published this novel himself, at his own expense, and the critical reception was virtually zero, which very much embittered its author. Indeed, as a result, he virtually gave up writing for some time. The story is semi-autobiographical. It tells of a thirty-five year old man, Emilio Brentani, who lives with his sister, Amalia, and who, like his creator, once published a novel in his youth. He falls for Angiolina, a working-class woman who, though much younger than him, is much more experienced in the ways of the world. His love affair has an effect on Amalia, who falls for Balli, Emilio’s sculptor friend (unknown to Balli). But Amalia falls ill and then dies and this, as well as advice from Balli, leads him to break off with Angiolina, who runs off with someone else. Despite this, he has nothing but wonderful memories of Angiolina and considers his relationship with her to be the highlight of his life.

It is a sad tale, as Emilio, always the weakest in the partnership, is deceived by Angiolina and clearly is not up to having such a passionate love affair. In the end, he loses his sister, who had always adored her brother, as well as the love of his life and finishes up an embittered and saddened old man. Joyce recognised the qualities in this novel and it certainly is a well-told tale.

Publishing history

First published 1898 by Vram, Trieste
First English translation 1932 by Putnam
Translated by Beryl De Zoete (