Aracoeli () was the last novel written by Elsa Morante (), one of the most significant Italian writers of the twentieth century. The journey, both. “Aracoeli” () was the last novel written by Elsa Morante (), one of the most significant Italian writers of the twentieth century. Our most recent release—which shipped to subscribers last week—is Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli, her last novel, and by far her darkest.

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Thirty years ago, Elsa Morante seemed to many American writers and critics a major novelist. She had recently become famous with the publication moante History: A Novela notoriously vast and tumultuous work, and yet clearly one of the most compelling accounts of the Second World War to come out of Europe. American and British editions of her books came festooned with the praise of her peers, and she was often grouped with other leading Italian writers of the war and post-war period.


The recent biography by Lily Tuck—the first devoted to Morante in any language—studies her affiliations and makes clear that she was always, in her own country, an embattled figure, and it comes as little surprise to learn that the writer who could be savage in her responses to the work of her own closest friends might also find her own work subjected to savage attack, even by a confidante and admirer like the writer-filmmaker Pier Wlsa Pasolini.

A volatile and notoriously unpredictable character, subject to infatuations and bitter resentments of the sort she anatomized in her fiction, Morante produced novels marked by ambivalences fiercely, even desperately evoked. Well before the appearance of History inMorante stirred attention with an enormous, badly flawed first novel entitled House of Liars It is, in its way, a characteristic performance, vehement, implacable, indiscreet in its rage to uncover emotions that are raw and disturbing.

Like many American readers, I came to the novel twenty years after its initial appearance, when History: In both of these novels readers are asked, again and again, to absorb complex shocks of mkrante, to attend closely to the painful probing of psychic wounds.


Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli : a portrait of the mind as embodied. – Durham Research Online

These are not, we feel, novels for the faint of heart. Everywhere in these novels we are made to anticipate iniquity and betrayal. Morante was a writer—so we feel— who arackeli from an intolerable burden of hurt and dispossession, who mistrusted her own inclinations to pleasure and self-approval.

Perhaps this had much to do with the fact that Aracoeli was a complete departure from Historya work much more varied in its devices and more generous in its sympathies. More probably, Aracoeli was resisted because it opened up a devastated psychological landscape without the slightest intimation of a redemptive prospect.

Of course, a work shaped and controlled by moraante obsessive outlook and a corresponding rhetoric may come to seem monotonous. That is the risk Morante deliberately invites in Aracoeli. Emanuele, its first person narrator, knows that nothing he will tell us can alter or relieve his distress, which can border on the pathological.

ARACOELI: The Power of Disturbance: Elsa Morante’s Aracoeli

To be sure, reasons are provided to account for morajte desperate unhappiness of the year-old narrator, who recounts the trajectory of his life as if it were, in every important respect, at an end. He had been loved by his beautiful, erratic mother Aracoeli, and soon found himself rejected, his mother in the grip of an obscure sexual mania.

The father, emotionally distant, reticent, unavailable, could arxcoeli nothing in the way of solace. Encouraged by his peers to find refuge in the company of women, Emanuele found himself impotent, inadequate, his consequent compulsive homoerotic excursions similarly dispiriting. Reasons, to be sure. On them, as they sleep, he sews an invisible shirt, woven with the threads of their destiny.

Can this sense of fatality serve as a sufficient reason to account for the life of such a person? In many ways it is the most compelling of the reasons Morante provides. Throughout the novel the narrator is at pains to insist upon the mystery of things. There are powers that enchant us, block our path to change or protest.


No doubt there are readers who will feel offended by the very suggestion of such a zracoeli. They will say that araoeli adult worthy of our attention over the course of a long novel cannot be made to submit so entirely to anything so nebulous as ancient laws, nor, for that matter, to the unfathomable laws of his own fixed nature. And yet Morante makes her Emanuele an extraordinarily compelling and believable character, whose sense of fatality is oddly suggestive of intimations to which every adult is, in varying degrees, susceptible.

Is he therefore a one-dimensional figure? These qualities demand, so we feel, that we honor her protagonist and care for him, in spite of the appalling, stubborn tenacity of his pessimism. Even the mother, Aracoeli herself, though subjected to a merciless dissection and a hideous fate, is permitted now and again to seem irresistibly vital and, for much of the novel, promising. But her own inveterate feeling for tenderness and beauty is also unmistakable, as unmistakable as her esla to get to the bottom of something she wishes with all her heart to encompass.

There remains, as a residue of our encounter with a novel that is never less than troubling, an impression of a strangeness fully confronted but never fully understood.

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