Literary biographies are one of my favorite reading areas. It seems the 21th century is getting off to a great start with lots of wonderfully researched and elegantly written biographies of authors in the last few years. Woman of Rome A Life of Elsa Morante by Lilly Tuck exemplifies this. The author of a biography of a famous author has a difficult task. The temptation is to use the life history of the subject as resulting in her works, to,identifying characters in an author's work with real people in her life.
Elsa Morante (1912 to 1985) most highly regarded novels are History and the cult classic, Arturo's Island. She published lots of short stories, a good bit of political journalism, she was a communist as were most Italian writers and intellectuals of the period. She married in 1941 the novelist Alberto Moravio, author of numerous novels including Woman of Rome, the source of the title for Tuck's biography. She got her literary start publishing short stories.
Morante was born into a struggling to get by high drama family. She learned early what it meant to be a woman of Rome. She was not of the temperment or inclination to work in a mundane job, a shop or a factory were not of interest to her. Tuck tells us she occasionally prostituted herself, as did the central character in Woman of Rome. From an early age she developed a love for reading. Morante and her husband were both half-Jewish. When the Germans occupied Rome in 1943, they moved to a remote village in the mountains and stayed there until the war was over. Tuck shows us how from this experience came Morante's very powerful History. (I hope to read this in February.) I was moved when Tuck explained how Morante insisted this book be priced so as to make it affordable by as many people as possible. The well known translator William Weaver helped produce an English language edition.
Tuck devotes a lot of space to commentary on the novels of Morante, showing how her life experiences influenced her work. Morante's marriage was not a great match. They were not at all a conventional literary couple. Both had other relationships. They divorced in 1961. Morante liked handsome, artistic, sometimes bisexual men years younger than herself and Tuck elegantly describes her various relationships.
Morante loved cats, especially Siamese cats, at times seemingly preferring them to people, an attitude I sometimes share.
"Animals are angels and Siamese cats are archangels" - Elsa Morante
I enjoyed this book a lot. Morganite had a very interesting life and Tuck takes us along.