Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Confessions of Zeno, by Italo Svevo

  available in Amazon

Introduction by Marciano Guerrero 

Brief biographical note

  Italo Svevo, (1861-1928) Italian novelist and short-story writer, a pioneer of the psychological novel in Italy. He was born Ettore Schmitz, in Trieste, but he adopted the pseudonym, Italo Svevo, or Italus the Swabian, to acknowledge his mixed heritage: Italian by language (Trieste dialeto), Austrian by citizenship (Trieste was a city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and German (in fact, German-Jewish) by ancestry.

He attended a commercial school in Trieste, but his father’s business difficulties forced him to leave school and become a bank clerk. He continued to read on his own and began to write.

About the Confessions of Zeno

 In 1907 novelist James Joyce was engaged as Svevo’s English tutor in Trieste, and in the process they developed a friendship. When Joyce read Svevo’s novel La coscienza di Zeno (Confessions of Zeno), he was so impressed with it that he encouraged the writer to publish it, and later helped to promote it.

While Joyce became enthralled with the latest novelistic techniques —particularly the stream of consciousness and indirect free style— to get inside the mind of his characters, Svevo accomplished the same thing without the new tools. Zeno’s consciousness is not the flowing of a stream, but the cascading, torrential avalanche of details that is the essence of humanness in all aspects: from low double entry bookkeeping, business, and economics, to manipulations of the Stock Market, to moral dilemmas, and raw passions.

Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno belongs to the comic tradition of Don Quixote and Tristram Shandy, though not in the realist manner, but rather in a psychological vein. After a reading a few pages the reader will have no doubt that he is confronting a paradoxical juxtaposition between things of the mind and things themselves.

 Zeno —the narrator and eponymous hero— on the surface is a hypochondriac, neurotic, quirky, solipsistic, self-examining and self-serving bourgeois; deep down, however, he is love and goodness incarnate, not by design but by the whims of life.

Although Svevo wrote many other works, his opus magnum will remain his Confessions of Zeno. While Proust and others wrote lengthy psychological novels, by their sheer length and density, they become soporific. Not so with Zeno, which is intriguing, suspenseful, engaging—never boring, a real tour de force.

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