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The Conformist Paperback – 10 Feb 2000


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth Press (10 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883642655
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883642655
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.7 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 224,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 11 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
The Conformist is a psychologically complex novelistic study of an Italian fascist, although not necessarily a typical fascist, done in an existential style with intense interior monologues and introspection by Alberto Moravia's protagonist, Marcello Clerici.

No doubt Moravia intended Marcello as the conformist, but ironically it is his wife Giulia who nearly always conforms to what is considered normal behavior and who harbors uncritically knee jerk beliefs and opinions formed by church and state. In fact, that is part of the reason he married her. In contrast, Marcello struggles mightily with what he considers his abnormal tendencies. As a child he killed lizards for sport as any boy might, but felt uneasy about the wanton slaughter, and so sought from a friend and his mother some indication that killing lizards was okay. Later he kills a cat, although this is mostly accidental, and as a young teenager shots a homosexual limo driver named Lino. He feels something akin to consternation for these actions, not guilt exactly, but an unease since doing such things is not what he thinks normal people do.

It is his need to be--or at least to appear--"normal" that drives Marcello to conform to society's mores and persuades him to embrace fascism. He only feels really at ease when he sees himself as part of the common herd, on the installment plan, buying ordinary furniture, living in an apartment like a thousand others, having a wife and children, reading the newspapers, going to work, etc. He is not a peasant of course, but an educated functionary in the Italian Secret Service, a man with impeccable manners who seldom says more than is absolutely necessary.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Pamphleteer on 12 Aug. 2008
Format: Paperback
Some kind of masterpiece. Think of it as The Inner Life of a Fascist, the personal as political written with a rare panache. You could even say the portrait of Marcello is sympathetic - an anxious and cunning Man-Boy with a penchant for cruelty who involves himself in Italian Fascism not because it allows him outlets for his vicious urges but because he wants to fit in, to conform in an age of totalitarians. Although clearly anti-Fascist, the Conformist nevertheless brims with the terrible normality of these times, the professional manoeuvres, the social conventions, the complicated but banal complicity of the state with its agents. Marcello undergoes no ideological revelation, expresses no great love for Il Duce. Like his co-workers, he just does what he thinks he needs to to be the good professional with the good family. His targets, the exiled enemies of Fascism, are really the abnormal ones, physically hunch-backed, sexually deviant, far too full of love for other human beings. A deeply affecting take on longing, masks and politics. Highly recommended.
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By sylvia maude on 5 Mar. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
If you want a meanful enquiry into the depths of a character, this book is a must. The main character is, maybe, not a likeable person, but the way his life enfolds and moves him into actions until he finally comes to a realisation of what he actually feels, is fascinating and moving.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 21 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
One of several brilliant novels by Moravia 11 Jun. 2007
By Dennis Littrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The Conformist is a psychologically complex novelistic study of an Italian fascist, although not necessarily a typical fascist, done in an existential style with intense interior monologues and introspection by Alberto Moravia's protagonist, Marcello Clerici.

No doubt Moravia intended Marcello as the conformist, but ironically it is his wife Giulia who nearly always conforms to what is considered normal behavior and who harbors uncritically knee jerk beliefs and opinions formed by church and state. In fact, that is part of the reason he married her. In contrast, Marcello struggles mightily with what he considers his abnormal tendencies. As a child he killed lizards for sport as any boy might, but felt uneasy about the wanton slaughter, and so sought from a friend and his mother some indication that killing lizards was okay. Later he kills a cat, although this is mostly accidental, and as a young teenager shots a homosexual limo driver named Lino. He feels something akin to consternation for these actions, not guilt exactly, but an unease since doing such things is not what he thinks normal people do.

It is his need to be--or at least to appear--"normal" that drives Marcello to conform to society's mores and persuades him to embrace fascism. He only feels really at ease when he sees himself as part of the common herd, on the installment plan, buying ordinary furniture, living in an apartment like a thousand others, having a wife and children, reading the newspapers, going to work, etc. He is not a peasant of course, but an educated functionary in the Italian Secret Service, a man with impeccable manners who seldom says more than is absolutely necessary.

The idea that fascists in general follow the herd and adopt a superficial and uncultured world view is no doubt largely correct, but the essence of fascism is the belief in authoritarian rule, the stratification of society, intolerance of diversity, and a willingness, even an eagerness to use force and violence to obtain such ends. The psychology underlying Moravia's portrait is the idea that Marcello sees in himself the violent and selfish tendencies and so it is only natural that he should adopt a political philosophy that condones and acts out such tendencies.

Moravia treats fascism in the person of Marcello more kindly than I believe he imagined he would when he began the novel, given Moravia's hatred of the fascist movement that seduced much of Europe following the First World War. But this is the necessary consequence of being an objective novelist. In drawing a living, breathing portrait of Marcello, Moravia allows us to see him as a complex person with strengths and weaknesses who deals with the trials of life sometimes in a despicable way, and sometimes, indeed often, in a way that most of us would choose were we in his shoes. Therefore it is impossible not to identify with him to some degree. It is an artifact of Moravia's artistry that we do in fact in the end identify with Marcello and may even realize that in his situation, we too might have embraced fascism or at least tolerated it.

A secondary theme in the novel is that of unrequited love or of desire that is not returned. All of the main characters, Marcello, Lino, Giulia, Quadri and Lina love someone who does not return their love. Marcello briefly falls madly in love with Lina who is a lesbian who despises him. Lina in turn is desperately in love with Giulia who only has eyes for her husband, who does not really love her. The inability of the characters to love the one who loves them is played out partly through a disparity in personality and political belief, and partly through differing sexuality. Lino and his latter-day incarnation in an old British homosexual who drives around Paris picking up indigent young men seldom if ever find their love returned although they might temporarily quench their desire. No one in the novel experiences love both in the giving and the receiving.

Part of Marcello's unease with himself comes from his ambivalent sexuality. He cannot return the intense passion that Giulia feels for him although apparently he does manage to perform his husbandly duties adequately. Perhaps even more to the point, he seems to project a need for the "abnormal" experience. He is twice mistaken for a homosexual, and he falls in love with a homosexual of the opposite sex--thus the "Lino" and the "Lina" of his life. Marcello seems to have a blindness about invert sexuality just as he has a blindness about human morality. He is a man who does not what he thinks is right but what others think is right. He fears his natural impulses. Moravia illustrates this by occasionally having him nearly give into what he feels inside, as in the case of Lina, only to have him realize that to act from his heart is dangerous.

In the final analysis Marcello finds that "the normality that he had sought after with such tenacity for so many years...was now revealed as a purely external thing entirely made up of abnormalities" (quote from near the beginning of Chapter Nineteen).

Moravia (born Alberto Pincherle) is in my opinion one of the great novelists of the 20th century and The Conformist is representative of his best work. Incidentally this was made into a beautiful film by Bernardo Bertolucci while not entirely true to the novel, is nonetheless very much worth seeing.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Why do so many good books fade into obscurity? 4 Sept. 2012
By Digital Rights - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Six reviews in 12 years. What a shame. This is a great book taking on a small story from Italy's war legacy.

What happened in Italy from the 1920's to the 1950's is so overshadowed by larger events that one may not fully appreciate the drama that unfolded. Post WWI Italy probably had more economically in common with Mexico or Brazil than any of the other Western European countries. Low literacy, a high birthrate, underdeveloped industries and largely agrarian it was hardly yet a country but a series of regions sharing a passport.

Moravia is one of the few voices that succeeds in taking on some of the stories of what it was to be Italian. Many wanted to believe in fascism and buy into Mussolini's plan to expand and industrialize. I don't know much about that period myself but in "The Conformist" Moravia's everyman characters realistically portray some of the likely people that lived and worked in Rome.

Marcello Clerici is a young boy of 12 or 13 in 1920 who is the product of a bad union. His wealthy father is unpredictable in his anger and temper and his mother is young and more uninterested in parenthood. Moravia tells us that Marcello has a vague sense of the indifference that his parents have towards him. Birthdays and Christmas come and go with perhaps a gift or maybe not. There is an overwhelming desire to fit in somewhere, to conform; and equally it is unbearably embarrassing when called out. He is bullied at school. They force him into a skirt. As horrible as it is Moravia tells us he is not totally unhappy with the attention. Other disturbing incidents occur. Small animals die. He exposes a fury and temper that he obsesses over.

The book jumps to the late 1930's. Marcello is now a fascist supporter. He is called upon to prove his loyalty by exposing an old professor as a traitor. He does but with wrinkles and twists. He is on his honeymoon. His wife is young, simple perhaps and not unlike his mother whom he now despises. At every point of the story Marcello considers every action. He both fits in and sees himself in the third person fitting in. He reflects his doubts about his professional and personal life and tries to reassure himself that he is on the side of right.

As the tide turns and Mussolini is forced out he knows that his is a lost cause. Italians are happy and angry. War is over and yet it continues.

It's a convincing tale with an evocative atmosphere. For a casual reader looking for some anecdote to discover what was happening it a worthwhile read. For Moravia's first Italian edition I wonder what the reaction would have been. In 1951 most of those working in government or security were likely the same ones as 1941; limiting civil liberties, eliminating opposition, arresting citizens, and mobilizing for war - all with disastrous results. What's the path to reconciliation? Probably blaming the boss and denial. One must wonder how long the scars remain.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By far one of the most interesting novels ever 24 Jan. 2000
By Lance Link - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent entry piece into Italian fiction (in translation), especially for those seeking works set during World War II and the rise of fascism in Italy. Ranks with the best of international 20th century literature.
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
One of Moravia's Best 23 Sept. 1999
By James Bunnelle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
At long last, Moravia is once again available in translation. Apart from his first work GLI INDIFFERENTI, IL CONFORMISTA is probably the author's most successful novel. Well, the most infamous anyway. The setting is fascist Italy just prior to the Second World War and the plot is loosely based on the assassinations of two of Moravia's cousins who were political activists standing up to Il Duce's regime. Moravia takes these events and constructs a masterpiece of postwar Italian fiction, relentless and loaded with insightful ironies. There are some major differences between the novel and Bertolucci's film, which is wonderful in its own right. So don't let that deter you from reading the book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I feel like Western Europe went through a real thing for these ... 19 Dec. 2014
By Holly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I feel like Western Europe went through a real thing for these psychological novels in the middle of the 20th century - the obvious comparison is with Camus's The Outsider, though the contrasts between them are pretty stark as well. This novel is set during Mussolini's dictatorship, and the protagonist is a relatively minor government official and also, it should go without saying, a sociopath: the "conformist" of the title, whose desire above all is to appear normal to those around him. We're treated in the prologue to some disturbing scenes from him childhood, and during the body of the novel to an extended section in Paris, the contrast of which to fascist Italy is profound.

I don't know, I'm in two minds about this. On the one hand, it's not my favourite kind of writing. The internal landscapes are laboured, and the protagonist's actions are over-explained to the point of tedium. As a general rule, I like to build up a picture of a character through his or her actions and decisions, not have them all explained for me in advance. On the other hand, almost despite myself, I did feel engaged by this novel. It wasn't just interesting from a historical perspective, I also found myself genuinely interested in what was going on (and why). I liked it in spite of myself, which in the end is a sign that it's a good novel, just not to my taste.
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