Also known as “Confessions of Zeno”
Long hailed as a seminal work of modernism in the tradition of Joyce and Kafka, and now available in a supple new English translation, Italo Svevo’s charming and splendidly idiosyncratic novel conducts readers deep into one hilariously hyperactive and... read more
Zeno Cosini, an aged man, writes his life during a psychoanalytic treatment; the telling doesn’t follow a strict chronological order and, farther, the reader sometime suspects than the Zeno’s memory changes the facts. Zeno is a very clever and sensible man, but lacking in willpower, and doomed... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Zeno Cosini, an aged man, writes his life during a psychoanalytic treatment; the telling doesn’t follow a strict chronological order and, farther, the reader sometime suspects than the Zeno’s memory changes the facts. Zeno is a very clever and sensible man, but lacking in willpower, and doomed to fail every time he tries to improve himself. Already a chain smoker as a child, he decided hundred times to get out from the bad habit and to begin a more sane life, but never succeeding, because he can’t resist to the temptation of smoking a last cigarette before stopping. (The smoke). Zeno, despised by his father, (who, in the testament, put the son’s business under the ward of an administrator, Olivi) has a last chance to gain the parent’s esteem, assisting him during the agony, but fails again. The old man, in his last gesture, slaps the son, who is marked forever by the mortification. (My father’s death). Zeno hopes to begin a new life, marrying Ada Malfenti, the nice and intelligent daughter of a businessman, but his courtship has no success. Instead, is the Ada’s sister, Augusta, a lacklustre and unattractive girl, who falls in love for Zeno. Through a series of accidents and misunderstandings, Zeno ends to marry Augusta, without loving her, while Ada marries Guido Speier, an extrovert and no-nonsense young man, the opposite of Zeno. (History of my marriage). The Zeno’s and Augusta’s marriage, surprisingly, proves happy but Zeno, also if now loves his wife, feel the need of a distraction. He pays the music studies of Carla, a would-be opera singer, and begins an affair with the girl, but always with the resolution to leave her and become a good husband. Instead, also after that Carla, for a misunderstanding, leaves him, he continues to betray the loved wife. (The wife and the lover). Zeno and Guido constitute a trade company, but the business reveals disastrous, for the Zeno’s laziness and Guido’s irresponsibility. The Guido’s marriage too proves a failure: he betrays brazenly the wife with Carmen, the company’s typist and Ada loses her beauty, due to a disease. On the brink of bankruptcy, Guido, for pushing the wife to give him money, simulates a suicide with the Veronal but he really dies, for a delay of the doctor’s arrival. Zeno, playing the stock market, saves the Guido’s family estate (paradoxically, the “ill” Zeno has more success, as husband and as businessman, than his “sane” friend) but, for one of his usual distractions, he doesn’t go to the brother-in-law’s funeral, and Ada doesn’t forgive him this mistake. (History of a commercial society). In the epilogue, Zeno interrupts abruptly the treatment and choose to accept his faults and weaknesses, because he has realized that his sickness is, really, the one of the modern civilization. The First World War will confirm to Zeno (who, separated by his family, and free from the Olivi’s ward, become a successful businessman) how much the whole mankind is ill.
“Life is nor nice nor ugly; it's original.”
“As an old man, you smile of the life and of everything it contains.”
“I loved so much the cigarette, for putting the blame of my inability on it? Who knows if, stopping to smoke, I would have become the ideal and strong man who I expected to be? Perhaps I was bound to my vice by this doubt, because to consider himself a potential great man, is an easy way of living.”
“The love or the hate can push you to the murder, but only the wickedness to the murder’s propaganda.”
“Who has not proved the marriage again, think it most important than it is.”
“You can always laugh at the wisdom after the event, and also at the one before the event, because it’s useless.”
“A glance is more important than a word, because in the entire dictionary there is not a word able to undress a woman.”
“Society advances because the Basedowians push it, and doesn’t crash because the others hold back it. I’m sure that there is a simpler way to build a society, but this is done so, whit the goitre in a side and the edema in the other, without remedies. In the middle, there are the ones with incipient goitre or edema, and on the whole line, in all the mankind, the absolute wealth lacks.”
“One of the first effects of the female beauty on a man is to take away the avarice to him.”
“Why complaining? And yet, everybody complains. The ones who had nothing of the prey dies crying injustice e the ones who had a part of it think that they should have right to a greater part. Why they don’t live and dies silently? Instead, the joy of who was able to gain an exuberant part of the foodstuffs is agreable, and can also show itself at the sun, in the middle of the applauses. The only tolerable cry is the winner’s one.”
“The sun didn’t light me! An old man, also with some wit, is always in the shadow.”
“Instead of the other illnesses, life is always deadly. It doesn’t bear cures.”
“Perhaps, through a frightening disaster caused by the devices, we’ll come back to the wealth. When the toxic gas will be no more enough, an ordinary man, in the secret of his room, will create a matchless explosive, in front of which, the today existing explosives will look like harmless toys. And another ordinary man, but a little more ill, will steal that explosive and will climb on the heart of the world, to put it in the place of the greatest effect. It will be a colossal bang, heard by nobody, and the world, returned to the form of a nebula, will wander in the skies, free from parasites and illnesses. <Ending of the novel>.”
The novel is one of the most read books in the italian secondary schools, also if its complex thematic can be fully understood only in a mature age. In the story, there are many scabrous situations, but always told in a very decent way.
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