Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 31, 2018

‘Disobedience’ from Two Adolescents, by Alberto Moravia, translated by Angus Davidson

I read this book for Italian Lit Month at Winston’s Dad, squeezing it in to complement my previous review of Alberto Moravia’s Agostino.

Disobedience is the second of two stories in my 1960 Penguin edition of Two Adolescents and at 113 pages it just qualifies as a novella. (My rough-and-ready classification is that <100 pages is a short story, and a novella is between 100-200 pages).  It is the story of a troubled adolescent and his journey towards maturity.

But as I first began reading, it seemed to me that Luca’s inability to tolerate the reign of his parents over him was perhaps a metaphor for Moravia’s attitude towards Italian politics under the dictatorship of Mussolini.  At first, he feels an inchoate rage that overwhelms him.  It is triggered by all kinds of minor things, but they all represent ways in which he is required to conform and obey, and this is, suddenly, more than he can bear.  Chapter One ends with him being violently sick as his rage and grief overtakes him, while his parents, who are only interested in making money, are oblivious to his distress.

His rebellion then takes a new form:

Luca was not acquainted with the terms applicable to social warfare; if he had been, he would not have been slow to recognise, in the new form that his revolt against the world had taken, the characteristics of a strike.  (p.95)

He slacks off at school, he is lazy and late for things, and he sleeps the sleep of one who wants to fall into oblivion.  He withdraws into himself more and more, discovering unexpected emotions of self-pity as denies himself all the possessions that represent his subservience to his parents.  He starves himself too, forming a morbid desire to die, with his only solace a pathetic attraction to a governess temporarily caring for his cousins in his home. The crisis comes when his foolish behaviour brings on a near-fatal illness, and it is only when a new desire is frustrated by the death of the nurse he is attracted to that he realises that life can offer hope.

Is this how people in dictatorships reconcile themselves to their fate?

A very thought-provoking book…

Author: Alberto Moravia
Title: Two Adolescents (comprising Agostino and Disobedience)
Translated by Angus Davidson
Publisher: Penguin, 1960, Disobedience first published in 1950, and in translation in 1950.
ISBN: none
Source: Personal library, Op Shop find for 20c.

Available from Fishpond in a 2014 NYRB edition with an introduction by Michael F. Moore: Agostino


  1. Over and over, children punish themselves to punish their parents [I’m catching up on unread posts while working and still not at the end of E.Mac, though I have started writing]

    Liked by 1 person

    • He certainly captures that self-destructive impulse in this story…


  2. […] author Alberto Moravia.  The book consists of two stories, ‘Agostino’ and ‘Disobedience‘ written during and just after Mussolini’s dictatorship and they are both written from […]


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