Italian writer and businessman
|Born||Aron Ettore Schmitz
19 December 1861
|Died||13 September 1928
Motta di Livenza, Italy
Life and career
Born in Trieste (then in Austria-Hungary) as Aron Ettore Schmitz to a Jewish family that originated in Germany, Italo Svevo (literally Italian swabian) wrote the classic novel La Coscienza di Zeno (rendered as Confessions of Zeno, or Zeno's Conscience) and self-published it in 1923. The work, showing the author's interest in the theories of Sigmund Freud, is written in the form of the memoirs of one Zeno Cosini, who writes them at the insistence of his psychoanalyst. Schmitz's novel received almost no attention from Italian readers and critics at the time.
The work might have disappeared altogether if it were not for the efforts of James Joyce. Joyce had met Schmitz in 1907, when Joyce tutored him in English while working for Berlitz in Trieste. Joyce read Schmitz's earlier novel Senilità, which had also been largely ignored when published in 1898.
Joyce championed Confessions of Zeno, helping to have it translated into French and then published in Paris, where critics praised it extravagantly. That led Italian critics, including Eugenio Montale, to discover it. Zeno Cosini, the book's hero, mirrored Schmitz, being a businessman fascinated by Freudian theory.
Confessions of Zeno never looks outside the narrow confines of Trieste, much like Joyce's work, which rarely left Dublin in the last years of Ireland's time as part of the United Kingdom. Svevo brings a keenly sardonic wit to his observations of Trieste and, in particular, to his hero, an indifferent man who cheats on his wife, lies to his psychoanalyst and is trying to explain himself to his psychoanalyst by revisiting his memories.
There is a final connection between Schmitz-Svevo and the character Cosini. Cosini sought psychoanalysis, he said, in order to discover why he was addicted to nicotine. As he reveals in his memoirs, each time he had given up smoking, with the iron resolve that this would be the "ultima sigaretta!!", he experienced the exhilarating feeling that he was now beginning life over without the burden of his old habits and mistakes. That feeling was, however, so strong that he found smoking irresistible, if only so that he could stop smoking again in order to experience that thrill once more.
Svevo likewise smoked for all of his life. After being involved in a serious car accident, he was brought into hospital at Motta di Livenza, where his health rapidly failed. As death approached he asked one of his visitors for a cigarette, telling everyone that this really would be the last one (the request was denied).
Svevo lived for part of his life in Charlton, south-east London, while working for a family firm. He documented this period in his letters to his wife which highlighted the cultural differences he encountered in Edwardian England. His old home at 67 Charlton Church Lane now carries a blue plaque.
He was an atheist.
- Una vita, 1892 (A Life)
- Senilità, 1898 (As a Man Grows Older/Emilio's Carnival; literally "Old Age")
- La Coscienza di Zeno, 1923 (The Confessions of Zeno/Zeno's Conscience)
- Una burla riuscita, 1929 (A Perfect Hoax)
- The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl
- At his birth, Svevo was named "Aron, called Ettore, Schmitz, as recorded in the register of births of the Jewish Community in Trieste. His friend James Joyce was to address letters and postcards to him as Mr Hector Schmitz. His wife Livia Veneziani ... also addressed him as Hector." Gatt-Rutter, J & Mulroney, B, "This England is so different" - Italo Svevo's London Writings, p. 4.
- Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 502–04. ISBN 0-19-503103-2.
- "This England is so different" - Italo Svevo's London Writings" John Gatt Rutter & Brian Mulroney Troubador ISBN 1-899293-59-0
- Casoli, Giovanni, Vangelo e letteratura, Città Nuova, 2008, p. 90.
- Italo Svevo, Zeno's Conscience. Trans. William Weaver. New York: Vintage International, 2001.
- Fabio Vittorini, Italo Svevo, Milano, Mondadori, 2011
- Livia Veneziani Svevo, Memoir of Italo Svevo, Preface by P. N. Furbank, Trans. by Isabel Quigly, ISBN 1-870352-53-X, London: Libris, 1991
- Gatt-Rutter, J., Italo Svevo: A Double Life (1988)
- Moloney, Brian, Italo Svevo: A Critical Introduction (1974)
- Furbank, Philip N., Italo Svevo: The Man and the Writer (1966)
- Gatt-Rutter, J & Mulroney, B, 'This England is so different' - Italo Svevo's London Writings Troubador
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- Novels and stories of Italo Svevo
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- Works by Svevo: text with concordances and frequency list
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- Listen to some chapters of La Coscienza di Zeno on audio mp3 free download