Agostino cover
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Publication date:
July 8, 2014
NYRB Classics
Available as E-Book, International Literature

An NYRB Classics Original

A thirteen-year-old boy spending the summer at a Tuscan seaside resort feels displaced in his beautiful widowed mother’s affections by her cocksure new companion and strays into the company of some local young toughs and their unsettling leader, a fleshy older boatman with six fingers on each hand. Initially repelled by their squalor and brutality, repeatedly humiliated for his well-bred frailty and above all for his ingenuousness in matters of women and sex, the boy nonetheless finds himself masochistically drawn back to the gang’s rough games. And yet what he has learned is too much for him to assimilate; instead of the manly calm he had hoped for he is beset by guilty curiosity and an urgent desire to sever, at any cost, the thread of troubled sensuality that binds him to his mother still.

Alberto Moravia’s classic and yet still startling portrait of innocence lost was written in 1942 but rejected by Fascist censors and not published until 1944, when it became a best seller and secured the author the first literary prize of his career. Revived here in a sparkling new translation by Michael F. Moore, Agostino is poised to enthrall and astonish a twenty-first-century audience.


Agostino is the case-study of an Oedipal conflict which manifests itself rather late by classical Freudian standards, but offers Moravia, in line with the whole tradition of the novel of adolescence in Europe, a richer, more complex subject matter to make use of than would otherwise be the case.
The Southern Review

Possibly the most stylistically brilliant of all Moravia’s novels.
—Ian Thompson, London Magazine

A brilliant novella…. In the sober narrative of Agostino Moravia again dissected a mother–son relationship as the young protagonist of the novella made the joint discovery of sexuality (while his young, beautiful, sensuous mother became involved with a lover) and of class distinction, as the neglected boy took up with a band of working-class youth, whose sexual knowledge was far more advanced than his own. Their contempt for his innocence and their envy of his family’s wealth run through the story in a typically Moravian juxtaposition.
—William Weaver, The New York Review of Books

The Augustus Caesar of postwar Italian writers.
The Washington Post

What continues to haunt us is the nostalgia and melancholy of the novelette, Agostino, and even earlier short stories like “A Sick Boy’s Winter.” In these, we hear the authentic, the inward Moravian voice, which speaks always in the plaintive tones of a sickly, mother-obsessed bourgeois boy. If we love rather than respect [Moravia], it is for the sake of that boy, who remains alive some place deep within the successful author—despite his pathetic boasts of potency and his even more pathetic ironies at his own expense. One imagines that little Alberto Pincherle, not yet rebaptized ‘Moravia,’ staring forever through the iron grille which separated his family from the street, and trying to imagine what life can really be like for all those inscrutable Poor People going about their business Out There.
—Leslie Fielder, The New York Times

With this book one can afford to be blunt; it is, quite simply, beautiful…. Because our culture never permits such direct treatment of what is psychically most real and most urgent in human life, our fiction necessarily has no books that so blithely and so ably assert the stinging beauty of this one.
—Mark Shorer, The New York Times

The carnality that animates [Agostino] is naked and unashamed. But the reader who stays to its end will see that it is love with dross burned clean away.
—William Du Bois, The New York Times

An expert study of an adolescent boy and the anguished processes by which he accepts the fact that his mother is, primarily, a woman.

[Moravia’s] most valuable resource has been an incomparable instinct for the life, or what passes for the life, of his time, and in particular for its pathological manifestations.
—John Richardson, New Statesman

Where Moravia excels, over and above his extraordinary understanding of the dark and confused struggles that go on in the mind of the sensitive adolescent, is the delicacy with which he handles the sex situations…. Not once does he fail here; his treatment of physical love is never overcharged, either in the direction of false sentiment or with whipped-up passion. Moravia conducts these portions of his narrative with a kind of grave simplicity that makes of sex neither more nor less than a natural fact.
Los Angeles Times