Italo Svevo

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
Italo Svevo
Italian writer and businessman
Born Aron Ettore Schmitz
(1861-12-19)19 December 1861
Trieste, Austrian Empire
Died 13 September 1928(1928-09-13) (aged 66)
Motta di Livenza, Italy
Spouse(s) Livia Veneziani

Aron Ettore Schmitz (19 December 1861 – 13 September 1928), better known by the pseudonym Italo Svevo (Italian: [ˈiːtalo ˈzvɛːvo]), was an Italian writer and businessman, known as a novelist, playwright, and short story writer.

Life and career

Born in Trieste (then in Austrian Empire, after 1867 Austria-Hungary) as Aron Ettore Schmitz[1] 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.

Svevo was also a model for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Joyce's Ulysses.[2]

Svevo was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War. He spoke Italian as a second language (as he usually spoke the Triestine dialect). Due to his germanophone ancestry by his father, he and his brothers were sent to a boarding school near Würzburg, Germany, where he learnt fluent German.[3]

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. It was refused. Svevo replied: "That really would have been the last cigarette." He died that afternoon.[4]

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[5] 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.[6]


The following are named after him:

Selected works

First edition of Senilità


  1. 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.
  2. Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 502–04. ISBN 0-19-503103-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. William Weaver, Translator's Introduction page xxii, "Zeno's Conscience" Vintage 2003.
  5. “This England is so different” – Italo Svevo’s London Writings. John Gatt Rutter & Brian Mulroney. Troubador. ISBN 1-899293-59-0
  6. 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. London: Libris, 1991. ISBN 1-870352-53-X
  • 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

External links