Alberto Moravia: War destroys all things seen and unseen
From Two Women (1958)
Translated by Angus Davidson
I had brought her up with love; and like all mothers in this world had taken care that she should know nothing of the ugly things of life because I considered that, once she had left home and got married, she would come to know about these things only too soon. On the other hand I had not reckoned with war, which forces us to know things even when we do not want to, and compels us to have experience of them before the proper time, in a cruel, unnatural manner. Well, that was how it was: Rosetta’s perfection was of a kind that was suitable to peacetime, with the shop going well, and me thinking about putting money together for her dowry, and an honest young man who would love her and marry her and give her children, so that she, after being a model baby and a model girl, could also be a model wife. Her perfection was not of the kind that is suitable to wartime, which demands qualities of a different kind – what, I do not know, but certainly not the qualities that Rosetta had.
I can truthfully say that in time of war there is no friend that can be trusted, neither man nor money nor anything else. War throws everything into disorder and destroys, together with things that can be seen, a great many other things that cannot be seen but nevertheless exist.
“In wartime things like that do happen, my dear child, and others too.” She was silent for a moment and then said, as if speaking to herself: “I should always rather be among the ones who get killed than among the ones who do the killing.”
I recalled this spot as being smiling and pretty, and spacious too, and I confess I was surprised when I saw it now, looking so sad and grey and bare and mean. Have you ever seen a woman without any hair? I have; a girl from my village who had typhus fever and lost part of her hair and had the rest shaved off, down to nothing at all. She looked a different person, she even had a different expression, and she reminded one of a big, ugly egg, with a smooth bald head such as women never have and a face with no hair to shade it so that it looked crushed by a light that was too crude. In the same way, without the thick, green foliage of the three plane trees that shaded Tommasino’s cottage, without the green vegetation that hid the rocks on the banks of the stream, without the plants at each side of the road and in the ditches, which I had not noticed at the time but which must have been there because I now felt the lack of them, without all these things the place seemed of no interest and lost its beauty. Just like a woman if you take away her hair. When I saw it looking so impoverished my heart ached, and it seemed to me the place had a resemblance to our lives at that moment, they too being reduced to nakedness and disillusionment, with the war going on and on without end.
He walked quietly along, holding the two horses by their bridles; and on that deserted road in the grey, frozen countryside there was nothing to be seen but him and his horses, and it seemed incredible that this very beautiful young man should be already condemned and should have to die soon, probably by the end of the year. At the fork in the road, where we parted, he said again: “These two horses are all that I have left in life and they’re not even mine.” Then he went off in the direction of the town. We watched him for a moment as he walked away, and I reflected that here was another effect of war. If there had not been a war, this handsome young man would have stayed in his own country and would probably have got married and had a job and become a good, honest man like many others. The war made him leave his country and had made him turn traitor, and now the war was going to kill him and he was already resigned to death and this, among so many terrible things, was perhaps the worst of all, for it was the least natural and the least comprehensible.