Italo Svevo’s early novel Senilità (1898) remained unknown for many years until James Joyce encountered the novelist in Trieste and came to admire Senilità as a preeminent modern Italian novel. Joyce helped to launch Svevo’s career, and years later Svevo achieved great fame with his masterpiece, Confessions of Zeno.
In Senilità, Svevo tells the story of the amorous entanglement of Emilio, a failed writer already old at thirty-five, and Angiolina, a seductively beautiful but promiscuous young woman. A study in jealousy and self-torment, the novel traces the intoxicating effect of a narcissistic and amoral woman on an indecisive daydreamer who vacillates between guilt and moral smugness. The novel is suffused with a tragic sense of existence, and the unbreachable distance between one consciousness and another. Svevo’s unmistakably modern voice subtly captures rapid shifts in mood and intention, exploiting irony, indirection, and multiple points of view to reveal Emilio’s increasing anguish as he comes to recognize the dissonance between himself and his world.