19 December 2015

Italo Svevo – writer

Author who became the main character in someone else’s novel

The novelist Italo Svevo was born Aron Ettore Schmitz on this day in 1861 in Trieste, which was then part of the Austrian Empire.
The Italian coastal town was home to James Joyce and Italo Svevo
The harbour at Trieste

Schmitz took on the pseudonym, Italo Svevo, after writing his novel La Coscienza di Zeno, Zeno’s Concience.

The novelist himself then became the inspiration for a fictional protagonist in a book by someone else. James Joyce, who was working in Trieste at the time, modelled the main character in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, on his friend Svevo.

Svevo’s own novel, which revealed his deep interest in the theories of Sigmund Freud, received little interest at the time and might have sunk without trace if it had not been for the encouragement of Joyce, who regarded him as a neglected writer. Joyce helped Svevo get the novel translated into French and, after the translated version was highly praised, the Italian critics discovered it.

Svevo always spoke Italian as a second language because he usually spoke the dialect of Trieste where his novel is set and the story never looks outside the narrow confines of Trieste.

In the novel the main character seeks psychoanalysis to discover why he is addicted to nicotine and each time he declares he has smoked the ‘ultima sigaretta’  he starts to smoke again.

Svevo, like his character, smoked all his life. After being involved in a serious car accident in 1928 he was taken to hospital. As he neared death he asked for a cigarette. When it was refused, Svevo said: “That really would have been the last cigarette.” He died later that afternoon, at the age of 66.

Travel tip:

Trieste is the main city of the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and lies close to the Slovenian border.

It was once the main seaport of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is a fascinating mix of styles, with the seafront, canals and imposing squares reminiscent of Venice, and the coffee houses and architecture showing the Austrian influence dating from the era of Hapsburg domination.
The museum commemorates two writers who helped put Trieste on the map.
The Joyce e Svevo museum in Trieste

Travel tip:

Find out why the Irish writer James Joyce enjoyed living in Trieste for so many years by visiting the Museo Joyce e Svevo in Via Madonna del Mare at number 13.

Created in 1997 by Italo Svevo’s daughter, the museum provides the opportunity to study the work of both writers through their manuscripts, photographs, books and letters.


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