See biographies by P. N. Furbank (1966) and B. Weiss (1987); studies by B. Moloney (1974 and 1977), and L. G. Subrizi (1984).
(born Dec. 19, 1861, Trieste, Austrian Empire—died Sept. 13, 1928, Motta di Livenza, Italy) Italian writer. Though family financial difficulties forced him to leave school and become a bank clerk, he read on his own and began to write. A Life (1892), revolutionary in its analytical, introspective treatment of an ineffectual hero, was ignored on publication, as was As a Man Grows Older (1898). He gave up writing until, encouraged by James Joyce (then living in Trieste), he produced his most famous novel, Confessions of Zeno (1923), a brilliant work in the form of a patient's statement for his psychiatrist. He died in an auto accident. Two short-story collections, essays, dramatic works, correspondence with Eugenio Montale, and his unfinished Further Confessions of Zeno (1969) were published after his death. He is regarded as a pioneer of the psychological novel.
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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 beliefs.
Schmitz was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War. He spoke Italian as a second language and, according to some critics, wrote it badly - though some have pointed out that it is not bad Italian, but rather the official Tuscan dialect in a Triestino mouth.
Confessions of Zeno never looks outside the narrow confines of Trieste, much like Joyce's work, which never left Dublin in the last years of Ireland's time as part of the United Kingdom. Schmitz brings a keenly sardonic wit to his observations of Trieste and, in particular, to his hero, an indifferent man who cheats on his wife and lies to his psychoanalyst and who 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 hit by a car while crossing the street, he was brought home, where his health rapidly failed. As death approached he asked one of his visitors for a cigarette, telling everyone that this really would be the last one (the request was denied).
Giuseppe Antonio Camerino. Italo Svevo e la crisi della Mitteleuropa: edizione ampliata e completamente riveduta.(Book review)
Jan 01, 2005; Giuseppe Antonio Camerino. Italo Svevo e la crisi della Mitteleuropa: edizione ampliata e completamente riveduta. Napoli: Liguori...