Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
After the death of her husband, Cesira is content with her small shop, her tidy flat, and raising her teenage daughter. When the war comes she initially prospers by selling black market goods she acquires from peasant farmers outside Rome. In spite of all the changes in her life, Cesira remains very much the same person she has always been until she confronts the war at first hand in the mountains after fleeing Rome to return to her family home at Vallecorsa with her daughter, Rosetta.
Sant’Eufemia. Small village high in the mountains where Cesira and Rosetta take what they believe will be only temporary lodgings in a crude lean-to with a peasant family. There, amid the ramshackle huts and rude life of the peasants, Cesira rediscovers the customs of her childhood, and her daughter is subjected for the first time to the hardships of country living, with its attendant poverty, isolation, and fears.
Moravia uses the nine months of the women’s stay at Sant’Eufemia to introduce readers to the degradation of rural Italian life, far from the comforts of Rome. As their stay lengthens, the women are gradually exposed to the realities of a shooting war and the German occupation of Italy, as they wait for Italy’s liberation by British and American armies. Moravia also uses this period in their lives to present to his readers the violence and humiliation of the occupation.
Fondi. Town closest to Sant’Eufemia. It provides a contrast between the relative prosperity of life on the lower plain, with its amenities, and the poverty and misfortune of peasants living in the mountains. This contrast is a consistent theme among postwar Italian novelists, especially those like Moravia who espouse socialist solutions to the problems of modern Italian society. Fondi is also the place where the women first encounter the Allied troops and receive food, shelter, clothing, and finally transportation to their initial destination, Cesira’s family home at Vallecorsa.
Vallecorsa. Cesira’s original home. When the women eventually reach the village, it is deserted and all of its houses are boarded up because the occupants, including Cesira’s own family, have fled approaching military action. Throughout the novel Cesira assures Rosetta that her village will be a place of safety and sustenance. Instead, they arrive at the village at the lowest ebb of their fortunes, and there, in the local church, Rosetta is raped by French Moroccan soldiers. Afterward, Rosetta changes. Gone is her innocence and sweetness; she becomes hedonistic in her pursuit of the scarce goods, food, clothing, and pleasure, long denied her by the ravages of the war. For Moravia, Rosetta becomes emblematic of the postwar generation. At first devastated by her daughter’s rape and the subsequent transformation it makes in her, Cesira becomes angered by Rosetta’s behavior and her abandonment of what she perceives is a proper way of life. Eventually, however, she realizes that she must accept her daughter as she is despite everything that has happened to both of them. This recognition provides for the epiphany with which the novel closes.