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Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo

Hosted by Claire Messud
Began on September 13, 2022 (21 Days)

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Italo Svevo’s third and final novel, Zeno’s Conscience, is most famously a novel about quitting smoking. It is obviously more than that, an extraordinary and slippery liar’s memoir; but when all else is forgotten, Zeno’s addiction and its ramifications remain. The Triestine idler Zeno Cosini, and through him the Triestine writer Italo Svevo, make a life’s philosophy not simply of smoking, but of the joys of the last cigarette: “I believe the taste of a cigarette is more intense when it’s your last,” Zeno announces in the book’s opening.... Zeno’s Conscience is a masterpiece, a novel overflowing with human truth in all its murkiness, laughter and terror, a book as striking and relevant today as it was when it was first published, and a book that is in every good way—its originality included—like life. 
—from “The Liar’s Tale” by Claire Messud (New Republic)

Join us on October 6 for a virtual conversation of Zeno's Conscience with Claire Messud.

Claire Messud

is the author of seven works of fiction including the novels A Dream Life (Tablo Tales), The Burning Girl (Norton), and The Emperor’s Children (Knopf); a collection of novellas, The Hunters (Harcourt); and the autobiography in essays Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write (Norton). Her essay “Two Women” appeared in A Public Space No. 29. She has received numerous honors, including the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She teaches at Harvard University.

Italo Svevo

(1861–1928) was the pen name of Aron Hector Schmitz. A pioneer of the psychological novel, Schmitz was born in Trieste, Austrian Empire (now Italy). He pursued his literary aspirations while working in business, publishing his first novel Una Vita (A Life) at his own expense in 1892, followed by Senilità (later translated as Emilio's Carnival). In 1906, he engaged then-unknown James Joyce as his English tutor in Trieste, whose support of Schmitz's work kept Zeno's Conscience from disappearing into obscurity. 

Daily Reading

Day 1

Zeno's Conscience. p. 3 (Preface)—p. 20 (“I was too busy missing other things.”)

September 13, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 2

Zeno's Conscience. p. 20—p. 37 (“But I would have been amazed to see him really happy, alone and old as he was.”)

September 14, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 3

Zeno's Conscience. p. 37—p. 60 (end of “My Father’s Death”)

September 15, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 4

Zeno's Conscience. p. 61—p. 80 (“It’s surely easier to change oneself than to reshape others.”)

September 16, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 5

Zeno's Conscience. p. 80—p. 98 (“On the crowded Via Cavana, therefore, I had thought more purposefully than in my solitary study.”)

September 17, 2022 by Claire Messud

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Day 6

Zeno's Conscience. p. 98–p. 117 ("'Good for you, Zeno. You’ve earned your keep.’”)

September 18, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 7

Zeno's Conscience. p. 117—p. 139 (“all the flotsam accumulated in my nerves would have been swept away by it.”)

September 19, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 8

Zeno's Conscience. p. 140—p. 162 (“unless it was crushed beneath an entire speeding train.”)

September 20, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 9

Zeno's Conscience. p. 162—p. 185 (“I had found something more than a mere pretext for doing what it was my desire to do.”)

September 21, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 10

Zeno's Conscience. p. 185—p. 209 (“I continued acting the sick man.”)

September 22, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 11

Zeno's Conscience. p. 209— p. 232 (“wine shouts it, overlooking whatever life has subsequently added.”)

September 23, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 12

Zeno's Conscience. p. 232—p. 253 (“but on some crowded city street”)

September 24, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 13

Zeno's Conscience. p. 253—p. 271 (end of chapter)

September 25, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 14

Zeno's Conscience. p. 272–p. 296 (“I would not torment myself any more for having wanted to play that false role of Mentor.”)

September 26, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 15

Zeno's Conscience. p. 296—p. 318 (“the Ada who had scornfully repulsed me no longer existed, unless my medical books were mistaken.”)

September 27, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 16

Zeno's Conscience. p. 318—p. 336 (“But did that axiom apply also to Guido?”)

September 28, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 17

Zeno's Conscience. p. 336—p. 357 (“…unless I was supported by all the members of the family.”)

September 29, 2022 by Claire Messud

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Day 18

Zeno's Conscience. p. 358— p. 378 (“I would say this to Ada herself at the first opportunity.”)

September 30, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 19

Zeno's Conscience. p. 378—p. 394 ("I would find, at tomorrow’s opening, the high level of that morning.”)

October 1, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 20

Zeno's Conscience. p. 394—p. 418 (“…I must throw away these playthings.”)

October 2, 2022 by Claire Messud

Day 21

Zeno's Conscience. p. 418—End

October 3, 2022 by Claire Messud

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