To begin with I’d like to talk about my wife. To love means, in addition to many other things, to delight in gazing upon and observing the beloved. And this means delighting not only in the contemplation of the beloved's charms, but also in her imperfections, few or many as they may be. From the very first days of our married life, I took an immeasur-able pleasure in observing Leda (for that is her name), and I loved studying her face and her person down to the smallest gesture and the most fleeting expression. When we were married, my wife (later, after bearing three children, certain traits became, not exactly different, but somewhat modified) was just over thirty years old. She was tall, though not excessively so, with a face and body that were beautiful, though far from perfect. Her long, thin face had an ephemeral, lost, almost washed-out quality, like the classical dei-ties in certain mediocre old paintings, executed tentatively and rendered even more tenta-tive by the patina of time. This singular quality, an ungraspable beauty which, like a speck of sunlight on the wall, or the shadow of a moving cloud on the sea, can disappear at any moment, surely had something to do with her hair, which was of a metallic blond color and hung messily in long tresses, suggesting the fluttering of fear or flight; and with her enormous eyes, which were blue and slightly slanted, with moist, dilated pupils, whose humiliated, evasive gaze, like her hair, suggested a guarded, frightened disposi-tion. She had a large, straight, noble nose, and a wide red, sinuously drawn mouth, the bottom lip protruding over a smallish chin, hinting at a heavy, brooding sensuality. Hers was an irregular and yet very beautiful face, with a beauty, as I have said, that was un-graspable and that in certain moments and in certain situations, as I will describe later on, seemed to dissolve and even disappear altogether. The same could be said of her body. From the waist up, she was as thin and delicate as a young girl; but her hips, belly, and legs were solid, strong, and well developed, imbued with muscular and carnal vigor. But the disharmony of her body, like that of her face, was neutralized by her beauty which, like a familiar intangible melody or a mysteriously transformative light, wrapped her from head to toe in a halo of perfection. Oddly enough, sometimes, as I gazed at her, I thought of her as a person with classical contours and forms, without defects, the essence of harmony, serenity, and symmetry. Such was the extent to which her beauty, which, for lack of another word, I will call spiritual, deceived and seduced me. But there were mo-ments when this golden veil was torn away, and in those moments not only did I see her numerous imperfections, but I observed a painful transformation of her entire person.
Excerpted from Conjugal Love by Alberto Moravia. Copyright © 2007 by Alberto Moravia. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.