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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Senso is a 1882 Italian novella by author/architect Camillo Boito. The book tells a Madame Bovaryesque account of one woman's selfish indulgement into lust. The word "senso" is Italian for "sense," which also means "feeling"; this refers to the first truly passionate feelings Livia experiences during her affair with a handsome lieutenant.



Senso is set in Italy about 1866, when the War of Unification with Austria was coming to its end.

The story opens a few years after the war, with Livia, an Italian Countess, reminiscing about her first truly passionate love affair on her 39th birthday. Through her thoughts, we are transported back to Venice during the war, where Livia, unhappily married to a stuffy old aristocrat, meets and falls in love with Remigio Ruz, a dashing young Lieutenant of the Austrian Army.

Although he is obviously using her for her money and social status, Livia throws herself into an affair of complete sexual abandon with Remigio, giving away all her money and not caring what the high society thinks about her and ignoring the fact that her new lover is a pathetic coward who at one point refuses to rescue a drowning child.

Soon, the war forces the lovers apart. Unable to part with Remigio, she meets up with him for one last tryst, where he asks her for more money in order to bribe the army doctors to have him stay away from the battle field; Livia complies, giving away all of her jewels and gold coins. Without even kissing her goodbye, Remigio flees for Verona.

Eventually, Livia is almost driven mad by the fact that she is unable to see Remigio and is rejoiced when a letter from him finally arrives. In it, he tells her how much he loves and misses her and that the money she gave him helped him stay away from the front. He advises Livia not to look for him, but she doesn't listen. As soon as possible, Livia, still grasping the letter, boards a carriage and heads to Verona to find her love.

Once there, she finds the city in ruins, with corpses and wounded civilians at every turn. But this doesn't stop Livia. She heads to the apartment that she herself had bought for Remigio, but all she finds is a drunken, ungrateful rogue in the company of a prostitute, who openly mocks his lover for letting him use her like that.

Degraded and humiliated, Livia flees into the night, but she soon realizes that she still has Remigio's letter. Thirsty for revenge, Livia heads to the headquarters of the Austrian Army, where she hands Remigio's letter to a General, convicting him of treason. Although the General clearly sees that Livia is doing this out of spite for being cuckolded by the lascivious Lieutenant Ruz, he is forced to comply and the next morning, Remigio (along with the doctors he bribed) is put in front of a firing squad with Livia attending the execution.


The book is written completely from Livia's point of view (in the form of a secret diary), going into great detail to describe her selfish lust, sexual desire and the almost rejoicing feeling she gets during the execution. This gives the novella a highly unnerving and voyeuristic feel.

Also, unlike the similar characters in such novels as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, Livia is not treated in sympathetic light. She is shown to be fully aware of what she is doing and embraces it. She does not feel sorry for the people she's hurting or trampling with her deeds nor does she have any self-remorse, all she wants is what is best for herself.

Film adaptations

Senso '45 was the film which was adapted in 2002 by Tinto Brass when he read the novella and found himself unsatisfied with Visconti's version. The film starred Anna Galiena as Livia and Gabriel Garko as her lover. The story of the film is much more faithful to Camillo Boito's work than the earlier adaptation in terms of tone and story, but the action was transported from the War of Unification to the end of World War II, with Remigio becoming a Nazi Lieutenant and Livia updated to being the wife of a high ranking Fascist official. Brass later explained that the change in time was made because he couldn't possibly bring himself to compete with Visconti's vision of Risorgimento-era Italy.

Unlike the 1954 version, Senso '45 did not romanticize the affair between Livia and Mahler, it showed for what it was; a selfish indulgment into lust. The film went on to win the Silver Ribbon award for best costume design.

However, it should be worth noting that both films significantly altered Livia's character, making her much older and sympathetic than she appeared in Boito's original novella.

See also

For books or films with similar themes:

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Senso" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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