Born in Rome in 1912 from her mother’s extramarital relationship, little Elsa spent her childhood with her three smaller siblings in the working class district of Testaccio.
A real bookworm, the young author began to write nursery rhymes and fairy tales for children, poetry and short stories, which were published in the most popular magazines of that time from 1933 until the beginning of World War II. Of great importance in her life was the meeting with Moravia. They married and the two became part of the circle of Italian intellectuals of that time, which included Pier Paolo Pasolini (who in the film Accattone played a small part as a prisoner and with whom she travelled to India), Umberto Saba, Attilio Bertolucci, Giorgio Bassani, Sandro Penna and Enzo Siciliano.
Her first novel, “Menzogna e sortilegio” (House of Liars), published in 1948, tells the story of the decline of a wealthy family, and won the Premio Viareggio.
The same theme is at the centre of “L’isola di Arturo” from 1957, winner of the Premio Strega and which the director Damiano Damiani adapted for a film by the same name, where the main part of the story is the difference between the real life and the mystification of the figure of the father.
In the 1960’s, worn out by personal problems (the end of her relationship with Moravia in 1961) and involved in the angst of the period, she released a direct intervention text “Pro o contra la bomba atomica” (1965) (“In favour or against the atomic bomb) and the evocative “Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini” (1968) (The world saved by children): here taking account of the trust in “celestial children”, once again it celebrates the utopia of an existence free of obligations and duties imposed by structured society, in a mix of poetry, songs and dialogues. Her masterpiece, the one which rightly earned her the title of author representing the 20th Italian century is the novel “La Storia” (History), considered epic and dramatic in its representation of a family during World War II in Rome.
All her manuscripts are preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma (Rome National Central Library), which has hosted two expositions dedicated to the author: the first in 2006 (Le stanze di Elsa) (The rooms of Elsa) and the second in 2012 (Santi, Sultani e Gran Capitani in camera mia) (Saints, Sultans and Great Capitains of my bedroom).