From red shirts to read feminists

Italian Women's Writing 1860-1994
April 12, 1996

This volume appears in the Women in Context Series: Women's Writing 1850-1990s. Sharon Wood chooses a later starting date to coincide with the unification of Italy, but she goes back to the origins of women's organisations in the Risorgimento struggles and gives importance throughout to the social, political and ideological context against which women's writings are to be considered.

Her work has three chronological sections: part one, 1860-1922, on Neera, Matilde Serao, Grazia Deledda and Sibilla Aleramo; part two, 1922-64, on Anna Banti, Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante and Anna Maria Ortese; and part three, 1964-94, on Dacia Maraini, Oriana Fallaci, Rosetta Loy, Francesca Sanvitale, Fabrizia Ramondino, Francesca Duranti, Sandra Petrignani and Paola Capriolo.

Wood takes an appropriately flexible approach to the context, highlighting in the first section the education of women, feminism and socialism and the failure of suffrage. Many figures who are not allotted separate chapters are characterised in the preceding introduction; we meet for instance Marchesa Colombo's Un matrimonio di provincia and Anna Franchi's Avanti il divorzio! The second section focuses on fascism with all its contradictions vis-a-vis women, and on the aftermath of the war and of the Resistance. The third section examines the movements of 1968, terrorism, the emergence of feminism and legislation on divorce and abortion. Although narrative is privileged, poetry is not neglected, and there is a fine account of a poet who deserves to be better known, Amelia Rosselli. Likewise theatre is discussed, including companies set up by women, like Maraini's Teatro della Maddalena, or with the dominating activity of women, like the splendid Teatro Settimo of Turin (little known even in Italy, so all the more laudably mentioned here). The protagonists of this volume also receive a refreshingly eclectic treatment.

The earlier authors are more comprehensively covered while the later authors, many still in mid-career, are taken as representative of certain dominating themes: Sanvitale for example, who appears in the chapter "Clytemnestra or Electra: renegotiating motherhood", is discussed only through her Madre e figlia. An aspect which is rightly emphasised throughout is the importance of regionalism, for instance the influence of Naples on Serao and Ramondino, of Sardinia on Deledda, of Sicily on Maraini.

The richness of this book is given a further dimension by the attention to narrative technique that accompanies the longer studies (compare the comments on focalisation in N. Ginzburg, or the analysis of S. Petrignani's treatment of time in Il doppio regno).

A.L. Lepschy is professor of Italian, University College, London.

Italian Women's Writing 1860-1994

Author - Sharon Wood
ISBN - 0 485 91002 0 and 92002 6
Publisher - Athlone
Price - £40.00 and £14.95
Pages - 320

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