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Women and Gender in Post-Unification Italy

Between Private and Public Spheres


Edited By Katharine Mitchell and Helena Sanson

In nineteenth-century Italy, a woman’s place was considered to be in the domestic sphere, devoted to family life. But during the Risorgimento and the years following Unification, economic, political and social changes enabled women progressively to engage in pursuits that had previously been the exclusive domain of men. This book traces some of the steps of this shift in cultural perception. Covering the period from the Unification of Italy in 1861 to the First World War, the volume brings together new perspectives on women, culture and gender in ten original interdisciplinary chapters that explore a variety of subjects, including motherhood and spinsterhood, women’s relationship with the Italian language, emigration and brigantaggio, patriotism and travel writing, acting and theatre management, film-making, and political ideas and female solidarity.


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Part 1 Motherhood in the New Italy


Ursula Fanning Maternal Prescriptions and Descriptions in Post-Unification Italy Prescriptions and Proscriptions The ‘prescriptions’ alluded to in the title of this chapter refer, for the most part, to the public sphere – to public aspirations around motherhood, and to public expectations of mothers and of the maternal. The ‘descriptions’, in turn, have as one point of reference women writers’ ref lections of those public debates and thus of motherhood in the public sphere, but also the writers’ imaginative representations of motherhood in its private dimen- sion. The prescriptions, then, often map on to what Adrienne Rich has famously defined as the ‘institution’ of motherhood, necessarily public, while the descriptions certainly treat of that, but also engage with what Rich suggests can be the very dif ferent ‘experience’ of motherhood (often private).1 Rich explores what she defines as ‘two meanings of motherhood, one superimposed on the other: the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of reproduction and to children; and the institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential – and all women – shall remain under male control’.2 The tension between these two meanings of motherhood, already glimpsed by many Italian women writers in the post-Unification period in Italy, informs and complicates their representations of mother- hood, as we shall see. 1 A. Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (London: Virago, 1991 [1977]). 2 Rich, Of Woman Born, 13. 14 Ursula Fanning This chapter begins by outlining some of the prescriptions around the maternal and motherhood in...

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