Since the emergence of the modern Italian short story in the late nineteenth century, prizewinning women writers such as Grazia Deledda (1871–1936), Gianna Manzini,* Natalia Ginzburg (1916–1991), Anna Maria Ortese (1914– ), and Rosetta Loy (1931– ) have fashioned the art of storytelling to their own writing styles, earning international critical acclaim. The widespread success of short prose fiction among women writers and readers has led some critics, beginning with Caterina Franceschi Ferrucci (1803–1887), to claim the short story as a typically female genre. Indeed, this genre’s compact, self-contained form—often portraying the nuances of a suggestive moment or situation as it unfolds—may be especially well-suited to women’s fragmented time, divided between the multiple demands of work, family, and domestic responsibilities.
The diversified contributions women writers have made to the formation of the realist, fantastic, and romance variants of the modern short story have attracted increasing scholarly attention in recent years. The endeavors of female storytellers to expand upon conventional narrative modes and themes prior to the 1850s, however, constitute the parameters of an archeological project that still requires extensive archival research and critical analysis.
A reconstruction of the history of women’s short prose fiction, by necessity partial and fragmentary, would enable a more thorough assessment of the position of works by female authors in the genealogy of the genre, whose origins are generally traced to the novella of the late Middle Ages.* Furthermore, in contrast to the long-standing tradition of women’s poetry—virtually unbroken since Compiuta Donzella*’s poems of the thirteenth century—the apparent silences as well as voices marking the historical vicissitudes of women’s short fiction production raise different questions concerning the relations between gender and genre, and the economic, social, and historical conditions of their construction. For example, the religious writings by St. Caterina da Siena (1347– 1380) and those for the theater by Antonia Giannotti Pulci (1452–?), along with the epistolary representations of mercantile Florence written in Italian by Ales-sandra Macinghi Strozzi (1407–1471), testify to female interventions in literary culture. However, the canonized history of short fiction from the golden age of the novella, inaugurated by Giovanni Boccaccio*’s Decameron (1353), currently suggests that this vernacular narrative form functioned as a site for the male imagination and production of social meaning. The canon* now features works such as Trecentonovelle by Franco Sacchetti (1335–ca.1400), Novelle
(1554) by Matteo Bandello (1485–1562), and Lo cunto de li cunti o vero lo trattenimento de’ peccerille (1634), also known as the Pentamerone, by Giam-battista Basile (1575–1632). In the eighteenth century the Pentamerone was translated from the Neapolitan dialect into that of Bologna by four women: Angela Zanotta, her sister Teresa, and Maddalena and Teresa Manfredi. Studies on the novella have examined the ways in which the resurgence of classical studies in the fifteenth century, Renaissance humanism, and the Spanish occupation of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries contributed to the genre’s decline in fortune. Yet questions concerning how these cultural and historical phenomena—as well as literary tastes, social attitudes, and the forms of
education accessed by women of the elite or religious orders—might have mediated or forestalled women’s engagement with the short story represent relatively unexplored areas of inquiry.
Within the context of the patrilineal formations shaping the original conventions of short prose fiction, texts such as I ritratti (1807) by Isabella Albrizzi Teotochi (1760–1836), praised by Byron as the Venetian Madame de Stae¨l, the stories in Le quattro madri (1812) and ‘‘Adelina’’ (1815) by Orintia Romagnolo Sacrati (1700s), and Frammenti di una o piu` novelle romantiche (1820) by Teresa Bandettini Landucci (1763–1838) have important literary, social, and symbolic meanings. In the wake of the fierce debates on woman conducted during the Enlightenment,* these authors adopted the traditional model of the novella—designed to instruct in an entertaining manner—to fabricate stories about historical or imaginary women. They thus provided models for crafting a literary language and narrative practices suitable for articulating women’s interests, social concerns, imagination, and desires. This aesthetic project is elaborated, for instance, in the stories dedicated to peasant life by the Friulan Caterina Percoto (1812–1887), in the ironic, sometimes playful critiques of the dominant attitudes toward women of learning provided by Rosalia Piatti (1824–1906) of Florence, and in the sensitive delineations of female subjectivity fashioned by the Sicilian writer Rosina Muzio Salvo (1815–1866).
During the regeneration of short fiction in the late nineteenth century, women’s production of short stories flourished, arguably making a formative contribution to the modern genre. Publishing their stories in literary journals, the women’s press, daily newspapers, and collections, women writers created a strong, highly visible presence in ‘‘high’’ and mass culture, which spanned the interwar years and developed a full range of thematic interests and stylistic innovations. Matilde Serao,* Ada Negri,* and Grazia Deledda, for example, employ realist modes—enhanced by their respective uses of symbolism and conventions from the gothic and detective story—to give literary representation to topics such as class struggle, the complex relations between the sexes, the constraints of marriage as a patriarchal institution, the plight of single mothers, and the configurations of female erotic desire. Their stories tend to critique the dominant sociocultural constructions of traditional gender roles, while inventing new female models. Representing diverse trends, the characters, plots, and language developed in the many short stories by Amalia Guglielminetti* draw upon the conventions of romance fiction; ‘‘Romanticismo sonnambulo’’ (1917) by the avantgarde* futurist Rosa Rosa` (1884–1978), as well as Incontro con il falco (1929) and Venti racconti (1941) by Gianna Manzini revel in the play of linguistic experimentation, constantly expanding the boundaries of the short story as a site for evoking the ambiguities of subjectivity.
Like their forerunners, many women authors of the postwar period have distinguished themselves in the novel or
poetry, while also demonstrating continued interest and creative expertise in the short story form. In the wake of the neo-realist, experimental, and impressionistic currents developed by Anna Maria Or-tese, Alba de Ce´spedes,* and Elsa Morante (1918–1985), among others, the stories collected in contemporary works such as Manicomio primavera (1989) by Clara Sereni,* Sera o mattina (1989) by Pia Fontana (the first recipient of the Calvino prize), Per voce sola (1990) by Susanna Tamaro (1957), and I bambini non volano (1992) by Marina Mizzau chart points of contiguity with and divergence from the thematic and stylistic preoccupations shaping the history of short prose fiction. The ways these storytellers explore issues of pressing concern today—ranging from urban poverty and violence to gay, lesbian, and heterosexual love relations, as well as reproductive choices—resonate with the original topical designs of the novella. At the same time, the textual properties of language, style, and structure they craft to raise questions about the transitory moments of confusion, despair, or hopeful insight constituting the psychic and affective dimensions of daily living perhaps make the short story the postmodern genre par excellence.
See also: Terza Pagina.
Bibliography: Morandini, Giuliana, ed. La voce che e` in lei: Antologia della narrativa femminile italiana tra ’800 e ’900. Milan: Bompiani, 1980; Santoro, Anna, ed. Narratrici italiane dell’Ottocento. Naples: Federico & Ardia, 1987; Reim, Riccardo, ed. Controcanto: Novelle femminili dell’Ottocento italiano. Rome: Sovera, 1991; Caesar, Ann, and Michael Caesar, eds. The Quality of Light: Modern Italian Short Stories. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1993; Wood, Sharon, ed. Italian Women’s Writing. 1860–1994. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993.
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