The Century of Women

The Century of Women: Representations of Women in Eighteenth-Century Italian Public Discourse

Rebecca Messbarger
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442680661
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  • Book Info
    The Century of Women
    Book Description:

    Groundbreaking and original, this study is the first to examine the contribution of women to the Republic of Letters of the Settecento, and will revise prevailing notions of eighteenth-century Italian culture and academia.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8066-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. A Note to the Reader
    (pp. xiii-2)
    R.M.
  5. introduction: The Century of Women
    (pp. 3-20)

    Eighteenth-century Italian playwright Pietro Chiari designated the age he lived in The Century of Women.’¹ Despite the lack of substantive changes in women’s political condition during the Italian Settecento, Chiari’s epithet has a certain validity. Women stood as a leitmotif at the centre of Italian Enlightenment discourse. The list of eminent eighteenth-century Italian male authorities who engaged with the ‘woman question’ is noteworthy for its length and its geographical breadth: from Naples to Venice, Rome to Milan, members of the Italian Republic of Letters converged to debate woman’s role in the enlightened polity and her proper education for it.² This...

  6. chapter one The Debate
    (pp. 21-48)

    On 16 June 1723, the internationally renowned Academy of the Ricovrati in Padua held a public debate to answer the question: ‘Should Women Be Admitted to the Study of the Sciences and the Noble Arts?’ Antonio Vallisneri, Prince of the Academy, natural philosopher, and professor of practical and theoretical medicine at the University of Padua, introduced the debate and judged its outcome. Paduan patrician and university librarian Guglielmo Camposanpiero argued in defence of instructing women in the arts and sciences, while Giovann Antonio Volpi, noted publisher and professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Padua, argued in opposition....

  7. chapter two The Very Fibre of Their Being: Antonio Conti’s Materialist Argument for Women’s Inferiority
    (pp. 49-68)

    During the Enlightenment, when the ‘new empirical science’ combined with the ‘new experimental philosophy,’ sexual difference was a categorizing principle of the human species equal in authority to such newfound facts of nature as gravity and the circulation of the blood. The desire of natural philosophers of the encyclopedic age to know, rank, and systematize all natural phenomena prompted them not only to postulate two, perfectly differentiated, stable, and universal gender identities but also to deem themsubstantiallyknowable and qualifiable. Ludmilla Jordan ova rightly speaks of a ‘hardening,’ a ‘stiffening’ of the male-female binary that took place during the...

  8. chapter three Palliated Resistance: Diamante Medaglia Faini on ‘Which Studies Are Fitting for Women’
    (pp. 69-86)

    In contrast to the ensconced literary genre of the seventeenth-centuryquerelle des femmeswaged (or staged) by male intellectuals, with rare exception, competing to manifest their wit and originality by reworking standard arguments and rhetorical schemes,¹ those who undertook to confront the ‘woman question’ during the Settecento entered a field of serious intellectual discourse. Although some members of the Literary Republic, most notably Ferdinando Galiani in hisCroquis d’un dialogue sur les femmes (Outline of a Dialogue on Women, 1772), Carlo Maria Chiaraviglio inLo scoglio dell'umanità(The Burden of Humanity, 1774), and Fausto Salvani inLa Difesa delle Donne...

  9. chapter four For the Public Good: Il Caffè’s ‘Defence of Women’
    (pp. 87-104)

    As the textual events discussed in previous chapters make clear, ambivalence and disjuncture mark the reformative discourse about women of the Italian Enlightenment. This ambiguity has its own potent and unique expression in the socio-political writings of theilluministi. Built upon a discordant integration of enlightened utilitarianism and conventional, androcentric notions of the polity, the Italianphilosophes’ answer to the ‘woman question’ simultaneously contested and confirmed traditional constructions of femininity. By substituting the impartial touchstone of social utility for the unscientific moral precepts and social customs traditionally used to gauge women’s virtue, theilluministisought to establish a new egalitarian...

  10. chapter five Counter-Discourse: La donna galante ed erudita
    (pp. 105-132)

    The second half of the eighteenth century gave birth to the first Italian women’s magazines. A genre within the print media that burgeoned in Italy from the end of the seventeenth century, the women’s magazine functioned as a public arena for discursive exchange and social and cultural production and critique no less than the emergent literary, political, and regional journals. Three principal traits distinguished this genre from other contemporary forms of periodical literature: the articulation and satisfaction of the interests of a female public, the authorization and commercialization of a specific notion of femininity, and the generation of a feminine...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-140)

    In 1797, Carolina Lattanzi, who later became an editor of the Milanese women’s magazineCorriere delle Dame,¹ faced the Academy of Public Instruction in Mantua to denounce ‘The Slavery of Women’ on the basis of post-revolutionary ideals:

    Brother Citizens, if you want to break the chains of kings, we too want to break our chains ... If men do not want to be slaves to one tyrant, even more do we not want to be the slaves of thousands. You hate one despot; we detest the aristocracy of men, under which we have suffered for so many centuries. And what!...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 141-182)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 183-198)
  14. Index
    (pp. 199-209)