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Writing to Delight

Writing to Delight: Italian Short Stories by Nineteenth-Century Women Writers

Antonia Arslan
Gabriella Romani
  • Book Info
    Writing to Delight
    Book Description:

    The nineteenth century represents a crucial historical and cultural phase in the development of modern Italy.Writing to Delightprovides a selection of short stories written by some of the most accomplished and acclaimed female authors of nineteenth-century Italy, made available to an English-speaking audience for the first time through this translation. The stories that make up this anthology are written in a realistic vein and describe the life and concerns of women at a time when Italy was going through major social and economic changes. Imbued with didactic aims, the authors of these stories strove to inspire and at the same time educate their public.

    In this regard,Writing to Delightalso serves as an instrument for a critical investigation of both the cultural productions of nineteenth-century Italy and the process of formation of modern Italian identities. With the growth of the middle-classes and a more diffuse literacy among the population, women became a visible and conspicuous social force as consumers of cultural goods, such as books and newspapers. Many of the writers included in this anthology - Matilde Serao, Marchesa Colombi, Neera, Contessa Lara - were not only very successful writers of fiction but also worked as journalists for some of the main national newspapers of the time. They were well acquainted with their readers' tastes and expectations and made such awareness an integral part of their creative process. Their fiction thus reflects the many topics and concerns that informed the social and cultural debates of nineteenth-century Italy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8375-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction Scenes from Nineteenth-Century Italy:Delightful Stories on Those Long, Long Winter Evenings
    (pp. 3-18)

    In the wake of recent critical studies on nineteenth-century Italian history and literature, the compilation and publication of an anthology of short stories written by female authors of the Ottocento is intended to shed further light on a century often little known to students of Italian studies and, relatively to other periods, less frequently explored by literary scholars operating in the English-speaking world. As Ezio Raimondi has reminded us recently, to study the past is to understand better who we are today, the evolution of our individual as well collective identities.¹ To be sure, the nineteenth century represents a crucial...

  4. Checchina’s Virtue
    (pp. 19-57)

    Susanna came to open the door. She wore a faded grey dress of lightweight wool, rolled up on her hips, exposing a shabby slip of dark calico. Her rough cloth apron was covered with greasy stains, and she held a stinking dust-cloth in her hands. As she entered, Isolina grimaced in disgust.

    ‘Is Checchina here?’ she asked.

    ‘She is,’ Susanna responded, pursing her piously thin lips.

    ‘And what are you doing?’

    ‘We’re polishing the furniture with petroleum.’

    ‘I meant to say, what a stench! It’s not making you sick?’

    ‘The smell of petroleum won’t hurt you.’

    ‘Go tell Checchina that...

  5. Paolina
    (pp. 58-73)

    I had just turned twelve the day before when my father said to me, ‘Get dressed. We have to pay someone a visit.’

    I couldn’t imagine what visit this could be because I really didn’t know anyone. I ran immediately to Betta and asked her if she knew where my father would take me.

    Betta didn’t know anything; she reasoned that my father had decided to have me meet the neighbours, who had asked him many times to let me play with their daughters.

    ‘No, Betta,’ I told her. ‘I’m convinced that it doesn’t have anything to do with our...

  6. Aunt Severina
    (pp. 74-80)

    Aunt Severina entered her room, pushing the door open with her feet because the candlestick and the gifts she was carrying occupied both hands. Her brother had given her a wool dress the colour of café latte, following with the comment ‘a solid, serious colour, appropriate for your age.’Her sister-in-law gave her a night lamp, and the girls at school knitted her a coverlet for her feet. All on the occasion of her birthday.

    But setting the objects on the little table in her room, Aunt Severina’s face did not assume a joyous expression. On the contrary, it bore an...

  7. The Lady of the Evening
    (pp. 81-84)

    The costumed revellers exited in groups and couples from the theatre; the New Year’s Eve ball that night was extremely lively. Crossing the piazza, under the lamps of electric light, the women seemed like visions. Skirts of white and pink satin, undulating, quilted in silver, vanished in an optical illusion of sidereal worlds. A circle of diamonds on a lovely bare arm appeared for an instant out from under the furs, sparkled, and disappeared. The lace wound mysteriously around a provocative little head was dishevelled by the woman’s carefree laughter, and a silent and prudent man dressed in a black...

  8. Winter Evenings
    (pp. 85-92)

    They’re the dread of half the world, those long, long winter evenings that last from seven until ten, at least three hours, and for many families much longer.

    By four thirty, five at the latest, the light’s been turned on in the dining room. One by one, each member of the family, some coming in from outside, some from the study, some from the sitting room, has gathered there around the table, already set for dinner.

    Those who have gone out have given their reports on the depths of the temperature outside, of the more or less thick nature of...

  9. Learn a Trade for a Rainy Day
    (pp. 93-116)

    Odda was twenty-eight years old. Her parents had both died and she was unmarried. She lived alone in one of her villas in Ameno on Lake Orta: alone with her brushes, which she used masterfully; with her father’s sayings; and with a dream that was all her own.

    Her father’s maxims, which Odda had adopted, could be summed up for the most part in the following proverb: ‘Learn a trade for a rainy day.’Only he meant it to be applied to young girls, to their upbringing.

    As for Odda’s dream ... but it’s better, dear ladies, that you see for...

  10. Dear Hope
    (pp. 117-125)

    Her name was Amalia, but despite that delicate name, she was one of the roughest country girls the rice fields knew when she showed up on our doorstep, offering to come into our service.

    She had put on shoes, recognizing the solemnity of the occasion, but as soon as she saw the shiny floor of our bathroom, she was flabbergasted and bent over as if to take them off. It took quite a bit to convince her to come in shoes and all.

    Nonetheless, she was neither timid nor wild, as most of the farm girls were; it just seemed...

  11. The Bread of the Departed
    (pp. 126-143)

    The autumn was waning; the mountain tops were already snow-covered and the fertile countryside grew more faded and yellowed by the day.

    Most of the neighbouring gentry had returned to the city, and the silent, deserted hunting lodges, with their windows shuttered, added to the melancholy of moribund nature. Only the Countess Ardemia della Rovere continued to live in her tranquil little villa, and the lack of activity in her house indicated that she intended to stay in her country home even through the winter. She had received the farewell visits of relatives and friends, continually replying with vague and...

  12. The Caning
    (pp. 144-164)

    There once was a time when the greatest joy of my life was to write – for the entertainment of my ill mother – some little story which I would then send to this or that Italian newspaper; the best reward for my hours of work, after my good mother’s approval, was to know that my sisters read my stories and that my name was not displeasing to them. Born and raised in the peacefulness of the countryside, I would here and there pick some humble wild flower, and the gentlewomen of Italy would gracefully accept my rustic gift and not disdain...

  13. The Coral Necklace
    (pp. 165-172)

    Now Caròla wasn’t inclined to make a fuss over Tonino when, in the evenings, a southwest breeze blowing, the boat moored on the beach, he came courting. On the contrary, she would be by her front door, putting patches on the deep blue shirts of her kinsmen: her father and two brothers. Tonino would sit there on the ground, not far from her, his shoulders against the wall, mending a strip of net spread across his naked, muscular legs, which were a reddish brown, as though cast from bronze.

    Around town, it had been known for a while that, sooner...

  14. Woes of the Middle Class
    (pp. 173-186)

    Until 1866 there were only good times for the tailor Valin. From his shop on Calle Larga in San Marco he served all the elegant people of the city, and the money flowed in. He had a home over the shop with windows that gave on to the street, from which Gigetta, seated on a chair, absorbed in the rapture of a simple child, contemplated hour after hour the beautiful women who went to eat sweets at Pellegrino or to taste ice cream at Vittoria , the café currently all the rage.

    On Sundays, the tailor dressed better than his...

  15. Scorn for Life
    (pp. 187-190)

    For some time now, I have been feeling an intense admiration for people who are at peace, serene; and an overwhelming dislike for all the whiners and those who, as the saying goes, spit poison.

    Of all the precious images I was fortunate to have gained in life, I recount most tenderly those noble creatures suffering and, yet, serene. Those lips, smiling in spite of the physical pains and torments of the soul, are sacred to me. The suffering and disillusioned, who remain sweet and kind, receive all of my affection; and the indefatigable workers who never give up and...

  16. Afterword Ladies, Chickens, and Queens: The Strong Voices of Italian Women Writers
    (pp. 191-198)

    This unusual title deliberately alludes to a book I wrote several years ago, an investigation of Italian women’s culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Upon the book’s release, the title provoked some discussion because it listed as principal characteristics of female virtue and valour not only graciousness (the ‘ladies’) and an ability to dominate (‘queens’), but also a realistic perception of daily life, which I identified with ‘chickens.’ In Italy, chickens are not only considered chatty courtyard animals, but are also a disparaging symbol of vacuity and gossipy inconclusiveness, qualities traditionally associated with the female universe.

    I thought it...

  17. Bio-bibliographies of the Authors
    (pp. 199-210)