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Public History, Private Stories: Italian Women’s Autobiography

Graziella Parati
Copyright Date: 1996
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Public History, Private Stories
    Book Description:

    Parati examines the ways in which Italian women writers articulate their identities through autobiography—a public act that is also the creation of a private life. Considering autobiographical writings by five women writers from the seventeenth century to the present, Parati draws important connections between self-writing and the debate over women’s roles, both traditional and transgressive.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8648-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    In 1622, but we are not even certain about this date, Camilla Faà wrote what has been considered the first autobiography in prose composed by a woman in the Italian literary tradition. Faà narrates the story of her life as a young girl, a very young bride and mother who is deprived of her son because her husband, Ferdinando Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, needs to acquire a new wife. This new wife, Caterina de’ Medici, will allow him to create the desired alliance with the Florentine Medici family. Faà’s “metaphor of truth” about her life and Mantua’s history at the...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Camilla Faà Gonzaga: Public and Private in a Woman’s Autobiography
    (pp. 28-43)

    Camilla Faà Gonzaga’sHistoria(1622), as it is called in Fernanda Bonfa’s book containing its transcription, is a short memoir that has not interested many literary critics but has inspired the imagination of writers, poets, and playwrights who throughout the centuries have created romanticized versions of her life.¹ Her writing style does not directly inspire such creativity: her goal in writing her life is to create a “historical” account of “facts” that can be considered as a defense against the accusations of the powerful people of the time. She is aware that “the position of women was fundamentally presupposed as...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Speaking through Her Body: The Futurist Seduction of a Woman’s Voice
    (pp. 44-71)

    Camilla Faà Gonzaga’s and Cecilia Ferrazzi’s autobiographical acts contain isolated testimonies of female identities, framed by silence. Their strategies of self-representation have to come to terms with the fact that the surfacing of female voices remains, in their time, an exception. In the context of Italian feminist theory, Adriana Cavarero grounds her work on women’s past on an exploration of individual figures that emerged as authoritative identities in philosophy and literary imagination. It is an attempt not to trace women’s history of self-representation but to interpret Penelope, Demeter, and Diotima “in spite of Plato”— a strategy that she turns into...

  7. CHAPTER THREE From Genealogy to Gynealogy and Beyond: Fausta Cialente’s Le quattro ragazze Wieselberger
    (pp. 72-96)

    Alice Jardine definesgynesisas the “putting into discourse of ‘woman’.” It is also a process in which “the object produced . . . is neither a person nor a thing, but a horizon, that toward which the process is tending: agynema.This gynema is a reading effect, a woman-in-effect that is never stable and has no identity.”³ Jardine focuses her attention on processes of gynesis in texts by male theorists, since they were and are the intellectual fathers of many feminists. My approach to Fausta Cialente’s autobiographical text,Le quattro ragazze Wieselberger(The Four Wieselberger Girls) (1976), is...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Rita Levi Montalcini’s Perfect Imperfection: A Woman’s Role in the Public Sphere
    (pp. 97-123)

    In their article entitled “Conflicts and Tensions in the Feminist Study of Gender and Science,” Helen Longino and Evelyn Hammonds approach the subject of women in science by declaring that sciences are still “bastions of masculinity.”² Longino, a philosopher, and Hammonds, a physicist, set out to investigate feminist theories on gendered sciences and “the reception of feminist critiques of science by practicing women scientists.”³ Their conclusions reveal that women are still not encouraged to develop a “self-critical perspective about their own disciplines” and that the separation between women scientists and women who attempt a feminist critique of women’s position in...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Luisa Passerini’s Autoritratto di gruppo: Personalizing Theory
    (pp. 124-151)

    The autobiographical acts analyzed in the previous chapters contain the descriptions of women’s journeys from the private to the public sphere. For Camilla Faà Gonzaga and Enif Robert, such a quest ends in silence. The public sphere becomes for Fausta Cialente a realm to inhabit only from the margins, in a voluntary exile that is translated into an involuntary exile by virtue of the marginal role assigned her in the contemporary literary world. From her unquestionably visible role in the public sphere, Montalcini succeeds in weakening the definition both of scientific knowledge and of the traditional male “knower.” I suggest,...

  10. CONCLUSION: Beyond Gynealogical Techniques: Writing Private History and Public Stories
    (pp. 152-158)

    On November 12,1994, Angela Davis presented a public lecture for students and faculty at Dartmouth College, followed the morning after by an informal breakfast with her at the African American Center. The breakfast took place in a room whose walls were decorated with portraits of authoritative models in African American history. Angela Davis sat with her back to Malcolm X, and, as she voiced her awareness of her location in the room, she pointed out to the students that models are valid as long as they do not become the “unreachable” embodiment of an ideal. Such a personification can make...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 159-188)
  12. Index
    (pp. 189-194)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-195)