Alba Amoia’s new book, 20th-Century Italian Women Writers offers readers an informative introduction to eleven major Italian women writers and their works, spanning the period from the late 1800s to the mid-1990s. As stated in the preface, the choice of literary and journalistic figures examined is intended to represent both the diversity of women’s discourses and, at the same time, their tendency to focus on [End Page 462] the “inner world of the female.” Crafted in the style of a literary history, Amoia’s study charts the central thematic concerns, stylistic features, and perspectives on life, society, and politics that mark the distinct positions created by the authors within the literary and cultural topography of Italy. Throughout her analysis, Amoia interweaves a rich variety of biographical information and commentary from literary criticism.
Following a chronology that includes major events in the private and professional lives of the authors as well as in Italian history and politics, chapters 1 through 3 are dedicated to Grazia Deledda, SibilIa Aleramo, and Gianna Manzini. Amoia approaches Deledda, recipient of the 1926 Nobel Prize for literature, as a regional author who rebelled “against the irrationality of the patriarchal system.” Focusing primarily on the novels La via del male, Elias Portolu, Cenere, and Canne al vento, Amoia discusses the popular sources of Deledda’s art, and her use of nature, symbol, and myth. She situates the novels by Aleramo and Manzini in relation to the “literature of memory,” and profiles their representations of such diverse topics as father-daughter relations, feminine eroticism, and the meanings of “illness” in metaphysics and art.
The contemporary, prize-winning literary authors featured in chapters 4 through 8 include Lalla Romano, Elsa Morante, Natalia Ginzburg, Rosetta Loy, and Dacia Maraini. Whereas the novels by Romano may be limited by what Amoia terms an “excessive autobiographical nature,” those by Morante, presented as a form of magical realism, create complex visions of adolescence, androgyny, and father-mother-child triangles, as exemplified in Aracoeli and L’isola di Arturo, for example. Amoia provides an attentive assessment of the themes and prose style fashioned by Ginzburg in her early and later novels, as well as in the autobiographical text Lessico famigliare. Likewise, her discussion of Loy’s novels raises some insightful points, especially concerning La bicicletta and Le strade di polvere. While noting the significance of Maraini’s remarkable contributions to the genres of poetry, drama, and autobiography, Amoia gives an instructive overview of the diverse issues and narrative practices elaborated in different stages of her feminist textual production, and devotes special attention to Isolinai La donna tagliata a pezzi and La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa. In the final chapter, Amoia shifts her eye to the works by Matilde Serao, Oriana [End Page 463] Fallaci, and Camilla Cederna, three authors of unquestionable stature in the fields of journalism and cultural commentary. While characterizing Serao as a “militant representative of Italy’s naturalistic school of verism,” Amoia focuses her study on the writer’s pioneering work in Italian journalism. In the sections devoted to Fallaci and Cederna, she draws out the differences between their journalistic concerns and styles. Amoia situates the former as an innovative reporter and interviewer in the context of the New Journalism, and a best-selling literary author, and highlights the latter’s talents for producing “pungent” social commentary in such works as Giovanni Leone: La carriera di un presidente and Il lato debole: Diario italiano.
Skillfully avoiding the risk of homogenization that overviews of this kind may run, Amoia effectively conveys the particular traits distinguishing the authors’ works in their aesthetic, social, and cultural dimensions. Since Amoia frequently employs the term “literature of memory” as an interpretative category for the literary works discussed, a critical explanation of how she perceives and uses the model would have been useful for general readers and would have enriched the analysis. Nonetheless, as a clear, thoughtful presentation of women writers who have been...