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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 47.2 (2001) 515-517

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Book Review

The Pleasure of Writing: Critical Essays on Dacia Maraini

Rodica Diaconescu-Blumenfeld and Ada Testaferri, eds. The Pleasure of Writing: Critical Essays on Dacia Maraini. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2000. ix + 277 pp.

Despite Dacia Maraini's prodigious production--novels, plays, poetry collections, films, and countless critical essays--the literary establishment has largely ignored the Italian feminist. The essays collected in this volume firmly and eloquently position Maraini within the canon by highlighting the extraordinary range of her work while exploring the feminist ideology informing her texts. Many facets of her production are examined; the essays are arranged in sections that view her texts through a framework of genre studies, feminist liberation ideology, historiography, and theories of subjectivity. While these essays address and employ theoretical positions ranging from semiotics to psychoanalysis, they remain refreshingly free of jargon and are therefore accessible even to nonspecialists. The volume has been attentively edited: the essays exhibit a consistency of tone often difficult to achieve in a collection of such disparate approaches.

The volume opens with a brief introduction by Rodica Diaconescu-Blumenfeld examining Maraini's works and their critical neglect, followed by an essay by Maraini herself. "Reflections on the Logical and Illogical Bodies of My Sexual Compatriots," an expanded version of the introduction to Maraini's 1987 collection of essays on women in Italian society, discusses the critical reception of her works and those of other female authors. It also addresses the relationship between writing and [End Page 515] gender, asserting that "one writes with the body," hence linking its theme to the volume's title.

The essays in the following section treat issues of language and representation in the wider context of genre studies. Ada Testaferri examines how Maraini's 1993 detective novel Voci subverts the tenets of detective fiction to create a feminist text criticizing violence against women. In his article on the 1974 poetry collection Donne mie, Corrado Federici argues that the gendered spaces within Maraini's poetry create a "collaborative and compassionate mentality" between the sexes. Elisabetta Properzi Nelsen reads Maraini's early novels--texts that mirror critical moments in Italian feminism--through the lenses of French feminist theory on écriture féminine.

The subsequent three essays, in a section entitled "Poetics and Practices of Liberation," tie Maraini's works more closely to the Italian feminist movement itself. Virginia Picchietti shows how such feminist practices as autocoscienza (consciousness-raising) and affidamento (entrustment) become played out as productive and life-sustaining friendships between women. Giovanna Bellesia examines how Maraini's novels address and challenge the social conditions triggering family violence and domestic abuse, while Daniela Cavallaro's essay traces the genealogy between several of Maraini's early, highly politicized plays and today's women's theater.

Giancarlo Lombardi opens the section on historiography and historical figures in Maraini's opus with a discussion of the "prehistoric" condition of Italian women revealed in the 1967 novel A memoria. Maria Ornella Marotti investigates how Maraini creates a "gendered historical narration" by setting the 1990 novel La lunga vita di Marianna Ucrìa in eighteenth-century Sicily. The Venetian poet-courtesan Veronica Franco, heroine of Maraini's play Veronica, meretrice e scrittora (1992), becomes in Paola Carù's essay a potent symbol of how women can transgress traditional boundaries such as authorship and sexuality.

In the collection's final section, on the construction of subjectivity, Diaconescu-Blumenfeld examines this issue in Maraini's texts, showing how the author's narratives "giv[e] body a voice and mak[e] voice a body." According to Gabrielle Cody, Maraini's play I sogni di Clytemnestra (1981) exposes gender, class, and sexual oppression by recasting Aeschylus' Oresteia to capitalist, Catholic Italy. Pauline Dagnino reads the 1975 novel [End Page 516] Donna in guerra through the framework of French feminist theoreticians, exploring the text's articulation of female experiences and subjectivity. The collection concludes with an overview of Maraini's long-neglected cinematic production. Áine O'Healy situates three of Maraini's...


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