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Reviewed by:
Santo L. Aricò, ed. Contemporary Women Writers in Italy: A Modern Renaissance. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1990. 238 pp. $29.50.
Lucia Re. Calvino and the Age of Neorealism: Fables of Estrangement. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990. 419 pp. $32.50.

In his introduction to Contemporary Women Writers, Santo Aricò chronicles a history of neglect of women writers and exclusion from the pedagogical and critical canon that the present volume hopes to correct. The volume includes essays on writers well-known in the English speaking world—Natalia Ginzburg, Elsa Morante, Oriana Fallaci, Dacia Maraini—as well as writers whose work is yet untranslated—Lalla, Cialente, Manzini, Lagorio, Guiducci, and Cederna. The chapters on Elsa Morante and Natalia Ginzburg provide important new interpretive keys to these writers' well-known works. One hopes that Giovanna Miceli-Jeffries' essay on the lesser known Gianna Manzini will draw attention to her work, particularly her most innovative novel Lettera all'editore (not yet translated).

Interspersed with these broad-ranging discussions of Italy's foremost women writers are several interesting close readings of single works. Anthony Tamburri provides an insightful reading of gendered roles in Maraini's Donne in guerra (Women at War). Santo Aricò situates Fallaci's Niente e così sia (Nothing and Amen) in the context of the new journalism of Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer.

Deborah Heller's reading of Anna Banti's Artemisia is one of the most interesting essays in the volume. Banti's novel is based on the story of the seventeenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi who was raped at an early age and subsequently tortured during cross examination at the public rape trial. Heller analyzes the complex interplay between author-narrator and protagonist and suggests that "through her resuscitation of Artemisia she [Banti] will ultimately come into possession of the inheritance for which there is, tellingly, no adequate word in English or Italian: her rightful female patrimony." In a masterful analysis blending history, art history, and literary criticism, Heller shows how the discrepancies between the historical Artemisia and Banti's fictional Artemisia "seem designed to emphasize Artemisia's solitude as a necessary preparation for her sense of achievement." [End Page 320]

The final essay by Carol Lazzaro-Weis not only provides a valuable overview of women's literature of the eighties but also of recent debates in Italy regarding the value of women's literature. As the author points out, some feminist critics in Italy have accused Italian women writers of being "conciliatory, dependent, and regressive." Lazzaro-Weis attributes this disdain for women's literature to the fact that feminist literary theory in Italy has been heavily influenced by Kristeva, Cixous, and Irigaray. The author cites Anna Nozzoli's suggestion that there is "a 'relationship in the making' between more traditional narrative fiction and feminist reflections on writing," and she traces the intersection of these two in women's writing of the 1980s. Lazzaro-Weis calls attention to the reissue of older works by Anna Maria Ortese and Paola Masino and points to the importance of this phenomenon for "the formation of a consensus regarding what a literary tradition about women should represent." In all this book provides a valuable and long-overdue introduction to contemporary women writers in Italy and to the debates surrounding their works.

As Lucia Re points out in her introduction to Calvino and the Age of Neorealism: Fables of Estrangement, Italo Calvino is known more for his fantastic, postmodern fiction than for his early neorealist work, particularly in the English speaking world. Re argues convincingly that an understanding of the early Calvino is essential to a full appreciation of the more renowned, "postmodern" Calvino. The author begins by reexamining Italian neorealism in the light of theories of realism of Jakobson, Lukács, Adorno, and Sartre. Although this is an intelligent and informative discussion, the reader begins to lose sight of its value for the understanding of Calvino's early work. Although the connection becomes clearer in the later chapters, one wishes that some of the theoretical discussion were more closely linked to the reading of Calvino's text.

At the heart of Re's book, the reader finds...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 320-322
Launched on MUSE
2009-01-01
Open Access
No
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