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Arcangela Tarabotti: A Literary Nun in Baroque Venice (review)
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This superb collection of essays on Arcangela Tarabotti (1604-52), the most outspoken polemical Italian woman writer of the early modern period, will constitute the definitive study for years to come. A Benedictine nun, forced into claustration and pressured to take vows that constrained her to a life-long imprisonment in the convent of Sant' Anna in Venice, Tarabotti wrote early feminist denunciations of patriarchy. This slim, handsomely-produced volume of the twelve essays by both established and younger scholars will serve as an essential platform for future research on the subject.

Weaver divides the book into two sections: The Venetian Context and Arcangela Tarabotti, Life and Works. In so doing, she avoids unnecessary overlapping of information from essay to essay. Rather, the essays speak to one another in an implicit dialogue. Her introduction is informative and clearly written. She stresses the extent to which Tarabotti cultivated connections with important literati of her time while she was confined in Sant' Anna. Tarabotti's attacks against the complicity of fathers who profited from the state are also addressed to nuns who participated in this deception.

Anne Schutte supports the historical reality of the convent as prison. She contests the notion advanced by other scholars that the convent provided women with a safe haven from the dangers of childbirth, opportunities for leadership, and more possibilities to write and to publish their works than those available to laywomen. Schutte concludes that enforced claustration penetrated the souls of even the most rebellious, enterprising, and ambitious of women, as in the case of Tarabotti. Gabriella Zarri examines forced vocation in Venice and how Venetian convents differs from those of other Italian cities, which had to abide by the Council of Trent's decrees to strip convents of "their customs and privileges they had acquired in preceding centuries" (37). While she advises that there were fewer monachizations in seventeenth-century Venice than in Florence, one key difference between the two cities is the "degree of awareness of the problem in political terms as expressed by Arcangela Tarabotti that has no equivalent in other early Italian states" (39). Mario Infelise focuses on the history of books produced under the aegis of the Academy of the Incogniti in Venice, whose founder, Giovanni Francesco Loredan, was the patron to whom Tarabotti dedicated her collection of letters in 1650. Daria Perocco's essay looks at the most popular and influential prose genres —political history and theory, novel and short story, travel narratives —of the early seventeenth century. In her examination of Loredan's Academy literary output, she underlines the experimentation within these genres.

The second section of the book focuses on Arcangela Tarabotti's life, her published letters which describe her existence in the convent, her contacts with the literary world, and the difficulties she encountered when publishing her works. Beatrice Collina provides a fascinating examination of how the age-old polemic against women became in seventeenth-century Venice a two-way dialogue whereby women, as never before, penned the responses to their attackers. She emphasizes that this unprecedented literary phenomenon was taken up by publishers who recognized a good business prospect and sought out unpublished texts by women on this subject (Moderata Fonte) and commissioned others (Lucrezia Marinelli). Letizia Panizza, one of three authors in the volume who have published translations and editions of Tarabotti's work (Paternal Tyranny, 2004), delves into Tarabotti's working methods and appropriation of sources. Panizza argues that her manipulation and parody of ancient Greek and Latin relied upon vernacular translations into Italian that were often imperfect. Panizza's examples point to Tarabotti's rhetorical strategies and love of wordplay, which underscore her exceptional "courage and audacity in speaking out on issues that affected women's moral, intellectual and spiritual life" (128).

Three essays offer nuanced, close readings of selections from Tarabotti's letters: Lynn Lara Westwater and Meredith Kennedy Ray have produced a modern critical edition of Tarabotti's letters (2005) and are, therefore, very well versed in all aspects of her uses of language to construct an irreproachable public persona. Westwater explores Tarabotti's humor, which she sees as an effective literary tool. Ray concentrates on the process by which Tarabotti artfully...



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