- Milena Milani's La ragazza di nome Giulio:A Forgotten Feminist Novel
Upon its initial release in 1964, the novel La ragazza di nome Giulio (published by Longanesi) was at the center of a clamorous trial for having "gravely offended a common sense of decency."1 Although other authors, including Moravia and Pasolini, had been similarly denounced, the case was the first in Italy in which an author, male or female, was publicly condemned.2 In the course of the trial, the printing plates for La ragazza di nome Giulio were destroyed and Milena Milani, abandoned by her publisher, was labeled a pornographer. After Milani won the appeals case, however, the novel was re-released in 1968 and subsequently enjoyed several editions and ample success.3La ragazza di nome Giulio was translated into several languages, gained the attention of noted intellectuals of the period, including celebrated French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, and was adapted into a film of the same title, which officially represented Italy at the Berlin Film Festival in 1970. Nevertheless, the significance of Milani's La ragazza di nome Giulio, as the earliest pioneering feminist assessment of female identity and sexual difference in fascist Italy, has yet to be [End Page 223] fully explored and acknowledged: in fact, the novel and its author seem to have been largely forgotten.
For Milena Milani, author and talented visual artist, the trial marked the most significant in a series of public confrontations resulting from her unwillingness to conform to the literary trends of the moment and her ability to anticipate the times.4La ragazza di nome Giulio, recounting the coming-of-age in fascist Italy of a girl, Jules, is a concrete example of Milani's progressive voice—a voice that lucidly articulates the simultaneous banality and significance of everyday experiences and objects, and interweaves the intricate historical and philosophical questions on the margins of individual observations and insights. In the narrative, the protagonist goes by Jules, named for her foreign father; however, Milani changes the name to its Italian equivalent in the novel's title. In order to highlight the issue of gender identity, Giulio narrates Jules's experience in the first-person, tracing her story from pre-adolescence to early adulthood, during the fall of fascism in bellic Italy. The narrative is composed of three parts that span across time and space, ordered only in the narrator's memory as the recollection and repetition of significant events. Like Milani's previous protagonists, Jules, as we shall see, reclaims her corporality both as a form of liberation, and as a means of uttering a desperate and often violent cry for female emancipation.5
Milani's interpretation of female experience in Giulio and of the way female sexuality is shaped by a misogynistic paradigm, anticipates feminist ideas later expressed beginning with the Women's Movement in Italy in the 1970s, as well as highlighting (sexual) difference as an essential element in human experience.6Giulio also marks a shift in female authorship in Italy, from the self-determined, independent outlook of women writers, such as Sibilla Aleramo, at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the renewed coming-together of women during the later 1960s, after a long hiatus and the establishment of a [End Page 224] collaborative movement.7 Building on her historic feminist predecessors' thorough examination of the private realm of female thought and experience, Milani anticipates the idea that "the personal is political" and undermines the authority of patriarchal preconceptions of history, sexuality and narrative. The text provides, in narrative form, a necessary analysis for women in 1960s Italy, of the recent fascist past, illuminating the limitations constructed around sexuality and gender roles in contemporary Italian society, rooted in fascism, and laying a foundation for the subversive movements of 1968, as well as the later feminist movement. Milani revolts not only against the subservient role of women during fascism (excluded from politics and confined to the private realm), but also implicitly against the return of the fascist model of women during Italy's economic boom and the author's immediate present, setting a precedent for Italy's most progressive female voices...