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MLN 119.1 (2004) 197-199
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Janet Levarie Smarr and Daria Valentini, eds., Italian Women and the City: Essays. Madison [N.J.]: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, London; Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 2003. Pp. 244.
Italian Women and the City is a collection of eleven scholarly essays compiled by Janet Levarie Smarr (University of California, San Diego) and Daria Valentini (Stonehill College). The contributors of this volume propose an enlightening study that brings into juxtaposition two topics of growing interest in the last few decades within the study of Italian literature and film: the image of women and the image of the city. The eleven scholarly essays of Italian Women and the City are organized chronologically, having as their departure point the Renaissance and continuing into the present. The contributors' analysis focuses on Italian and European cities as diverse as Venice, Florence, Rome, Milan, Turin, Naples, Vienna, and Berlin and covers the realms of narrative, poetry, theater, and film. What is particularly apt about this collection is that, despite its treating a variety of cities and periods, the individual essays seem to hang together as a coordinated whole.
The collection exhibits a respectable list of contributing scholars: Paola Malpezzi Price, Roberta Morosini, Andrea Baldi, Diana Robin, Mary Kisler, Jane Tylus, Angela Jeannet, Ernesto Livorni, Daria Valentini, Davide Papotti, Vincenzo Binetti and Janet Smarr.
The book's introduction by Smarr addresses the key aspects that form the theoretical scaffolding of the volume. Among these, the scholar brings into [End Page 197] light the intersection of gender and space, that is the interpenetration of women's lives with the urban environment, both physical and imagined. The study is a guide to mapping not only how city spaces shape or limit women's lives but also how women participate in the construction or reconstruction of these spaces. Thus, from this perspective, the collection offers an insightful overview of women exploring the urban environment while discovering their own true selves. Pertinent to this research is also the metaphorical relation between the city and women, given the fact that the words for city tend to be female gendered in Italian, thus signaling the common association of the city with a woman. Unlike many theoretical urban studies that mirror closely the private-public binary, this collection often goes beyond this concept by underlining the invisibility of these boundaries. There is a reiterated warning throughout this collection against associating public and private spaces with the male and female figures respectively. As some of these essays will show, there are masculine public spaces that display a sense of domesticity and isolation while female gendered spaces are more akin to a civic environment.
Diana Robin and Paola Malpezzi Price's essays discuss the paradoxical image of Venice. Although Venice is the most prolifically depicted as a powerful female "projecting strength," and as a goddess of love in both literature and the visual arts, it is also the most restrictive city with its female inhabitants. While Paola Malpezzi Price explores the strong division of Venice into male and female spaces as reflected in two works by Moderata Fonte, Diana Robin discusses the relation between the publishing industry and women writers in sixteenth-century Italy, focusing on the works of three of its most representative exponents: Tullia d'Aragona, Veronica Franco and Gaspara Stampa. As getting published required connections, often achieved by frequenting the Italian ridotti, women writers had to sell, in one way or another, highly sexualized images of themselves. Thus, out of this prolific collaboration not only did the publishing business gain by exploiting the scandal surrounding these women, but the women writers themselves who also gained by seeing their works in print. The image of Venice is further explored in Ernesto Livorni's essay, which depicts the relationship of the protagonist with the city in one of Camillo Boito's novellas and Visconti's cinematic adaptation.
The relation of women with the topographic image of Florence is examined in the next two sections of this collection. Focusing on one of Jacopo Nardi's plays, Jane Tylus argues that the errant speech is...