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"Un uso non raro": rape, rhetoric and silence in sibilla aleramo's Una donna.

Abstract: Since 1906, Sibilla Aleramo's Una donna has been hailed for its seminal feminist stance and called the movement's "Bibbia". Rather than reiterating such commonplaces, this article discusses narrations of trauma and focuses on the recounting of sexual violence in order to individuate rhetorical silences within the text that undercut its revolutionary characterization. This is not a criticism of Aleramo for her hesitant activism and demure tone in recounting her rape; instead, through analyses of works of literary criticism as well as the treatment of rape in Italian legal and cultural history, this article seeks instead to situate and understand her vociferous silence. Calling into question the lack of progress in the treatment and discussion of sexual violence in contemporary Italian culture, it allows for a recalibration of Una donna's legacy by demonstrating the moments in which, surprisingly, its rhetoric and silence align with patriarchal legal and cultural practices.

Keywords: Sibilla Aleramo, Una donna, Italian feminism, rape narratives, trauma narratives.


"Ho dovuto, sempre, fare un grande sforzo per rievocare il passato che volevo, che dovevo narrare, e dal quale ormai ero del tutto estranea".

Sibilla Aleramo in Bassanese (41)

Sibilla Aleramo's romanzo Una donna, both sui generis and ground-breaking, has been written about--and justifiably so--for the more than 100 years since its publication. It has even been famously labeled the "Bibbia del femminismo". (1) The text's gender politics have often been the exclusive focus of Aleramo criticism, (2) which tends to emphasize its radical and seminal feminism. While these conclusions are not necessarily disputed in this study, I find that emphasis on these aspects tend to be at the expense of the less politically radical, and even un-feminist, messages concealed within narrations of trauma in the text. While not exclusively about trauma, the story of the author/protagonist unfolds as a sequence of traumatic events: mother's suicide attempt; rape; unhappy, abusive and unwanted marriage; father's infidelity; mother's institutionalization; miscarriage; domestic violence; suicide attempt; stifling of intellectual endeavors; abandonment of child. In looking closely at the language used to narrate these events, many points emerge in which the recounting undermines the perception of the text as a unified, organic whole. These many narrated traumas exhibit rhetorical difficulties, misdirections, evasions and provocations associated with, and inherent in, the telling of traumatic episodes. Recounted in something like "the enigmatic language of untold stories--of experiences not yet completely grasped" (Caruth 56), I demonstrate that Aleramo's narrations of trauma compel the reader to perceive an unstable text in which the rhetoric does not coincide with the ideological implications. While the desired political-ideological project of the text is clearly and consciously feminist, (3) the narration of trauma, particularly sexual violence, contradicts the author's feminist intentions.

These traumatic textual moments display a rhetorically unresolved tension between what must be told, and at the same time, must remain hidden. The episode that will form the central analytical section of this paper is, paradoxically, perhaps the most succinct and evasive of the entire text: the rape of the narrator/protagonist. The rape, which it is never called in the text, or the "iniziazione" as it is once labeled, is, in my view, the crux of the "romanzo". It is the foundational trauma that forced womanhood, marriage, and abrupt separation and isolation from, as well as silence toward, her family. I establish that Aleramo's narrative treatment of her rape is aligned with, rather than opposed to, the patriarchal legal, political and social practices of her time. I come to these conclusions by questioning the ideological concerns of the text and focusing instead on its linguistic and rhetorical aspects. I then contextualize and support my rhetorical findings with analysis and commentary about the legal and social status of sexual violence both during Aleramo's lifetime, as well as in contemporary Italy.

Traumatic Fictions

Per law and social custom, Aleramo was forced to remain silent about the trauma of rape, which in turn forced the creation and maintenance of a fictitious denial in order to go about living. While her times and society demanded the creation and maintenance of such fictions, her choice to replicate them in her text--without openly questioning them--is a central concern of this article. This authorial choice demands a reading that takes into consideration the text's fictional mechanisms. The use of fiction in narratives of trauma, suggests trauma theorist Cathy Caruth, avoids the "betrayal" of the experience that would otherwise occur "in the act of telling" since "the very transmission of an understanding [...] erases the specificity" (27). Aleramo, however, does not locate her work completely in the realm of fiction, but clearly and explicitly overlaps both fiction and non-fiction, refusing to fully relinquish ownership of her story, yet cannot, or will not, disclose it entirely. Declaring the text "un romanzo" marks the first step in the distancing of the narrated story from its author. In addition to its ambiguous title and genre categorization, I see Aleramo's pseudonym and omission of proper nouns as coinciding with evasive rhetorical strategies in the narration of traumatic events. Taken together and seen between the lines of her rhetoric that simultaneously silences and voices her experiences, Aleramo's double gestures implicitly ask whether trauma can defy narration, and, if so, how. The way in which one experiences a violent trauma decisively affects its narration. The narration of trauma demands a re-composition, as well as a re-living, of the event in order to recount it and to produce a cohesive whole for the reader. The patriarchal denial of rape as legitimate trauma, however, disallowed her from ever truly re-telling "her terrible secret" (30). This violence was so personally transformational, yet, society regarded the rape as "un uso non raro" (21), that was all too common. Misogynist traditions of silence denied her from fully appreciating the traumatic and violent moment. Tradition acted instead as a veil, a normalization, and worse yet, a rationalization for sexual violence. Living within such a tradition prohibited her from ever dealing with and telling the trauma, and thus denied her the possibility of its therapeutic mastery. Aleramo's text evidences both this forced silence and the resultant lack of healing.

This article offers a close look at the rhetorical peculiarities of the text itself which, when taken together, portray a very different text than the "feminist bible" for so long it has been labeled to be. Aleramo's text is feminist, but more complex in terms of the way in which the female body emerges, the portrayal of its complicated sexuality, and violence against it. Aleramo seeks to deliver a universal story of A Woman, and at the same time, everywoman. However, perhaps this desire to tell the universal story of the difficulties of women's lives is both a true ambition as well as a veil for not delving into painful and preferably, or necessarily, forgotten personal experiences of trauma. Writing under the guise of "a woman" is both a gesture of communion and concealment. Assuming both anonymity and universality allows for a certain freedom in narration, while also permitting the author/protagonist to disown her experience. Classifying the text as "un romanzo", a novel, and refusing to declare it an official autobiography are significant examples of this distancing of text from author. There are many conceivable reasons for such a choice, ranging from editorial to authorial. The political, artistic, legal or editorial reasons for employing both a pseudonym as well as writing an autobiography in the guise of a novel, however require that the reader immediately question all aspects of the text: its veracity, its fiction, its rhetoric, its literary status. These questions are destined to remain mostly unanswered, yet a close look at the text's ways and modes of telling--what it exposes, what it silences--allow for inferences beyond the desired political and ideological messages. What is certain is that all of these aspects point to the tension in the text between silence and disclosure, veiling and revealing. However, this is not a psychological reading of the author; instead, I focus on what can be discerned rhetorically: not officially claiming the experience as one's own has an effect on the way in which the text is read and interpreted.

Narration and Ideology: "II racconto di un fatto lontano"

Before the analysis of what I consider the central trauma of the text--the rape--I will consider a decidedly less controversial narration, that is, the birth of her son:

   A mio padre pure sopraggiunto, il medico narrava le fasi del parto:
   le prime doglie alle due di notte, il rapido progresso della crisi,
   una mezz'ora di sofferenza, l'ultimo spasimo, e infine il sollievo,
   il primo vagito del bambino eccezionalmente robusto perfetto di
   forme. Le frasi mi giungevano come il racconto di un fatto lontano
   di cui i miei sensi non serbassero che un fievole ricordo. (47)

This portrayal of the maternal experience falls within the traditional and thus acceptable narrative realm, yet Aleramo recounts it through the doctor's retelling of her story. She is relegated to mere protagonist, subjected to the male, omniscient narrator who speaks for her. The choice of words here is significant: "il medico narrava le fasi del parto". He "narrated" her experience of giving birth, which ironically he could never have experienced directly, but only as a dispassionate observer. The brief "fasi del parto" become the essential narration from one authority figure, the doctor, to another, the pater familias. The "official" story, clinical in language, succinct in description, and in the third person, only conveys the woman's visible bodily dimension, not her emotional experience. The narration of the birth is told as though the author/protagonist was absent, unable to fully comprehend, or translate verbally, what had happened to her body.

The author/protagonist expresses this exclusion from her own experience: "Le frasi mi giungevano come il racconto di un fatto lontano". The distance between the protagonist's experience and the doctor's narration is evident in the language: the words "arrived to her", they did not come from her. It is characterized as a "racconto", which in the English translation is rendered as "news," but could also connote "tale." This latter meaning is preferable as it alludes to the protagonist's narrative isolation from her own experience, as well as her perception of the narration as fictitious. Aleramo asserts that the doctor's narration does not address an intimate experience, but instead "a distant event" (62 trans. Delmar). This is an explicit, yet still subtle, disapproval for the injustice in the silencing of first-person women narrators. Aleramo perceives that the literary and societal traditions had privileged the "narration" of women's experience by a patriarchal voice.

The following conclusion of the birth episode reinforces this ideological moment in the text. The author assumes the unified role of protagonist and narrator, of body and mind, of physical pain and emotional spirit:

   Si, il mio corpo era stato awolto da spire di fuoco, la mia fronte
   s'era coperta di un sudore gelato, io era divenuta--per un attimo?
   per un'eternita?--un povero essere implorante pieta, dimentico di
   tutto, le mani convulsamente aggrappate ad immaginari sostegni nel
   vuoto, la voce cambiato in rantolo; si, io avevo creduto d'entrare
   nella morte nel punto in cui mio figlio entrava nel mondo, avevo
   gettato un urlo di rivolta in nome della mia came lacerata delle
   sue viscere divorate, della mia coscienza naufragante [...] (47,
   italics are mine)

Here author/protagonist takes narrative authority of her experience, employing vocabulary that expresses her true, integral experience of childbirth, which is told as a harmonious physical and emotional experience. This narration, exceptional in its first-person perspective and graphic detail, demonstrates clear comfort in speaking about the female body in explicit terms--"vagito"; "came lacerata"; "viscere divorate"--that reference her pain, her suffering, and the intimate physical, material make-up of her body. The revolutionary quality of this narration is, however, attenuated by the fact that childbirth is an acceptable narrative space in which to speak of the female body. The narration of this event is facilitated by the societal normalization of childbirth and motherhood. Such an experience, despite the violence, pain and life-altering aspects, is one that women are expected to experience, and therefore legitimized socially. The political enforcement of this motherly expectation was enacted only two decades later under fascist pronatalist politics. (4)

If taken out of context and by omitting one simple sentence fragment, "nel punto in cui mio figlio entrava nel mondo", the narration of the birth could be mistaken for a graphic description of rape. This painful experience is described as violent and victimizing, characteristics shared with an experience of rape. While is not a description of rape, it is interesting to compare its frankness with the relative reticence of the actual rape narration that will be analyzed next. This childbirth represents one of the only, if not the only, narration of her bodily and emotional struggle in a holistic and forthright manner. This lucidity and harmony are glaringly missing from the narration of the scene of her rape. Her coherent use of verb tenses helps the reader perceive the childbirth episode as a holistic one. The exclusive use of the imperfect and pluperfect tenses allows the reader to experience the text as a reader who is not asked to participate in the episode's narration, nor to question the events narrated. This polished and temporally distant narrative is different from her narrations of trauma, where there are jolting interjections of the present or the remote past tenses. This is also a noteworthy passage for the narrative control assumed by the protagonist; she shows a total recall of details and it its message is well in line with her ideological mission for the text

Rape and (De)composition: "Tentavo ricompormi"

This previous discussion of the childbirth was done as a counterpoint to the following analysis of the episode of rape in order to illustrate how the episodes employ strikingly distinct rhetorical attitudes.

Cosi, sorridendo puerilmente, accanto alio stipite di una porta che divideva lo studio del babbo dall'ufficio comune, un mattino fui sorpresa da un abbraccio insolito, brutale: due mani tremanti frugavano le mie vesti, arrovesciavano il mio corpo fin quasi a coricarlo attraverso uno sgabello mentre istintivamente si divincolava. Soffocavo e diedi un gemito ch'era per finire un urlo, quando l'uomo, premendomi la bocca, mi respinse lontano. (Aleramo 26)

This depiction of rape, followed by a brief mention of physical fragility and emotional numbness following the attack, ends the chapter. The reader is left in the same state of confusion and shock as that described by the author/protagonist. Aleramo's prose is at once precise and vague. Written in a detached, impersonal manner she details the components of the violent act that happened to "[suo] corpo", yet without stating precisely that to which the reader is bearing witness. While there was a clear violation and the author unquestionably identifies herself as a victim, there is a silence with regard to the actual extent of the event. This is not to say that she should have added gratuitous detail, but from the perspective of the reader it is not clear at a linguistic level if an actual rape occurred, or an attempted yet unsuccessful rape, or perhaps even an isolated groping. The choice of vocabulary, with the exception of one adjective "brutale", which modifies the innocuous term "abbraccio", diminishes and obscures what really occurred.

The discussion and description of her body are limited to "il mio corpo". In fact, semantically it was "[sue] vesti" that were groped, rather than actual parts of her body. While the narrator demonstrated comfort in using graphic detail while narrating her experience of childbirth--"vagito"; "carne lacerata"; viscere divorate"--in this episode, the general "il mio corpo," is the extent to which the narrator refers to her body. The rape episode includes much less explicit violence than does the scene of childbirth. Also in sharp contrast, here pain is not disclosed; there is instead a sense of physical numbness as if the victim were experiencing the attack to a detached entity, "[suo] corpo", rather than to her person. At one point the body is even referred to in the third person: "il mio corpo fin quasi a coricarlo attraverso uno sgabello mentre istintivamente si divincolava" (Aleramo 26, italics are mine). The possessive adjective, "mio", is the only semantic link between the first person narrator and the object of attack, her body. The body, instead, is semantically its own entity: "coricarlo", the use of a direct object pronoun--it--rather a personal pronoun--me--or even a possessive adjective--my--, as well as a third person reflexive verb to describe the actions of her body--"si divincolava"--which is modified by the adverb "istintivamente".

These linguistic elements indicate dissociation between consciousness and body. Her body "instinctively" acted alone, without her having been able to willfully control its movements. It was not her consciousness that yearned for her body to "free" itself, instead her body acted independently of her mind, as if it were a separate entity with its own executive faculties. This semantic distance is interesting because it establishes a break between the author/protagonist and her experience. The style is hesitant and fragmented and creates a linguistic gap between author/protagonist and her rape. The semantic choices, as well as the demure and evasive tone, lead the reader to sense a resistance on the part of the narrator to actually narrate this experience. This dissociative moment is confirmed when, immediately after the interruption of the rape, she was able to get away: "Barcollando, mi rifugiai nel piccolo laboratorio [...] Tentavo ricompormi, mentre mi sentivo mancare le forze; ma un sospetto oscuro mi si affaccio" (26). Her physical instability--"barcollando"--indicates a lingering division between executive faculties and body, to the extent that she needed to "ricomporjsi]". This could be taken figuratively, yet I find the lexical choice telling as it signals the moment in which the narrator recomposes herself both linguistically--with the use of the reflexive pronoun "mi"--as well as emotionally, from the dissociative, deconstructive act of rape, which precluded the victim's mind from reconciling with the actions and state of her body.

Silence and Circumlocutions

The rape begins and ends with the mouth--"sorridendo puerilmente" / "premendomi la bocca"--yet there is a dearth of verbal language within its narration. Only a nonverbal sound is uttered, interrupts the rape--"un gemito che era per finire in urlo" --and is then dampened by the hand of the perpetrator over victim's mouth, before he flees. She then sees her perpetrator silent communication --"interrogava in silenzio, smarrito, ansante"--followed by another nonverbal gesture--"le mani congiunte in atto supplichevole ..."--which both convey a cryptic message. The silent communication colors the scene with ambiguity, for it is impossible to truly comprehend the intended messages of the attacker, be they regret, sorrow, or confusion, all or none of the above. The literal silence, or the nonverbal quality of communication, before, during and after the rape is also akin to the rhetorical silence that underscores the difficulty and discomfort the narrator displays in defining what happened to her. As I will discuss later, despite the deplorable ordinariness of rape, it was, and is, a silent violation: the victim, perpetrator, the law as well as society at large displayed (and often still display today) an inability to deal with rape linguistically in a clear, comfortable manner. This ambiguity is clear in the text, as there is a consistent resistance to confirming the sexual violation of the narrator. Aleramo is aware of and admits to the gravity of the trauma, yet the exact nature of its effects on her person is linguistically unclear.

After the rape, her state of shock and confusion apparent, she goes on to raise an existential question--"Che cos'ero io ora?"--which reveals her grasp of the emotional damage done. There remains, however, an unresolved aspect surrounding all references to the origin of this damage, which is palpable given the circumlocutious lengths to which she goes in order to evade stating precisely what actually occurred. This reluctance to clarify the true (read: sexual) nature of the attack cannot be attributed exclusively to the stylistic conventions of Aleramo's times nor to the fictitious framework of her "romanzo". Susan Brison, contemporary philosopher and sexual assault victim, addresses this same difficulty in her recent autobiographical and philosophical investigation of her own rape:

Although fears for my safety may have initially explained why I wanted to remain anonymous, by that time my assailant had been apprehended, indicted for rape and attempted murder, and incarcerated without possibility of bail. Still, I didn't want people to know that I had been sexually assaulted. I don't know whether this was because I could still hardly believe it myself, because keeping this information confidential was one of the few ways I could feel in control of my life, or because, in spite of my conviction that I had done nothing wrong, I felt ashamed [...] When I started telling people about the attack, I said, simply, that I was a victim of an attempted murder. (Brison 3)

This misdirection that Brison explores is remarkably similar to the way in which Aleramo approaches her sexual assault, via silence. In emphasizing the purely violent aspects of the attack, and silencing the sexual, Brison acknowledges the complex emotions and discomfort that an admission of rape provokes, and how there is something simply different for victims of violent rather than sexual aggression. In addition to the humiliation of the bodily intrusion, this difference is likely due in part to the fact that rape is the only form of assault that evokes the issue thorny issue of consent. (5) Even confidence in one's own exculpability does not diminish that a disclosure of rape instinctively seems to bring shame and invite judgment upon the victim.

Aleramo, conversely, does not display this auto-interrogation. She does not acknowledge her own reluctance to speak explicitly about the sexual nature of her attack. While it would be perhaps understandable that she did not use the terms "rape" or "sexual violation" each time she wished to refer to her rape, it is, however, significant that Aleramo never does so. Following is a list of the terms and phrases used to refer to her rape, or, ways in which sexual assault is implied, without ever clearly being defined as such:

"un abbraccio insolito, brutale" (26); "la mia esistenza [...] veniva sconvolta, tragicamente mutata" (27); "Era l'influsso dell'improwisa scossa fisiologica?" (28); "quella che mi aveva colpita disgustosamente"(29); "E donna, ecco, ero divenuta subitamente" (28); "ogni interrogazione su l'accaduto" (28); "La mia vita di fanciulla era finita" (27); "l'iniziazione era stata troppo atroce"(29); "il dramma che aveva troncata la mia adolescenza"(29); "il mio terribile segreto"; "il vero" (30); "risuscitando ne' miei sensi il brivido, ormai lontano, di terrore" (31); "[il] fatto ch'io consideravo irreparabile" (31); "[la] tragedia silenziosa" (33); "Un ricordo mi baleno. Anche costui!." (60)

A glance at this long list is enough to grasp that the author/ protagonist considered the violation traumatic and certainly life altering. What is disturbing and confounding is that such a clear trauma is often alluded to, yet remains essentially unspoken. Just as the reader never reads the term "rape" or any of its clear synonyms, her family and friends never found out the "truth" and it remained, as it did semantically in the text, her "terrible secret". The numerous references to the rape are veiled linguistically and in their imprecision lay a vociferous silence. The silence, which consists of the narrator's inability and/or resistance to define the rape expressly, extends beyond the actual rape experience and contaminates the memory of it as well. Her life changed forever, in the brief moments between the start of the "unusual embrace" to her assault-ending "howl," yet she could never speak openly about the incident that "truncated", "mutated", "finished" her former life.

Stating and Denying

The only time a clear term is employed indicating a sexual violation is done before the narration of the assault itself and refers hypothetically to a desired, but unconsummated attack. Following is this episode, in which the author/protagonist recounts how her soon-to-be-rapist (and eventual husband) talks of a "compagno" who desires her:

   Mi raccontava del paese, di quello che i suoi compagni dicevano di
   me. Lo interrogavano sul mio conto con grande curiosita; mi
   descrissi uno di essi, si diceva innamorato di me e parlava di
   rapinni, questo era un uso non raro in quei luoghi e al ratio
   seguiva il matrimonio. Io ridevo e accenavo a mio padre, il cui
   nome incuteva terrore [...] Le sue parole con il suo sentimento mi
   lasciavano tra offesa e lusingata, ma mi pareva di sentirvi un
   fondo di sincerita [...] (21, italics are mine)

This term, "rapirmi" (6) (from rapire), even with its clear connotation of a violent abduction, is something of a semi-euphemistic veil. It is the most unequivocal term in the entire text to indicate a violent and criminal sexual act, yet it still is not as precise as it could be: only one of its (less common) meanings is sexual violence, while the more common usage of the term connotes forceful removal or figurative captivation. (7) There has been a well-documented relationship between the figurative meanings of "rapire" and the sexual violation of women, going back at least to the 1612 first edition of the Vocabolario della Crusca, which cites "svirginare", "disverginare" and "disfioramento" as related terms. Yet this term still lies well within the figurative realm, far from a declaration of violence. The reader is effectively left to characterize the incident on behalf of the author/protagonist, instead of the other way around.

This semantic imprecision is not the only confounding aspect in this passage; there are other degrees of narrative separation. The episode forms a misdirectional foreshadowing of the sexual assault, by pointing away from the actual rape, it effectively negates any direct reference to the attack that it tangentially references. There are three such elements of this misdirection: the ambiguous terminology just discussed, the identity of the assailant, and the use of the hypothetical mood. The man indicated as wanting to "rape" her was, curiously, not the person who will rape her, but his anonymous acquaintance. Instead, the messenger of this information would rape and eventually marry the author/protagonist. The mention of this could-be assault is done not only in a hypothetical context, but also at a point in the narration before the actual rape occurs. The author/protagonist allows herself and the term "rapire" to be in the same sentence at only one time in the text, chronologically before the assault, and in a hypothetical reference to a man who did not in fact violate her. This tortuous narrative strategy seeps down to the level of rhetoric. In speaking of the commonness of the tradition of "rapire" in her culture and society, the narrator does not come out and frankly state that fact, but instead refers to the practice as "un uso non raro". In employing litotes, she creates a semantic instability by effectively stating, while, at the same time, not stating: instead of saying "a regular/frequent custom", she states "a not unusual custom". This circumlocution reveals itself to be analogous to her narrative strategy, which only overtly references rape in a hypothetical context and in connection to someone who did not actually rape her.

There is an undeniable discomfort exposed in this passage, and others, that deal with, or even refer to, certain traumatic events. This is confirmed by looking even closer at the passages Aleramo omitted from the final version of the text. The following excerpt is an earlier draft of the passage analyzed above, and it was cut from the final version of Una donna:

Tener le donne in una tutela umiliante e tirannica era l'uso del paese, ma d'altronde piu d'un matrimonio era ancora preceduto dal ratto. La stessa violenza con cui mi aveva ottenuta il mio fidanzato, doveva essere qualcosa come un costume non ancora scomparso. (Aleramo IV, c. 58 in Zancan 194)

Rhetorically and narratively, this passage is distant from the account included in the final version of the text. Let us first look at the language used. The terms referring to subjugation of women are unambiguous and forceful, and even form a rhetorical climax: "tutela umiliante e tirannica". As we saw, in the final version Aleramo employs litotes to allude to the prevalence of the practice of rape before marriage, stating "questo era un uso non raro in queiluoghi e al ratto seguiva il matrimonio". Here the author directly states it to be "l'uso del paese", replacing the indefinite article, "un", with the definite one, "I"', as well as excluding the qualifying adjectival phrase. Another divergence in the language is the equation of the "ratto" with "violenza", a term for which there is simply no analogue in the final version. Perhaps the most glaring difference is the most important one with respect to the argument of this paper: There is an indisputable link between the narrator-as-rape-victim and the "violenza" in a phrase that was not put into the words of another character, nor veiled by the hypothetical mood, but instead declared in the indicative mood, "[l]a stessa violenza con cui mi aveva ottenuta il mio fidanzato". In this sentence the victim, the perpetrator, and most significantly, the offense are all stated in a clear, precise manner in the same sentence. And yet, in spite of that, or perhaps due to that, this phrase, which is the only one explicit in terms of her having been raped, was excluded from the final manuscript.

Also crucial is the absence of narration in the excluded passage. Aleramo enters the text as author, rather than solely as narrator, and comments on a cultural practice, which she exposes, condemns, and of which she declares herself a victim. Perhaps the decidedly non-narrative quality of the passage was the reason for it exclusion. While plausible, the delicate subject matter, as well the passage's status as the only direct semantic link between the narrator and her rape, render such an argument unconvincing.

Critical Blindness

Marina Zancan interprets its omission in a manner more in line with Aleramo's desired political and ideological messages of the text:

   [...] i tagli, o le varianti, piu consistenti interessano infatti i
   segmenti narrativi piu vicini alia forma autobiografica e
   diaristica della prima redazione del testo, o quegli elementi,
   attinenti alia sfera del corpo e dell'eros, che potevano turbare la
   compattezza ideale della donna nuova, forte per una totale mistica
   adesione alia propria legge interiore. [...] (194)

This interpretation suggests that Aleramo privileged the public, political persona she projected above any narrative honesty. While I imagine that Aleramo did indeed consider such issues seriously, especially given the pioneering literary feat she was undertaking, I wonder if such a take is not too reductive in light of an analysis of her rhetoric in the narration of traumatic events. In those moments, including that of her rape, the text itself reveals an uncomfortable narrator who seems at odds with her own conflicting narratives, rather than a calculating author who chooses a passage to omit or to rewrite on the basis of political/ideological concerns. I am thus disinclined to accept Zancan's explanation that Aleramo did so for reasons that may have "turb[ato] la compattezza ideale della donna nuova, forte per una totale mistica adesione alia propria legge interiore" (194). Given the myriad ways in which Aleramo shows herself reluctant to address her rape directly in the final version of Una donna, this exclusion is significant, but not necessarily or exclusively for political reasons.

In fact, the episode of rape as the unspoken, yet foundational, trauma of the text offered Aleramo a perfect platform to interject a clearly feminist ideological meditation. Aleramo instead portrays the incident in an unsure manner, which poses more questions than it answers. There is, however, a tendency on the part of Aleramo criticism to read the text as overtly and exclusively political. The politics and ideology are undeniably present, but the same discomfort in Aleramo's text is ironically present in the work of some of her critics, who are often reluctant to delve beyond the political and ideological exoskeleton in order to call into question the unruly and disquieting nature of trauma in general, and sexual violence in particular. Let us look again to Zancan, who discusses in this excerpt the chapter in Aleramo's text in which the rape, among other traumas, takes place:

   L'atmosfera soffusa nel sogno che connota l'origine (della vita e
   del racconto) e interrotta nel capitolo III da tre contenuti
   biografici che improwisamente ne lacerano l'incanto. II gesto di
   morte della madre, il tradimento del padre, lo stupro della
   bambina. [...] II capitolo III, che in questo quadro ha una
   funzione di passaggio e di cerniera, segna il distacco
   dall'infanzia e marca l'ingresso nella vita adulta [...] La
   violenza sessuale, che chiude il capitolo e l'evento che consente a
   Rina di cogedare le figure del padre e della madre per prenderne il
   posto, per riportare a se la rinuncia all'infanzia. (202)

Upon reading this analysis and commentary, my first observation was of the dispassionate characterization of such an important part of the text. Zancan reduces the events into moments that neatly fit the narrative necessities of a psychoanalytical Bildungsroman. The problem with such an interpretation, however, is the peculiar way in which the text's own rhetoric and narration resist such a clean, compartmentalized reading. Of course, these events--mother's attempted suicide; disintegration of the family unit; deterioration of trust in her father; rape--(forcibly) "marc[ano] l'ingresso nella vita adulta", but such a statement hardly exhausts the interpretative possibilities. There seems to be the desire, or perhaps the need, by this critic to reduce a crucial textual moment into a tidy Freudian schema, which conveniently contains the events, their ramifications and their reasons. Are these events really to be taken solely as rites of passage--"funzione di passaggio e di cerniera"--that built her independent character, that of "la compattezza ideale della donna nuova?" Regardless of their frequency in the historical period and geographical space of Aleramo's narration, I reject that these events are so easily transformed into mere circumscribed events, relegated to the sphere of history. I argue that they are instead foundational traumas, which are acknowledged, yet unresolved, and whose effects, as shown by her difficult narration of them, inform and cloud the entire text.

In fact, how are we to reconcile this notion with Aleramo's own words within the text itself regarding the act of her recounting of painful things: "Le parole fluivano gravi, quasi solenni: si delineava il mio momento psicologico; chiedevo al dolore se poteva divenire fecondo" (79). Her desire and need to give an order as well as a purpose to her past traumas is not necessarily indicative of her having overcome them; on the contrary closing off access to such events narratively, rhetorically and linguistically, and thus disallowing their textual expiation, betrays a deep discomfort with the "dolore [...] fecondo" they provoked. There seems to be a parallel tendency between the author herself and certain critics to diminish the traumas, Aleramo by veiling them, the critics by categorizing them into a theoretical framework. One wonders if perhaps this is done in order to avoid coming to terms with another disturbing realty, which is ensnared in the messy emotions relating to the delineation of desire, violence and guilt, which fail to fit nicely into a feminist ideological context. To flesh out this hypothesis, let us return to the text in order to take an even closer look at the textual treatment of the rape.

Internalized Shame and Misplaced Blame: "Tra offesa e luslngata"

Returning for a moment to the ambiguous passage that foreshadows the rape, another intriguing aspect becomes apparent. The narrator describes her divergent sentiments upon hearing of the man who "noticed [her] metamorphosis" and fantasized about "carrying her off" and "raping her." She is remarkably honest and eloquent in expressing these emotions: "Le sue parole con il suo sentimento mi lasciavano tra offesa e lusingata" (21, italics are mine). This first mention of rape, or its possibility, is met with sentiments on the part of the would-be victim as somewhere along the (rather wide) spectrum between offense and flattery. The unresolved contrast between these diametrically oppositional emotional responses seems, as we will see, to typify the author's references to the rape.

One of the more significant of these narrative frictions occurs just before the rape, where she tells of the flirtation between her and her eventual assailant during the courtship stage of their relationship. Noteworthy are her lexical choices, referencing childhood and innocence, during the rape scene--"puerilmente", "babbo"--yet here, and in the encounters preceding the rape, she imbued her innocent self with sexual awareness. There is excessive repetition of the depiction of her biological age as not yet sexually mature "bambina", "fanciulla", "puerile"--yet there is a contamination of these terms, which express a youthful innocence, with language more indicative of sexually initiated woman, rather than a "bambina":

   Egli comprendeva la mia incoscienza, constatava la mia ignoranza,
   la mia frigidita di bambina quindicenne. Velando con gesti e
   sorrisi scherzosi I'orgasmo ond'era posseduto, con lenta
   progressione mi accarezzo la persona, si fece restituire carezze e
   bad, come un debito di giuoco, come lo svolgiinento piacevole d'un
   prologo alia grande opera di amore che la mia immaginazione
   cominciava a dipingermi dinanzi. (26, italics are mine)

The insistence of childlike state is interesting since it reveals a revision of the event, through its narration, by the now older author/protagonist. This is a signpost of the impossibility--the paradox --of memoir: the inevitable passage of time between event and its narration disallow one from ever being able to retell one's own story in the voice of the person who experienced it. There is necessarily a contamination between the narrator and protagonist. I mention this not to enter into a discussion of narratology or genre, but to underscore the presence of two distinct voices. In our case, we have a characterization made by a now mature woman about her former, comparatively young and chaste self. "La mia frigidita di bambina quindicenne"; "sorridendo puerilmente"; "La mia via di fanciulla"; "Una franca compiacenza fanciullesca" are phrases used in close proximity (within two pages) within the narration. An insistence on stating, restating and confirming the youth and purity of the protagonist can hardly be considered the auto-characterization made at the time by the fifteen year old, who doubtless would have wanted to appear and feel more mature, not less. Instead, we have the muddled recollections that happened to a much younger self, told by an older, yet still first person, narrator. The confusion in terminology, this imposition of the term "bambina" by the older author at the extradiagetic level, onto a child protagonist, can perhaps account for the odd juxtaposition of "bambina" with "frigidita". The phrasing "frigidita di bambina quindicenne" implies through the preposition di, that "frigidita" is somehow a constitutive property of the "bambina quindicenne".

The use of "frigidita" is especially interesting given its heavily loaded meaning in terms of female sexuality. Most often used in regard to a woman who has already been initiated and active sexually, but who is no longer desirous; the topos of the "frigid wife" is a well-documented and oft-used excuse for a husband's infidelity. Aleramo also makes use of this literary commonplace in the text (8). Here, however, the decisively innocent and non-sexual "bambina" is strangely likened, and linked syntactically, to the sexually experienced, but no longer erotically charged, and thus blameworthy, figure of the frigid wife, who no longer satisfies her husband's desires. Charged with negativity and blame, the application of such a term to oneself is a cofounding choice. While it also signifies apathy, its use here in a clearly sexual context, makes it hard to sustain that it was employed, consciously or not, without a sexual nuance.

"Frigidita" is applied with no further explanation or modification, simply juxtaposed with a term from the opposite end of the linguistic spectrum, "orgasmo". The result is a semantically bizarre sentence that exhibits contrasting sexual vocabulary and produces an implication that undermines all the talk of youth and innocence: her "frigidity" is thus contrasted by his attempts at concealing the "orgasm" by which he was "possessed". As with "frigidita", it is also true that the Italian term "orgasmo" is not exclusively sexual in connotation; it can also mean general, rather than exclusively sexual, agitation. Yet, I am confident that another term, far less sexual in association, could have been used in its place. Employing such a term indicates that the narrator/protagonist was not only aware of the erotic nature of the exchange, but also complicit. While undeniably young, according to the text's rhetoric she could not be considered "innocent," meaning neither unaware of nor unmoved by sexuality. Of course this analysis is in no way meant to justify the violation of the protagonist; instead, my goal is to spotlight how the text itself treats the incident: the message, semantically and rhetorically, is confused.

This intriguing use of language leads the reader to wonder how a non-sexualized and innocent "bambina" would have been able to understand and correctly interpret the "gesti e sorrisi scherzosi" as veils for an uncontrollable sexual passion, "orgasmo." In fact, this "bambina" then succumbed to caresses, kisses to her "persona." While "persona" is a synonym for "corpo", there are different nuances. Firstly, there is a sensual intimation to the term "persona" that perhaps implies complicity, and certainly a physical awareness. Distinct from the anatomical "corpo," used by Aleramo during the narration of the actual rape, which indicates a clearly and exclusively the physical representation, "persona" alludes to the communion of body and spirit. Furthermore, this notion is evidenced in the text by the participation in this sexualized "debito di giuoco", in which she senses and then chooses to return the erotic overtures, thus indicating willful involvement: "si fece restituire carezze e baci, come un debito di giuoco, come lo svolgimento piacevole d'un prologo alia grande opera di amore" (26). Her participation is not fully disclosed, since the reciprocation is rendered as compliance in a "debito di giuoco" and, in her mind, is a pleasing prologue to romantic fantasy The term "possessed" is also provocative since it indicates loss of both control and reason by her "compagno", which suggests that he is not fully in control, thus not fully to blame, for what will occur.

While the narrative honesty is extraordinary for its attempts to depict the excited and confused mind during a girl's sexual awakening, there is something disturbing about the impression it evokes. At no time is there a counterpoint in which the (now mature) narrator interjects in order to clarify that, while confused then, flattered and innocently receptive to and participatory in the would-be rapist's sexual advances, despite their "svolgimento piacevole", there is still no excuse for things to lead to the sexual assault of a "bambina" That the author/protagonist never intervenes to clarify such an important matter raises a paradox. If the author's contemporary, politically engaged and aware persona is present in the narration, which I proven by the analyses in this section of the paper, and the reader is thus reading the thoughts of an active feminist, why is there no open and clear condemnation of the violent offense she suffered as a young girl? Such an interjection would have cleared up any confusion regarding the message of the text, refocused it in terms of its broader ideological message and, brought much-needed attention to the "uso non raro" of rape, which at the time was only "repaired" by the so-called "matrimonio riparatore". It is troubling that such a moment is not present: the rape is clearly the foundational trauma that leads directly to the devastating marriage which, despite having produced her beloved son, left her with little choice but to abandon him in order to gain any sort of autonomy and happiness. There is a direct connection between the rape, the first link in the "mostruosa catena" of servile womanhood, and the professed reason for her having written the text. This "catena", however, is obscured and even called into question. Different from how our author seized control of the narration of the birth of her son and rendered it in a clearly feminist light, the narration leading up to the chapter-ending reference to her rape is one that is surprisingly (and disturbingly) exculpatory of the perpetrator. Firstly, there are numerous vignettes of her innocent flirtations with her "compagno". The narration of such flirtations, while childlike, still permits a turn-of-the-century interpretation, which places the blame (and/or provocation (9)) squarely on the victim, given her indulgences.

Horrifyingly, little has changed in the 110 years since the text's publication in terms of societal and judicial responses to sexual violence. As I will discuss in more depth, proof of such blame-the-victim myth-based apologisms come from diverse corners of the current Italian power structure: Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made comments (10) insinuating that ending sexual violence would be impossible since Italy's "pretty girls" are naturally predisposed to being raped; a 1990s Italian judicial decision against a rape victim was due to her perceived complicity in the removal of her "tight jeans" (11) While the author/protagonist's innocent flirtations do not imply consent to a forced sexual encounter, the act of writing such an account could undermine her case, as it were. Such evidence challenges the notion that her violation was forced upon her or even unforeseen, and the lack of clear labeling of the encounter as a violation, let alone a rape, allows for confusion on the part of the reader: What happened? Did she provoke this? Was this the only time the author/protagonist ever recounted what she endured? What does her refusal to speak clearly, unequivocally about the incident indicate?

Also there is a lack of control of the feminist ideological message. The text here recounts a subject much less acceptable, much less conventionally narrable, than childbirth and the narrator seems unresolved as to how to tell it. This could have been a moment in the narration where the author/protagonist could certainly have appropriated narrative control and frame it within her overarching feminist political and ideological message. Highlighting the rape as an aggressive act of violence, rather than minimizing it rhetorically as a unfortunate, but all-too-common "custom" ("costume"), or "uso non raro", would certainly have enhanced her message as well as offered further social utility to her women readers. On the contrary, relegating an act of betrayal and violence, such as rape, to the realm of "custom" is curious and provocative, for it accomplishes two things at once. On the one hand, it allows the victim to feel as though she is part of a community, even though her membership to such is accomplished by appalling means. Instead, such a gesture serves as a denial, for if rape is equated with "custom", this indicates that it happens to everyone (12) and with regularity. Accordingly, if so, it essentially happens to no one, meaning that it is not a legitimate concern for the law or the society. At once Aleramo has admitted and denied the violence to herself.

Legacies: Silent Feminism and Legal Lacunas

Una donna initiated the discourse of feminism on the Italian narrative scene and intended as one of its principal scopes the modification of the law in terms of the parental rights of women. It is interesting, and important, to pay attention to the moments in which this very text refrains from activism. It is curious that within the narration sexual violence is not exposed for what it is: the origin of the author's predicament. The law, per society's "customs" and its culture of silence, forces the victim to be linked to her assailant via a "matrimonio riparatore", and thus destined endlessly to repeat and relive the original trauma. The rhetorical evasion and frequent misdirections exemplify Aleramo's inability and/or refusal to declare herself a victim of criminal sexual violence. The silent treatment Aleramo gives to the narration of her rape seems to coincide with the cultural expectations and attitudes regarding female sexuality and sexual violence against women. Using as evidence Aleramo's own textual peculiarities as well as other writings about rape--legal, autobiographical and critical--it becomes apparent that archaic patriarchal attitudes and societal customs played a significant role in Aleramo's modes of expression. That Aleramo displayed difficulty and hesitance in discussing her sexual assault is therefore hardly surprising. There were (and still are) larger cultural institutions and social conventions that willfully and/or ignorantly remain silent when confronted with the question and horrifying prevalence of rape. Even if Una donna represents a "ventriloquization" (13) of the patriarchal notion of rape as a victimless crime, it remains a disturbingly powerful testament to the "prevalent lack of empathy" (Brison x) and the effect it has on the victims of sexual violence.

In language and implications, Italian rape laws mirror this complicated relationship to sexual violence. Throughout Aleramo's lifetime, and until 1981, the only legal recourse for a female victim of sexual assault was the "matrimonio riparatore", which constrained the victim to marry her rapist. This inadequate reparation still required a humiliating interrogation of the victim in order for the court to conclude whether genital penetration occurred. (14) This archaic focus on the currency of female chastity is due to the influence on the law of the traditional patriarchal order that requires the virginity of women prior to marriage, without which women were but unmarriageable "svergognate". Rape victims thus found themselves in a double bind: choosing to speak out would have stained their honor publically; however, remaining silent forced them to privately yet repeatedly suffer the trauma.

Rather than offering a formal opportunity to speak out against an assailant and declare oneself a victim of sexual violence, the laws instead were written to dissuade prosecution and encourage private reconciliation. (15) To proceed with a rape prosecution, the victim had (and still today has) to present a formal request, known as the querela, (16) Under Italian law, rape remains the only violent crime for which the victim must file a querela in order for the assault to be prosecuted. The querela acts as a barrier to justice for victims of sexual violence in a paradoxical manner: it imposes silence by forcing the victim to speak. Victims were (and are) thus precluded from "com[ing] up with a narrative of the trauma" (17) (Brison 87), which would allow for its "working through" (Brison 97). Coupled with this dismissive and humiliating legal code, lack of empathy leaves the rape victim alone in her suffering, unacknowledged in her victimhood and unable to conceive of, let alone pursue, justice. Additionally, in Aleramo's case, since rape was neither legally nor customarily considered a crime against her specifically and personally, but merely an offense against public decency ("delitto contro la morale pubblica"), she effectively had no rationale for her victimhood.

Article 544 of the Penal Code, which was repealed in 1981, read: "Article 544 of the Penal Code (18). Special reason for the expunction of the crime: Marriage, contracted by the perpetrator of the crime with the injured party, hereby expunges the crime [...] and if there has been a conviction, the execution of the crime and the accompanying sentence are abolished". There are (at least) two erasures in this law, one that literally "expunges" the crime and another, less explicit, that erases the existence of the victim. The perpetrator was essentially permitted to practice sexual violence as long as he was willing to marry his victim and forgo her dowry; the rape victim became a wife, an arrangement that theoretically and legally erased her victimhood. The language neither considered nor protected the rights of the victims of sexual assault. "The injured party" was only mentioned once, as an indirect object. The "injured party" did not need to consent to the "matrimonio riparatore"; instead, the use of the term "contract" clearly alludes to the customary arrangement of marriage between suitor and the victim's father. Had the victim chosen not to marry her rapist she would have had no further legal recourse. The comparative clarity of current statute (19) underscores the absence of the term "rape" in the old statute, where it was simply referred to as "the crime." Even after the abolition of the "matrimonio riparatore", sexual violence was still linguistically considered a crime against the "public decency" ("morale pubblica") rather than against the victim herself. After much protest, finally in 1996 the Italian Penal Code was rewritten to define rape as an "offence against the person," which categorizes it as a violent crime and acknowledges a human victim for the first time.

Despite these hard-fought advancements, the current Italian legal system today still displays a striking discomfort in punishing perpetrators of sexual violence. Recent rulings demonstrate the contamination of the legal statute with persistent patriarchal attitudes regarding chastity and myths linking female sexuality and rape. (20) In 1998, just two years after rape became a criminal felony, Italy's Corte Suprema di Cassazione overturned a rape conviction on the grounds that the victim was wearing jeans, (21) stating that such an adherent garment required her complicity for its removal (22). In 2005 another rape conviction was reversed based on evidence that the fourteen-year-old victim, the perpetrator's own stepdaughter, had engaged in prior sexual relations with others; her sexual history in effect precluded her victimhood.

At the time she wrote Una donna, Aleramo was not ignorant of Italian law. In fact, one of the reasons motivating her to write the book was to advocate for maternal right to custody. While legal treatment of sexual assault has evolved only rhetorically, the parental rights and financial freedom of women for which Aleramo openly fought are commonplace and unquestionable in Italy today. It is difficult to know if Aleramo was cognizant of the legal language that failed to consider her a true victim of sexual violence. But she must have been well aware of the patriarchal customs that left little space for her to question, let alone protest, the violation she suffered. Aleramo and the Italian penal code, perhaps surprisingly, display remarkably similar textual treatments of rape: neither acknowledges the presence of a victim, and both offer the perpetrator generous ways of evading responsibility. Rereading Una donna today reveals how questions regarding the female body and violence against it, while new in Italian literature in 1906 when Aleramo's text was published, remain, unfortunately, unanswered by feminist literature, criticism and politics. Sexual violence, addressed only obliquely by Aleramo and many of her critics, has yet to be resolved and reformed satisfactorily. Patriarchal attitudes and burdensome legal hurdles remain. The belief prevails that the behavior of the victim is more relevant than the crime of the rapist. Clothing, sexual history and behavior have all been cited as rationales for which Italian courts have very recently overturned rape convictions. As Una donna reveals, such practices contribute to the silencing of women's narratives of rape and certainly dissuade the seeking of legal justice. This persistent silence surrounding rape remains, regrettably, the most current and relevant legacy of Aleramo's feminism.


The University of Georgia


(1) See Gargiulio for the origin of the association of Una donna and the "Bibbia del femminismo".

(2) See Caesar (84) for an example of this vein of criticism, which emphasizes the "feminist document" aspects of the text, while disregarding pivotal narrative episodes, such as the episode of the protagonist's rape, which is characterized instead as less traumatic than her father's infidelities. For more recent criticism that reinvigorates Aleramo's text, see Spackman.

(3) See Bassanese 132: "Notwithstanding its autobiographical fidelity, Una donna was intended as a manifesto, or a 'thesis' novel, in which the obvious feminist ideology both includes and transcends the personal chronicle".

(4) For additional information on pronatalist politics under Fascism, see Forcucci and De Grazia.

(5) See Mackinnon's important work, "Rape: On Coercion and Consent" (174; 180-2) in which she parses the complicated issue of consent.

(6) The Italian term rapire and its synonymous, alternative past participle, ratto, is not the same as "rape" in English. The Italian terms connote the forced removal of a person, rather than necessarily an unwanted, violent sexual act. In this case, however, since the term is followed by the phrase, "al ratto seguiva il matrimonio", it clearly alludes to "matrimonio riparatore" (art. 544 cod. pen., ora abrogato) which, until 1981, was the official "punishment" for the rapist, as well as the customary step toward the restitution of the victim's honor. In the 1979 English translation of Aleramo's text, the passage reads: "One of them, he claimed, was in love with me and wanted to carry me off. This was common practice in those parts, where rape would be followed by marriage" (28, trans. Rosalind Delmar, italics are mine). The use of such a term, rape, explicit in terms of its connotations of criminal sexual violence, by an American translator in the 1970s, must be considered a purposeful one, given the political climate and sexual politics of the times.

(7) See "rapire" in Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca. 1st ed. 1612 [Web], and in Enciclopedia Treccani. 3rd ed. 2015 [Web].

(8) Oddly, the protagonist later describes herself as a frigid, betrayed wife ("Sprofondavo nel guanciale il viso ... Oh la rivolta e l'esasperazione di tutto il mio essere!"), and her husband is depicted as the unfaithful husband whose wanderings ("andava a picchiare a una porta infame") result in an undefined "infezione" (141; 150-1).

(9) See De Grazia, 139.

(10) See Squires.

(11) See Stanley.

(12) See Brison (3-4) where she addresses the horrifying frequency of rape, the "mental gymnastics" that permit the minimization of risk to oneself, and the general perception that rape is simply "natural".

(13) I credit Higgins and Silver (3) for inspiring my use here of the term "ventriloquization".

(14) See Van Cleave, 427-454.

(15) In support of this inference is a quote from the drafters of Italy's first Penal Code, the Zanardelli Code: "It would not be good for public morals or for the peace and honor of the domestic hearth to cast the large light of justice on intimate events too readily, since public charges could result in greater harm than good to those individuals and families that the law seeks to protect. Thus, it is more prudent to allow those who have been harmed decide how best to protect themselves" (Del Re in Van Cleave 282-3, italics are mine).

The repetition of "public", in opposition to "domestic" and "intimate", in this statement reveal that the drafters of law were cognizant of the effect that an irrevocable public declaration of sexual violence would have on the "honor" of the victim and, perhaps more importantly, on her family. The demand for the querela and its irrevocability were meant precisely to deter the victim from speaking out and seeking justice in the court publically.

(16) See Van Cleave, 273-310.

(17) "[...] as I was about to leave his office, the avocat general stunned me with these parting words of advice: "When the trial is over, you must forget this ever happened." [...] When I was being exhorted to forget the assault, I was often told how to remember it. [...] Such attempts to obliterate (or to appropriate) my memories of the assault, however well-intentioned, collided with my own efforts to come up with a narrative of the trauma" (Brison 86-87).

(18) The English translation in the article of the following original Italian statute is mine: Art. 544 Codice Penale. Causa speciale di estinzione del reato. Per i delitti preveduti dal capo primo e dall'articolo 530, il matrimonio, che l'autore del reato contragga con la persona offesa, estingue il reato, anche riguardo a coloro che sono concorsi nel reato medesimo; e, se vi e stata condanna, ne cessano l'esecuzione e gli effetti penali (1). Articolo abrogato dall'art. 1, L. 5 agosto 1981, n. 442, di abrogazione della rilevanza penale della causa d'onore.

(19) Art. 609-bis. Violenza sessuale. Chiunque, con violenza o minaccia o mediante abuso di autorita, costringe taluno a compiere o subire atti sessuali e punito con la reclusione da cinque a dieci anni. Alia stessa pena soggiace chi induce taluno a compiere o subire atti sessuali: 1) abusando delle condizioni di inferiorita fisica o psichica della persona offesa al momento del fatto; 2) traendo in inganno la persona offesa per essersi il colpevole sostituito ad altra persona. Nei casi di minore gravita la pena e diminuita in misura non eccedente i due terzi.

(20) See Van Cleave, 335-350.

(21) See Usai.

(22) See Van Cleave, 427-454.

(23) See Aleramo, pages 151-2; 156-7; 162-3 for evidence of her knowledge of Italian law and its limits, particularly in regard to a mother's lack of parental rights.


Aleramo, Sibilla. Una donna. 1906. 49th ed. Milano: Feltrinelli, 2006. Print.

--. A Woman. Trans. Rosalind Delmar. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1979. Print.

Bassanese, Flora A. "Una donna: Autobiography as Exemplary Text." Donna: Women in Italian Culture. Testaferri, Ada (ed). Ottawa: Dovehouse, 1989, 131-152. Print.

Brison, Susan J. Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2002. Print.

Caesar, Ann. "Italian Feminism and the Novel: Sibilla Aleramo's 'A Woman'." Feminist Review 5 (1980): 79-87. Print.

Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1996. Print.

De Grazia, Victoria. How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922-1945. Berkeley: U California Press, 1992. Print.

Forcucci, L. E. "Battle for Births: The Fascist Pronatalist Campaign in Italy 1925 to 1938." Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Europe 10 (2010): 4-13. Print.

Gargiulo, Alfredo. "Una donna". Il giornale d'ltalia. [Rome] May 10, 1907. Print.

Higgins, Lynn A. and Brenda R. Silver. "Introduction: Rereading Rape." Rape and Representation. Higgins, Lynn A. and Brenda R. Silver (ed.). New York: Columbia UP, 1991.1-11. Print.

Mackinnon, Catherine. "Rape: On Coercion and Consent." Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989. 171-183. Print.

Spackman, Barbara. "Puntini, Puntini, Puntini: Motherliness as Masquer ade in Sibilla Aleramo's Una donna." MLN 124. 5 (Suppl.) (2009): S210-S223. Print.

Squires, Nick. "Silvio Berlusconi Criticised for 'Pretty Girl' Rape Comment." The Daily Telegraph. [London] 26 Jan. 2009. Web.

Stanley, Alessandra. "Ruling on Tight Jeans and Rape Sets Off Anger in Italy." The New York Times. 16 Feb. 1999. Web.

Usai, Annalisa. "Con i jeans lo stupro diventa 'consenziente'". La Repubblica. [Rome] 10 Feb. 1999. Web.

Van Cleave, Rachel A. "Rape and the Querela in Italy: False Protection of Victim Agency." Michigan Journal of Gender and Law 13 (2007): 273-310. Print.

--. "Renaissance Redux? Chastity and Punishment in Italian Rape Law." Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law 6 (2008): 335-350. Print.

--. "Sex, Lies and Honor in Italian Rape Law." Suffolk University Law Review. 38.2 (2005): 427-454. Print.

Zancan, Marina. Il doppio itinerario della scrittura: la donna nella tradizione letteraria italiana. Torino: Einaudi, 1998. Print.
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