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Motherhood, sexuality and beauty in Gabriele D'Annunzio's trilogy / romanzi della Rosa.


This article focuses on the themes of motherhood, beauty and desire in Gabriele D'Annunzio's trilogy, / romanzi della Roso, showing how these novels reflect upon 19th-century female sexuality and its portrayal through female beauty. These texts reveal the exhaustion of the Italian bourgeois stereotype of the ftn-de-siecle woman as a devoted mother and a loyal wife, deprived of her sexual component. I examine how D'Annunzio's trilogy explores the idea of female desire through common female stereotypes, especially the progressive negation of the figure of the devoted mother. In Il piacere, female desire surfaces through the theme of adultery and is critiqued through the changes in the physical portrayal of the female protagonist and in her relationship with her daughter. In L'innocente, female sexuality is depicted instead through the medicalization of the body of the adulterous mother, physically distorted by her pregnancy. Finally, // trionfo della morte shows female sexuality through the death of the bourgeois mother, as the female protagonist is now physically sterile and her beauty rests in her imperfect and lifeless body.


adultery, desire, hysteria, sexuality, sterility
Come aveva egli un tempo conosciuta dolce la madre! Che bella e tenera
creatura ella
era un tempo!
(D'Annunzio, 1988: 710)

The scope of this article is to show how in D'Annunzio's trilogy, I romanzi della Rosa, female sexuality and motherhood intertwine with the concepts of beauty, conjugal duty and adultery in a critique of the traditional female roles that characterize both Italian fin-de-siecle literary production and society. (1) I will look at D'Annunzio's female novelistic characters and explore how these texts expose the existing female stereotypes, underlining how they are no longer viable and are the products of a society in crisis.

At the end of the 19th century, as noted by many scientists and anthropologists of the period, the essence of womanhood still rested upon virtues such as chastity, devotion and motherliness. (2) Women were still relegated to passive roles crystallized in the image of the Madonna. The recognition of their sexuality was confined to their procreative duty, both from a Catholic and biological perspective. The education and rearing of children remained their core responsibility. Motherhood was therefore the main feature that characterized women's role and their sexuality within the private and the public spheres.

The emergence in this period of a wide literature on adultery is the first signal that the mechanism of de-sexualization of the woman, brought about through her identification with the angel in the house, was no longer tenable. (3) Numerous studies have reflected on the role of motherhood in the 19th-century novel of adultery. (4) The portrayal of the mother-child relationship in the novels of adultery acquires an even greater importance as it reflects the perception (and implicitly the judgment) of female sexuality, and draws attention to the social problems connected to the reproductive consequences of adultery. (5) As the three novels I am proposing to analyze are narratives of adultery, I will focus my attention on the aspects which directly contrast with the image of the self-sacrificing mother, and will consider how the new perception of the adulteress reflects on the aesthetic depiction of the female protagonist.

A good mother at all costs: The beautiful Madonna

Il piacere, published in 1889, is the first novel of the trilogy. Since its publication, it has been considered a decadent novel of seduction, (6) whose main themes are the search for aesthetic beauty and physical pleasure, presented as the male protagonist's means to overcome the common human condition. In light of this, scholars have mostly focused on the main male character, Andrea Sperelli, an aesthetist who 'non si fa possedere neppure dall'Arte e dal Bello, ma li adotta come filtri tra se, il mondo e le altre creature' (Barilli, 1993: 50). Conversely, the female characters have been regarded as minor figures, often studied as a pair, representing the angel-demon opposition (Pieri, 2007) or two facets of the same ideal woman (Barberi Squarotti, 1989).

Maria represents the perfect mother conforming to her social and Catholic pro-creative duties. As underlined by the narrating voice, Maria's relationship with her daughter Delfina at the beginning of the novel reflects her idealized role as a mother:
La figlia, invece, aveva quel possesso, incontrastato, assoluto,
continuo. Pareva che mancasse alla madre un elemento essenziale della
sua esistenza, quando per poco l'adorata era lontana. Una
transfigurazione subitanea avveniva nella sua faccia, visibilissima,
quando dopo un'assenza breve ella riudiva la voce infantile. Talvolta,
involontariamente, per una segreta rispondenza, quasi direi per legge
d'un comun ritmo vitale, ella ripeteva il gesto della figlia, un
sorriso, un'attitudine, un'aria del capo. Ella aveva talvolta, su la
quiete o sul sonno filiale, momenti di contemplazione cosi intensa che
pareva aver perduta la conscienza d'ogni altra cosa per divenir simile
all'essere ch'ella contemplava. (D'Annunzio, 1990: 171)

In the course of the narration, however, this relationship comes to epitomize the unfeasibility of the asexual angel, perceived as a negative and repressive role for the woman. Religion and patriarchal values are the pillars that the evolution of this character will then challenge. I propose that the emergence of Maria's sexuality represents a first attack on the stereotypical idea of the asexual angel to whose image women were still bound at the turn of the century. A symbol of this critique, as will be seen, is the transformation of the perception of Maria's beauty, which accompanies the awakening of her desire.

Maria's character is constructed on the soul-body binary as she is presented as a moral subject, with a strong emphasis on Catholic precepts. Her beauty recalls the pure image of the Virgin Mary. She is introduced to the reader as a 'Turris Eburnea' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 153). Further, she is described indirectly through a parallel with her daughter defined as 'una bambina ch'e un amore [...] pallida pallida con tanti capelli, con due occhi smisurati. Somiglia molto alla madre... ' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 151), which underlines how she is defined by being a mother, not a woman.

Maria initially clings to the role of mother as a means to resist seduction, as she proclaims 'Mia figlia manterra il possesso di tutto il mio essere, di tutta la mia vita. Questo e il dovere' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 199). Her daughter Delfina is the personification of her social duty, and for this reason Delfina's presence or absence becomes integral to the evolution of the narration. The exclamation 'm'e venuto alle labbra il nome di Delfina, e m'e venuto un impeto folle di correre da lei, di fuggire, di salvarmi' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 196) reveals how even the name of her daughter is sufficient in its authoritative function. Maria's daughter becomes both a safe harbor against the arising passion and its prohibition.

Delfina is first objectified and then de-materialized; she becomes a name, a mental barrier behind which Maria can hide. The name Delfina comes to be identified at a symbolic level with the patriarchal law, performing Lacan's function of the nom/non du pere. (7) Through Delfina's name, the presence of the father/husband and its prohibitive valence is introduced into the narration.

Maria's relationship with Delfina is the product of social and religious prescriptions, which connect Maria's total essence and life to her role as mother. Despite the designation of mother, which initially seems to mark Maria's existence, there is no description of her experience as a mother or of a mother--daughter bond, either from her perspective, for example in the pages of her diary, or from the perspective of the extradiegetic narrator. Although in Il piacere there is no sense of alienation or rejection of the child as in L'innocente, Maria's relationship with Delfina is exposed and critiqued in the narration as a means to preserve a social facade of respectability. (8) In fact, initially the presence of Maria's daughter is used to avoid social disapproval during the encounters between Maria and her lover, and as a shield against Maria's own desires, as suggested by passages such as this: 'Ma ella, consapevole del pericolo, si levo d'improvviso, chiedendo licenza; sono il campanello, ordino al domestico il te e che pregasse Miss Dorothy di condur Delfina nel salone. Poi, volgendosi ad Andrea, un po' convulsa' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 296). However, with the gradual modification of Maria's ethical being following the awakening of female sexual desire, Delfina disappears from the narration and her mother's thoughts. (9)

Maria's physical image changes as her role of mother vanishes alongside the image of Delfina. The details that initially associate her with the image of a suffering Madonna--such as, '[n]e' lineamenti delicati era quell'espressione tenue di sofferenza e di stanchezza, che forma l'umano incanto delle Vergini ne' tondi fiorentini del tempo di Cosimo' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 157)--are replaced by the particulars of a femme fatale. Her hair, kept in a braid, is described as 'una cosi vasta selva e cosi tenebrosa, ove smarrirsi' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 158). Moreover, Maria's hairs '[n]on erano, veramente, neri [...] Avevano riflessi di viola cupi, [...] e parevano aridi' (D'Annunzio, 1990: 158), where the color 'purple' is symbolic of death and often connected to the image of the femme fatale (Baldi, 2008: 249-251). Maria's braid can thus be associated with the image of the feather boa, playing on the idea of the serpentine figure of the femme fatale. Like the biblical snake, she embodies temptation, and with hair made of snakes she recalls the Medusa, one of the major symbols of the fatal woman of the fin-de siecle.

Female sexuality cannot coexist alongside the stereotypical notion of motherhood. In this novel, adultery provides a means to fulfil female sexual desire, at the expense of angelic beauty, which is transfigured into the snake-like appearance of the seductress. The text therefore offers a first criticism of the idea of motherhood entrenched in the notion of the angelic woman. This critique could therefore lead the reader to think that this novel is merely suggesting a passage from one negative stereotype--the angelic woman--(because it rejects the idea of female entitlement to sexual desire) to another negative female representation--the femme fatale. However, I will show how the aim of the trilogy is to reject all the traditional female stereotypes, which are no longer representative of a nation that aspires to a renewed position of power among its international neighbors.

Childbearing versus motherhood: The de-sexing of the female body

L'innocente is the second novel of the trilogy. (10) The novel is shaped in the form of a confession, in which Tullio, the narrating voice, recalls the facts that led his wife Giuliana to betray him, and then led him to kill the illegitimate child born from her adulterous relationship. The reference to the structure of Saint Augustine's Confessions and the Beatitudes, together with the constant use of religious lexis throughout the narration, underline the predominance still held by Catholic morality and taboos in Italian bourgeois society, which is here critiqued through the female character. The patriarchal element is also of great importance in the novel and it is intertwined with science through the theme of the medicalization of the female body as a form of control over female sexuality (Foucault, 1978a: 114-141). The development of the female character is constructed to challenge this scientific practice, and in particular the patriarchal ideas of honor and name continuity that procreation within wedlock guaranteed. Once again, a transformation of the physical portrayal of the female protagonist and of her beauty accompanies this challenge.

This novel reinforces the unreliability of the role of the 'good mother' and the denial of female sexuality, through the failure of both the bourgeois capitalist conception of marriage and motherhood, from an internal perspective, that is, from within the marriage itself.

Through her adultery, Giuliana is converted into a 'daughter of Eve', losing the spiritual nature attributed to the angelic woman. With this essence now lost, greater attention is given to her physicality. As Elizabeth Grosz points out in Volatile Bodies, the traditional mind--body opposition and the reason--passion and sense--sensibility binaries which derive from it determine the codification of the body. Therefore, once the subject is 'recognized as corporal being' it 'can no longer readily succumb to the neutralization and neutering of its specificity' (Grosz, 1994: IX). Accordingly, Giuliana's fall is determined and carried out through her physicality and physical transformation, and her corporality becomes a means to state her subjectivity and primary agency in the narration. Once the angel becomes corporeal, her moral and ethereal nature ceases to exist, for materiality and immateriality are ontologically antithetical. This physicality becomes the vehicle through which the themes of motherhood and sexuality and their representation are explored throughout the narration from a different perspective. The role of children is no longer linked to a moral self-problematization as in the case of Maria. Rather, Giuliana's role of mother and especially her pregnant body become the object of the medicalization of the female body.

Scholars have usually considered Giuliana's character as secondary both in the novel and within the range of D'Annunzio's female characters. (11) Her noble and docile nature (according to her mother-in-law's description) has led many scholars to define Giuliana as an idealized and unrealistic figure. Di Paolo (2011: 386) states that 'a cursory reading of the book suffices to show that Giuliana is entirely lacking in definite character traits. Her beauty and purity are idealized. It is as if she were an apparition, vague and ethereal, self-effacing, will-less'. Moreover, according to Di Paolo, 'Giuliana's descriptions tend to dissolve into traditional images of women, whose bodies are not the primary expression of identity' (Di Paolo, 2011: 387). Conversely, I consider Giuliana's physicality to be a defining trait of her personality, which in my view cannot be reduced to a reminiscence of Dante's Beatrice and Petrarca's Laura as Di Paolo suggests. (12)

With her adultery, Giuliana has become a daughter of Eve, not just because of the transgression of a social code, but because in the final attempt to re-establish her angelic status she is culpable, alongside her husband, of bringing about the death of her child. With the physical elimination of the sign of her unfaithfulness, she refuses her role as a mother. Consequently she can no longer be the angel in the house, the devoted mother, as her silent complicity in the murder of the child makes of her what I define as 'an unnatural mother'.

Childbirth in the 19th century becomes a form of regulation for socio-economic purposes. (13) Mazzoni (1997: 150) points out that 'childbearing is too central to the reproduction both of the species and of culture to be left out of that process of medical colonization of the body, which arguably reached its climax in the late 19th century'. (14) Female sexuality oriented to the reproduction of the species becomes central in the scientific debate of the fin-de-siecle. (15) According to Lombroso and Ferrero (1903) and other anthropologists and scientists of the period, abnormal sexuality, namely the mere presence of sexual desire outside of procreation, becomes a sign of a criminal nature. (16) By denying female non-reproductive sexual needs, not only does Lombroso reinforce the idea of female arrested evolution, but he also sets the basis for the conviction of a latent deviancy in all women, which justifies the exponentially increased presence of the doctor in the lives of women, to prevent the onset of the criminal factor. (17)

Adultery as a female sexual crime proves female sexual deviancy. Pregnancy therefore, in relation to adultery, becomes the breaking point between an established and a transgressive female sexuality (MacPike, 1984). The gender of the child develops into the symbol of this sexuality in relation to social norms and, as I will show, in L'innocente the two legitimate daughters may in fact be considered signs of the future betrayal of Giuliana, while the death of the illegitimate son prevents the 'possibility of paternal succession through illegitimacy' (MacPike, 1984: 60).

Giuliana's sexuality at one narrative level appears to be condemned by her illness (which is ambiguously referred to as 'malattie complicate della matrice e dell'ovaia' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 10)) and the consequent surgery she undergoes at the beginning of the narration, which become a de-sexing mechanism and a form of social hold on the female body. In fact, the consequence should be sterility, which removes the procreative purpose within which female sexual desire is acceptable. As suggested by Curreri (2008: 35-36), 'la malattia rende il corpo trasparente, lo sgravia della sua materialita e della sua specificita sessuale' becoming a 'metafora che [...] interviene per esorcizzare la paura del corpo femminile'. Sickness is then a means through which the female body, deconstructed by illness and reconstructed through its medicalization, can be controlled. (18) Medicine, replacing social control, attempts to regulate the female body in order to safeguard the assets and the name of the family. Nevertheless, its regulatory function is here critiqued through the sequences of surgical intervention that Giuliana undergoes, which precedes the conception of her adulterous child.

The failure of medicine in regulating Giuliana's sexuality, on the one hand, provides further evidence of the representation of the unfeasibility of the prevailing female models (in this case the angelic, de-sexed woman). On the other hand, it suggests the idea of female sexuality as a threat that cannot be rationally controlled. This uncontrollability derives from the 'openness' of the pregnant body as pointed out by Mazzoni (1997), who refers particularly to Bakhtin's definition of the 'grotesque body' as a body in continuous formation and transformation, which lacks defining borders and therefore escapes rational comprehension. In L'innocente, Giuliana's body assumes this 'grotesque' element because it is an open body and because it is continuously changing. Giuliana's body is opened twice before becoming a pregnant body. Firstly, it is physically opened during the surgical operation at the beginning of the novel. Secondly, her body is open to the husband and the lover through what D'Annunzio defines a 'ferita sempre aperta' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 15), in contrast with her definition as 'Turris eburnea', where the image of the ivory tower should symbolize the impregnability, preciousness and purity of the 'angel'. (19) In regard to the surgical operation, the narrating voice describes this medical procedure in terms of a double violation, as 'i ferri del chirurgo la violavano non soltanto nella carne miserabile ma anche nell'intimo dell'anima' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 15). This expression reveals a first condemnation of science's demystification of the female body, penetrated in its deepest essence. The choice of the verb 'violate' and the reference to the soul suggest the image of a rape. The doctor then, as the symbolic father, joins the husband as owner of the female body, entitled this time not by patriarchal blood ties but by the authority of science. Even more explicit and dense with socio-scientific and cultural meanings is the description of the female genitals, defined as 'la piaga originale, la turpe ferita sempre aperta "che sanguina e che pute'" (D'Annunzio, 1996: 15). The choice of adjectives in this sentence has a double function. The semantic sphere of illness and decomposition used to refer to the genitals and menstruation underlines the 19th-century idea of women's weakness, and their constant state of borderline sickness. From a scientific perspective, this conviction reinforces the belief in women's anthropological inferiority due to their condition of being mothers and the physiological function of menstruation.

The idea of women's delicate health (as suggested by the stereotype of the femme fragile) also supports, as suggested by Lombroso, the theory of a moveable boundary between the 'normal' woman and the 'deviant', 'criminal' woman, a boundary that especially during menstruation tends to disappear, as the period tends to exacerbate the sensitivity of the nervous system, leading to neurosis and hysteria. From a cultural point of view, it is possible to trace in the use of the expression 'piaga originale' a reference to the topos of Eve's daughter. In fact, the adjective 'originale' recalls the original sin, while the noun 'piaga' can be considered both as a plague in the biblical meaning of divine punishment and as a physical wound, which remains as a warning of Eve's fall and as a stigma for all Eve's daughters.

According to Curreri (2008: 54), at the turn of the 19th century there is the tendency to identify in the sick person the 'segni esteriori dell'ideologia del peccatore, i marchi che suggellano e sanciscono l'abiezione morale con la disgregazione fisica'. (20) Moreover, Curreri (2008: 38) notes that 'in letteratura l'assunzione della donna come luogo narrativo privilegiato per dire la malattia e un modo alquanto tradizionale per ribadire l'antico primato negativo del femminile'. In this way, Giuliana's 'ferita che pute' can be considered further evidence of her future fall, as in her genital sickness at the beginning of the novel there is both the mark of Eve's primordial sin and the mark of her future sin as much as, according to MacPike (1984)'s scheme, her giving birth to legitimate daughters and not sons can be seen as anticipating her future adultery. Moreover, contrary to 'good women', who 'have pleasant (or at least easy) childbirths' and 'feel a primary and primal connection to their children' (MacPike, 1984: 57), Giuliana has a difficult pregnancy. The description of the parturition, 'pareva morta, piu pallida del suo guanciale, immobile [...] grandi macchie di sangue rosseggiavano sul letto, macchie di sangue tingevano il pavimento' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 208), with its chromatic insistence on the contrast between white and red, expresses this idea of the 'bad mother'. White is no longer the color of purity, of the angel, but is the color of death to which the daughter of Eve is now condemned. Mortality and especially pain in giving birth are the punishments for her fall, for 'in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children' (British and Foreign Bible Society: Genesis 3:16).

Motherhood becomes a multilevel construction here. Giuliana's pregnancy is both a satire of the scientific attempt to control female sexuality, and a punishment for this uncontrollable sexual desire. In fact, Giuliana's pregnant body becomes a signifier and signified of her failure as the angel in the house, as a loyal wife and devoted mother. Her body is a metalinguistic sign of guilt as it bears an illegitimate child, the product of her infidelity. Furthermore, Giuliana's body ontologically incarnates her guilt because her flesh is impure, corrupted, as underlined by the 'ferita che pute'. At a social level, Giuliana's pregnancy becomes a means through which the bourgeois mother is de-authorized and her illegitimate sexual desires punished, as the only male child to whom she gives birth is illegitimate. This defeats the purpose of the bourgeois marriage of producing a descendant to carry forward the family name and possessions. At a psychological level, Giuliana loses her subjectivity, as the pregnancy signifies the development of an alterity within her body, a scission which is amplified by her aversion to and rejection of the foetus.

Giuliana appears completely dissociated from the child. According to Mantegazza's (1893: v. 2, 224) text, Fisiologia della donna, 'la donna perfetta e madre tre volte, madre nell'utero, madre nelle mammelle, madre per l'intelletto d'amore'. Giuliana can then be considered a non-mother firstly because during the pregnancy she is 'umiliata, innanzi a me, come d'un'infermita vergognosa' and disgusted by her body (D'Annunzio, 1996: 179). Expressions such as '[l]'ho in orrore' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 177) reveal her hostility toward the unborn child that embodies her guilt. Secondly, she is a non-mother by not breastfeeding her child, as Giuliana thus avoids bonding with her child and fails to reproduce that intimate contact that, according to Kristeva, the exchange of fluids in the uterus creates at a prenatal stage. (21) This exchange would in fact recreate the vital connection between the two bodies once they are no longer physically connected. However, Giuliana never shows any desire to actively see her son and her interactions with the child are always passive, as revealed by expressions such as '[l]'ha lasciato qui la mamma' or '[e]lla [Tullio's mother] accosto la fronte del bambino alle labbra dell'inferma [Giuliana]' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 225, 222), where the verbs 'lasciare' and 'accostare' implicitly indicate Giuliana as a passive receiver of her mother-in law's actions. Moreover, the maternal bond between mother and offspring is missing not only at a physical level, through the lack of lactation, but also at a verbal level. Giuliana never explicitly calls the baby by name, but only indirectly refers to him through the pronoun 'lo' or the expression 'di la' to indicate his bedroom. Moreover, in using the pronoun 'lo' (him or it) she underlines the otherness of the child. In Kristeva's words, there is no grammar fluidity, no possessive adjective that reproduces at an oral level the idea of belonging and being part of one another. Thirdly, Giuliana lacks a relationship even with her legitimate daughters. Maria and Natalia throughout the narration are relegated to a background presence; they are functional to the story only as a term of comparison to oppose to the illegitimacy of the male child. The lack of a real role attributed to her daughters in the life of the mother (their presence is irrelevant even in the part of the narration preceding the adultery) brings the character of Giuliana closer to the protagonists of the traditional 19th-century novel of adultery. Her legitimate daughters do not represent any impediment to her adultery, as in the case of Maria in Il piacere, nor are they a reason for living, as she considers committing suicide on multiple occasions.

Finally, through her illegitimate pregnancy, which becomes a form of female sexual rebellion, the female character loses her beauty, her essence. The presence of the foetus appears as a burden that scars and disfigures Giuliana's body (synecdoche of her subjectivity), which is depicted as afflicted by a 'deturpante e disonorante gravezza' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 194). The expropriation of Giuliana's body, converted into the flesh of the other, appears clear when her husband states 'mi apparve anche piu vivo il contrasto fra il suo volto e il resto della sua persona' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 194), underlining that what remains of her is only her face. Giuliana's silhouette once 'alta, snella e flessibile', now 's'ingrossava, si difformava come quella d'una idropica' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 179), where the term 'idropica' provides the reader with a precise scientific image of the abnormally distorted body.

L'innocente at first reading seems to suggest the idea that a woman finds her definition only through being a mother. However, ultimately the novel, through the character of Giuliana, serves to undermine the role of the mother. While in Il piacere the woman loses her motherly role through adultery, in the second novel motherhood itself represents the punishment for sexual desire, with Giuliana giving birth to an unwanted illegitimate son, and her angelic beauty ravaged by surgery and pregnancy. Once again, the novel underlines the incompatibility between the traditional idea of asexual motherhood and female sexual desire.

The scarred body: Sterility and female desire

Il trionfo della morte is the last book of the trilogy. The main female protagonist of this novel, Ippolita Sanzio, has been considered as the representation of the femme fatale stereotype. Although she is not a mother, as she is sterile, I will look at how the motherhood-sexuality dichotomy is here covertly still present and critiqued, and how this affects the depiction of Ippolita.

When examining the character of Ippolita, scholars have largely focused their attention on the point of view of the male character, disregarding the perspectives of both the female character and the extradiegetic narrator, present in this novel. This has resulted in traditional studies of Il trionfo della morte concentrating predominantly on the male protagonist, Giorgio Aurispa, while dismissing Ippolita as a femme fatale. Praz (1970: 261) considers D'Annunzio 'the first to bring to the notice of the Italian readers the Fatal Woman who united in herself the whole sexual experience of the world'. In his study, Ippolita is the representation of an 'obstinate sexual will-power becoming a sort of carnal doom' (Praz, 1970: 264). She is portrayed as a 'brutal love machine' and pale man-eater (Praz, 1970: 264). Not only is she an adulteress, but also a castrating woman, both through her sterility (as she is unable to give the man an heir), and through her obsession with sex, which inhibits her male companion from reaching intellectual sublimation. Great importance is attributed to the theme of sterility as a sexual neurosis, as defined in scientific literature of the period (Fusaro Comoy, 2007: 207-215). The strong influence of these scientific beliefs on common life and literature (22) therefore informed the creation, or better the recuperation and amplification, of the image of the evil woman, who in being possessed by the devil becomes possessed by hystero-epilepsy. (23) Sickness is then a means of neutralization of the:
carica pericolosa e sovversiva del corpo femminile: scarno il corpo
femminile non e piu seducente - nel mito della seduzione malaticcia,
la seduzione non e fisica ma metaforica; asessuato il corpo non
minaccia l'integrita maschile [...] debole e vulnerabile, infine,
il corpo e piu facilmente sottomesso. (Fusaro Comoy, 2007: 201)

In fin-de-siecle bourgeois society the femme fatale, as Doane (1991: 2) points out, becomes the symbol of an overrepresentation of the body, 'an articulation of fears surrounding the loss of stability and centrality of the self and as 'the antithesis of the maternal [...] she produces nothing in a society which fetishizes production'. These two aspects in the patriarchal society of post-unification Italy convey the man's fear of losing his dominant role in society and in the family. The woman through her sexual independence threatens the stability both of the family and of society, as her sexuality escapes man's control. If the adulterous woman was a threat to the continuity of the family name and assets due to the illegitimacy of the children born of adultery, the sterile woman not only makes the idea of legacy impossible, but also corrupts the man with her sexual exuberance, distracting him from his social duties. My analysis of the novel will show how // trionfo della morte questions these conservative concepts of motherhood and female sexuality through a series of paradoxical and uncanny situations.

The first notion questioned in the text, which has also been critiqued in the two previous novels, is the notion of female desire being not sexual but rather sentimental and passive, circumscribed to procreation. In Giorgio's memories of his first encounters with Ippolita, he considers her a 'virgin' to the pleasure of love, as he affirms that '[e]lla non aveva mentito dicendogli: - Tu mi prendi vergine. Io non conosco nessuna volutta' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 810). Nevertheless, if Ippolita is initiated to sexual pleasure by Giorgio, she also quickly becomes a sexually independent agent. She asks for pleasure and does not merely wait passively to receive it from her lover: 'Ella, tenendolo cosi alle tempie, lo trasse a se, lo avviluppo in una lunga carezza, gli percorse tutta la faccia con la bocca che strisciava languida e calda in un bacio molteplice' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 801).

This insurgence of active desire is then what contributes to her transition into the evil man-eater, as it has been interpreted by more traditional studies. The abnormality of her desire is amplified by her sterility. (24) These aspects, contradicting the scientific notion of natural desire, are magnified by a second incongruity, that is, Ippolita's plans for her forthcoming life with her lover. As she states, '[e] poi tu mi lascerai tornare a Roma e verrai a raggiungermi. E penseremo per l'avvenire. Io ho gia qualche cosa in mente...' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 993). The idea of a future with her lover despite her sterility (which does not seem to create any sense of inadequacy in her) defeats not only the conviction that motherhood is a woman's sole purpose in life, but also the conception that there can be no life for the adulteress once she has infringed upon the social order. (25) Ippolita's behavior represents a clear rebellion against the social code and, according to Curreri (2008), her sterility also becomes a form of rebellion against Giorgio, her creator. (26)

If sterility can be considered a means to escape male control over female sexuality, since it defeats the social purpose of women's desire that is the creation of heirs, hysteria becomes a means through which man re-establishes this control. It is the instrument and locus of idealization of Giorgio's love, and the attempt to reject and undermine the woman, once she ceases to coincide with the male's idealization. By labeling the woman, in this case as & femme fatale, the man attempts to regain control over her and her sexuality. The act of designation becomes an instrument that enables him to recognize her and reclaim his possession over her.

However, as hysteria always manifests itself during the narration of sexual episodes, it is also possible to interpret it at the extradiegetic level as a means of disguising sexual pleasure. According to Turchetta (1993: 152), D'Annunzio uses 'procedimenti attenuativi' that 'consentono [...] di puntare l'obiettivo su soggetti altrimenti tabu'. Hysteria and Ippolita's laughter in the scene of her orgasm thus become an instrument to bring attention to female sexuality in a less overt fashion. The description of this scene alternates between Giorgio's perspective and that of the narrator, and this oscillation contributes to the double interpretation of Ippolita's reaction. Giorgio sees it as a hysterical attack, his perception being distorted by his own negative idea of Ippolita's sexuality. As a representative of the patriarchal order, the male protagonist rejects the sexual pleasure that the woman shows as it is not intended for the purpose of procreation and, even worse, it is not sub-sequential to male pleasure as he is not participating in the interaction. The third-person narrator instead can represent the sexual moment in a detached way:
con le sue mani convulsamente soddisfece sino allo spasimo quella
brama esasperata.

Si divincolava ella gemendo.

- Non piu! Non piu! Lasciami!

Egli persisteva, se bene soffocato dal disgusto, vedendola spasimare,
udendo lo strano rumore che le mettevano nel ventre i sussulti del
viscere sterile e infermo. Tutta l'ignominia del sesso era sotto gli
occhi suoi.

- Non piu! Lasciami!

Ed ella a un tratto fu presa da un riso nervoso, frenetico,
incoercibile, - lugubre come il riso d'una demente. Sbigottito, egli
la lascio. Con un orrore palese, la guardava pensando: 'E la follia?'
Ella rideva, rideva, rideva, contorcendosi, coprendosi il volto con le
mani, mordendosi le dita, premendosi i fianchi; rideva, rideva senza
freno, scossa come da lunghi singulti sonori. (D'Annunzio, 1988: 1012)

Neither of the two interpretations (orgasm or hysteria) is overtly excluded. In favor of the hysterical attack is the choice of lexis. Terms and expressions such as 'riso nervoso', 'frenetico', 'demente', 'follia', 'contorcendosi' and 'mordendosi' all refer to hystero-epilepsy. Moreover, according to Fusaro Comoy (2007: 116-117), the reference to laughter (through the terms 'riso' and 'rideva', reiterated to form two climaxes) is an aspect of the 'sintomatologia' of the 'nevrosi' portrayed in literature. However, when considering laughter as a metaphor for the orgasm, two interpretations are apparent. Firstly, laughter becomes a means to bring attention to sociocultural taboos (in line with Turchetta's concept of attenuative techniques). Secondly, it becomes an instrument to critique the negative idea of women's active sexuality. Laughter symbolizes the traditional negative connection between woman and sexual degeneration. According to Critchley, laughter 'invites comparison with similar compulsive phenomena like orgasm' (Critchley, 2002: 8), revealing women's weakness as it represents a loss of bodily control. Moreover, referring to early Christianity, Stott (2005: 129) points to the beliefs that 'women were more susceptible to laughter', as a sign of their 'sexual immorality'. Nevertheless, laughter can be used to expose and criticize these very beliefs when taking into consideration the two points of view (Giorgio's and the extradiegetic narrator's) from which the scene is described. Finally, laughter, in replacing the orgasm and being, like menstruation, a bodily exertion that cannot be controlled by the man, can be considered a loss of man's control over the female body. (27) As a metaphor for sexual pleasure, it symbolizes the defeat of man's attempt to sexually instrumentalize the female body for his own pleasure, as the female climax escapes man's control.

The connection between the hysterical attack and female sexual pleasure in the text therefore has three main levels of interpretation. Firstly, it serves to confirm the 19th-century idea of female sexual pleasure as a form of deviancy. Secondly, it critiques this very idea, exposing once more the medicalization of the female body as a form of male control. Thirdly, it reinforces, through expressions such as 'disgusto' and 'ignominia del sesso', Giorgio's attempt to condemn Ippolita's pleasure by converting her into a femme fatale.

The demonization of desire also critically brings to the surface the idea of Catholic guilt, already exposed through the character of Maria in Il piacere. When Giorgio starts recognizing Ippolita's exuberant sexuality as mirroring his own, he tries to reject it by converting Ippolita into the 'Nemica' whose definition carries clear biblical connotations.

While at first reading Ippolita's sterility may be considered a sign of her sexual deviancy and her failure as a mother, a closer analysis of the novel evokes numerous associations of Ippolita with the idea of motherhood. These connections between Ippolita and the figure of the mother make it possible to talk of a motherly role even for this female character, who nevertheless undergoes a process of degeneration in carrying out this function.

Initially, the images of Ippolita as a mother are positive. As Baldi (2008) suggests, there is an identification of Ippolita with the Virgin Mary, the mother par excellence, as underlined in the text by expressions such as 'ella era passata su i fiori come la Madonna' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 799). Moreover, Baldi points to the initial identification of Ippolita with the Panic image of the 'Terra Madre rigeneratrice' (Baldi, 2008: 135), which is expressed through some landscape similes, such as the image of the 'montagna-seno' (Baldi, 2008: 138). In this regard, Roda speaks of Giorgio's attempts to 'recuperare la parte di se estraniata' (Roda, 1974: 189), returning home and identifying himself with the surrounding nature, his origins. Giorgio's escape to the countryside and his voluntary seclusion with Ippolita in the 'eremo' can be read as a return to the mother's womb. The native land then becomes a metaphor for Ippolita's womb. Similarly, Baldi's identification of Ippolita with the sea creates a parallel between the water and amniotic fluid.

These positive images, however, soon turn into images of horror with Ippolita becoming a Moloch. At the beginning of the narration, Giorgio unconsciously sees himself as a child that firstly seeks a motherly figure in Ippolita. (28) Nevertheless, when the sexual component emerges as predominant in their relationship, the male protagonist identifies himself with the 'bambino succhiato dalle streghe', as Ippolita is now a femme fatale. According to Baldi, the parallel with the dying infant, slowly consumed by the witches according to the superstitious peasants, is realized indirectly through the 'immediata successione sintagmatica del racconto, dei due segmenti narrativi' (Baldi, 2008: 148). The episode of the dying child and the description of Ippolita converted into the 'Nemica' are in fact sequential. Therefore, 'la madre dolce e protettiva', as Giorgio has immagined Ippolita, 'si rovescia allora in madre terribile e distruttrice, che da la morte anziche la vita' (Baldi, 2008: 149). The metaphor of the sea as amniotic fluid previously underlined is now replaced by the description of a flat, motionless surface that recalls the image of Coleridge's ballad of a sea of death: 'Su l'immenso lugubre specchio delle acque il cielo incandescente sembrava d'attimo in attimo abbassarsi aggravato da uno di quei cupi silenzii che accompagnano l'aspettazione d'una catastrofe ignota' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 920). The water, initially evoked as giver of life, later becomes an infernal sea infested with Nereids and mermaids, and it is from the sea that the lifeless body of a child emerges toward the end of the narration; this is once again a metaphor for Giorgio.

Finally, the two shifts of Ippolita from being the fragile inexpert lover to the man-eater and from being a good mother to a Moloch, are both accompanied by the description of the degeneration of her beauty.

The initial acknowledgement of her beauty is identified through 'tre divini dementi di bellezza: la fronte, gli occhi, la bocca: divini' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 653), and:
[l]'immagine dell'alabastro, che a un lume interno s'indori, bastava a
rendere soltanto una minima parte della divina finezza. Pareva che una
soffusione d'oro e d'ambra impalpabili arricchisse il tessuto
variandolo d'una varieta di pallori, armoniosa come una musica,
divenendo piu cupa nel solco delle reni e la dove le reni
s'insertavano ai lombi, divenendo piu chiara sul seno e su gli inguini
la dove risedeva la suprema soavita dell'epidermide. (D'Annunzio,
1988: 808)

This image is replaced at the end of the narration by scathing pitiless descriptions of a degraded body:
Non erano belli i piedi nudi ch'ella a volta a volta scaldava su la
ghiaia e rinfrescava nell'acqua; erano anzi difformati nelle dita,
plebei, senz'alcuna finezza; avevano l'impronta manifesta della bassa
stirpe. Egli li guardava intentamente [...] E pensava: 'Quante cose
impure fermentano nel suo sangue! Tutti gli istinti ereditarii della
sua razza sono in lei'. (D'Annunzio, 1988: 914-915)

The terms 'impronta' and 'istinti ereditari' recall Lombroso's theories of the hereditary nature of deviant features, and especially of diseases such as hysteria. Moreover, the insistence on Ippolita's felinity and serpentine sinuosity--underlined by expressions such as '[f]elina, gli si avvolse, gli si attorse' (D'Annunzio, 1988: 1006), 'il suo lungo corpo serpentino' (p. 1011) and 'tutta la lascivia felina della Nemica' (p. 1011)--refer to the aggressive sensuality of the man-eater, while the snake image attributed to her body reflects the topos of biblical temptation and is reinforced by the capitalization of the word Enemy, which suggests her identification with the Devil himself.


In the trilogy, motherhood and female sexuality are linked in a negative way: the more the female protagonist pursues her sexual desire, the more she loses her motherly role, for the two are presented as socially antithetical. Maria ceases to be a mother once she engages in her adulterous relationship. Giuliana becomes a non-mother since she is complicit in the murder of her illicit son. Finally Ippolita, who lives her sexuality openly and actively, is presented as a hysterical and sterile woman. Not only is she physically unable to be a mother, but even her allegorical motherly function is exhausted by the rise of her sexuality to the point that she is converted into a Moloch. The insurgence and fulfillment of their sexual desire not only take the motherly roles away from the female protagonists of the trilogy, but also determine a shift in the depiction of their beauty. They are no longer Madonnas, as their angelic beauty is now transfigured into a degenerated sensuality, whose attraction rests in a sense of morbidity and monstrosity.

The novels, through these two processes of degeneration, converting the mother into a non-mother, and the angelic beautiful woman into the evil temptress, underline the unfeasibility of the traditional female stereotype of the angel in the house, the devoted mother and loyal wife, still present at the end of the 19th century. At the turn of a century characterized by many technological and socio-political changes on the international and national scene, the image of the woman as the pillar of the house, a de-sexualized object to be transferred from father to husband in the name of economic and social interests, and nonexistent at a social level, becomes anachronistic. Similarly, the texts also critique the other two main female stereotypes of the end of the 19th century: the femme fragile and the femme fatale, revealing how they too are the products of an attempt to deny and control female sexuality.

In this light, D'Annunzio's female novelistic characters should no longer be read as manifestations of the author's alleged misogyny, but rather as a means to expose the anachronism and unfeasibility of existing female stereotypes, products of a society in crisis, in order to create the bases for a new model of woman, an adequate companion for the new artist-intellectual charged with the rebirth of Italy, theorized in the novels that follow this trilogy. (29)


(1.) Russell in her feminist encyclopaedia of Italian literature insists on the importance attributed by Mozzoni, the main exponent of the Italian feminist movement, to the 'refusal of feminine values of sentimentality, maternity, and sacrifice' (Russell, 1997: 88), as in order to gain the same rights as men it was necessary to become 'man-like'. This radical view is then, according to Russell, the main reason for its rejection by many Italian female writers of the period, who considered the movement's ideals a 'threat to their social status and an inadequate representation of the feminine' (Russell, 1997: 89). Nevertheless, many Italian woman writers such as Neera draw attention to the discourse on female roles and motherhood through their fictional production, portraying the 'fin-de-siecle bourgeois oppression within a male order that forbids women from fulfilling their desire for both a spiritual and a sexual love' (Ramsey-Portolano, 2010: 52)

(2) According to Mantegazza (1893: 123), 'la donna e imbevuta tutta quanta, dai capelli alle unghie dei piedi, di maternita, ed e tanto piu perfetta quanto piu e madre [...] la donna, non mi stanchero di ripeterlo cento volte, vale tanto piu quanto piu e madre'.

(3.) See Fiandra (2005), Ganeri (2012) and Tanner (1979) on the evolution of the paradigm of romantic love versus female sexuality during the 19th century.

(4.) For detailed studies on this topic, see Overton (1999), MacPike (1984) and Segal (1992).

(5.) Overton (1999) considers 15 narratives of adultery and explores the mother-offspring relationship that they depict, focusing particularly on the children's gender and position within or outside wedlock. This study underlines the importance of the socio-cultural context in which the narrative is produced, the value attributed to motherhood and sterility and how they intertwine with female desire within the framework of adultery.

(6.) Croce (1973: 110) defined Il piacere as the Italian novel of seduction through which 'risuono nella letteratura italiana una nota fino ad allora estranea, sensualistica, ferina, decadente'. Furthermore, as suggested by the literally translated title 'pleasure', the narrative is 'inteso come una incessante "educazione sentimentale'" (Barilli, 1993: 42).

(7.) Lacan (1993) uses the phonetic correspondence between the expressions 'le nom du pere' ('the name of the father' and 'le non du pere' ('the no of the father') in his seminar The Psychoses to refer to the legislative and prohibitive function of the father in the Symbolic Order. The name of the father is the metaphor for the father himself, who, with his presence, represents the prohibition of incest, the renunciation of the child's desire for the mother.

(8.) On a detailed analysis of the relationship between Maria and Delfina within the framework of adultery and Catholic morality, see Barisonzi (2015a).

(9.) See Barisonzi (2015a) on the transformation of Maria's ethical substance with reference to Italian Catholic and bourgeois moral values throughout the awakening of her sexual desire.

(10.) This novel was first published between the end of 1891 and 1892 in instalments in Scarfoglio's Corriere di Napoli. Shortly after, L'innocente was published in volume but not by D'Annunzio's usual publisher Treves, who refused to publish it due to its scandalous content. After Treves' rejection, the book was published by Bideri in Naples, although, as Klopp (1988: 44) points out, 'Treves eventually had second thoughts about the novel, bought up the rights, and in 1896 reissued it as the secondo (after Il piacere) of "I Romanzi della Rosa'". This perceived immoral plot is also the cause of the poor reception of the book in Italy when compared to its great success in the French version. In fact, as noted by Klopp (1988: 44), in France the novel 'was an immediate favorite both with the reading public and the critics, who praised its author as a "Latin with a Slavic soul'".

(11.) Scholars have focused mainly on Tullio, the male protagonist, while Giuliana's place in the narration has been relegated to the position of the victim of Tullio's cruel unfaithfulness. Further, Giuliana has often been considered as the 'goddess-like creature endowed with a kind of sensual spirituality' (Di Paolo, 2011: 383). In these readings, therefore, Giuliana (although less emphatically compared with Il piacere) becomes the angel in the angel-femme fatale binary that scholars have individuated among D'Annunzio's female characters. According to Giacon, in the introduction to the novel, compared to the other charcaters of the novel, 'piu consistente e il disegno del personaggio di Giuliana, ma solo in virtu della perversa dinamica che lega la sua figura a quella di Tullio. Giuliana, che altrimenti potrebbe definirsi una "sostanza emotiva" affatto simbolica, "incantevole e irreale" [...] ritrova persuasiva fisionomia solo in quanto e la vittima' (D'Annunzio, 1996: XVII).

(12.) Despite being initially depicted as the 'sposa ideale, la compagna sognata pel suo figliuolo' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 10), and an angelic figure in contrast with Teresa Raffo, the sensual and perverse man-eater, Giuliana's angelic qualities contain the criticism toward the stereotype of the angel in the house that the novel both problematizes and rejects. The use of the adjective 'dream' italicized by the author, and recurrent in the novel, does not suggest the ethereal nature of Giuliana but the idealized traits and values of the bourgeois woman, the loyal wife and especially the perfect self-scarifying mother.

(13.) Birth control becomes a political matter in the second part of the 19th century. It is a means for the regulation of the population's growth in terms of Malthusian agricultural production issues and in terms of workforce for recently born industry (Malthus, 1998). Moreover, with the diffusion of nationalist movements, childbirth symbolizes the continuity of a lineage and grants both historic foundation to the nation and sons ready to sacrifice themselves for the glory and the greatness of their country.

(14.) According to the theory of maternal images and Mazzoni's discourse on desire and birthmarks, pregnancy is not only the species' means of reproduction but also, and more importantly, a means of reproducing the 'woman's own desire' (Mazzoni, 1997: 137). For this reason, childbearing needs to be socially and scientifically controlled.

(15.) For Lombroso and Ferrero (1903), the health of the species is endangered by the genetic transmission of criminal traits, which is amplified by women's natural inferiority and their constant state of borderline illness. According to Mantegazza (1895), the degeneration of the species and the need to control childbirth come from female corruption which has a socio-cultural cause. In Il secolo nevrosico, Mantegazza (1895: 60-61) states 'una volta almeno si manteneva illesa dal nevrosismo la meta dell'umana famiglia, quella che trasmetteva e alimentava i germi della vita dall'una all'altra generazione [...] l'astemia e l'analfabetismo delle nostre donne erano come una piscina fresca [...] ma le donne che hanno a fare con gli uomini oggi fornicano coi libri, coi giornali, coi drammi strazianti [...] e commentano l'uguaglianza dei diritti e la disuguaglianza dei doveri'.

(16.) Lombroso's 1893 studies on the normal and the criminal woman reveal the importance attributed to sexual factors in the identification of the biological nature of the female offender. On the negation of female libido and its pathologization, see also Wanrooij (1990).

(17.) See Foucault (1978a and b) and Mesch (2008) on the 19th-century marriage as a husband-wife-doctor triangle where the latter becomes a new third player to the traditional married couple. According to Mesch (2008:90), the diffusion of the medical discourse sees 'the doctor, now in the position of defining and overseeing conjugal relations in more extensive and explicit ways than in previous generations'.

(18.) According to Mazzoni (1997), this reflects the way in which the patriarchal and male society deals with its fear of the female body, and the threat posed by illegitimacy to the social order, which otherwise could not be controlled.

(19.) Di Paolo (2011: 388) points out that the expression 'Turris Eburnea' is found in the 'Litany in praise of the Virgin Mary known as the Litany of Loreto' and it comes to 'designate the Virgin Mary by antonomasia'. If this underlines once more the idea of purity and perfection attributed to Giuliana, as it was in the case of Maria in Il piacere, it is likewise interesting to note how the image of the tower can also be considered a phallic symbol. In this regard, we may see an anticipation of the 'fall' of Giuliana (Maria) and her progressive transformation into her antithetical figure, the femme fatale Teresa Raffo (Elena Muti), as the latter (a few pages before we encounter the 'Turns') was described as 'un'imagine fallica' (D'Annunzio, 1996: 37). The tower becomes both a symbol of impenetrability and penetration, impregnability and impregnation, since Giuliana falls pregnant as a result of her adultery.

(20.) Sickness becomes a transposition of the 'vecchie metafore della morale tradizionale' (Curreri, 2008: 38) in the medical/scientific language and it comes to be identified with the 'lato oscuro della vita, il male' (Curreri, 2008: 38)

(21.) In 'Stabat Mater', Kristeva (1987: 143) underlines the meaning of milk that is a 'metaphor[s] of non-language, of a "semiotic" that does not coincide with linguistic communication' but reflects the pre-verbal communication between the mother and the foetus in the uterus.

(22.) As Fusaro Comoy (2007: 29-96) points out, it is possible to talk of a process of 'literarization of medicine' and vice-versa 'medicalization of literature'.

(23.) Spackman (1989: 190) points to the 'sacred' and 'demonic' features of epilepsy, which is defined as a 'disease of possession' and therefore perfectly suitable to replace the old idea of Satanic possession.

(24.) As seen, according to Mantegazza (1893), in the 'normal' woman sexual desire is directed to reproduction (which, together with lactation, is the aim of her sexual life), and is meant to cease after the completion of this purpose. Therefore Ippolita, unable to procreate, should not feel any sexual desire at all.

(25.) As pointed out by Tanner (1979), Overton (1999), Fiandra (2005) and Scarpi (1980), in the novel of adultery usually there is no reconciliation between the adulteress and her husband, but the adulteress tends also to be abandoned by her lover. At a narrative level, the result of this double abandonment is her elimination through murder or suicide. Even in Il piacere and in L'innocente, where the physical elimination of the female character is missing, a partially similar structure of no real future for the adulteress is present as there is no certainty around the destiny of the two female protagonists.

(26.) On the Artifex, see Curreri and the comparison to Eve future (Curreri, 2008:24-26). These aspects of Ippolita's character then contribute throughout the narration to her conversion into Giorgio's enemy because she gradually removes herself from his control in what Curreri defines as the creature's rebellion to her Artifex.

(27.) Kristeva (1982: 71), in Powers of Horror, points out that 'menstrual blood stands for the danger [of identity] issuing from within the identity [...] it threatens the relationship between the sexes within a social aggregate'. Furthermore, Kristeva associates to it a 'polluting value'. Although she considers tears and sperm devoid of this polluting value, by using the term 'sperm' it is possible to intend it with reference to the male and not to the female intercourse. The latter can then be identified within the bodily functions that Kristeva correlates with 'abjection', reflecting the repulsion toward the female body, the female threat to the patriarchal society.

(28.) Ippolita becomes the double of Giorgio's mother and this identification reinforces the image of Ippolita as a mother both in positive and negative terms. On the one hand, Ippolita, although being sterile, hence unable to become a physical mother, symbolizes the idealization of motherhood. On the other hand, Giorgio's real mother fails to maintain her motherly role in the eyes of Giorgio as she demands that Giorgio confront his father. This request implicates both Giorgio becoming the defender of the mother with an inversion of roles, as the mother should be the one defending the child from the father, and the actualization of the Oedipal complex with the son defeating the father. In this context, Ippolita is a positive figure of the mother as she contrasts the image of the real mother and her failure, but at the same time, being Giorgio's mother's double, Ippolita is charged with the conflicted feelings that Giorgio has for his own mother to the point that Ippolita becomes the scapegoat for his resentment, allowing Giorgio to re-establish a positive image of his real mother.

(29.) On the development of the new female model contained in Le vergini delle rocce, see Barisonzi (2015b).


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Michela Barisonzi

Monash University, Australia

Corresponding author:

Michela Barisonzi, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, IA Elizabeth Street, Montmorency, VIC, 3094, Australia. Email:
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Title Annotation:Article
Author:Barisonzi, Michela
Publication:Forum Italicum
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Aug 1, 2017
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