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Rewriting the historical novel on the risorgimento in light of woman's history: gender and nation in Vincenzo Consolo's Il sorriso dell'ignoto marinaio.

Ever since its publication in 1976, Vincenzo Consolo's II sorriso dell'ignoto marinaio has been the object of considerable and ever-growing attention on the part of critics who, from both sides of the Atlantic, (1) unanimously recognize its crucial role in rewriting the tradition of the historical novel on the Risorgimento. While many assessments of Consolo's Il sorriso could be cited, (2) suffice it to mention the interventions of Robert Dombroski and Ruth Glynn.

In "Consolo and the Fictions of History," Dombroski argues that Consolo's narrative voice does not aspire to the totalizing representation of the complex socio-political landscape of Risorgimento history of Federico de Roberto's I Vicere and Pirandello's I vecchi e i giovani. While the context of the Risorgimento is ever-present in Il sorriso, the novel "shows nothing of the universalizing scope or synchronic techniques of the genre" (217). The nineteenth century returns only as a heap of ruins "that can be better described than understood, and that contain a story that cannot be told in the form of a historical novel" (217). For her part, Glynn argues that Consolo's novel seeks to undo the totalizing, orderly world of traditional historical fiction by way of a polyphonic expressionism of narrative voices and registers. Among these voices and registers are those of the victims of history whose presence is interpreted by Glynn as a means to give symbolic dignity to the marginalized "Other" that is lacking in fictional accounts of the process that led to the unification of the peninsula in 1861.

While acknowledging the fundamental importance of II sorriso within the Italian tradition of the historical novel, I contend that yet another dimension of Consolo's work renders it unique in the panorama of Risorgimento narrative: a fictional representation of the position of women in the nation-building project of the Risorgimento that, in consonance with more recent historiography, expresses her limited but objective agency in the social process of nation-building and imagining. To this end, I will discuss key works, specific to the Italian tradition, of novels on the Risorgimento and the historical, sociological, and intellectual discourses that shaped them. I will then turn to Consolo's 'revisionist' account that I will situate in the context of Woman's History in Italy that developed after the publication of cornerstone studies in the 1960's by noted feminist scholars.

In La nazione del Risorgimento, Alberto Banti argues that the foundational myth of Risorgimento history and culture was grounded in gendered symbols that posited woman as the passive signifier of the Italian nation. While Banti's work is an illuminating and valuable account of the "allegoria originaria" (67) that traverses a vast corpus of cultural products, it is necessary to revisit gender categories in nineteenth- and twentieth-century historical novels on the Risorgimento. Such step is not only required to better assess the revolutionary force of Il sorriso, but is also rendered necessary by the fundamental role of the gente in defining the nation and its people. As Brennan writes in "The National Longing for Form,"
   [T]he rise of European nationalism [...] coincides especially with
   one form of literature--the novel [...]. It was the novel that
   historically accompanied the rise of nations by objectifying the
   'one, yet many' of national life, and by mimicking the structure of
   the nation, a clearly bordered jumble of languages and styles
   [...]. But it did much more than that. Its manner of presentation
   allowed people to imagine the special community that was the
   nation. (49) (3)

In an Italian context, the obligatory points of departure for any examination of the intricate relationship of gente, nation, and gender are, first the so-called "prototype" (4) of the Risorgimento novel, Ugo Foscolo's Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (1802) and, second, Ippolito Nievo's Le confessioni di un italiano (1858), a work that, through the character of Carlo Altoviti, documents the period from Napoleon's Italian campaigns to the revolutions of 1848 and, with it, the process of transformation of Altoviti's identity from that of a Venetian into that of an Italian.

From her first appearance in Jacopo Ortis' letters, the female protagonist of Foscolo's epistolary novel, Teresa, is deprived of any measure of historical agency. Ina narrative that consistently conflates political with sexual desire, Teresa functions as a metonymy for Venice, the homeland that Jacopo desires. Following the treaty of Campoformio of 1797, whereby Napoleon cedes Venice to Austria in exchange for the constitution of the Repubblica Cisalpina, the novel further enmeshes political disillusionment with frustrated sexual desire. Teresa, like the now lost homeland, is described as a token of exchange through the story of her marriage to the rich Odoardo that has been arranged by her father, "signor T". Moreover, Teresa, like the bartered homeland that she signifies, is cast in the role of "terra prostituta" (5) as Jacopo wonders about her virtuousness, going as far as to suggest that she might even be Lorenzo's lover: "lo non amero, quando sara d'altri, la donna che fu mia--amo immensamente Teresa; ma non la moglie d'Odoardo--ohime! Tu forse mentre scrivo sei nel suo letto!--Lorenzo!--Ahi Lorenzo!" (Foscolo, Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis 159).

Unlike Foscolo's Ultime lettere, Nievo's Le confessioni di un italiano allows the character of Pisana to participate in the struggle for unification and thus function as more than justa passive symbol for the nation. Nevertheless, Pisana's agency is momentary and her role as active subject of history is re-contained in the domestic sphere, within the walls of a prescribed domesticity made of sacrifice and devotion that is amply recorded in the nineteenth-century historical and intellectual discourses on women authored by Cesare Balbo, Silvio Pellico, Niccolo Tommaseo, Vincenzo Gioberti, Domenico Guerrazzi, and many others. Antonio Rosmini's Filosofia del diritto (1845) unambiguously expresses the views shared by many when he lists the types of qualities that the new nation would require of its female citizens. Because nature had given woman "timida dolcezza, graziosa debolezza, attenta docilita," she needed to "starsene riparata" within the walls of the domestic sphere and cultivate "[l'] amore disinteressato al marito e nel sacrificio." By contrast, nature endowed the male with "coraggio, forza, attivita, mente ferma o certo piu sviluppata," qualities that made him "atto a comandare." (6) Even Giuseppe Mazzini, who had already referred to the "condizione negletta della Donna" in his Appello agli Italiani of 1840, (7) does not representa fundamental departure from this discursive genealogy. Mazzini equated the participation of women in the national struggle with that of working classes and youths, that is, be did not envision women's agency within a larger gender struggle, but saw it as a way to provide an additional innovative force to counter moderate political currents. It should also be noted that women themselves embraced many of these discourses. Works such as Caterina Francesca Ferrucci's Della educazione morale della donna italiana (1848) and Giulia Molino Colombini's Pensieri e lettere sulla educazione della donna in Italia (1851) joined the conservative, traditionalist positions of Rosmini and provided an apotheosis of women's role in the confined boundaries of a prescribed domesticity (De Giorgio, Le italiane 11).

The heteronomy (8) of the nineteenth-century historical novel with regards to historical and intellectual discourses on the 'proper' place of woman in the nation is by no means confined to Foscolo and Nievo but also shapes Federico De Roberto's I Vicere (1894). In this large historical fresco the protagonists are the members of the aristocratic Uzeda family who navigate the perilous waters of the fall of the ancien regime to re-emerge as the hegemonic class. Donna Ferdinanda contributes to the political struggle of her clan, but since her actions all aim at guaranteeing the economic superiority of the Uzedas and the continuation of its ruthless rule, she is alien to the traditional gendered tropes of woman as virgin, mother, and wife of the Risorgimento nation. In the place of these tropes, however, emerge de-politicized images of madness and hysteria that are embodied in the female characters of Chiara, Teresa, and Lucrezia. While it would be tempting to see in these characters the locus from which a critique of an oppressive gender system is articulated, following the path of inquiry traced by Chesler, Gilbert and Gubar, and Showalter among others, (9) I would contend that I Vicere does not support such reading. The members of the Uzeda family belong to a degenerate race. Hysteria is the form of sexualized madness that affects its women while a more neutral mental illness befalls the family's men. (10) Thus, the novel not only negates woman's involvement in the larger process of nation-building, but reveals an unproblematic endorsement of the gendered trope of a hysterical femininity that, by the late nineteenth-century, was given a pseudo-scientific formulation by the work of the positivist anthropologist Cesare Lombroso, the author of La donna delinquente, la prostituta e la donna normale (1893) and became a topos of fin-de-siecle novels, including Ugo Tarchetti's Fosca (1869), Giovanni Verga's Tigre reale (1875), and Luigi Capuana's Giacinta (1877).

In the early twentieth century, 1913 to be precise, Luigi Pirandello's I vecchi e i giovani reflects the questioning of rigidly assigned gender-roles that was facilitated by the growth of questione femminile. The struggle for suffrage and other demands for legal egalitarianism had begun. Much of the credit for this pioneering work goes to Anna Maria Mozzoni who, in 1864, published La donna e i suoi rapporti sociali, a critique of the legal inequality codified in the Civil Code of the unified state. While Mozzoni's work was unsuccessful in leading to revisions of the Code, her translation of John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women (1881) gave great visibility to the questione femminile, which is one of the many contexts of Pirandello's novel. (11) One needs only to recall the character of Celsina Pigna, the young girl who "aveva preso la licenza d'onore all'Istituto Tecnico, sbalordendo tutti, preside, professori e condiscepoli" (157-8). An emblem of militant feminism--"Ah, gli uomini ella era andata a sfidarli la, nelle loro stesse scuole; e tutti li aveva superati" (166)--Celsina also participates in the struggle of the fasci and gives political speeches to the assemblies of workers. Yet, despite the weakening of paternal authority brought about by bourgeois modernity and solidified in the young girl's defiance, the novel does not unfold in a fundamental rethinking of the traditional genderedsystem that traverses historiographic and fictional discourses on the Risorgimento. The life of Donna Caterina Laurentano is a case in point. The wife of the revolutionary Stefano Auriti, Donna Caterina shares her husband's political vision and follows him into exile in 1848 in Turin to lead a life of hardship and sacrifice. When her husband perishes in the battle of Milazzo, Donna Caterina moves back to Sicily for a secluded, tragic existence. Despite her sophisticated understanding of the socio-political dynamics of the Risorgimento, revealed in, among other passages, the famous speech on the debacle of Sicily, (12) Donna Caterina's role in the novel is that of custodian of her husband's political legacy, of the values that the name of Stefano Auriti conjures. Indeed, like Nievo's Pisana, donna Caterina emerges from the walls of her tragic (even if voluntary) seclusion only when Auriti's legacy is endangered by the trasformismo of the local political parties.

While Pirandello's I vecchi e i giovani allows woman a momentary participation in the political struggle as well as an understanding of the dynamics of Risorgimento and its aftermath, in Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo woman is an object of exchange--the means through which an alliance between an impoverished aristocracy and an emerging bourgeoisie seeking legitimacy within the feudal order, can be forged. Such nostalgia for the traditional genderization of the female body is best revealed in the figure of Angelica. Indeed, in Angelica one finds the image of woman as figure for the desired nation that shaped the representation of Teresa, from Foscolo's Ultime lettere. This image is exemplified by the following passage where Tancredi equates the sexual possession of Angelica with the repossession of his ancestral land: "Poi la riabbraccio [...] ed alui parve davvero che in quei baci riprendesse possesso della Sicilia, della terra bella e infida sulla quale i Falconeri avevano per secoli spadroneggiato e che adesso, dopo una vana rivolta si arrendeva di nuovo alui, come ai suoi da sempre, fatta di delizie carnali e di raccolti dorati" (142). Furthermore, Angelica, as Teresa before her, functions as a token of exchange in a trafficking of women that binds the older classes with the emerging ones, Calogero Sedara with the Prince of Salina. Finally, it should be noted that the nostalgia that permeates the novel is also revealed in an anachronistic restoration of the authority of the pater familias through the character of the Prince of Salina that cannot but strike the reader considering that the novel was written almost 15 years after the end of World War II. (13) To explain, while Lampedusa makes it clear that bourgeois modernity has superseded the feudal order--"Noi fummo i Gattopardi, i Leoni; quelli che ci seguiranno saranno gli sciacalletti, le iene" (168)--he nevertheless gives a position of primacy to the Prince. As the novel's center of consciousness, the Prince often mourns the disappearance of past orders, such as those of class and gender that was an effect of the Risorgimento and of changed socio-political configurations, (14) while proffering disparaging comments of the suffragismo on the occasion of the plebiscito. (15)

The feminization of the nation as virgin, mother, and wife--and therefore a metaphor for a land violated by foreign invaders, bartered by the oppressors or silently upholding the values of austerity and self-sacrifice upon which the ideal Italy is to be founded--is very familiar to Consolo. In the essay "Risorgimento and Literature", for example, he lays bare his awareness of the "burden of representation" (16) carried by women: the burden, that is, of bearing the spirit, identity, honor, and cultural legacy of the emerging national collectivity. Consolo does so by prefacing his analyses of cultural responses to unification with a series of quotations from Virgil's Eneide III, Dante's Inferno I and Purgatorio VI, Petrarch's Le Rime, and Leopardi's Canti that inscribe--if not prescribe--the role of woman as biological reproducer of the nation's sons and object of protection, as custodian of a cultural legacy of which she has no part:
   Esiste una terra, Esperia i Greci la chiamano,
   terra antica, potente d'armi e feconda di zolla;
   gli Enotri l'ebbero, ora e fama che i giovani
   Italia abbian detto, dal nome di un capo, la gente.
   (Virgilio, Eneide III, 166--166)

   Di quell'umile Italia fia salute,
   per cui mori la vergine Camilla,
   Eurialo e Turno e Niso di ferute
   (Alighieri, Inferno I, 106-108)

   Ahi, serva Italia, di dolore ostello,
   nave senza nocchiere in gran tempesta,
   non donna di provincia, ma bordello!
   (Alighieri, Purgatorio VI, 76-78).

   Italia mia, benche il parlar sia indarno
   ale piaghe mortali
   che nel bel tuo corpo si spesse veggio,
   piacemi almen che' miei sospir sian quali
   spera 'l Tevero e l'Arno
   e 'l Po, dove doglioso e grave or seggio
   (Petrarca, "Italia mia", Le Rime 1-6)

   O patria mia, vedo le mura e gli archi
   e le colonne e i simulacri e l'erme
   torri degli avi nostri,
   ma la gloria non vedo,
   non vedo il lauro e li ferro ond'eran carchi
   i nostri padri antichi. Or fatta inerme,
   nuda la fronte e nudo il petto mostri.
   Ohime quante ferite,
   che lividor, che sangue!
   (Leopardi, "All'Italia", Canti 1-9). (149-50)

Consolo's intent, however, is also to question this tradition and he does so in the folds Il sorriso. Writing against works by De Roberto, Pirandello, and Lampedusa, as well as the intellectual discourses that sustained them, Consolo restores woman's limited but objective presence in nineteenth-century nation-building projects. Through the fictional representation of the character of Catena Carnevale, Consolo joins the efforts of a recent generation of scholars who, in the footsteps of the pioneering work of Franca Pieroni Bortolotti, namely Alle origini della questione femminile in Italia 1848-1892 (1963), began to re-examine "the role played by women in the Risorgimento [...] the single most neglected aspect of nineteenth-century Italian history" (Beales and Biagini 134) (17) in three journals: DonnaWomanFemme, Memoria, and Quaderni Storici. These earlier studies would then pave the way for larger contributions to Woman's History in Italy authored by Annarita Buttafuoco, Simonetta Soldani, and Michela De Giorgio, among others. (18) Since much of this work was born in the context of the feminist movement of the 1960's, it is marked by a focus on female agency and consciousness that, while acknowledging the well-documented barring of women from high forms of public politics, also avoids the pitfalls of a "storia vittimista." (19) By questioning the public and private boundaries that have informed traditional histories, this new historiography allows for both a re-examination of the impact of public institutions on the domestic sphere as well as a reassessment of political activity deriving from women's domestic lives.

While, to my knowledge, Consolo never makes explicit references to this group of women historians, in the essay "Il sorriso, vent'anni dopo", he recognizes that the origin of his 1976 novel is located in the re-reading of Risorgimento that was taking place on the occasion of the centenary of unification, in 1961, when historians began to engage in a "rivisitazione critica" (279) of Italy's nation-building project. However, the receptivity of Consolo to 'revisionist' accounts is best revealed in Il sorriso where woman figures prominently despite her narrative and domestic marginality.

At the threshold of the novel, the "Antefatto" recounts how Barone di Mandralisca had recovered the "Ritratto d'ignoto" by Antonello da Messina from the apothecary store of Carnevale in Lipari. The portrait, however, has been disfigured and the culprit is none other than Carnevale's daughter, Catena, who has inflicted on the smile of the "ignoto" two blows with the same awl that she employs in her embroidery-work. (20) In an allusion to the topos of female hysteria that traverses nineteenth-century works by Tarchetti, Verga, and Capuana, and was given a pseudo-scientific formulation in Lombroso's positivist anthropology, the novel explains Catena's gesture as the action of a "picciotta un poco originale" (38), a twenty-five years old spinster who has disfigured the portrait because ir resembles the face of her fiance, Giovanni Interdonato, a man whom she has only seen five times. Yet, by the second chapter of the novel, it becomes clear that Consolo's allusion is fraught with irony. Interdonato, now disguised as the merchant Gaetano Profilio da Lipari, asks Mandralisca to protect the son of a rich merchant of Lipari, Palamara, whom Catena Carnevale has converted to the revolutionary cause. In this detail, Catena is recast from her role as enraged lover and hysterical woman into that of an ideological--if hidden--player in the revolutionary cause. Interdonato's words confirm the importance of this description and from his dialogue with Mandralisca we learn that Catena is an avid and active reader who, from the domestic enclave of her father's house, can transform the words of others into her own texts:
   -Di leggere non ha mal cessato. Credo che non ci sia scrittore che
   ella non conosca. Prima aveva una gran passione per i nostrani, per
   Campanella Bruno Vico Pagano Filangieri ... E ora l'ha stornata
   verso i francesi, Rousseau Babeuf Fourier Proudhon, ma anche per
   Victor Hugo e per la Sand ... Non la che chiedermi di spedirle
   libri da Parigi. Quanto al ricamo poi, dice che le serve per
   rilassare la nervosita e tirare al contempo il succo delle parole
   lette. (43)

The "nostrani" that are listed in the library of Catena are writers who represent the tradition of Renaissance Humanism, a tradition that, despite the martyrdom of its thinkers (Bruno and Campanella) had endured in the Neapolitan culture of the Enlightenment (Vico, Filangieri, and Pagano). Here it gave rise to political, educational, juridical, economic, and religious currents that were crucial to the reformist culture of the Parthenopean Republic. Educational reforms for women were debated by authors such as Paolo Mattia Doria and Gaetano Filangieri and even though these reforms were, by and large, conceived as forms of enlightened "incivilimento", rather than a means for authentic self-determination, Neapolitan culture was a fertile ground for women who could participate in the intellectual activities that took place in the many "salotti patriottici" of the capital. One of these women was Eleonora Fonseca Pimentel who directed Il Monitore, the publication of the patriots of the Parthenopean Republic of 1799, (21) and whose name is mentioned in Consolo's "Risorgimento and Literature." As for the French writers that Catena reads, they are an illustrious cast of socialist and political theorists that include Rousseau, Proudhon, Babeuf, and Fourier. The reference to Fourier is especially interesting to the purpose of this discussion. Unlike Babeuf and Proudhon, who justified, as Rosmini and others would, gender inequalities on the basis of woman's intellectual, physical, and moral inferiority, Fourier is widely considered a proto-feminist thinker. In 1808, in his Theorie des quatres mouvements, he had written about "female emancipation" (Bortolotti, "Per una cronologia" 230-31), arguing that the condition of women is an indication of the state of development and progress achieved by society. But Catena also reads French novelists, such as Victor Hugo, who advanced the cause of republican socialism, and Georges Sand, an early champion of egalitarianism for women. Sand was, of course, a well-known author to the emerging female readership in Italy and for this reason a writer often despised by the male-dominated intellectual establishment. As early as 1863, for example, Carlo Cattaneo, in his "Sul romanzo delle donne contemporanee in Italia," had warned against the danger that Sand's novels represented for women on the grounds that they fostered in them "that restlessness, and need to rebel against their position in society and to demand emancipation." (22)

Catena, however, is not only a reader bur also a producer of texts, someone, as Consolo writes, who embroiders to achieve relaxation while extracting "il succo delle parole lette" (Il sorriso 43). Her symbolic agency takes the shape of a gift that is discovered inside a hollow head of the statue of Kore. This gift is a hand-sewn silk tablecloth and it is offered by Catena to another woman, Annetta, the niece of the Baron Mandralisca. Unlike the beauty of both the portrait and the statue of Kore--a composed, harmonious beauty that Mandralisca immediately likens to "un'immagine dell'Italia Libera e Unita [...] bella [...] perfetta [...] ideale" (45), the tablecloth is "una tovaglia stramba, cucita a fantasia e senza disciplina" (45). Nevertheless, a pattern emerges from the enigmatic work: The embroidery represents an orange tree with four red balls hanging towards the right hand side. When Annetta turns the tablecloth upside down, she realizes the meaning of Catena's work: A heterogeneous Italian nation will be born from the violent uprisings that are enflaming the South of the peninsula and that originate from the need of thwarted political and social reformism that was brought forth by the Neapolitan culture of the Enlightenment and through French socialists and political theories:
   Ma e l'Italia!" esclamo' Annetta. -Si, e l'Italia--confermo'
   l'Interdonato.--E le quattro arance diventano i vulcani del Regno
   delle Due Sicilie, Il Vesuvio, l'Etna Stromboli e Vulcano. Ed e da
   qui, vuole significar Catena, da queste bocche di fuoco da secoli
   compresso, e soprattutto dalla Sicilia che ne contiene tre in poco
   spazio, che sprizzera la fiamma della rivoluzione che incendiera
   tutta l'Italia. (46)

It is worth mentioning at this juncture that Catena, as active symbol-maker, is also made to occupy the position of the Baroque artist, writing from the same peripheral and marginal positions that Consolo himself has consciously chosen to occupy. More specifically, Catena's image of Italy is that of a work of embroidery where disordered imperfection remains visible despite the confines of a uniform hem. (23) While Catena expresses her vision in a medley of different stitches and in polychrome hues, Consolo does so in a polyphonic expressionism where different voices bearing a plurality of ideological positions are given equal weight. (24) And since Catena's awl is equated with Consolo's pen, the passages that describe Catena's symbolic activity in the apothecary shop use a language that is very similar to that employed by Consolo to discuss the Sicilian Baroque, an episteme and a style to which his writing has consistently been associated. (25)

Thus, for example, in the "Antefatto" Catena's writing of recipes for the customers of her father's apothecary shop is represented as an ensemble of "rabeschi girigogoli svolazzi [...] linee puntini sospensivi" (3). In an essay on the Sicilian baroque of Val di Noto, Consolo describes the work of the Baroque artisans as an "inaudita musica di ricci, di volute, di adagi e forti, di vuoti e pieni [...] stile fantasioso e affollato, tortuoso e abbondante" ("La rinascita" 99). More fundamentally still, in the footsteps of G.A. Borgese, Consolo defines the Baroque episteme as a "anarchia equilibrata" given by a "connubio di costruzione e di immagine, di struttura e ornamento, di ritmo e melodia, di ragione e fantasia, di logico e di magico, di prosa e di poesia" ("La rinascita" 102) that closely reflects the disordered imperfection that characterizes Catena's embroidery of the tablecloth. The similarities, however, do not end here. In later passages of Il sorriso, we read that Carena is a writer that lays bare the ethical responsibility of literature through the poems that she composes. While Catena's poems are never included in Il sorriso, they are said to tell of the dispossessed of history, of the suffering and pain of the quarry-stone workers and of the fishermen of the Aeolian islands, laborers, that is, who figure very prominently in the earlier sections of Il sorriso: "poesie [...] che sono d'odio [...] [p]er tutto quanto c'e d'ingiusto in questo nostro mondo, distorto, disumano. Scrive in particolare delle lastime e delle sofferenze dei pescatori, contadini e cavatori di pomice delle Eolie, dei loro diritti sacrosanti e da sempre conculcati; inveisce con la furia d'una erinni contro i responsabili di tutte le angherie ele disparita" (42-43). (26)

In the descriptions of Catena, then, Consolo's text operates on a variety of levels. By questioning, as the cornerstone works of Italian women historians did, the dichotomous construction of the social sphere in public/private domains, the novel undermines the sociological and intellectual discourses of the Risorgimento--by Cesare Balbo, Silvio Pellico, Niccolo Tommaseo, Vincenzo Gioberti and Antonio Rosmini, among others--that "normalized" the exclusion and irrelevance of women from civil society. But, as a fictional work, Il sorriso also questions the unproblematic reflection of such discourses in the tradition of the nineteenth and twentieth-century novel on the Risorgimento, from Foscolo and De Roberto to Pirandello and Lampedusa. And precisely because the novel restores the agency of woman and her objective presence in national imaginings, Consolo can promote Catena to 'writer' while implicitly paying homage to the participation of women in the project of Italian nation-building that is documented in the work of Costanza D'Azeglio, Caterina Franceschi Ferrucci, Adelaide Cairoli, Emilia Toscanelli Peruzzi, Giannina Milli, Cleobolina Cotenna, Maria Giuseppina Guacci, Angelica Palli Bartolommei, Cristina Trivulzio di Belgioioso, and many others. (27)

Yet, if Consolo, through Catena, joins the effort of recent historians in questioning the absolute primacy of manhood in imagining the nation of the Risorgimento, Il sorriso also realistically foregrounds how the position of woman remained the site of a subalternity constructed across class as well as gender divides. Nowhere is this clearer than in the third chapter, "Morri Sacrata," where Il sorriso becomes infused with terrifying images of sexualized violence against women. The chapter begins as Frate Nunzio, upon leaving the hermitage of Santo Nicolo, on May 13, 1860, finds the population of Alcara Li Fusi anxiously awaiting "un tizio chiamato Garibardo" (64) who is, to them, a hope for avenging centuries-old wrong doings. (28) Shortly after, Frate Nunzio hears the voice of a woman who, rising from the coffin where she had been buried, is now calling for help. Frate Nunzio murders and then rapes her, but within the economy of the novel, this macabre scene comes to function as a prelude to the much larger massacre that occurs on May 17th in Alcara Li Fusi. This is, of course, the most significant event of Il sorriso, but no direct representation of it is provided by Consolo, reflecting perhaps the lack of a bird's eye-view of grand historical events on the part of the marginalized. Instead, the episode of the woman--"morta, risorta e poi rimorta" (104)--functions as a synecdoche for the uprisings and their repressions in Alcara Li Fusi, for the rioters who, "risorti" from the silences of history, are now "rimorti", buried inside Granza-Maniforti's prison that is visited by Mandralisca. The prison is shaped like a snail-shell and forms a figure that is significant for a gendered reading of the novel. As Consolo himself writes in the essay "Il sorriso, vent'anni dopo," the snail shell is an archetypical figure for femininity, "archetipo biologico" [...] com' e in Kerenyi and in Eliade" (278). While Consolo's references to Kerenyi and in Eliade are not developed, Giuseppe Traina has explored them at length and has commented that "[p]er Mircea Eliade, la conchiglia-simbolo prettamente femminile [...] passa dalla simbologia mitica alla simbologia cristiana, come segno di perpetuo rinnovamento, dunque di resurrezione" (62). With regards to Kerenyi, Traina has made the convincing claim that his vision of the labyrinth contains not just the Minotaurus but also "la molteplice figura mitica di AriannaDemetra-Persefone/Kore [...] salvifica perche guida il viaggiatore fuori dal labirinto" (62). The snail-shell, then, is clearly a female form and one that establishes a further association among subalterns, such as the anonymous woman of "Morti sacrata" and of the rioters of Alcara Li Fusi, that are being held in the snail-like prison of GranzaManiforti. Moreover, in the dense and intricate play of metaphors that characterizes this novel, (29) the snail-shell is also the labyrinth of a vision of history where descent implies an ascent, where darkness is a prelude to the light of understanding. In the words of Mandralisca, "il nome Cocalo [ha] dentro la radice l'idea della chiocciola, kochlias nella greca lingua, cochlea nella latina, enigma soluto, falso labirinto, con inizio e fine, chiara la bocca e scuro il fondo chiuso, la grande entrata da cui si puo uscire seguendo la curva sinuosa" (117). Thus, in the prison of Granza-Maniforti and in its "costruzione a chiocciola," if I may reprise Cesare Segre's title, Consolo locates the possibility of escaping not only the boundaries of class but also the gendered imaginings of the nineteenth-century nation as represented in historical accounts as well as in the tradition of the historical novel examined here. That this possibility of regeneration exists is, perhaps, nowhere clearer than in the letter of Mandralisca to lnterdonato dated October 9, 1860, where a context of ascent--and therefore rebirth--from the labyrinth of history is established through the female images of Classical mythology: "punto profondo, onfalo, tomba e rigenerazione, morte e vita, Ade e Demetra e Kore, che vien portando i doni in braccio, le spighe in fascio, il dolce melograno ..." (101).

In sum, Consolo's Il sorriso reveals a keen awareness of the intersection of gender relations and nationalist projects. Against historical and fictional contexts marked by a denial of the presence of woman in national imaginings, Il sorriso enhances the efforts of Woman's History that developed in the 1960s. Writing against the tradition of historical novels on the Risorgimento--from the proto-type of Foscolo's Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis to Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo--and the discursive genealogy that shaped them, Consolo provides a 'revisionist' account of genre, gender, and nation. He transforms the "allegoria originaria" of woman as virgin, mother, and wife of the Risorgimento nation in a more balanced representation of females' political activity within the boundaries of the domestic sphere and, by so doing, restores their limited but documented role in the Risorgimento. Through the symbolic figurations that emerge from the tablecloth that Catena Carnevale embroiders within the paternal walls, Il sorriso undermines the private/ public divide that lies at the core of the Western socio-political order, naturalizing the hegemony of a group over another in the 'social contract.' The novel also promotes woman to the position of 'artist' whose awl and pen write from and of the marginalized non-site of those excluded from power. Lastly, by way of the archetypical feminine image of the snail-shell, as meditated by Classical mythology and the articulations provided by works of Kerenyi and Eliade, Il sorriso foregrounds the hope of escaping the dark labyrinth of a divided national body that fuelled the efforts of Women's history in Italy by incorporating in its textual folds the subject of the other: the subaltern of class but also that of gender.


The University of Connecticut, Storrs


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(1) The interest in Consolo's novel is likely to continue as symposia and conventions were organized in 2006 to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Il sorriso by Einaudi. A volume of commemorative essays is currently being edited by Daragh O'Connell.

(2) For a sample of critical reception, see the volume Nuove Effemeridi, devoted to Consolo, as well as essays by Farrell, Segre, DiCuonzo, Di Legami, and O'Neill.

(3) For further discussion on nation and narration, see Bhabha and Anderson.

(4) I owe the terra to Sbragia, "Novel: Risorgimento" 232.

(5) Sbragia "Novel: Risorgimento" 232. Compare also the following statement where Jacopo casts doubts over the virtuousness of Teresa, going as far as to suggest that she might even have become Lorenzo's lover: "Io non amero, quando sara d'altri, la donna che fu mia--amo immensamente Teresa; ma non la moglie d'Odoardo--ohime! Tu forse mentre scrivo sei nel suo letto!--Lorenzo!--Ahi Lorenzo!" (Foscolo, Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis 159).

(6) Quotations from Rosmini are from Re 172.

(7) Quoted in Bortolotti, Alle origini del movimento femminile (25), from Mazzini's Appello agli Italiani (1840).

(8) I am referring to Anceschi's concept of 'heteronomy' as opposed to 'autonomy' of art with regards to broader socio-historical forces as articulated in his Autonomia ed eteronimia dell'arte.

(9) In the works of these critics, female madness is both a means to critique the violence of patriarchal institutions as well as a space where women can express their irreducible alterity with respect to the phallo-logocentric order.

(10) I have in mind the characters of Don Eugenio and Don Ferdinando.

(11) Pirandello addressed the questione femminile in both his essayistic and fictional works. In 1909 he published the article "Femminismo" whose reactionary views resonate also in the short story "Pari," but the author's view are best expressed in the novel Suo marito (1911) which traces the consequences of the changes in gender roles.

(12) One of the most memorable and often quoted passages of I vecchi e i giovani is the following description of Sicily, reported in a passage of free indirect discourse that merges the reporting voice with that of Caterina Laurentano: "E qual rovinio era sopravvenuto in Sicilia di tutte le illusioni, di tutta la fervida fede con cui s'era accesa alla rivolta! Povera isola, trattata come terra di conquista! Poveri isolani, trattati come barbari che bisognava incivilire! Ed erano calati i Continentali a incivilirli [...] calati tutti gli scarti della burocrazia [...] tutto il primo governo della Destra parlamentare! E poi era venuta la Sinistra al potere. E aveva incominciato anch'essa con provvedimenti eccezionali per la Sicilia; e usurpazioni e truffe e concessioni e favori scandalosi escandaloso sperpero del denaro pubblico" (94).

(13) Historians and sociologists have often commented that, despite the traditional ideologies of Fascism and Catholicism, the years of the conflict were instrumental in facilitating the emancipation of Italian women. In 1944, the Udi, an organization that led to women's vote in 1946 and participated in the advancement of their status in the Republican constitution of 1948, was founded. Such legislative gains were coupled with women's unprecedented entrance in the modern work force and consequent adoption of less constrained lifestyles and behaviors. For additional discussion, see Birnbaum and Ginsborg.

(14) "Postosi sulla via del rimpianto del passato [...] si accorse che stava invidiando le possibilita di quei tali Fabrizi Corbera e Tancredi Falconeri di tre secoli prima che si sarebbero cavati la voglia di andare a letto con le Angeliche dei loro tempi senza dover passare davanti al parroco, noncuranti delle doti delle villane ..." (96-7).

(15) "Prima del tramonto le tre o quattro bagascette di Donnafugata (ve ne erano anche li non raggruppate ma operose nelle loro aziende private) comparvero in piazza col crine adorno di nastrini tricolori per protestare contro l'esclusione delle donne dal voto; le poverine vennero beffeggiate via anche dai piu accesi liberali e furono costrette a rintanarsi" (108).

(16) I am referring to Mercer, "Black Art and the Burden of Representation."

(17) Patriarca joins Beales and Biagini when she states: "Recasting the study of Risorgimento discourse requires also an explicit engagement with issues of gender, a subject [...] whose analysis in the case of Italy awaits a much fuller treatment" (384).

(18) The case of Italy is by no means unique and it is well-know how gender has often been a neglected category of cultural analyses with regards to other historical projects of nation-building and state-formation. In their Gendered Nations: Nationalisms and Gender Order in the long Nineteenth Century, Blom, Hagemann, and Hall explain the paucity of titles in "a built-in antithesis between the two fields of history, histories of nations and histories of gender" (3). Yuval-Davis's Gender and Nation takes the statement of Blom, Hagemann, and Hall one step further and argues that even approaches informed by Women Studies often fail to account for the intersection of nationalism and gendered subjects: "Most of the hegemonic theorizations about nations and nationalism (for example Gellner, 1983; Hosbawn, 1990; Kedourie, 1993; Smith, 1986; 1995) even including, sometimes, those written by women [...] have ignored gender relations as irrelevant" (xi). While notable exceptions exist, the gender-blindness of studies on nationalism certainly endures.

(19) "storia vittimista" is Annarita Buttafuco's expression, from an interview quoted in Gibson, "Introduction" (5).

(20) Il ritratto risulta un poco stroppiato per due graffi a croce proprio sul pizzo delle labbra sorridenti del personaggio effigiato. Dice la gente di Lipari che la figlia dello speziale, Catena, ancora nubile alla bell'eta di venticinqu'anni, irritata [...] dal sorriso insopportabile di quell'uomo, gli inferse due colpi col punteruolo d'agave che teneva per i buchi sul lino teso dei telaio da ricamo (3).

(21) See Capobianco et alt, "Una giacobina donna: Eleonora Pimentel Fonseca".

(22) Carlo Cattaneo, "Sul romanzo delle donne contemporanee in Italia," quoted by Re 174. For additional discussion, see Kroha.

(23) "il ricamo al centro era una mescolanza dei punti piu' disparati: il punto erba si mischiava col punto croce, questo scivolava nel punto ombra e diradava fino al punto scritto" (45).

(24) See Segre, "La costruzione a chiocciola."

(25) See, for example, Dombroski, "Consolo and the Fictions of History," but compare also Traina, "Un dittico barocco," Vincenzo Consolo 24-29.

(26) In the interview known as Fuga dall'Etna, Consolo attributes an ethical status to his narratives. As the following passage suggests, be describes his writing as a commitment to fight, through the pen, the abuses and injustices of society: "La mia ideologia o se volete la mia utopia consiste nell'oppormi al potere, qualsiasi potere, nel combattere con l'arma della scrittura, che e come la fionda di David, o meglio come la lancia di Don Chisciotte, le ingiustizie, le sopraffazioni, le violenze, i mali e gli orrori del nostro tempo" (70).

(27) To this list, one could also add the activities of those who directly engaged in battles, such as Anita Garibaldi, Giuditta Sidoli, Teresa Confalonieri, and the "popolane" from Milan, who rose against General Radetzky in the events of the "Cinque giornate."

(28) "Nemico di Dio e di Sua Maesta il Re Dioguardi. Sbarca in Sicilia e avviene quarantotto ... rapina chiese, preda i galantuomini [...] da giustizia e terre" (64).

(29) The reader is warned of the subtle play of metaphors of Il sorriso as early as the epigraph, where Consolo quotes the following, from Leonardo Sciascia L'ordine delle somiglianze: "Il giuoco delle somiglianze e in Sicilia uno scandaglio delicato e sensibilissimo, uno strumento di conoscenza. [...] I ritratti di Antonello 'somigliano'; sono l'idea stessa, l'arche, della somiglianza. [...]. A chi somiglia l'ignoto del Museo Mandralisca?" (1).
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