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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


IT Women and Writing: Women and Writing in Italy: Writing by Women, Writing for Women, 1500-1900

IT Women and Writing: Women and Writing in Italy

Course Convenor: Prof Helena Sanson (, Section of Italian

Against the general ideological background regarding women’s nature and role in society, this module examines women’s contribution to the Italian cultural and literary tradition, starting from the unprecedented increase in published women writers in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (a phenomenon which distinguishes Italy in relation to its European neighbours, where the number of women writers in the period was far smaller), until the post-unification period, that is, the decades following the political unification of 1861, when the discussion of available models for representing women was enriched by emerging new ideas on female authorship. Through an analysis of a range of texts—of different genres—by, for and about women, we will examine the manner in which women constructed gendered identities for themselves and their role in the literary world at different moments in time, as well as the various ways in which women are represented in male-authored works of the period.
While examining women’s contribution to the literary and intellectual world in the period under consideration, this module also offers fascinating insights into women’s lives, the constraints they had to face, the obstacles they managed to overcome, as well as the opportunities they succeeded in creating for themselves. It will be of interest not only to students specializing in Italian, but also, more broadly, to those working on gender issues and women’s history and wishing to explore comparative perspectives.
A good reading knowledge of Italian is desirable, although a number of the works now exist in translation.
There will normally be a maximum capacity of 14 for this module.
Preliminary Reading:
Cox, Virginia, 2008. Women’s Writing in Italy, 1400-1650. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Cox, Virginia, 2011, The Prodigious Muse: Women’s Writing in Counter-Reformation Italy. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hufton, Olwen, 1996. The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500-1800. Vol. 1. London: Harper Collins (Chapt. 1 and 2)
Kelly, Joan, 1977 and 1982. ‘Did Women Have a Renaissance?’ (1977) and ‘Early Feminist Theory and the Querelle des femmes 1400-1789’ (1982), in Ead., 1984. Women, History and Theory: The Essays of Joan Kelly. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19-50 and 65-109.
Kelso, Ruth, 1956. Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance. Urbana: University of Illinois Press (also 1978 ed.), pp. 5-37 (‘Women in the scheme of things’).
King, Margaret, 1991. Women of the Renaissance. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-62 (‘Daughters of Eve: Women in the Family’).
Lerner, Gerda, 1975. ‘Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges’, Feminist Studies, 3 (1/2), 5-14.
Maclean, Ian, 1980. The Renaissance Notion of Woman. A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medieval Science in European Intellectual Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Panizza, Letizia and Wood, Sharon, 2000 (eds). A History of Women’s Writing in Italy.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (chapters on 16th to 19th centuries only).
Sanson, Helena, 2016. ‘‘Women and Conduct in the Italian Tradition, 1470-1900: An Overview’, in Conduct Literature for and about Women in Italy, 1470-1900: Prescribing and Describing Life, ed. Helena Sanson and Francesco Lucioli (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2016), pp. 9-38.
- If you would like to start exploring some primary sources that discuss women’s nature and role in society, you might want to read the following (published at the two ends of the period we examine):
Vives, Juan Luis, The Education of a Christian Woman (1523) (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), in particular ‘On the instructions of young girls’, pp. 53-73, ‘On virginity’, pp. 80-87, ‘Two Points of Greatest Importance for the Married Woman’, pp. 186-210, and ‘How She Will Conduct Herself Privately with Her Husband’, pp. 223-230.
Castiglione Baldassarre, Book 3 (only) of The Book of the Courtier (1528) (in English translation, any modern edition).
Sibilla Aleramo, Una donna (1906) (any Italian edition or English translation).
- Feel free to start exploring works written by women using the reference texts listed above (e.g. Cox 2008 and 2011; Panizza and Wood 2000).


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