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Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


IT Women and Text: Women Writers and Writings about Women in Italy (1500-1900)

Against the general ideological background about women’s nature and role in society, this module examines women’s contribution to the Italian literary tradition, starting from the unprecedented increase in published women writers in Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (a phenomenon which marks Italy out 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. It tracks women’s contribution to literary debates and production, as well as considering women’s relation to language and behavioural norms. Through an analysis of texts by 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, directing attention to practices of both the production and the consumption of texts by women, as well as the various ways in which women are represented in male-authored works of the period.

A good reading knowledge of Italian is desirable, although a number of the works now exist in translation.

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.
  • 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').
  • 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, 2007. Donne, precettistica e lingua nell'Italia del Cinquecento: un contributo alla storia del pensiero linguistico. Florence: Accademia della Crusca, 'Introduzione: la precettistica al femminile', pp. 1-23.​
  • 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.
  • Wood, Sharon, 1995. Italian Women’s Writing, 1860-1994. London: Athlone Press (only chapters on 19th century).


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