What’s in a Name? Anonymity and Universality in Sibilla Aleramo’s “Una Donna”

By Carolyn Springer.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Una donna, the 1906 novel by Sibilla Aleramo, is recognized as a foundational text of Italian feminism. In this work, which marked the debut of the literary persona Sibilla Aleramo (nee’ Rina Faccio), none of the characters is given a proper name. It has been widely observed that the effect (and most probably the intention) of this technique was to render the novel more universal and to emphasize its paradigmatic, even allegorical nature. What has not been discussed is the systematic way in which the author foregrounds this stylistic choice by repeatedly gesturing toward a name and then withholding or erasing it. All the characters within the diegesis remain unnamed, even where this creates ambiguities of reference. In this paper I argue that the issue of naming illuminates a central ambiguity of the text: its problematic status as a fictionalized autobiography. The book -- a particularly influential experiment in women's life-writing -- is situated at the boundary of the genres of memoir and novel in part due to this unresolved
tension between specificity and universality.

Keywords: Italian Feminism, Autobiography, Narrative, Genre

The International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.141-146. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 502.930KB).

Prof. Carolyn Springer

Associate Professor, Department of French and Italian, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA

I received a Ph.D. in Italian language and literature from Yale University and am Associate Professor of Italian at Stanford University. My publications include The Marble Wilderness: Ruins and Representation in Italian Romanticism, 1775-1850 (Cambridge University Press); Immagini del Novecento italiano, coed. Pietro Frassica and Giovanni Pacchiano (Macmillan); and History and Memory in Italian Romanticism, ed. special issue, Stanford Literature Review. I have received fellowships and awards from the American Academy in Rome, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies/Villa I Tatti, the Ford Foundation, and the Fulbright Foundation. My latest book is Body Politics: Armor and Masculinity in the Italian Renaissance (forthcoming).

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