In general, women are known to be more creative than man, and this is reflected in all creative mediums. Today, we observe a growing number of female authors, especially in the autobiography genre. The autobiography genre raise questions about self knowledge and the process of creating literature inspired by life events. This specific genre can be generally defined as an exploration of one’s selected life experiences. In women’s life writing, the self, the development of knowledge is particularly problematic. Women’s roles and circumstances have changed radically over the years, therefore, women writers have had to construct their own versions of femininity, their own design in opposition to generations of male portraits. Women’s writing in the Italian literature is very complex. It’s a way for those women to discover themselves through the act of writing. It also involves literal and emotional wandering, exploration. For Aleramo, it was to escape her abusive marriage and confront the lost of custody of her son in her book A Woman, also knows as “Una Donna”. And for Banti it was the complex relationship between history and the feminine character in her work Artemisia. All of these heroines became either a famous writer or painter and fled female stereotypes. In order to understand this female perspective writing, we must take into consideration a quote by the critic Sharon Wood in Italian Women’s Writing: “women’s creativity is marked by a sense of loss, division and fracture” (123).
My own interest of Italian women writer has leaded me, till now, to the reading of two authors, Aleramo and Banti. Aleramo is known as the first Italian feminist writer and her autobiography novel A Woman denounced her oppression by a jealous husband who had raped her when she was seventeen. She also emphasize on the traditional mentality that was reigning in the bigoted Southern Italian society which considered literate women deviant or whores. Whereas, Anna Banti is moved to write through her contemplation of the painful solitude of the modern women desiring to engage in a free and original activity but faced with the challenges of a society that has invented innumerable pretexts to deny her the time and space, and other requirements for the development of her talent. In her novel, Artemisia, which consists of the interwoven recollections of author, narrator, and protagonist as it narrates the life story of the sixteenth-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi. Banti blends together historical facts with speculation and invention, as she portrays Artemisia’s struggle to create an identity in a world that literally has no name for what she is.
Both of these women writers have created heroines that defy female stereotypes and their writing poses as much groundbreaking questions as their lives. Therefore, we can agree with Sharon Wood and say that their writing, their creativity is “marked by a sense of loss, division and fracture”.
History has shown the importance of regional traditions in the Italian society, but also how much women were suffocating under them. Women have been bound to traditions for centuries. Both authors, Aleramo and Banti prove with concrete examples the weight of the traditions on the destiny of women in Italy. Aleramo in A Woman describes how Italian women, outside the domestic sphere, had been silent for centuries and had no legal rights. The protagonist takes the example of her own mother who was trapped in an unhappy unfulfilling marriage, with punitive paranoia. However, she could not divorce her husband because a woman had only two choices to leave her husband, suicide or insanity. As we know, the mother first chooses the option of the suicide “…she had tried to kill herself…” (Aleramo-32). The fear of ending like her mother in an asylum, the narrator/protagonist breaks the chain of centuries of female suppression by fleeing an abusive marriage. Banti in Artemisia, show how Artemisia, even after her disgrace was bound to the patriarchal oppression; how her father forced her to marry Antonio to restore the honor of the family even after the public trial “you’ll have to get married…” (Banti-32).
Both protagonists find their creativity in their actions, by challenging the tradition. In Aleramo’s case, the creativity came with the break up from previous maternal models as she leaves the family. Aleramo’s protagonist abandons her husband and her son in order to follow her destiny. This act in itself was a way for Aleramo’s protagonist to find herself and at the same time, to find the creativity that was a necessity for her to pursue her dream. By leaving the family, she left the patriarchal oppression of her husband which had a tragic effect on her but also the mentality that stipulates that women were demonstrated to be insufficient and rejected “When I was away from them I would realize that I couldn’t live without my family” (213) . In Artemisia, the protagonist leaves also her husband to pursue her dreams. Therefore, we can say that both books are the scenes of struggle for freedom, for liberty. Struggle to pursue their dreams, to find creativity.
Not only the narrators/protagonists break up with the tradition, they went beyond the boundaries. In Aleramo’s case, she went to the extreme, she changed her name. The name change from Rina Pierangeli to Sibilla Aleramo is significant for the birth of both the writer and the independent woman. Importantly, with A Woman, Aleramo renounces both the father’s and the husband’s names, opting for a prophetic and poetic name, giving to her by a man. As we know, the passage to the new name marks the passage to personal creative writing and opens a new period in Aleramo’s life. The loss of the name coincides with birth in literature.
As the story goes on, we can see that Aleramo’s protagonist refashions herself by becoming a writer through difference circumstances. Writing leads to the rebirth for Aleramo’s heroine “I had never before felt that I had such resolute powers of expression, such an acute gift of analysis” (106) and eventually enables her to separate from the patriarchal oppression of which she was victim “Should I join in the collective endeavors of the human race, the only thing that gave life and dignity? Should I use my resource in this way to gain some peace of mind?…(106). Whereas, in Banti’s novel Artemisia, painting is the only thing that leads to the rebirth of the protagonist. In real life, BaniТs battle to be recognized for her own merit is in search for self-discovery and self revelation.
In order to “create”, Aleramo’s heroine had to face a multitude of obstacles. Throughout her book, the narrator/protagonist talk about the problem of being both, a mother and having a career at the same time “Should I use my resources in this way to gain some peace of mind? Or should I resign myself to a life without happiness, losing everything that might make my son respect and love me?… (106). But also, looks as the role of “a good mother” (113). From her perspective, a good mother “must be a woman, a human individual.” (113). She thinks and qualifies motherhood as an institution, but really emphasize on the difficulty of successfully combing motherhood with a career. For Aleramo’s heroin, it’s her biggest problem, and she has to make a decision. She has to choose between playing the role of a mother or having a writing career.
Banti’s heroine, Artemisia finds her salvation in her painting. To be able to find it, she has to go through dramatic psychological suffering and painful solitude. Living a widow’s existence “I took a certain pleasure in behaving like a widow” (39), far from her merchant husband who will later request dissolution of their marriage in order to wed a native girl from the West Indies, Artemisia devotes herself exclusively to her career as an artist, remaining firm in her intimate need to create, even at the price of unpopularity and loneliness. Artemisia had to accept the woman-artist’s punishment.
Aleramo’s and Banti’s heroines had to challenge social, moral and legal conditions of Italy in which they lived. Both, Aleramo’s and Banti’s heroines are the protagonists who strongly challenged the social, moral and legal condition of the old Italy by defying traditions, norms and the values that were observe at that time in order to find their own creativity. They both lived in their own persons the anguish of the female condition.
Both women lived in an Italy which the condemnation of women’s oppression is accompanied by a lucid analysis of social and family structures which underpin the stability of the dominant order and keep women in their allotted roles. Both heroines were challenged in a society that had invented innumerable pretext to deny their talents. Therefore, we can see that Aleramo’s and Banti’s heroine’s creativity are really marked by a sense of loss, division and fracture.