Vai alla Homepage del Portale di Ateneo Curriculum Italian Studies Second cycle degree/Two year Master in European Literary Cultures, Linguistics

Senior Seminars by Helena Sanson (University of Cambridge, Clare College)

Conduct Literature for and about Women in Early Modern Italy

from 06 December 2018 at 11:55 to 13 December 2018 at 12:00

Aula Serra Zanetti, via Zamboni 32

                                      December 6th, 2018 - December 13th, 2018

                                                                   3 - 6 PM

                                      Aula Serra Zanetti (II floor), via Zamboni 32

A vast production of conduct literature for and about women developed in Italy from the 16th century onwards, aiming to define women’s behaviour and their role in the family and, more in general, in society.

We shall explore the richness and variety of this production, identifying its main features – in terms of structure and content – as they emerge from the writings of better and lesser known writers and moralists of the time.

The main focus will be Italy, but students are encouraged to extend their investigation into this literary production to other linguistic and cultural traditions, based on their interests. Anthropologists and sociologists have pointed out how different cultures, across the world and across the centuries, “systematically designate a certain kind of woman as the object of desire” and how “the production of specific forms of desire has created and maintained specific forms of political authority” (Armstrong – Tennenhouse, The Ideology of Conduct, 1987). The ideology ideas about women was inherited from biblical scriptures as well as from classical and medieval writers and philosophers. Treatises on conduct consider and classify women within the tripartite structure of ‘virgin / wife and mother / widow’ and discuss their roles in relations to their male counterpart. Conduct books are one of the means European culture has created and developed in order to express and regulate desire, and the feminine ideal promoted by these works therefore embodies specific (and evolving) forms of social and cultural desire which in turn help to maintain a certain well-defined political order and power. With their overt claims to ideological authority, in their prescriptions and descriptions of the roles, duties, and behaviour of women–in relation to men–in their different ranks of life, works of conduct contribute significantly to the cultural construction of femininity and constitute a very useful resource to reconstruct and explore the emergence of modern conceptions of gender, as well as national and class identities, and to assess the historical interrelations of gender ideologies with other types of discourses, whether literary, political, religious, or scientific.

Feminine models of behaviour outlined and described in conduct books will be examined against the reality of women’s everyday condition. The discussion will also touch upon the rich production of works, treatises and dialogues, on the superiority and inferiority of women vis-à-vis men, the so-called Querelle des femmes, which, in Italy as in the rest of Europe, aimed to defend the female sex from the misogynistic accusations of their detractors, claiming and upholding instead women’s moral and intellectual superiority to men. The first session will also focus in particular on a case study, that is, Annibale Guasco’s Ragionamento (1586) written by a father for his young daughter of Philip II of Spain and wife of Duke Carlo Emanuele I of Savoy – at the court of Turin.