Female writers have often been ignored and forgotten throughout history. Students and staff of the Italian Literature and Cultural Studies program joined Dacia Maraini, a distinguished Italian writer, for a discussion on the history of female writers and the subject of their work in Oak Hall. Assistant Professor-in-Residence Tina Chiappetta-Miller moderated the discussion and provided a brief introduction to Maraini before she began her talk.
Maraini’s work has spanned over 20 novels and she had one of her works, “The Silent Duchess,” adapted into a film in 1997. She’s written over 60 plays that have been translated and brought to the stage around the world and is the recipient of many prestigious literary awards.
“I can easily say that Dacia Maraini is the most accomplished artist I’ve interacted with on campus… When the possibility of inviting her became concrete, the obvious answer was ‘Yes, absolutely,’” Philip Balma, the Undergraduate Director and Associate Professor Italian Literary and Cultural Studies, said.
The talk began with an introduction on the relationship between women and language throughout history, discussing how female voices have long been suppressed and how many women were illiterate.
The first group of writers Maraini covered were mystics, or people who had devoted their life to prayer and often experienced visions. The mystics Maraini discussed were nuns and frequently wrote about the Catholic Church and their religion. She brought up many examples like Saint Catherine of Genoa, whose writings were a dialogue between the soul and the body, which illustrated the relationship between the two, as opposed to the Church’s view that they are separate. As a result, the mystic’s writing was censored.
Maraini moved on to discuss other writers, like Isabella di Mora, an Italian poet who was forced to live in isolation in her family castle. The poet began a correspondence with a Spanish noble by the name of Diego Sandoval de Castro which was later seen as a threat to the family’s honor. This led to the murder of Isabella, Diego and the messenger between the two.
The last portion of Maraini’s talk was on courtesans, or upper-class prostitutes. She mentioned Veronica Franco, who was both a poet and courtesan. Maraini mentioned how many others gathered to discuss high literary compositions with Franco, to the extent that she had a brief relationship with Henry III, King of France.
Maraini opened up the floor to questions from the audience, some of which asked her about her background and work as feminist. She briefly discussed how her family was interned at a concentration camp in Japan during World War II and her experiences there. Maraini also presented her own views on feminism and how it’s less a question about gender, and more of a question about power. Maraini mentioned how the feminist movement had the idea of giving a consciousness to all women to be great. An individual woman who succeeds would be seen as an exception, as opposed to a group of women who succeed could be seen as a new norm.
“I really like the way she sees feminism… I also see feminism as not a difference between genders but it’s more of a way of approaching life, like evaluating biological differences instead of what we see as gender or what we see as historical differences which is not really what I see,” Monica Martinelli, a doctoral student in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies, said. “I see physical peculiarities that should be evaluated rather than being seen as superior or inferior.”
The audience praised Mariani for her dialogue that clearly left everyone with some insights they may not have expected to leave with.