Constructing and constraining the feminine: Fascist ideology and women's fiction in Italy

Date of Completion

January 1994


Literature, Romance|History, European|Women's Studies




In this dissertation I study discourses of gender in selected literary and historical texts. My dissertation concentrates on a comparison of women's fiction with Fascist prototypes to analyze if literary manifestations of women correspond to or conflict with Fascist models. I regard this to be a crucial but virtually unexamined area in Italian literature. Though a detailed study of such representative writers as Sibilla Aleramo, Anna Banti, and Alba De Cespedes, I will show how they developed models of female experience that opposed the Fascist ideal of motherhood which preliminary research suggests was the dominant cultural model.^ By means of propaganda, repression and censorship, Fascism exalted and perpetuated an image of woman as "exemplary wife and mother" in an effort to confine real women to socially-accepted female roles and behavior. Against this background of constraint, a discussion of alternative female models, as evidenced in these three writers, is all the more compelling. The response that Fascist ideology generates takes the form of women characters who do not share the image of female identity that it fosters. Moreover, my project will contribute to reevaluating the rather late development of the Italian feminist movement relation to other countries. The Fascist period determined to a large extent how Italian women participated in political life after the fall of the dictatorship in 1945. As a result, the 1970s neo-feminist movements in Italy can only be judged in relation to their rediscovery of turn-of-the-century feminism.^ In contrast to most studies on women and Fascism, which either present a generic critique not substantiated by textual evidence or entirely ignore Italian literature, my dissertation studies women's narrative production in Fascist Italy with the objective of arriving at a more accurate and thorough understanding of the different images of women these authors defended. Ultimately, my project will contribute to various academic disciplines by exploring the role of women as historical subjects in delegitimizing the dictatorship. ^