Department or Program
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
It is no secret nor a provocative assertion that men’s voices, primarily white, European, have prevailed throughout history. These voices tend to represent the inventors, the geniuses, the colonizers, the conquerors, the artists, the poets, and other “winners” of history. They are voices so loud and so pervasive that they effectively drown out any evidence of an utterance made by a subordinate “other.” But just because these voices and their narratives have been suppressed by the persistent noise of dominant institutions of power and their associated discourses does not mean that these voices cease to exist and to matter. In fact, it has been the mission of many contemporary feminist literary critics, working in a variety of ways and drawing on a variety of discursive spheres, to identify, recover, and remember female and minority voices. Scholars who have made it their life’s work tread these texts within the context of a female literary tradition have found that women “have influenced one another and written for and against each other for centuries” (Marrone, 6).
Two such critics cited in this thesis are Adriana Cavarero and Leigh Gilmore; while Cavarero offers a feminist reading of classic philosophical texts and concepts, Gilmore explores the construction and perception of autobiography as a genre and the subsequent ways women have been both included and excluded from the literary discipline. Both scholars are chiefly concerned, in notably different and interesting ways, with the the concept of female voice. Extending the arguments of Gilmore and Cavarero to the world of Italian poetry, it is possible to recover strong, creative, and female voices that have been silenced for centuries.
Other texts and scholars referenced in this analysis will attempt to analyze the ways in which women have exercised agency, self expression, and political and social existence within genres that have traditionally disciplined forms of self-representation; in other words, this thesis will analyze not just what women are saying in their writing but also how they both work with and against conventional and disciplined forms in their attempt to offer life testimony. These texts, whether in the form of poetry or various types of autobiography, can and often have been for women a site of personal, social, and political resistance; in reading these texts with the objective of discovering a feminist voice, it is possible to identify and recognize moments in which Italian women, not merely and no longer passive recipients of oppression, actively reflect, anticipate, and create the various feminisms of their era.