Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 280/ INTS 280 / WSGS 297 / ROST 299 Italian & Italian-American Women Writers in Rome

Spring 2012


A comparative study of 20th century Italian and Italian American writers from different periods and geographic areas. The first two writers, Dacia Maraini (Florentine) and Sibilla Aleramo (Milanese), focus on the lives of 18th and 19th century women. The third, the noted post-World War II essayist, narrator and cultural critic, Natalia Ginzburg (born in Palermo but a citizen principally of Turin), treats themes as diverse as the family, human relations from childhood to old age, the clash between maternity and writing, and the Holocaust in Italy.

In the final part of the course we will examine the works of three American writers: Jerre Mangione, the author of Mt. Allegro, the first recognized Italian American work about growing up in a Sicilian family in Rochester, New York; Helen Barolini, of Calabrian American descent, also born in New York State, an editor, anthologist, narrator and feminist critic; and the Neapolitan-Lithuanian writer from Chicago’s West Side, Tina De Rosa. Although all three authors have written family sagas that are fictional autobiographies, there is little else in common among Mangione’s tragic-comic memoir, the realist fiction of Barolini and the postmodern lyrical novel of De Rosa.

Special emphasis will be given to the construction of the female and male subject; male-female relations; the intimate yet ambivalent ties among women—grandmothers, mothers and daughters, sisters and other female family members, lovers and friends—the relationship between creativity and sexuality; and the dynamic interplay of gender, politics, spirituality and social mores in the formation of identity.



  • To identify the many differences among women and men who hail from different parts of Italy—Rome, Sicily, Tuscany—and different immigrant communities in America: Syracuse and Rochester, New York City, and Chicago.
  • To ascertain the differences and similarities between women and men who share a common national and religious heritage but live in different societies and countries.
  • To define what it is to be Italian, in contrast with Italian American.
  • To know why Italian American writers collectively decided to drop the hyphen, to reject the identity of hyphenated Americans.
  • To understand that gender cannot be considered except relationally. In all the writers we will study, gender identity is fluid, dynamic and protean. Whether we speak of the powerful matriarch of the Barolini family or the silent duchess of Maraini’s 18th century Sicily, Italian and Italian American women defy stereotyping.
  • To perform close readings of texts.
  • To discuss orally and in writing the salient thematic and formal aspects of texts.
  • To distinguish among different literary genres and styles.
  • To recognize the hallmarks of texts from different historical periods.



The Silent Duchess. Dacia Maraina.Feminist Press, 2000. ISBN: 15581222X.

A Woman. Sibilla Aleramo. U of California Press, 1983. ISBN 0520049497.

The Little Virtues. Natalia Ginzburg. Arcade Publishing. ISBN: 1559700289.

MountAllegro: A Memoir of Italian American Life. Jerre Mangione, Syracuse University P, 1943, reprinted 1998. ISBN: 0815604297.

Umbertina. Helen Barolini. Feminist Press, 1999, ISBN 155861205X.

Paper Fish. Tina De Rosa. Feminist Press, 2003.  ISBN: 1558614397.

Films: Il gattopardo (The Leopard), Un viaggio chiamato amore (Based on Sibilla Aleramo’s Letters), The Garden of the Finzi-Contini, Big Night, and Moonstruck.



There will be a take-home, mid-term examination; five short 2-3 page papers on the texts;, as well as a final comparative 5-7 page paper. Dates for these assignments are indicated in the calendar; directions for each paper will be given by the instructor. All written work must be done in draft form. All students, and especially WSGS students, are encouraged to incorporate ideas and texts from other disciplines in the composition of their essays. 

Finally, a class is a community.  You are responsible for attending all class meetings, for coming prepared to discuss the materials, and for active participation. Remember: this class meets once a week. One missed class session, therefore, equals three classes! Therefore, no more than one unexcused absence is permitted. Each additional absence will result in a 5% lowering of the participation grade.



Class participation:  15%

Mid-Term:               15%

5 Short Papers:        50%

Final Paper:             20%



JFRC 305 (Tel: 306). W 1:30-4:30pm.  (Other hrs. by appt.)  Email: scavall@luc.edu  



Week 1            Movie:  Il gattopardo

Week 2            The Silent Duchess (9-112)

Week 3            The Silent Duchess, 112-end (First Paper Due)

Week 4           Movie: Un viaggio chiamato amore; Text: A Woman


Week 5            A Woman (Second Paper Due)

Week 6          Movie: The Garden of the Finzi-Contini

Week 7           Text: The Little Virtues

Week 8           The Little Virtues.

     (Take-Home Exam distributed)

Week 9           Mount Allegro 

Week 10          Film: Big Night, Text: Umbertina, (Fourth Paper Due)

Week 11          Film: And They Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy


Week 12          Umbertina

Week 13          Paper Fish, Part I-III

                        Film: Moonlight. Paper Fish, Part IV-VI, FINAL PAPER DUE.