Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 280 World Masterpieces in Translation

Spring 2014

LITR 280 (INTS 280/WSGS 297/ROST 299)



John Felice Rome Center

Semester II, Spring 2014


Dr. Susana Cavallo




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 two American writers: Jerre Mangione, the author of Mount Allegro, the first recognized Italian American work about growing up in a Sicilian family in Rochester, New York; and Helen Barolini, of Calabrian American descent, also born in New York State, an editor, anthologist, narrator and feminist critic. Although both have written family sagas that are fictional autobiographies, there is little else in common between Mangione’s tragicomic memoir and the realist fiction of Barolini.


We will also study a series of films and documentaries that shed light on the socio-economic conditions and gender relations of 19th and 20th century Italians from Milan to the Mezzogiorno; and the social, political and economic ramifications of immigration and acculturation among Italian Americans from the turn-of-the-century to the present.


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 between 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’s18th century Sicily, Italian and Italian American women defy stereotyping.


To perform close readings of texts, both written and visual.


To write knowledgeably about 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.


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


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


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





There will be three short 3-4 page papers on a topic chosen by the student and a final take-home exam. The first two papers will be done in draft form. Guidelines for the papers will be provided by the instructor, as well as study questions for the essay-type final. All students, and especially WSGS students, are encouraged to incorporate ideas and texts from other disciplines in the composition of their essays. 



Each week, students must send the instructor an email with their personal reactions to the readings. The purpose of this exercise is dual: first, to ensure that they are doing the reading; second, to aid them informing their own interpretation of the texts.



Finally, a class is a community. Students will be 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 absences. Therefore, no more than one unexcused absence is permitted. Each additional absence will result in 5 points deducted from the participation grade.




Class participation, including weekly emails on readings:          20%

Papers:                                                                                       60%                                      

Final Exam:                                                                                 20%