Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 280 Topics: Italian & Italian American Women Writers

Spring 2015


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

 Italian & Italian American Women Writers (WI)

Spring 2015

Tuesdays 9:30 – 12:00

Room 118



Dr. Stephanie Stella                                                                                Office Hours:

Office: Room 116                                                                                  By appointment            

E-mail: sstella@luc.edu                                                                          


Course Description

Literature 280: Italian and Italian American Women Writers is a comparative study of twentieth-century Italian and Italian American writers from different periods and geographic areas. The first writers, Dacia Maraini (born in Fiesole of mixed Florentine and Sicilian parentage) and Sibilla Aleramo (Milanese), focus on the lives of eighteenth- and nineteenth-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 decent, 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 nineteenth- and twentieth-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; the dynamic interplay of gender, politics, spirituality, and social mores in the formation of identity.


Learning Outcomes

At the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Identify the many differences between women and men who hail from different parts of Italy – Rome, Sicily, Tuscany – and different immigrant communities in the United States: Syracuse and Rochester, New York, and Chicago.
  • Ascertain the differences and similarities between women and men who shared a common national and religious heritage but lived in different societies, countries, and historical epochs.
  • Define what it is to be Italian, in contrast with Italian American.
  • Know why Italian American writers collectively decided to drop the hyphen and to reject the identity of hyphenated Americans.



  • Understand that gender cannot be considered except rationally. 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 eighteenth-century Sicily, Italian and Italian American women defy stereotyping.
  • Perform close readings of texts, both written and visual.
  • Write knowledgeably about the salient thematic and formal aspects of texts.
  • Distinguish among different literary genres and styles.
  • Recognize the hallmarks of texts from different historical periods.


Required Textbooks and Materials:

  • The Silent Duchess. Dacia Maraini. 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.
  • Occasional reading material posted on SAKAI, which is to be printed and brought to class on due dates


Films (in-class or from library):

  • Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
  • Un Viaggio Chiamato Amore (Based on Sibilla Aleramo’s Letters)
  • The Garden of the Finzi-Contini
  • Moonstruck
  • Big Night
  • The documentary And They Came to Chicago: The Italian American Legacy




  1. PARTICIPATION: 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.


In addition, to ensure the active participation of everyone, each week of the semester, students will be required to send a short two to three paragraph email to me. The purpose of this email is dual: to develop critical thinking skills and to engage in written analysis from the beginning to the end of the course.


  1. PAPERS: There will be two four to five page papers and a final exam. Both papers will be completed in draft form. While the first need only engage a single text, the second paper must be a comparative analysis of two or more texts. The topic for the second paper will be chosen in consultation with me.


I will provide specific guidelines for the papers well before they are due, as well as study questions for the essay-type final exam. All students, and especially WSGS students, are encouraged to incorporate ideas and texts from other disciplines in the composition of their essays.


Finally, all writings are due at the beginning of class; anything turned in later is considered late. Late papers may have their grades lowered by one grade (from A to A-); furthermore, papers submitted more than a week past the deadline will receive an F. So if you have an emergency or plan to absent, please contact me to make alternative arrangements for submitting your work.

            All essay assignments must be submitted to pass the course.


MLA: Please be sure that all of your papers’ sources are correctly cited in accordance with MLA guidelines and that all internal citations are linked to an alphabetized works cited page.



  • Class participation, including in-class and emailed writing assignments:     25%
  • Paper 1:                                                                                                25%
  • Paper 2:                                                                                                25%
  • Final Exam:                                                                                           25%