Loyola University Chicago

John Felice Rome Center

LITR 280 Masterpieces in Translation: Mediterranean Women Writers

Summer 2016 - Session II

LITR 280: Mediterranean Women Writers (WI)

John Felice Rome Center

Summer Session II, 2016

Dr. Susana Cavallo




A comparative study of 20th century women writers and filmmakers from diverse Mediterranean countries, historical eras and cultures. We will begin with The Little Virtues, a collection of short essays by one of Italy’s most prestigious writers, Natalia Ginzburg. These jewel-like pieces touch upon many of the principal issues in 20th century Italian society: the Mussolini dictatorship, World War II, and the effect of both on family life. Then, we will turn to the Catalonian writer, Mercè Rodoreda. Her novel, The Time of the Doves (1908-1983) treats the dramatic events leading up to the Spanish Civil War—the Second Spanish Republic, the war itself, and the Franquist dictatorship—through the eyes of a young working class woman from Barcelona. In addition to the novel, we will be viewing the film version of the work that came out in 1981, after the death of the Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, and during the re-birth of Catalonian culture, especially in Barcelona.


These authors will be followed by two contemporary women artists. First, we will study the haunting film, Household Saints, which presents the lives of three generations of Italian Americans in late 20th century New York City. This ground-breaking work, directed by Italian American filmmaker, Nancy Savoca, was adapted from the novel of the same name, by the successful American writer and professor, Francine Prose. Among the film’s many achievements—the depiction of Italian American family life, gender relations and spirituality—was its introduction of two young Italian American actors, who would go on to have successful careers in mainstream cinema: Vincent D’Onofrio and Michael Imperioli.


We will end with the most contemporary work, Sarah’s Key, by the French writer, journalist and screenwriter, Tatiana De Rosnay. Unlike Rodoreda’s novel and Savoca’s film—critical successes for a select public, Sarah’s Key, was an international best-seller that sold over 10 million copies and was made into a major film production, starring Kristin Scott-Thomas.  


Our task will be to see what these very different female artists have in common; and to analyze the role played by the complex geographies and cultures of the Mediterranean in the forging of their art.




To identify the many differences among women who hail from or inhabit different parts of the Mediterranean, and emerge from different socio-economic, educational, religious and cultural backgrounds.


To understand in basic terms the principal problems that face 20th century women in the Mediterranean and in traditional cultures in the US today—poverty, racism and anti-Semitism, institutionalized discrimination, sexual and physical abuse, gender stereotyping, forced migration, etc.


To understand that gender cannot be considered except relationally. In all the writers that we will study, female identity is fluid. Yet for all of them, the family is the central organizing principle. Religion, nationality, geography, whether rural or urban, religious belief—all are conditioned first and foremost by the specific family unit portrayed in the works.


To perform close readings of literary and cinematic texts.


To discuss orally and in writing the salient thematic and formal aspects of texts.


To distinguish among different genres—memoir, essay, novel, film.


To write convincing, argumentative essays.




Natalia Ginzburg, The Little Virtues

Mercè Rodoreda, The Time of the Doves

Film: La Plaça del Diamant (based on The Time of the Doves)

Tatiana De Rosnay, Sarah’s Key

Film: Sarah’s Key

Nancy Savoca’s Film, Household Saints




There will be three 2-3 page essays, as well as frequent in-class writing assignments. Students will also be required to write a bi-weekly email to the instructor, detailing their reactions to the readings and viewings, or relating the course work to their study abroad experience.


The final exam will be a 15-minute oral presentation on the day of the final exam, Friday, July 29. Directions for these assignments will be given by the instructor, but suffice to say that students will be encouraged to relate their own experiences to the class readings and viewings. A list of possible themes and related field trips related will be provided by the instructor.


Most important, a class is a community. Students will be responsible for attending all sessions, for coming prepared to discuss the materials, and for active participation. Only ONE excused absence is permitted. Each extra absence will result in a 10% lowering of the final grade.




Weekly essays: 30%

In-class writing assignments and bi-weekly emails: 20%

Oral Presentation: 20%

Class participation: 30%