Billiani, Francesca, and Gigliola Sulis, Eds. the Italian Gothic and Fantastic: Encounters and Rewritings of Narrative Traditions

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Billiani, Francesca, and Gigliola Sulis, eds. The Italian Gothic and Fantastic: Encounters and Rewritings of Narrative Traditions. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007. 243 pp. Cloth. ISBN 978-0-8386-4126-2.

This anthology is divided into three sections, the first of which comprises two chapters and deals with general critical underpinnings of the fantastic and the Gothic as contextualized in Italian literature. The second section includes four chapters and concentrates on nineteenth-century manifestations of these genres in Italy, while the final section, also of four chapters, deals with the female writers of the fantastic in the latter twentieth century, often neglected by critics despite their impact in Italy.

Francesca Billiani's "Italian Gothic and the Fantastic: An Inquiry into the Notions of Literary and Cultural Traditions (1869-1997)" outlines the purpose of the volume: the analysis of the Gothic and the fantastic in Italy during two key historical periods--the late nineteenth century and the second half of the twentieth century--in which foreign models in these genres allowed Italian writers to subvert contemporary literary realist paradigms and to center their works on disempowered and disjoined subjectivities. In the former century, these authors proposed the construction of identities alternative to the literary traditions of Manzonian realism and verismo. Another refusal of realist representation occurred in the latter twentieth century, when women writers of the fantastic employed the subversive potential of the fantastic and the Gothic to oppose hegemonic political and cultural forces as they challenged representations of gender in a patriarchical society by emphasizing not anxiety but pathos vis-a-vis the Other.

In his "Boundaries of the Fantastic," Remo Ceserani starts with Luigi Pirandello's definition of fantastic to draw several conclusions. The first refers to the difficulties created by the term itself, which raises problems of confusion between an overly limited Todorovian definition and an overly extended generic meaning. Secondly, Ceserani underscores the intrinsic connection between fantastico and umoristico, a constant albeit subtle element in canonical fantastic texts since E. T. A. Hoffmann. Lastly, he points out the importance of romantic irony, present in the best examples of nineteenth-century fantasy, on which the author focuses his attention. He attributes the fantastic's late appearance in Italy, on the one hand, to the particularities of an Italian romanticism that lacked the complexity and range of other European romantic literatures and, on the other, to the belatedness with which Italy faced the process of modernization, source of the genre for the critic. Ceserani posits that the fantastic of this period opposed themes of laceration and fragmentation to the bourgeois notion of a strong subjectivity and countered bourgeois laicization of society and positivism's glorification of reason with the rediscovery of the extraordinary and the exotic.

In "Anxiety Free: Re-Readings of the Freudian 'Uncanny,'" Monica Farnetti provides reflections on the responses of women writers of the fantastic to an uncanny event or encounter with an Other. Following the tradition of Dante's intellectus amoris, instead of Western rationalist intellectualism, the female fantastic in Farnetti's view portrays an embracing of alterity and a pietas for despised creatures, while simultaneously substituting a morbid curiositas with a more open cura. For instance, Farnetti points to the monster, the quintessential Other, as it connects to women, themselves traditional paradigms of monstrosity, and stresses that in the fantastic, women transform their relationship with the monster into a journey of learning and disjoin the experience of the uncanny from the sphere of anxiety. Even when anxiety remains, the heroine of the female fantastic often not only emerges unscathed but even empowered as a subject, with a greater self-awareness and a reinforced self-esteem. …