Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Lost in the Art(ifice) of Male Language: Finding the Female Author in Paola Capriolo's Il Doppio Regno

Academic journal article The Modern Language Review

Lost in the Art(ifice) of Male Language: Finding the Female Author in Paola Capriolo's Il Doppio Regno

Article excerpt


With its self-conscious intertextuality and thirty-year-old female narrator, Capriolo's Il doppio regno invites interpretation as a form of '.ctitious autobiography'. This reading emphasizes the novel's importance as an exploration of female authorial anxiety in relation to a predominantly male-authored canon. Focusing upon Capriolo's admiration for Gottfried Benn and his privileging of art as absolute, the article shows how women's alienation from language is dramatized through the depiction of a fantastic space. The protagonist's encounter with a labyrinthine hotel is also the author's encounter with a language that claims to speak for the universal subject, but in fact excludes the female.


The fictional output of Paola Capriolo (b. 1962) (1) is something of an exception on the Italian literary scene because of the difficulty of aligning it with any type of experimental postmodern narrative, the author's rejection of the label 'woman writer', and her unusual set of influences, drawn principally from the German philosophical and literary canon. Capriolo's work has attracted international interest, and none more so than her third book, Il doppio regno (1991). In this novel Capriolo employs a fantastic mode that prevents the reader from reaching a definitive conclusion about the outcome of the narrative, which has intrigued readers and critics alike. What has been overlooked, however, is that the novel also implicitly raises the phantoms that potentially haunt the contemporary female writer, and thereby emphasizes the continued need to pay careful attention to her precarious position in patriarchal culture.

Paola Capriolo has always complied with critics who make out the presence of a 'biblioteca paterna' in her background. (2) Although her father is a translator and literary man, I use the term 'biblioteca paterna' to refer to the wide range of canonical male literary influences often listed by Capriolo in interview and detected by critics in her work. This background provides a good example of how the female use of a male-dominated genre like the fantastic is affected by intertextual relations and expresses a female authorial anxiety. Two of the short stories in Capriolo's debut work, La grande Eulalia (1988), the title story and 'Il gigante', pointed towards a crisis in the definition of a space of female authorship, articulated through the fantastic treatment of physical and cultural space, in which both female protagonists are bewitched into a deadly performance of femininity over which they have no control. Her second work, the novel Il nocchiero, continued the more conventional theme of an earlier short story, 'La donna di pietra', in its male protagonist's desire to discover truth through his relationship with a woman, split between a 'donna mondana' (a term Capriolo uses to denote a woman focused on a banal, quotidian materiality) and an ethereal femme fatale. It was her third work, Il doppio regno, which returned to the female subject with a much more obvious autobiographical bent. Of all Capriolo's protagonists, the narrator of Il doppio regno is the only one who creates, rather than performs.

Il doppio regno is a first-person account in the form of a journal of the experiences of a young woman suffering from amnesia to the extent that she cannot remember her name. All she knows is that, after witnessing the approach of a tidal wave in the seaside resort where she was staying, she has sought refuge in a strange hotel in the woods, populated by an anonymous and impersonal staff of identical male waiters. In this hotel even the manager cannot direct her to the exit, nor does he seem concerned or able to explain many of the hotel's odder features, such as its lack of news from the outside world. The narrator's memories of her previous life are vague, coming in flashes and dreams, the real connection of which with her own past in an outside world she questions increasingly. …

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