Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Love for Sale or That's Amore: (1) Representing Prostitution during and after Italian Fascism

Academic journal article Annali d'Italianistica

Love for Sale or That's Amore: (1) Representing Prostitution during and after Italian Fascism

Article excerpt

I. Da che il mondo e mondo: Shooting History's Gap

Elisa e riuscita finora a sgusciare tra le maglie, ma v'e cascata Chiccona, alla quale e stato rilasciato il foglio di via per Lucca, la sua citta; v'e cascata Ada, a cui il medico delle carceri ha riscontrato una sifilide di secondo grado--e Rosetta, veterana del mestiere, recidiva specifica, che si e cosi assicurata per sei mesi il vitto a Santa Verdiana. Insieme ad esse, numerose altre delle venturiere. E il pogrom delle prostitute, una calamita che si abbatte ad ogni cambiamento di governo, da che il mondo e mondo. Anch'esse come gli ebrei, sono esperte da secoli di persecuzione. Impercano appena, e non rinunciano. Giocano d'astuzia per sfuggire alla rete. Si deve pur mangiare, almeno una volta ogni ventiquattro ore, noi e chi ci sta sulle spalle! Le piU giovani e presentabili si decidono al gran passo che significa perdita di liberta, catene ai piedi, ugualmente come nel carcere. E il destino a cui Olimpia si e rassegnata gia da diversi mesi ... (2)

The pogrom of the prostitutes that appears toward the end of Cronache di poveri amanti (1948), Vasco Pratolini's epic novel set in 1925-26 Florence, underscores their integral presence in the novel. In addition to chronicling the lives and loves of the cornacchiai, as he calls the inhabitants of the novel's focal Via del Corno, located just off Piazza Santa Croce, Pratolini narrativizes the transition from early to second stage Fascism. The year 1926 was pivotal in the Fascist consolidation of the state, achieved throughout the 20's by such legal processes as multi-party elections, the promulgation of the leggi fascistissime, and finally the arrival in 1929 of the Rocco Code, the new penal code. In an ever fascistizing Italian State filtered through memory, prostitutes are a stand-in for all Italians: some evade the clutches of the state's strong arm, the police; others flee in exile; the captured socially miscreant serve prison sentences. While all this subdues public outrage over the immorality of prostitution, the menace to public hygiene cannot be contained. (One wonders just how many clients has Ada already infected.) But depicting the prostitutes as a vilified and persecuted social underclass does not suffice, for Pratolini distills out of their tale that persecuted archetype, the Jew. Historical particulars, Pratolini appears to say, hardly matter: "da che il mondo e mondo," since time immemorial, literally, since the time the world has been the world, when governments change, this kind of pogrom is sure to follow.

"Da che il mondo e mondo" betokens historical stasis. In these pages I address this glossing over of historical specificity and use it to reveal a curious lack of historical change or rupture in the representation of prostitution following Fascism. Such representation in Pratolini's novel illustrates one way in which the historical equilibrium implied by the locution "da che il mondo e mondo" takes shape. To sketch the outlines of this problem I examine the novel's use of prostitution both in relation and contradistinction to the Merlin Law, enacted finally in 1958 but introduced some ten years earlier. Indeed, Pratolini casts back much further in history than the experience of the ventennio for the root of the problem of sex for sale. Whereas following the ventennio the male subject was free to return to the customary liberties and entitlements of civil society (suspended or deprived by Fascism), the female subject was turned back to a social order that did not seek nor guarantee her emancipation. (3) A review of Cronache di poveri amanti in the light of the public discourse on prostitution helps lay bare the preferential treatment of male subjects in the new republic and thus interrogates the notion of a radical rupture from Fascist practice. Pratolini uses prostitution in this 1948 novel to articulate a relationship to politics; and prostitutes, prostitution, and the places of its transaction ideate Cronache's plot, character, and theme. …

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