Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

From Myth to Revision: Female Novels of the Resistance

Academic journal article American Journal of Italian Studies

From Myth to Revision: Female Novels of the Resistance

Article excerpt

Renata Vigario's and Lalla Romano's fictionalized accounts of the Resistance period unveil both personal and collective female histories. For both writers, the novel becomes a vehicle by which remedy women's to marginalized status and to question official historical interpretation. While Vigano's L'Agnese va a morire and Romano's Tetro murato are very different from each other, each of them politicizes the private experience, focuses on errors of historical omission, and contributes to a revisionary view of a mythicized historical period

After the Libertation, a strong desire prevailed among the survivors and participators of the Resistance to recount and reconstruct that unique and disruptive period of Italian history. The task of narration was complicated, however, by questions of poetics arid politics. As Italo Calvino explains in his preface to II sentiero dei nidi di ragno "tutto il problems ci sembrava fosse di poetica, come transformare in opera letteraria quel mondo che era per noi il mondo." (1) The challenge before writers of Resistance accounts was the reconstruction of an accurate and complete documentation of the historical moment. In fact, much Resistance literature fails in the goal of relating experience largely because of the neorealist commitment to its political mission. As Lucia Re suggests in her of Calvino and neorealism, the commitment to portraying the meaningfulness of history in socialist or Marxist terms "all too often lapses into a didactic socialist realism or party propaganda." (2) Many Italian writers sanctify t he Resistance movement, portraying it as "a wholly necessary arid wholly positive rite of passage (from the juvenile politics of Fascisum to the mature politics of Marxism) not only for individuals but for the Italian people as a whole (Re 83). If Fascism represents the negation of human reason, the irrational use of violence, and the perversion of natural moral values, tire Resistance is the justified struggle to restore reason and morality (Re 88).

As a Resistance novel, it is the dual scope of Renata Vigano's much acclaimed L'Agnese va a morire to attempt to document and at the same time mythicrze the partisan experience Winner of the prestigious Viareggio Prize in 1949, the neorealist novel recounts the partisan-antifascist struggle in a narrative which alternates descriptive passages (quasi-documentary in nature) with the poignant semi-biographical account of one woman's con-tribution to a political ideal. In L'Agnese va a morire the protagonist, Agnese (whose character has a biographical base in a woman whom Vigano had encountered in her own participation in the partisan struggle), is an old, uneducated peasant who, in the course of the novel, undergoes a political but not a personal awakening. While the novel ends with the promise of a bright new Communist future for Italy, the outcome is not nearly so bright for the female heroine, as the title foretells--"L'Agnese va a morire."

Through her involvement in the Resistance movement. Agnese ultimately embraces what she understands to be Marxism. Her experience represents the mythicized Italian rejection of Fascism. Her morally righteous choices serve to symbolize the morality of the partisan struggle. But as a woman, Agnese's process toward the attainment of "autocoscienza." is never completed, for the protagonist does not grow to recognize the value of female difference but seeks to integrate into a patriarchal subculture constantly seeking validation from men. "Autocoscienza" the result of a process of the discovery and reconstruction of the self; the creation of the subject-woman, is founded in separation from, not in integration in, partmarchal society. (3) Hence, while the selection of a female protagonist may serve to highlight the indispensable role women played in the Resistance movement, a role which has been virtually forgotten by history, the propagation of a female myth is problematic. As a sacriticial mythical mother figure , the character remains fixed in a traditional female role, and the individual revolution cannot occur. …

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