Figuring Women: A Thematic Study of Giovanni Verga's Female Characters

By Susan Amatangelo | Go to book overview

1
Adolescence

IN HIS PORTRAYAL OF FEMALE DEVELOPMENT, VERGA GIVES PARTICULAR attention to the passage from girlhood to womanhood. Adolescence, as defined by Patricia Spacks, is the moment in life when young people prepare to take their place in society and, thus, search for ‘‘the right relation between the individual consciousness and the world outside.’’1 The process was particularly challenging for female adolescents in the nineteenth century, who were prohibited from participating in the public sphere and conditioned ‘‘to orient themselves towards the needs of others: a denial rather than a resolution of conflict.’’2 Young women in Italy had few options as they approached adulthood; they could marry, take religious vows, or, possibly, remain in the family of origin in a caretaking capacity. Their ‘‘choice’’ was made in accordance with their circumstances and the wishes of their family. While some women may have desired to lead a domestic or religious life, the fact remains that they were confined, literally and figuratively, to the private sphere. Since it was presumed that girls would grow up to be nurturers, schooling was not considered essential to their upbringing.3 Where it existed, formal education focused on religious subjects or, in the upper classes, on ‘‘practical knowledge, etiquette, social graces, and the art of self-presentation,’’ useful tools in attracting and pleasing a husband.4 In school, at home, and in church, girls were taught to be chaste, caring, and obedient; to emulate the Virgin Mary, the nineteenth-century role model for women of all ages.5 Verga represents the poignancy of this phase, when young women abandon their girlhood dreams and face the reality of life as a woman, a life that limits their opportunities for growth and inhibits their selfexpression.

While many of Verga’s novels and short stories feature adolescent heroines, few explore, in depth, the process of growing up female. In three novels that span his career, I Carbonari della

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Figuring Women: A Thematic Study of Giovanni Verga's Female Characters
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Author’s Note 9
  • Introduction 11
  • Abbreviations 17
  • 1 - Adolescence 21
  • 2 - Marriage 44
  • 3 - Motherhood 71
  • 4 - Sisterhood 102
  • 5 - Fatal Womanhood 143
  • Conclusion 172
  • Notes 177
  • Bibliography 197
  • Index 204
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