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

By Susan Amatangelo | Go to book overview

4
Sisterhood

THROUGHOUT HIS WORK, VERGA PORTRAYS SISTERHOOD AS A DEFINING experience in the lives of women. References to the sister’s role in nineteenth-century literature and sociopolitical works reveal that her identity closely resembled that of the wife and the mother. Michelle Rosaldo explains that women ‘‘are conceived almost exclusively as sisters, wives, and mothers’’ since they ‘‘are given a social role and definition by virtue of either their age or of their relationship to men.’’1 Giuseppe Mazzini illustrates this idea by including the sister in his praise of those women who render life more serene: ‘’The Angel of the Family is Woman. Mother, wife, sister, Woman is the caress of life.’’2 Similarly, in Verga’s Tigre reale, a male character defends this type of woman from the barbs of his friends: ‘‘voi altri parlate come se non aveste né madri, né spose, né sorelle’’ (TR, 214; chap. 8) [you all talk as though you didn’t have mothers, wives, or sisters]. The sister, then, was also considered an Angel of the Hearth and, as such, expected to be chaste, nurturing, and submissive. Within the family unit, she often shared the moral and practical responsibilities of the mother whose role she would assume as an adult, whether in her family of origin, in her own family, or in another care-taking capacity. While possessing a positive cultural identity akin to that of the mother, the sister lacked the exalted social and symbolic status that motherhood provided. It is for this reason that, as both real person and literary subject, the sister has generated considerably less scholarly discussion than other female figures.3

The sister is defined also by her relationship with her siblings, male and female. In contrast to the relationship between parent and child, the relationship between siblings of the same generation typically remains central and constant throughout life; and though it may be hierarchical from early childhood, ‘‘siblings experience one another as part of a mutually interdependent system.’’4 Birth

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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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