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

By Susan Amatangelo | Go to book overview

5
Fatal Womanhood

VERGA PORTRAYS THE WIFE, THE MOTHER, AND THE SISTER IN IMPLICIT comparison to the Fatal Woman, a female type that opposes the generally altruistic and nurturing values of the Angel in the House. Her seductive allure, first exhibited by biblical and mythological figures, naturally engaged the imagination of nineteenth-century bourgeois society, whose preoccupation with work, routine, and progress left a void, an unconscious longing for excitement.1 The Fatal Woman also expressed patriarchal society’s apprehension regarding change. As women began to articulate their needs and desires, and, however slowly, to acquire more rights, men experienced anxiety about their own potential loss of power and decline in status.2 The unconventional woman posed a threat to individual, familial, and social stability by challenging the values upon which bourgeois society was constructed.3 Female chastity, for example, was one way to guarantee a family’s control over its assets and bloodline: ‘‘Thus, any woman who initiates courtship, or any wife who unconventionally enjoys her sexuality, becomes a threat to the inheritance system; she is ‘ruined’ economically, ‘fallen’ in the scale of social values, and ‘abnormal’ in the sense of acting in an antinormative manner.’’4 A dichotomy existed, though, between the myth of the Fatal Woman, a construct of male desire,5 and the reality of being a woman in the nineteenth century. As in the case of her antithesis, the mother, the power of the ‘‘dangerous’’ woman was more symbolic than real. While, in Italy, the condition of women was discussed at both national political assemblies and international congresses, it was not until 1919 that women received full legal rights.6 In the meantime, the new Civil Code of 1865 further emphasized the subordinate condition of women by denying them the right to work in the public sphere and reaffirming their role as wife and mother.

In the nineteenth century, then, society and culture conspired

-143-

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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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