I’ve written before about the case of Franca Viola, the 17 year old Sicilian woman who in 1966 made huge steps towards ending the practice of kidnap and forced marriage in southern Italy. Kidnapped by her ex-fiancé Filippo Melodia in December 1965, she was held by him for a week before an extensive police search tracked them down. Melodia made one last desperate attempt to flee onto the rooftops of the adjoining houses with Viola before he was taken into custody. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking about dowries and trousseaus a bit lately. While the dowry was on the decline by the 1950s, most Italian women still married with a corredo or trousseau. Traditionally this was a collection of hand-sewn linens and typically included bed sheets and pillow cases as well as towels, napkins and table cloths. A girl might work steadily on her corredo throughout her adolescence. Sandro lived in a village south of Rome and met his wife in the late 1950s; he knew she was responsible and serious since she worked on her corredo each evening after a day’s work on the farm. This was before she had even met her future husband. In rural Tuscany, Laura listed in meticulous detail the items she had brought with her when she married in 1950; a blue cotton bed cover, four sheets, four pillow cases, one dishcloth, six towels, two night dresses and twelve nappies. The fact that she was able to remember the exact number of each item she brought more than thirty years later, is an indication of the value – practical and sentimental – that the corredo held for her. She had almost certainly sewn everything all herself and in the small sparsely furnished home than she and her husband shared in their first years of marriage, each of the items she brought would have been put to continual use. read more
Despite having probably hundreds of ideas that I meant to blog about I have written barely anything for this blog lately. Partly that’s because I’ve been busily writing up my research and trying to cobble together the first draft of a book manuscript. However as I begin to revise some of those chapters, I’m thinking again about how I approach the people I research and write about.
During the summer I spent some time researching and writing about honour crime and forced marriages in 1960s Sicily. I’m still hoping to blog about that research more soon. However at the moment I’m reflecting more generally on the Sicilian women I encounter in my research and how I can capture their subjective experiences in my writing. read more
My article: ‘Changing emotional landscapes? Grand Hotel and representations of love and courtship in 1950s Italy’ came out in Social and Cultural History earlier this year. Read it here.
My post on researching love in post-war Italy for the Notches: History of Sexuality blog can be read here.
I went to see La Grande Bellezza a couple of weeks ago, and meant to put up the review much sooner than this. Seeing that the film has just been chosen by Italy as the national candidate for Best Language Film at the 2014 Oscars, I figured it was still sort of timely.
After I’d seen the film, I remember leaving the cinema thinking that I liked it, even though I wasn’t entirely sure why. The film is a loud, sprawling epic about Rome, and Italy, with barely any plot; in a device that echoed Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, it follows Gep, an ageing writer who no longer writes, as he wanders around his city. read more
I was in Paris for a few days at the end of last month and took the opportunity to visit the grave of Piero Gobetti in Pere Lachaise cemetery. I wrote my PhD thesis largely on the figure of Gobetti and published my first book on the subject in 2011. The research for the PhD thesis and book involved spending much time in Turin where the young intellectual had lived most of his life, and I was even lucky enough to be able to study and research in his home and offices, where a research library and archive is now based. However I had never had the chance to visit his grave in Paris and had always been intrigued by the idea of his final resting place. read more
‘What do you imagine God to be?… God is nothing but a breath’. The sixteenth century Italian miller Menocchio’s words seem astonishing to the twenty-first century reader in their strength, coherence and imagination in conceptualising an idea of the world radically different to that of the strict Counter-Reformation Catholicism of his small Italian village. Menocchio came before the Inquisition because someone had finally reported him after long years of preaching his dangerous ideas to anyone in the village who would listen. He believed that God was in nature and the world rather than a sentient celestial being, rejected the immortality of the soul and thought the Church was deeply corrupt. It is his description of the creation of the universe using a metaphor drawn from everyday life – cheese-making and maggots – that gives the book its title and illustrates the deep thought and peasant-like earthiness that his words combined: ‘I have said that, in my opinion, all was chaos, that is, earth, air, water, and fire were mixed together; and out of that bulk a mass formed – just as cheese is made out of milk – and worms appeared in it, and these were the angels’.
The long transcript of his initial interrogations and trial as a heretic means that the workings of his astonishing mind have been preserved thanks – ironically – to the meticulous record-keeping of the Inquisition. However it is of course Carlo Ginzburg who uncovered his story, recognised its power and painstakingly reconstructed Menocchio’s mental and social universe, revealing the currents of thought and writing he encountered in his life in an effort to understand might have prompted him to form such radical opinions.
Books like Carlo Ginzburg’s ‘The Cheese and the Worms’ make me wish I was an early modern historian. Sometimes contemporary history feels just that bit too familiar and I am envious of the potential in a story like Menocchio’s to illuminate the social, cultural and intellectual workings of a world as distant as that of sixteenth-century rural Italy. It is of course to Ginzburg’s credit that he managed to do this with such skill and imagination, creating a new type of history writing – the micro-history – in the process. When Carlo Ginzburg spoke in conversation with Filippo De Vivo at the Italian Cultural Institute, London last week, he spoke at length about his long career as a historian from his research on witchcraft in the 1960s to his more recent time at UCLA. Hearing him talk about his own approach to research as well as the future potential of micro-history, I also began to think about the ways that I approach research and history writing in my own work. read more
The following advice was given to a reader of the popular Italian magazine Grand Hotel who wrote in 1955 with the pseudonym ‘Gone with the wind’, and it manages to capture in a few words, the complex meanings and expectations associated with love and marriage in 1950s Italy.
“It wouldn’t have been very nice of you to marry (the first man) just to have a comfortable life. As for the other one, if he really loved you and had serious intentions, he would be able to persuade his parents to break his obligation. Be careful then dear, (…) neither a marriage of convenience nor a clandestine relationship with a man who is engaged to another. You’ll be left with empty hands and a bitter smile.” read more
This Tuesday I went to the launch of Archivi della moda del novecento (Archives of 20th century fashion), a web portal that aims to gather Italy’s rich contribution to modern fashion together in one place. Information about designers and famous dress-makers, the clothes themselves as well as printed sources like magazines and catalogues are all there to browse through. So far the website is only in Italian, unfortunately, but it should still prove an excellent resource and hopefully an English version might follow at some stage
Listening to the talks by the various people involved in the project, I found the points it raises about public and private archives and what constitutes a national or shared cultural heritage, particularly interesting. read more