‘Wretched’ and ‘humilated’? Writing agency into history

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Stefania Sandrelli as Agnese in the 1964 film ‘Seduced and Abandoned’

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

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‘Tell me, please, is it true that the city is a dangerous place for a good girl?’ Work, independence and leaving home for young women in 1950s Italy

The fotoromanzi, all Italians know, are about love, escapism and fantasy. Occasionally the stories take their readers to exotic locations like the American wild west, medieval Venice, ancient Rome or pre-revolutionary Russia where adventure and intrigue are added to the basic ingredients of romance and melodrama, but these are always at the centre of the story. What then might such magazines have to say about the opportunities, expectations and choices that young women had to face in the 1950s as they set about building their lives? I spent last week going through my notes on the magazines I’ve been reading, and putting my research together to write a paper for the Social History Society conference taking place next week. As I read back through my summaries of the stories and letters I found that the magazines actually had a surprising amount to say on the subject of work, career and leaving home as well as the more familiar themes of love, dating and marriage. read more

Worthless escapism or a part of history? Women’s magazines in 1950s Italy

I’ve been spending the last few weeks reading through women’s magazines from the 1950s, in particular an illustrated weekly called Grand Hotel, one of the biggest-selling fotoromanzo or photo-story magazines that such had great success in 1950s Italy. New technologies were making it possible to mass-produce magazines that heavily featured colour photography and illustration, and the fotoromanzi, with their unique blend of serialized, illustrated stories – always melodramatic and always about love – met with huge popularity in these years. Their highly visual nature also appealed to the less educated. Readers could also write into the magazine with their (mostly romantic) problems so that we get glimpses not just of what Italians were reading but also of what how it related to their own lives. They have been traditionally dismissed as rags read by rural southern women, not literate enough to read anything else and too poor or isolated to go to the cinema for their fix of escapist entertainment. read more