Always preferring to be called a feminine rather than a feminist writer, Alba De Cespedes, once considered the Italian Simone de Beauvoir, has often been misrepresented by Italian literary historians, who have played down the subversive quality of her work by considering it mere narrativa di consumo (pulp fiction). After her first short stories, published in several Italian newspapers, she wrote Nessuno torna indietro (1938), a novel soon censored by the Fascist regime because of its subversive depiction of female emancipation. With this story of five young women who live in a Catholic student residence, and then leave it in order to pursue their different destinies, all doomed by the many constraints imposed by a gender-biased establishment, De Cespedes began her lifetime investigation of the Italian con-dizione femminile. Dalla parte di lei (1949) is the memoir of Alessandra, a
Woman convicted for murdering her husband. Women’s rage, solitude, and sense of impotency are expressed through the angry words of the protagonist, who interprets her husband’s sleeping posture, ‘‘with his back turned,’’ as the unbearable symbol of male indifference and hostility to her own sex. Quaderno proibito (1952) takes the same perspective in a different direction, presenting, through the secret diary of a middle-aged, middle-class housewife, the grim reality of wifehood and motherhood. Valeria’s awakening to her subjugated position painfully ends with an ominous act of withdrawal from the empowering act of writing, because ‘‘every woman hides a black notebook, a secret diary, and every woman must destroy it.’’ While Valeria rejects a barely perceived independence, Irene, the protagonist of Prima e dopo (1955), achieves it only at the expense of her own happiness. Her lonely but emancipated condition makes her the forerunner of the protagonist of Il rimorso (1963), Francesca, the woman writer who defies paternal hegemony by abandoning her domineering husband and daring to take up the pen in order to authorize female creativity: it is only through her final assent that Gerardo, the presumed collector of the many letters and diary entries of which the novel is made, overcomes his writer’s block by acting as their editor. With La bambolona (1967) female empowerment takes a less feminist path: oriented by a male perspective, this novel portrays women as inherently cunning and deceptive. Nel buio della notte (1973), first published in French and then translated in Italian, marks De Ce´spedes’ definitive abandonment of the feminist cause, describing the many events occurring to a series of characters during a Parisian night.
See also: Diary and Epistolary Novel; Feminist Novel.
Bibliography: Nerenberg, Ellen. ‘‘ ‘Donna proprio. . . proprio donna’: The Social Construction of Femininity in Nessuno torna indietro.’’ Romance Languages Annual 3 (1991): 267–73; Vitti-Alexander, Maria Rosaria. ‘‘Il passaggio del ponte: L’evoluzione del personaggio femminile di Alba de Ce´spedes.’’ Campi immaginabili: Rivista Quadrimestrale di Cultura 3 (1991): 103–12; Car-roli, Piera. Esperienza e narrazione nella scrittura di Alba de Ce´spedes. Ravenna: Longo, 1993; Lombardi, Giancarlo. ‘‘Fuga dallo sguardo: Panotticismo e fallocrazia in Quaderno proibito e Il rimorso.’’ Igitur 6, 1 (1994): 103–21; Nerenberg, Ellen. ‘‘Alba de Ce´spedes.’’ In Italian Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Rinaldina Russell. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. 104–10.