Beauty Italian style : Gendered imaginings of, and responses to, stage divas in early post-unification literary culture

Mitchell, Katharine (2015) Beauty Italian style : Gendered imaginings of, and responses to, stage divas in early post-unification literary culture. Italian Studies, 70 (3). pp. 330-346. ISSN 0075-1634

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    Abstract

    In this article I argue that Bartky’s ‘fashion-beauty complex’ - a major articulation of capitalist patriarchy which seeks to glorify the female body, yet covertly depreciates it - gained momentum in Italian culture at the end of the nineteenth century through the emergence of the cosmetic industry and divas’ advertising of beauty products in women’s magazines. Through a close reading of the literary culture (reviews of divas’ performances in women’s and theatre journals, as well as realist fiction), I show that the discursive construction of the Italian diva in this period was gendered: though women writers demonstrate an awareness of, and take pleasure in the diva’s ‘beauty’, but above all celebrate her skills and talents as a performing artist, male writers - without exception - pass comment on the diva’s appearance over and above a critique of her performing skills. This would suggest that ‘the beauty myth’ – the idea that a woman’s value is determined by her appearance – was an integral component of divadom in late nineteenth-century Italy, and, for male journalists and writers, an even more important attribute than the diva’s acting or singing abilities.