Ottocento Italian Dive between the woman's stage and page

Mitchell, Katharine (2017) Ottocento Italian Dive between the woman's stage and page. In: Women and the Public Sphere in Modern and Contemporary Italy. Troubador, Leicester. ISBN 9781788038911

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Abstract

Studies in late nineteenth-century Italian cultural history during the last two decades have uncovered the gendering of writing and reading in this period, and elsewhere I have recently argued that the discursive construction of the Italian diva in relation to ideas of beauty was gendered (Hallamore Caesar 80-97; Re 155-200; Mitchell 330-46). Here, I demonstrate that realist fictional representations of dive – by which I mean female performing artists as dancers, singers, actors, etc.; the term circulated widely, and was used indiscriminately in print culture to refer to all kinds of female performers – were similarly gendered. While male writers’ representations are static and un-individuated (which was perhaps symptomatic of men’s (unconscious?) constructed fantasies and fears within a patriarchal and misogynistic culture at a time when women were beginning to emerge into the public sphere as writers, journalists, critics, and political activists), women writers re-imagine literary representations of “fatal femininity” in the figure of the diva to present less “fantastical”, more “realistic” images of femininities that bore a closer relation to the everyday experiences and lives of actual stage dive. Here, I posit that these female-authored re-imaginings can be understood not only a conscious strategy to undermine historical perceptions of “fatal” femininity in the Western male imagination, but also to readdress the somewhat inaccurate and one-dimensional portrayal of stage dive in a genre of literature that purported to document “photographically”, and in an apparently faithful, “realistic” way, an ‘authentic’ version of everyday life in late nineteenth-century Italy.