Not so long ago, it was a commonplace that there was no cultural representation of lesbians or queer women in Italian literature. Recent research has shown that there are many texts which offer compelling narratives of queer women’s and girls’ experiences. This talk will offer a brief overview of how the representation of desire between women developed in Italian literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It will then focus on the work of Marise Ferro (1907-1991), an author and translator who published several short stories and novels during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s which represent queerly desiring girls and women. As far as we know, Ferro was the only woman writer in Italy to revisit the topic so many times in this period, despite being threatened with censorship during Fascism. Her depictions of young women’s struggles with pathologizing discourses are riven with ambivalent tensions, and often focus on a sense of corporeal abjection and isolation; however they are also tenacious survivors. Her protagonists are compared with those of some French and English novels published in the same period (Radclyffe Hall, Jeanne Galzy) with a focus on the strategies deployed by these queer subjects to carve out a liveable space for themselves in a hostile textual and socio-cultural context.
Charlotte Ross studied Combined Honours English and Modern Languages at Newnham College, Cambridge and for a Master of Studies in Modern Languages at Balliol College, Oxford before completing a PhD at the University of Warwick. She is currently Reader in Gender, Sexuality and Cultural studies at the University of Birmingham, UK, where she is also Head of the Department of Modern Languages. Her research focuses on how bodies, gender and sexuality are understood, constructed and represented in socio-cultural contexts. She is author of two monographs, Primo Levi's Narratives of Embodiment: Containing the Human (Routledge, 2011) and Eccentricity and Sameness. Discourses on Lesbianism and Desire between Women in Italy, 1870s-1930s (Peter Lang, 2015). She has also published numerous articles and chapters, and co-edited several books and journal issues, including the volume In corpore: Bodies in Post-Unification Italy, edited with Loredana Polezzi (Fairleigh Dickinson, 2007) and the special issue of gender/sexuality/Italy on 'Queer Italian Cultures' (2019), edited with SA Smythe and Julia Heim. Her work has been funded by the British Academy, the Leverhulme Trust, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council. She is Senior Co-editor of the journal Italian Studies. Her current research project, in collaboration with Silvia Antosa, is entitled ‘Cultural Discourses on Desire between Women. A Queer Comparative Analysis’, and explores literary narratives of queer women in Italy, France and the UK in the 1920s-30s.
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