Le Traviate: Suffering Heroines and the Italian State Between the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries
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In this chapter we will consider the relationship between what was considered the most successful operatic melodrama in the newly emerging nation state of nineteenth-century Italy, Verdi’s La traviata, first performed in 1853, and a 2012 film addressing the theme of the suffering female and the doomed romantic relationship in the context of prostitution, Un giorno speciale (Francesca Comencini). In the first section of this chapter, we examine the extent to which this trope gained significance through operatic melodrama and discourses surrounding prostitution in the late nineteenth century, and what its possible effects were. Then we will look at the way in which recent discourse about prostitution is mediated through the trope of the suffering (girl) heroine in Un giorno speciale, a film addressing the recent events in Italy. We suggest that re-reading these texts together enables us to see beyond the suffering prostitute heroine’s apparent reduction to cypher, and towards her potential to open up questions about structural inequalities within the body politic. We argue that Comencini’s self-conscious recycling of the trope is typical of a new engagement with the girl figure as a ‘suffering actor’, identified by Anita Harris and Amy Shields Dobson as a trope for overcoming the dichotomy between agency and victimhood in the post-girl power period.