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Women and the Public/Private Divide: The Salotto, Home and Theatre in Late Nineteenth-Century Italy

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Abstract

The growing importance of the domestic salotto1 in middle-class and lower-middle class households in the decades following Italian unification occurred at a time when the social demarcation and gendering of public space was becoming a feature of the rapidly expanding and changing urban landscape of Italy’s principal cities.2 Although located within the private sphere of the home, the function of the salotto was to provide an area where approved visitors and selected guests could be welcomed and entertained. It was the most visible aspect of a reorganisation of the domestic space whose purpose was to separate out, and therefore heighten, the privacy of some areas of the home, while others, such as the salotto, reserved for entertaining, were designed with an eye for what they said about the family’s life style and socio-economic standing. It was not, of course, the only criterion used in the partitioning of the home: gender was another, with rooms such as the study, library, or smoking-room intended as male-only preserves.

Keywords

Department Store Dine Room Domestic Space Reception Room Conduct Book 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    See Ann Hallamore Caesar, ‘About town: the city and the female reader, 1860–1900’ Modern Italy, 7 (2002), pp. 129–41.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Matilde Serao, ‘Votazione femminile’, in Serao, Dal vero (Milan: Casa editrice sociale, Perussia e Quadrio, 1879), pp. 33–4. The piece first appeared in Il Piccolo, 2 August 1878. Serao herself was against women’s suffrage and the essay draws on a heavy and tedious irony.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Viv Gardner, ‘The invisible spectatrice: gender, geography and theatrical space’, in Maggie R. Gale and V. Gardner (eds), Women, Theatre and Performance (Manchester/New York: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 38.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Leonore Davidoff has written interestingly about the distinction between private and public brought on in part by its dual role as both an explanation of women’s subordinate position and as an ideology that constructed that position. And she warns that the distinction itself should be treated as a construct with its own long history. See Leonore Davidoff, ‘Regarding some “Old Husbands’ Tales”: Public and Private in Feminist History’, in her Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class (Oxford: Polity Press, 1995), pp. 227–49.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    According to Enrico Montecorboli in his essay ‘Salotti fiorentini’, in Giuseppe Conti, Firenze vecchia. Storia-cronaca-aneddotica-costumi (Florence: R.Bemporad e figlio, 1900), p. 216: ‘Politics … have usurped women from their throne’ Unification hastened other developments that were already under way: the spread of the press and in particular daily newspapers, for example, reduced the need for meeting-places. See Mariuccia Salvati, in Dianella Gagliani, Mariuccia Salvati (eds), ‘A proposito di salotti’, in Donne e spazio nel processo di modernizzazione (Bologna: Clueb, 1995), pp. 50–3.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See, for example, the salottino in Emilio De Marchi’s Demetrio Pianelli (1890) with its candelabra, velvet armchair and indispensable piano. Both Neera in her autobiography, Una giovinezza del secolo XIX, and Marchesa Colombi in Un matrimonio in provincia, cite examples of homes in provincial towns where the salotto, handsome though it is, is so rarely used that it has become a storage room.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Anna Vertua Gentile, Come devo comportarmi? Libro per tutti (Milan: Hoepli, 1899), p. 123.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Vita intima, 1, Milan, 3 January 1890. The author presents the periodical as providing entertainment for women who are at home in the evenings while their husbands are at the circolo. In a letter to Orvieto, Neera describes the journal in similar terms as: ‘made to provide varied reading for women whose lives are spent in the home, where everything that we usually talk about in a salotto among friends is included’ (cited in Antonia Arslan and Patrizia Zambon, Il sogno aristocratico: Angiolo Orvieto e Neera. Corrispondenza, 1889–1917 (Milan: Guerini, 1990), p. 63).Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Marchesa Colomba, ‘Silenzi d’amore’, in Marchesa Colomba, Care speranze (Milan: Chiesa-Guindani, 1896), p. 130.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Philippe Hamon, Expositions, Literature and Architecture in Nineteenth-Century France (Berkeley/Oxford: University of California Press, 1992), p. 4.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    This argument can be found for example in Roberto Bigazzi, ‘Narrativa e teatro’, in AAVV (ed.), Teatro dellItalia unita (Milan: Il Saggiatore, 1980),pp. 217–38. Emile Zola’s Le naturalisme au theatre (1881), where he argues that decor — stage-set, costumes, etc. — equates in importance with description in a novel, itself expands on a chapter in his Le roman experimental. All three of Italy’s major realists, Verga, Capuana and De Roberto, wrote plays as well as narrative fiction, although financial considerations may have outweighed aesthetic concerns.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Antonio Piazza, Il teatro, ovvero fatti di una veneziana che lo fanno conoscere (Venice: Costantini, 2 vols, 1777), reprinted as Lattrice, ed. by Roberta Turchi (Naples: Guida, 1984). A later example which is morally far removed from Piazza but carries the same ingredients (intrigue, travel to exotic countries, sex) is Regina Vivanti-Castelli, Lavinia (Florence: G. Barbera, 1878).Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Neera, Teresa (Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 1918), p. 96.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Examples of novels which take as their opening scene the theatre as a way of bringing together the protagonists and introducing them to the readers include Giuseppe Rovani, Cento anni (Milan: Garzanti, 1975), which begins in the stalls of the Regio Ducal Theatre in Milan, and Carlo Lorenzini, I misteri di Firenze. Scene sociali (Florence: Tip. Fioretti, 1857) which has a long, opening scene at the Pergola in Florence. In both cases it is Carnival time. Lorenzini, better known as Carlo Collodi, was for a time in the 1860s theatre critic for the Florentine paper La Nazione. For examples of stories that use the auditorium as a place of encounter, gossip and observation see Marco Praga, Storie di palcoscenico, ed. by Rodolfo di Giammarco (Rome: Luccarini, 1989) and Matilde Serao, ‘Palco borghese’, in Serao, Dal vero (1879), pp. 277–82.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Marchesa Colombi, La gente per bene (Turin: Giornale della Donna, 1877), pp. 167–8.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Emilia Nevers, Il galateo della borghesia. Norme per trattar bene (Turin: Biblioteca delle Signore, 1884) p. 4.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Cesare Trevisani, in his 1867 report on national theatre, Sulle condizioni della letteratura drarnmatica italiana nellultimo ventennio (Florence: Bettini, 1866), pp. 190–1.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Marchesa Colombi introduces her collection of short stories Serate dinverno (Venice: Luciano Segre, 1879) with a description of the tedium of life at home in the evening. It is a motif that recurs in other writings by her. She uses these occasions to point to the limitations of the middle-class family’s so-called ‘library’Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    LOnore in Giovanni Verga. Prove dautore, ed. by Lina Jannuzzi and N. Leotta (Lecce: Milella, 1983), p. 14.Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    See Marco Praga, La moglie ideale (1890), Act one, Scene one.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    In a letter Verga wrote to Pirandello in 1894, he claimed that theatre was inferior to the novel for reasons that included ‘the obligation to write not for an ideal reader as is the case with the novel but for a crowd of spectators where one has to think in terms of average intelligence and discrimination’ (Giorgio Pullini, II teatro in Italia. II Settecento e lOttocento (Rome: Ed. Studium, 1995), p. 242).Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    II teatro italiano, Vol. V, La commedia e il drarnma borghese dellOttocento, Vol. I, ed. and intro. by Siro Ferrone (Turin: Einaudi, 1979), p. xlv.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Alessandro D’Amico, ‘Il teatro verista e il “grande attore”’, in Alessandro Tinterri (ed.), II teatro italiano dal naturalismo a Pirandello (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990), p. 26.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (London: Methuen, 1984), p. 63. For an excellent analysis of theatrical space see Annie Ubersfeld, ‘Le theatre et l’espace’, in Lire le theatre (Paris: Editions sociales, 1982), pp. 139–81.Google Scholar
  25. 33.
    Alberto Manzi, ‘I teatri di musica’, in Marcello Vannucci (ed.), Firenze Ottocento (Rome: Newton Compton Editori, 1992), p. 119. A description of the refurbishment of the Pergola notes, however, that some social practices have been eliminated in the process: The old benches without backs have been replaced with the elegant little stalls that we have today. Boxes have lost their little rooms (salotti) where the ladies received visits and the men played cards. The caterer, who once used to take orders from ladies and gentlemen who wanted to mingle the pleasures of the stomach with those of the spirit, has disappeared.Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    Claudia Campanelli, ‘Le nuove strutture urbane e teatrali di Roma capitale’, in Beatrice Alfonzetti, D. Quarta and M. Saulini (eds), Granteatro. Omaggio a Franca Angelini (Rome: Bulzoni, 2002), pp. 172–3.Google Scholar
  27. 36.
    Silvana Monti, II teatro realista della nuova Italia 1861–1876 (Rome: Bulzoni, 1978), p. 118.Google Scholar
  28. 37.
    Giuseppe Giacosa, Come le foglie in Teatro italiano, Vol. IV, Eligio Possenti (ed.), II teatro della Nuova Italia (Milan: Nuova Accademia Editrice, 1962), p. 548.Google Scholar
  29. 40.
    Ibid., pp. 195–6. Another miscreant, Baron Eduardo d’Isola, is denounced by his mother-in-law and wife for allowing his mistress contact with his daughter. He agrees that this is unacceptable, arguing that it was not in his capacity to prevent it. His mistress is described in a letter as: ‘a very well-known woman who flaunts her depravity, and who comes every evening to the San Carlo theatre and sits in the second-class seats in front of your box’ (p. 146).Google Scholar
  30. 42.
    Franca Angelini and Carlo A. Madrignani, Cultura, narrativa e teatro nelleta del Positivismo (Bari: Laterza, 1990), p. 151.Google Scholar
  31. 43.
    Cordelia, II regno della donna, 7th edn (Milan: Fratelli Treves, 1890), p. 49.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2004

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