Literary and Epistolary Figurations of Female Desire in Early Post-unification Italy, 1861–1914

  • Katharine Mitchell
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History Series book series (GSX)


On 10 November 1889, the 18-year-old aspiring actress Antonietta Adamo from Naples wrote to the actor and capocomico Francesco Pasta (1839–1905) offering sex in exchange for work in his compagnia: ‘I am willing to do anything to get into your compagnia, anything… Look, I am down on bended knee, beseeching you, praying to you, begging with you, praying to you, in the same way as we pray to our Holy Father!…All young women long for is a husband, a social position. Me, nothing, nothing! I feel within me a genius that will be extinguished only when I die.’ She ends the letter by giving Pasta her home address and offering herself to him sexually: ‘I offer myself to you.’1 Such a bold proposition may come as no surprise from an actress in the context of late nineteenth-century Italy, where the social status of female performing artists was at best ambivalent in the eyes of priests, politicians and intellectuals. Though celebrated for their talents, female performers were by the same token regarded with suspicion by bourgeois society for behaving promiscuously according to the social norms of the day, as indeed some did.2 Hegemonic official discourse championed women’s ‘proper’ roles as mothers and wives, particularly following unification and the introduction of the Pisanelli Code (1865–66), which enshrined in law women’s subordination to men politically, socially and economically.3


Sexual Desire Romantic Love Italian Woman Professional Woman Woman Writer 
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.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 3.
    Pisanelli’s Civil Code, passed on 25 June 1865 under law number 2358, was enacted in 1866. On the Code’s introduction, see K. Mitchell, ‘La Marchesa Colombi, Neera, Matilde Serao: Forging a Female Solidarity in Late Nineteenth-Century Journals for Women’, Italian Studies, 63(1) (2008), 63–84, n. 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 8.
    See L. Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen, 16(2) (1975), 6–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Katharine Mitchell 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katharine Mitchell

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations