Unmanned territories : contemporary Italian women writers and the intertextual space of fantastic fiction
Thethesis examines how somewomen writers of fiction relate to the question of literary tradition in the 1980sand 1990s. Contemporary literary practice appears to be dominated by postmodern anxiety about a state of 'late arrival' as writers. I wish to explore how womenwriters' experience of the weight of literary predecessors is affected by their different subject position. I chooseto site this study within the area of fantastic fiction for several reasons. The fantastic tradition in Italy was largely overlooked by the critics until the 1980s- a factor which has exacerbated the neglect ofwomen's contribution to it. More importantly the fantastic is now vaunted by contemporary criticism as an area conducive to transgressive challenges to traditional literary practice, particularly for women writers. At the same time, however, the traditional tropes ofthe predominantly male-authored canon of fantastic literature offer a problematic and challenging range of gender stereotypes for female authors to 'rewrite'. I choose to focus on the notion of space both literally and metaphorically in the development ofthis thesis. In the opening chapter I tease out the threads which connect space, Italianwomenwriters and the fantastic. I beginby showing that the fantastic itselfis often construed spatially as a genre and offers potential for spatial innovation. This suggests a subtler way of looking at womenwriters' use of literary models, which avoids falling into simplistic analyses of gender portrayal. I then outline the position of womenwriters in Italy in relation to the genre ofthe fantastic. I suggest that the missing sense of a womenwriters' tradition in this genre maybe one reason whythe fantastic is used to explore self-consciously the relation betweenthe female writer and the male authored text. Finally I showhow the fantastic offerswomen a space in which to re-write, namely through their manipulation ofthe literal and metaphorical spaces ofthe text. The following two chapters execute this study with close reference to texts by four authors. The second chapter is dedicated to the early fiction ofPaola Capriolo whoseexperience ofliterary tradition as a particularly claustrophobic space inspired this thesis. I agree with the widely held viewthat her use of a Gothic-oriented fantastic, which privileges a world of enclosure in labyrinthine interiors, reflects a typically postmodern anxiety about the end ofliterature. I argue howeverthat the anxiety ofthe writer's relation to literature is more closely linked to her identification with a predominantly male literary tradition. This gives her writingsome interesting links with muchearlier examples ofwomen's writing. It also provides an interesting springboard from whichto look at the treatmentof similar themes of enclosure in work by other women writers. The final chapter follows the emergence of new models ofthe fantastic in the work ofthe writers FrancescaDuranti, RossanaOmbres and Laura Mancinelli. I suggestthat in their work we see a contemporary use ofthe fantastic 'al femminile' which juxtaposes the external space with the internal space, giving rise to the recurrent motifoftravel. I argue that this use of the fantastic genre pushes the genre in a new direction, towards a space in which the internal fantasy and dialogue co-exist.