From Silence to Voice: Penelope's Feminist Odyssey in Italian Literature

Serena Alessi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis focuses on the figure of Penelope in Italian literature. It aims to demonstrate, through the close reading of a number of literary texts spanning from the end of the sixteenth century to the twenty-first, that she is the bearer of gendered meanings both after and before the feminist readings of her figure. Traditionally Penelope has mainly been represented as a mere chaste and patient housewife; in the Odyssey, however, she is denoted as ‘wise’ and proves to be able to deceive men and to cleverly subvert the silence that they impose on her. The works examined in this study concur with this Homeric representation of Penelope, adapting it over time. After an introduction dealing with the character as presented in the Odyssey and in the post-Homeric tradition, the first chapter is dedicated to the contemporary feminist thinking that has promoted the idea of Penelope as a gender symbol; this sets the theoretical framework in which the representation of Penelope will be analysed. The second chapter reconstructs the extent to which an engendered Penelope can be traced back in the Italian tradition well before the insurgence of feminist theories. The last two chapters focus on texts belonging to the second half of the twentieth century: the former investigates Penelopes who claim equality with Ulysses, while the latter explores those able to acknowledge their difference and to express it through their own voices. This is the first critical work comprising an extensive overview of Italian literary reinterpretations of Penelope in the light of post-sixties feminist theories. With her path from an imposed ‘silence’ to an independent ‘voice’, Penelope will appear as a complex female figure who resists any attempt at labelling.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Jossa, Stefano, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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