Versions of a Feminine Voice: The Compiuta Donzella di Firenze

I have just had an article on the Compiuta Donzella di Firenze, the first woman to whom any poetry is ascribed in the Italian tradition, published with Italian Studies, the journal of the Society for Italian studies. Apart from the obvious researcher-joy of getting a piece through peer-review and out into the world (though I feel duty-bound to note that I have no horror stories of reviewer 2, all three of my readers were constructive and helpful in their comments), I’m particularly excited about this article for a few reasons.

Related image

A ‘Donzella Compiuta’ (4th from left) in Francesco da Barberino’s Documenti d’Amore

First, this project marks the start of a new direction of travel in my research, in which I focus on representations of feminine voices and female characters (I get into the particularities of that terminology a bit in the article, though it’s something I’ll gladly admit that I’m still grappling with, from a theoretical standpoint). These two categories include texts written by women and men, though the distinction between these authors is not straightforwardly one of authenticity versus inauthenticity. If anything, part of this work is allow the possibility of ‘inauthentic’ feminine voices into the works of early female writers in Italy, which have (especially in the case of the Compiuta Donzella, the first named-albeit pseudonymously-female poet of the Italian tradition) been reduced to simplistic, anachronistically post-romantic expressions of biography or true feeling by much past scholarship (though not in recent work by Justin Steinberg and Katherine Travers and some others). Those reductive readings of the Compiuta Donzella’s poetry were fuelled by a veiled misogyny, which could not allow a female author the same freedom of rhetorical flourish and artifice as a male writer. Something I counter in this article.

My second cause for excitement is that the Compiuta Donzella’s work is truly intriguing, rhetorically deft, and incisively ironic, poking fun at masculine literary tropes of suffering a the whims of an unresponsive beloved, by contrasting them with the social depredations suffered by women at the time. The wry critiques of her poetic and social context are part of what made me so keen to write about the Compiuta Donzella, and I really enjoy her poetry, a pleasure I hope comes across in the article. (I’ll be putting up some translations of the sonnets on thie blog soon so that any non-Italian speakers can get more of a sense of how the Compiuta Donzella’s poetry plays out, even if I can’t hope to muster her rhetorical fluency in translation). To see the Compiuta Donzella’s poems in their original manuscript, go to the Vatican’s digitized manuscript collection and view them on folios 129v and 170r of the Vatican Canzoniere (Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. Lat. 3793).

Last, but by no means least, Italian Studies has published a number of articles that have been really important to my research, so it’s really satisfying to see my work alongside that scholarship. And Here I want to repeat how positive the experience of publishing with them has been. The anonymous reviewers were constructive and helpful in their comments, even where critical, and the article is much stronger of their reviews, for which I’m really thankful (this has largely, if not entirely, been true of my experience of peer-reviewers over all, which speaks volumes of the kindness of (voluntary) academic strangers).

Here’s the abstract, so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, and I hope you enjoy reading it!

This article offers a detailed reading of the surviving sonnets of the poet known as the Compiuta Donzella di Firenze, paying particular attention to her performance of a feminine subject and critical engagement with common lyric tropes. A lack of biographical information about the Compiuta Donzella, the first woman to whom literary texts in the Italian vernacular are attributed, has led to speculation over her identity and ‘authenticity’, or to biographical readings of her texts. Acknowledging the same sorts of playful, ironic, and performative lyric subject and content in the Compiuta Donzella’s work that are commonly ascribed to other lyric voices allows us to appreciate the technical and thematic artifice in her sonnets. Comparative close readings of her surviving texts and some responses to them (by Guittone d’Arezzo, Maestro Rinuccino or Guido Guinizzelli, and an anonymous poet) provides a broader perspective on her work as engaged in active dialogue with the lyric context of thirteenth-century Italy.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00751634.2018.1402542

 

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