Sibilla Aleramo

Sibilla Aleramo (pseudonym of Marta Felicina “Rina” Faccio; 14 August 1876 – 13 January 1960) was an Italian author and one of the most important Italian feminists of the learly 20th-century.

Sibilla spent her childhood in Milan until she was 12 years old, when her family moved to Civitanova Marche. Since she could not continue to study in the small town, because of the lack of schools beyond elementary level, Sibilla took up a job as bookkeper at the glass factory where her father worked.

In 1889, her mother, who had been suffering from depression for a long time, attempted suicide. She was admitted to an asylum in Macerata, where she died in 1917. In 1891, at the age of fifteen, Sibilla was raped by an employee of the factory, Ulderico Pierangeli, a man 10 years her senior. She got pregnant and lost the child, but was forced by her family into a “repairing” marriage with Ulderico, in 1893. In 1895, when she was 17, Sibilla had her first and only child, Walter.

Hers was not a happy marriage, and Sibilla suffered psychological and physical abuse by her husband. When her son was one and a half years old, she attempted suicide, but luckily survived. In what she described as a rebirth, Sibilla threw herself into humanitarian research, and started to write and publish feminist articles in 1897 in various journals.

The family moved to Milan in 1899, where her husband started to work in commerce. Sibilla then took over the management of the socialist weekly magazine L’Italia femminile, and started to correspond with some of the most important women engaged in the struggle for women’s emancipation in Italy, such as Alessandrina Ravizza and Giorgina Craufurd Saffi, as well as with influential socialist leaders, such as Anna Kuliscioff and Filippo Turati. From 1901 to 1905, Sibilla collaborated with the magazine Unione femminile, published by the National Women’s Union in Italy, of which she became a member in 1906. 

Around the same period, Sibilla began a love affair with the poet and painter Guglielmo Felice Damiani. After much deliberation, she abandoned her husband and her son, and moved to Rome in 1902. Following the Italian marriage laws at the time, she lost parental rights over her child.

In Rome, after her brief relationship with Damiani, she started to live with the poet Giovanni Cena, who encouraged her to writer her first book, Una donna, published in 1906. Sibilla continued to take part in the activities promoted by the feminist movement, and engaged in volunteer work in the poverty-stricken areas of the city. In one of her diaries, she wrote: “I firmly believe that feminism is an impulse that will bring our old world to life again.” She also took part in the artistic circles of Rome and took an active interest in futurism. Sibilla was acquainted with, among others, Grazia Deledda and Guillaume Apollinaire.

In 1908, while she was still involved with Cena, Sibilla met the feminist Cordula “Lina” Poletti at the National Congress of Italian Women, and fell in love. She left Cena and began a lesbian relationship with Lina, with whom she stayed together for a year. Sibilla wrote about their relationship in the novel Il passaggio (1919).

After her affair with Lina ended, Sibilla’s life became more and more erratic, and she had numerous heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The writers Giovanni Papini, Dino Campana, and Salvatore Quasimodo are among her most famous lovers in this period. Her relationship with Campana was depicted in the 1985 film Inganni, directed by Luigi Faccini, and in the 2002 film Un Viaggio Chiamato Amore, directed by Michele Placido. In 1936, she began an affair with the poet Franco Matacotta, who was forty years younger than her, and they stayed together for ten years.

In a bold turn in her career, Sibilla turned away from the feminist movement, which she accused of having become a charity group. In 1925, she signed the Manifesto of anti-fascist intellectuals created by Benedetto Croce. Soon after, because she had had an affair with Tito Zaniboni, one of the men who had planned to kill Benito Mussolini, Sibilla was arrested. After her release, she was forbidden to publish, and turned to no one less than Mussolini himself, to get help. In another turn in her career, she then became a convinced supporter of fascism in Italy. For that, she was granted a monthly support, and the fascist regime actively sponsored her works. In 1933, Sibilla even joined the “National Fascist Association of Women Artists and Graduates” in Italy. In a final turn, after World War II., she became passionately active in Communist politics, and joined the Italian Communist Party.

For more than thrity years, Sibilla could not see her son. Only in 1933, she managed to meet him, but the encounter did not end well. She met him once more, in 1947, when one of Walter’s sons died. They would never meet again until her death.

Sibilla died in Rome in 1960.

Books

Prose

  • Una donna (1906)
    • A Woman, tr. Rosalind Delmar (1980)
    • Also translated as A Woman at Bay, tr. Mary Lansdale (1908)
  • Il passaggio (1919)
  • Andando e stando (1921)
  • Trasfigurazione (1922)
  • Il mio primo amore (1924)
  • Amo dunque sono (1927)
  • Gioie d’occasione (1930)
  • Il frustino (1932)
  • Orsa minore (1938)
  • Il mondo è adolescente (1949)
  • Gioie d’occasione e altre ancora (1954)
  • Dialogo con Psiche, edited by Bruna Conti (1991)

Poems

  • Momenti (1921)
  • Poesia (1929)
  • Sì alla terra (1934)
  • Selva d’amore (1947)
  • Aiutatemi a dire – Nuove poesie: 1948-1951 (1951)
  • Luci della mia sera (1956)
  • Tutte le poesie, edited by Silvio Raffo (2004)

Plays

  • Endimione (1923)

Nonfiction

  • Dal mio diario: 1940-44 (1945)
  • Lettere, edited by Niccolò Gallo e Mario Luzi (1958, letters to Dino Campana)
  • La donna e il femminismo. Scritti 1897-1910, edited by Bruna Conti (1978)
  • Diario di una donna: 1945-1960, edited by Alba Morino (1978)
  • Un amore insolito. Diario 1940-1944, edited by Alba Morino (1979)
    • Tagebuch einer Frau. 1945 – 1960, tr. Gisela Baratta und Maja Pflug (1991)
  • Lettere d’amore a Lina, edited by Alessandra Cenni (1982)
    • Liebesbriefe an Lina, tr. Michaela Wunderle (1984)
  • Lettere a Elio (1989)
  • Lettere Papini-Aleramo e altri inediti: 1912-1943, edited by Annagiulia Dello Vicario (1988)
  • «Per amor dell’amore». Corrispondenza inedita. Fernando Agnoletti-Sibilla Aleramo, edited by Anna Vergelli (1994)
  • Un viaggio chiamato amore: Lettere 1916-1918, edited by Dino Campana (2000)
  • Lettere d’amore, edited by Bruna Conti e Paola Manfredi (2001, letters to Salvatore Quasimodo)
  • Un cuore sempreverde: cinquanta lettere di Sibilla Aleramo a Elio Fiore, edited by Donatella Donati (2004)

About her

  • La notte della cometa, by Sebastiano Vassalli (1984, biographical novel)
    • The Night of the Comet, tr. John Gatt (1989)
  • La letteratura femminile e il “femminile” in letteratura nella tradizione inglese: appunti di Sibilla Aleramo, by Matilde Angelone (1985)
  • Inganni, film directed by Luigi Faccini (1985, IMDb)
  • Sibilla Aleramo: coscienza e scrittura, by Bruna Conti (1986)
  • L’apprendistato letterario di Sibilla Aleramo con novelle inedite, by Matilde Angelone (1987)
  • Sibilla: vita artistica e amorosa di Sibilla Aleramo, by René de Ceccatty (1992)
  • The Woman Writer in Late-Nineteenth-Century Italy, by Lucienne Kroha (1992)
  • Mothers of Invention: Women, Italian Fascism, and Culture, by Robin Pickering-lazzi (1995)
  • Italian Women’s Writing, 1860-1994, by Sharon Wood (1995)
  • Transfigurations: The Autobiographical Novels Of Sibilla Aleramo, by Anna Grimaldi Morosoff (1999)
  • Female Journeys: Autobiographical Expressions by French and Italian Women, by Claire  Marrone (2000)
  • Penne leggère. Neera, Ada Negri, Sibilla Aleramo. Scritture femminili italiane fra Otto e Novecento, by Anna Folli (2000)
  • A History of Women’s Writing in Italy, edited by Letizia Panizza and Sharon Wood (2001)
  • Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to World War II, by Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon (2001)
  • Un viaggio chiamato amore, film directed by Michele Placido (2002, IMDb)
  • La santa e la spudorata: Alessandrina Ravizza e Sibilla Aleramo, by Emma Scaramuzza (2004)
  • Italian Women Writers from the Renaissance to the Present: Revising the Canon, by Maria Marotti (2004)
  • Fuori della norma: storie lesbiche nell’Italia della prima metà del Novecento, edited by Nerina Milletti e Luisa Passerini (2007)
  • Ich liebe, also bin ich! Sibilla Aleramo, Wegbereiterin des Feminismus in Italien, by Monika Antes (2009)
  • Addressing the Letter. Italian Women Writers’ Epistolary Fiction, by Laura A. Salsini (2010)
  • Gli occhi eroici: Sibilla Aleramo, Eleonora Duse, Cordula Poletti – una storia d’amore nell’Italia della belle époque, by Alessandra Cenni (2011)
  • Sibilla Aleramo, Gli anni di “Una donna”. Porto Civitanova 1888-1902, by Pier Luigi Cavalieri (2011)
  • Diventare autrice. Aleramo. Morante. de Céspedes. Ginzburg. Zangrandi, by Elisa Gambaro (2018)

 

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