The Century of Women: Representations of Women in Eighteenth-Century Italian Public Discourse

ISBN 978-0-8020-3652-0
© University of Toronto Press, 2002

Eighteenth-century Italian playwright Pietro Chiari designated the age he lived in 'The Century of Women' - an age when women gained considerable power through education and admission to various academic positions and professions. Structured as an extended disputation, this book tells the tale of five paradigmatic and ideologically divergent eighteenth-century Italian texts by male and female authors whose leitmotif is woman. These include an academic debate, a scientific tract, an oration, an Enlightenment journal, and a fashion magazine. Analysis focuses on the specific ways in which the exigencies of the 'new science' and the burgeoning Enlightenment project founded on rational civil law, secular moral philosophy, and utilitarian social ethics forced a transformation in the formal controversy about women.

By uncovering the characteristics of the expansive dominant discourse about women among Italian Enlightenment thinkers and of the counter-discourse women authors produced to assert their own distinct authority over constructions of femininity and the public sphere, this study reconceives eighteenth-century Italian culture and rectifies misconceptions about Italy's position and influence within the literary republic of the European Enlightenment. Groundbreaking and original, this study is the first to examine the contribution of women to the Republic of Letters of the Settecento, and will revise prevailing notions of eighteenth-century Italian culture and academia.

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The Century of Women: Representations of Women
in Eighteenth-Century Italian Public Discourse



Critical Acclaim

"Following in the footsteps of precious few studies on eighteenth-century Italian women, Messbarger's excellent study on the presence of women as speaking subjects and objects of Enlightenment discourse emphasizes how anti-academic injunction of cose non parole transformed the scope and purpose of investigating the 'woman question.'"
                              Lori Ultsch, Canadian Journal of History
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"Although a Venetian fashion magazine of the late 1780s proclaimed that 'Tutto e cambiato' ('everythign has changed'), Rebecca Messbarger's suggestive and wide-ranging study shows that not much has changed for women in Italy in the 18th century."
                            Melissa Calaresu, American Historical Review

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"Messbarger's detailed scholarship, insightful readings and useful historical context make this work a valuable contribution to Feminist, Italian and Eighteenth-Century Studies."
                              Arnold A. Schmidt, Annali d'italianistica
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