Katharine Mitchell

‘Figlioismo’ in Verga’s Cavalleria Rusticana (1880) and Febo Mari’s Cenere (1916)

Grete Bibring argued in the 1950s that the decline of the husband’s presence in the home had resulted in a wife “as much in need of a husband as the son is of a father” (Bibring, 1953), and Nancy Chodorow (1978) later suggested that this wife is likely to turn her affection and interest to the next obvious male—her son—and to become particularly seductive toward him, creating the son’s growing reciprocated incestuous impulses. My focus in this paper is the south of Italy at the turn-of- the-century, where the paradigm of familial relationships described by Bibring would have been far more common than in the industrializing north: in 1880 a survey of industry conducted in Italy by the MP Vittorio Ellena calculated that 80 per cent of industrial workers were female, and the 1881 census found that 5.7 million out of 11 million females aged ten or over were economically active.

Laura Benedetti (2009) argues that twentieth-century Italian literary representations reduce mothers to a single emotion: the unconditional devotion to their offspring. Where the child is male, this is widely recognised as ‘mammismo’. Through a reading of realist texts, namely, Verga’s novella ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ (set in a small village in Sicily) and Febo Mari’s film Cenere, which takes place in a remote village in Sardinia, I argue that it is the sons, whose fathers are absent, who are the bearers of an unconditional devotion to their mothers, and that the ambiguity in the stereotype of ‘la mamma’ — as exalted but essentially blamed for Italy’s ills — is wholly absent. Instead, the sons’ tight bond with the mother, their ‘figlioismo’, in the texts is quasi-sacred; this bond, I argue, is evocative of pre-oedipal mother-son relations and, as the texts reveal, has no place in the Lacanian symbolic for the sacrifice of the son (in ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’) and the mother (in Cenere) must occur for narrative closure to take place.

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