Adalgisa Giorgio

‘Mothers (of sons), wives, lovers: shifting identities in Elsa Morante’s Menzogna e sortilegio

Motherhood is at the core of Morante’s oeuvre. Her four novels – Menzogna e sortilegio (1948), L’isola di Arturo (1957), La Storia (1974) and Aracoeli (1981) – delve into the mother-son dyad and offer suitable material to analyse a bond considered fundamental to Italian family and society within the specifically Italian anthropological, cultural and religious context (Parenti 1989; Accati 1995 and 1998; Bravo, Koch, Oppo, Scattigno, in D’Amelia 1997; D’Amelia 2005).

The paper focussed on Menzogna e sortilegio (1948) and attempted to tease out whether and how Morante’s representations of the archetype-stereotype of maternal self-abnegation and absolute devotion to the male offspring fits with Marina D’Amelia’s theory of the emergence of mammismo in the 1950s.

I examined Menzogna e sortilegio as a ‘showcase’ of the Italian mother-son exclusive, reciprocal attachment. The representation of this attachment is embedded in the discourse of a daughter which exposes its ruinous consequences from her own agenda and viewpoint precisely as a daughter. We saw how the overlapping figures of woman-mother-wife-daughter-lover overlap in their relation to the male as quintessentially their offspring, and put on display a problematic (pathological, farcical, class-ridden) female desire/imaginary.

The paper demonstrated that Morante’s text deploys ironical strategies to critique the stereotype/archetype of the mother-son exclusive relationships. This novel problematizes D’Amelia’s theory that the tradition of mammismo was ‘invented’ in the 1950s.




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