Ottocento Italian Dive between the woman's stage and page

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Studies in late nineteenth-century Italian cultural history during the last two decades have uncovered the gendering of writing and reading in this period, and elsewhere I have recently argued that the discursive construction of the Italian diva in relation to ideas of beauty was gendered (Hallamore Caesar 80-97; Re 155-200; Mitchell 330-46). Here, I demonstrate that realist fictional representations of dive – by which I mean female performing artists as dancers, singers, actors, etc.; the term circulated widely, and was used indiscriminately in print culture to refer to all kinds of female performers – were similarly gendered. While male writers’ representations are static and un-individuated (which was perhaps symptomatic of men’s (unconscious?) constructed fantasies and fears within a patriarchal and misogynistic culture at a time when women were beginning to emerge into the public sphere as writers, journalists, critics, and political activists), women writers re-imagine literary representations of “fatal femininity” in the figure of the diva to present less “fantastical”, more “realistic” images of femininities that bore a closer relation to the everyday experiences and lives of actual stage dive. Here, I posit that these female-authored re-imaginings can be understood not only a conscious strategy to undermine historical perceptions of “fatal” femininity in the Western male imagination, but also to readdress the somewhat inaccurate and one-dimensional portrayal of stage dive in a genre of literature that purported to document “photographically”, and in an apparently faithful, “realistic” way, an ‘authentic’ version of everyday life in late nineteenth-century Italy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWomen and the Public Sphere in Modern and Contemporary Italy
Subtitle of host publicationEssays for Sharon Wood
EditorsSimona Storchi, Marina Spunta
Place of PublicationLeicester
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sept 2017


  • diva
  • dive
  • beauty
  • female performing artists


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