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Abstract

This dissertation is an in-depth critical consideration of the prose works of twentieth-century Italian writer Goliarda Sapienza. Sapienza is acutely interested in the delineation and transgression of borders, and I organize my chapters with respect to salient concepts in her work that are concerned with these ideas. Within this structure, I focus in large part on Sapienza’s narrative technique and formal experimentation in order to arrive at a new reading and understanding of her literary project. In Chapter One I consider Sapienza’s autobiographical works, focusing on the narrative techniques she deploys to create a vision of multiple selves, breaking from the traditional idea of autobiography as the narrative of a retrospective, unified selfhood. I argue furthermore that beyond the construction of multiple selves, Sapienza overturns the conventions of autobiography and the convention of a unitary narrative voice by erasing the boundary between self and other, creating a fused/fusing autobiographical subject. Chapter Two focuses on how theater informs Sapienza’s writing in theme, form, and narrative style. I propose that Sapienza’s deep background in theater illuminates three aspects of her work that have been either seen as controversial or have been overlooked: first, the influence of script format and performed theatrical dialogue on her writing style and narrative strategies; second, the impact of the formal physical structure of the stage on her settings and composition; and third, the ubiquity of theatrical themes throughout her oeuvre. My conclusions point to a new understanding of the previously misunderstood mixing of narrative points of view in Sapienza’s works. In Chapter Three I explore how physical space affects, facilitates, and even creates female relationships in Sapienza’s work, including a discussion of how the Italian feminist movement’s theories and practices reflect Sapienza’s unique handling of spatiality. In particular, I conclude that Sapienza employs enclosed spaces as settings throughout her work in a way that overturns the idea of literal confinement traditionally associated with women in a negative or limiting way, and redeems such spaces as creative, social, and even liberating venues for the development of female relationships. Chapter Four examines how Sapienza narrates the transgressive acts present in her works. While previous criticism has focused on the symbolic and sensational aspects of the murders that are committed in L’arte della gioia, it has not addressed the dissonance between the transgressive acts Sapienza represents and the surprisingly placid and neutral narrative style through which they are represented. Through close analysis of Sapienza’s narrative techniques and an integration of both symbolic and realistic readings, I argue that Sapienza purposefully creates a contradictory and destabilized reading experience by means of the incongruity between narrative style and content, in order to evince in readers a sense of irresolution. Ultimately, Sapienza forces readers into an uncomfortable position of contingency and moral indeterminacy, representing the fundamentally human condition of having to exist without answers to our most difficult questions.

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