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Gender Relations and Sexual Violence in Federico De Roberto’s Novels

Annamaria Pagliaro


Federico De Roberto wrote extensively on the subject of sexuality and love in a period in which, as Foucault well reminds us, scientia sexualis incited and captured the imagination revealing its power politics. His quasi-scientific study L’Amore. Fisiologia. Psicologia Morale (1895) presents the more regressive aspects of the late-19th-century debate on the nature of men and women, gender relations and sexual behaviour.

This study takes up some of the concepts expressed in his studies on sexuality and explores the way in which gender relations and sexual violence, particularly rape, are portrayed in some striking passages which to date have been summarily considered or overlooked altogether by scholars of De Roberto. It will analyse extracts from his two novels I Viceré and L’imperio showing how encounters of sexual violence and rape against women are subsumed in political symbolism and implicitly naturalised through scientific discourse. In the case of the two editions of the novel Ermanno Raeli, in which the study of sexual behaviour constitutes the leitmotif, the analysis will reveal how the two rapes endured by one of the female characters depict a particular masculinist perspective of sexual politics whereby the victim accepts her social exclusion and sexual violence is rationalized through scientific justifications. It will also reveal how narrative strategies silence the female victim.

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Spunti e Ricerche. Rivista d'italianistica.
ISSN (Print): 0816-5432.
ISSN (Electronic): 2200-8942.