Beginning in the late 1870s in Italy, new narrative forms, mixing elements borrowed from the Gothic and fantastic genres and modes with those from historical realism, started to enjoy much greater success and to find more followers and practitioners. More specifically, at the margins of an already existing hypothetical historical-realist narrative block, heterodoxical narrative expressions were coming into being. These were often populated by physically dismembered and psychologically multi-faced ‘in-between’ characters, who were traditionally depicted through Northern European forms of the Gothic and fantastic, until the leading members of the first Italian avant-garde movement, the Milanese Scapigliatura, transplanted their interpreations of the story of Italian national unification into their short stories and novels. In the texts analyzed, the use of the typically Gothic and fantastic motifs of the uninhabited house (or habited by ghosts) and the feminine body, both in its phenomenology of the mother, nurse and spouse, and in that of the faithless, fallen and sick woman, function as metaphors to portray the shape of the national body. By looking at the representations of the house, the female body and marriage, this article demonstrates how the heroines of the post-unification novels Fosca (1869) by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti and Senso (1883) by Camillo Boito understand and construct their corporeality as the epistemological locus where the ethical ambivalence towards the disappointing outcomes of national unification could be expressed. Therefore, the Gothic with its instances of social subversion embodied in the heroines in the castle, and the fantastic with its ontology of ‘hesitation’ and of the fragmented and divided body could offer the ideal narrative solution for portraying the failure of Italy’s palingenetic re-birth during the Risorgimento.
- Scapigliatura, nation, gothic and fantastic literature, Italian literature, Italian national unification