Disease as Metaphor in Sibilla Aleramo's Una Donna

"An autobiography, alone of all books, may be more valuable in proportion to the amount of misrepresentations which it contains."

Leslie Stephen, Hours in a Library, 1892,III, 237

Sibilla Aleramo's Una Donna 1 has long been considered as a very significant literary work, both for the revolutionary content of its message and for the multiplicity of discourses that it presents. Given the nature of the experience narrated, Una donna has been read as a feminist manifesto --which, indeed, it is; as a reliable historical document on the conditions of turn-of-the-century Italian women; and finally as a literary text. Published in 1906, this autobiographical work constitutes the author's account of the desperate struggle to assert the dignity of a woman's individuality and self-worth against the strictures of a male-dominated society. It is also the story of a political and psychological awakening in response to the urges of self identification and individuation. 2

It is clear that the narrator's declared perspective is crucial to the identification of the nature of autobiography, and that Aleramo consciously traded the illusion of objectivity in exchange for a chance to create the narrative of process of her self-discovery. In real life this process led Aleramo to the abandonment of her husband, with the consequence of losing custody of her only child. This event came as the inevitable culmination of the psychological search for her real self and her being, and in retrospect became the lens through which the previous phases of the life-narrative were to be presented and judged.

A part of the present criticism 3 on Una donna as a literary text has focused primarily on the narrative strategy devised to establish a direct correlation between the escalation of violence and repression suffered by the author at the hand of her brutal husband, and the growing awareness and inevitable rebellion that ensued. This analysis implicitly accepts the premise of the author's hind-sight perspective, which attributes a fixed value to pre-selected memories, and weaves them into a pattern whose frame has been established by the criterion of intention: to write a book, a sort of open letter, explaining to her son --whom she would never see again-- why she had to abandon him.

The opposite perspective, as insightfully denounced by Maurizio Viano 4 , relegates Una donna to the category of "romanzo," as does Emilio Cecchi in his "Prefazione" to the 1950 edition of the work, reprinted in the 1987 edition. Both perspectives fail to recognize in Una donna one of the most valuable and original contributions to the literary experience referred to as autobiography. It is as an autobiography that I approached this text. Within the theoretical framework of recent studies on this literary genre, I should like to address some of the issues relating to the nature of autobiographical writing, and I shall propose that, in the case of Sibilla Aleramo's Una Donna, an examination conducted with psychoanalytical models of inquiry may confirm hypotheses about the nature of the creative process and its formulation in terms of narrative text.5

Autobiography has recently begun 6 to receive increasing critical attention beyond the mere appreciation for the documentary value it undoubtedly bears. Why this has been happening in recent years, is a question that has been raised 7, and one for which a possible explanation may be that autobiography appears as the last frontier of textual analysis, the ultimate challenge for the kind of criticism that focuses on the dynamics between narrator and narratee, here fused in one entity. In autobiography the boundaries between the concepts of author, writer, and narrator, become all blurred to the point where these metaphorical breakdowns of the act of writing are simply said to collapse into the production of a text 8.

These livres sans auteurs began to be produced in significant numbers in the XIX century as an almost immediate reflection and consequence of the century's discovery of the self as the ultimate uncharted territory of human spirit open to the investigation both of the sciences and the arts. As to the rationale why literary criticism should distinguish between pre-XIX century autobiographical texts and modern autobiography, the need arises from the different "metaphysical conditions" 9under which they were produced. A new consciousness began to form that was reflected in the emergence of this new genre. 10

The first notion to be dispelled must be that every opus is "intrinsically," by the nature of its conception, autobiographical, for it mirrors the inner world and the creative process of the author at the time of its production 11 . Furthermore, for works in which the tendency to write about oneself is clear, it is preferable to apply the distinction suggested by Michel David, between autobiografia and autobiografismo, where the latter is more the result of an "autobiographical temptation" 12 than the self-conscious object of writing.

The historical term of reference in ancient times most frequently cited by scholars is St. Augustine's Confessions, the first book, "to represent plastically the coherence of human existence in the mother-earth for his story" thus creating the "structural law" of autobiography,for his objective was to describe the process of his spiritual evolution, "the coming-into-being of his full personality"13.

Autobiography, in its contemporary meaning, is the process of discovery of the self through the act of writing, fulfilling deep-seated psychological needs rather than respond to the urges of delusional self aggrandizement. The most obviously accessible of these is the need to rationalize facts, easily hidden under the pretense of wanting to "get the facts straight." 14 This basic fact about our psychic reality, the "original sin" (Gusdorf, 41) of autobiography, is compounded with the fact that the consciousness of the outcome of an experience imposes itself on the experience and distorts it; the completed fact is substituted for the fact-in-the-making. The autobiographer's product is the collusion of past and present, more significant as a revelation of the present than of the past.

As we identify the crucial problem of autobiography in the truthfulness of the narrative discourse, we are in the position of requesting a proof of the narration's psychological truth by means of a test apt at revealing that the text is the product of a balance between the main dimensions of this powerful intrapsychic game of hide-and-seek. The axiomatic point of departure is that writer, author and narrator are the text, much the same way as in dynamic therapy (psychoanalytic therapy) the analysand is the speech he/she produces. In literary terms, the writer is no longer the subject to be remembered in language but the subject to be transformed by language 15 , and the act of self-discovery becomes thus inextricably intertwined with the act of self-creation. The objective of autobiography is thus to fashion a narrative, namely the discursive formulation of the meaning of past events identified as significant in the process of self-analysis (Jay, p. 25.)

The premises discussed above are fundamental in approaching Sibilla Aleramo's Una Donna, one of the most remarkable works of its kind certainly in Italian literature, and a text that in the recent past has enjoyed renewed acclaim for the shocking modernity of its content and its documentary value. At the intellectual and didactical level, Aleramo's book is the account of a woman's desperate struggle to assert the dignity of womanhood in turn-of-century Italian society. It is also the story of an awakening that encompasses the denunciation of the underlying sadism of a society's pathological distortions; proclaims the supremacy of the morality of life and nature over the hypocrisy of conventions; and finally synthesizes moral principles and political ideals in the intellectual formulation of an ideology that the author significantly called femminismo.

The fabula recounts the story of a bourgeois family headed by a dictatorial father; of a mother driven to irreversible mental incapacitation apparently by the emotional abuse and neglect of her sadistic husband. It is the story of the author, a young woman raped at the age of 15 and a half by a squalid and immature individual whom she ends up marrying in the first of what will appear as a series of acts aimed at self-punishment and self-destruction. And it is finally the story of her fight to gain freedom from the threat of insanity.

Below the surface is the unfolding of self-discovery, accompanied by the realization that this is an irreversible process, impossible to revert or to deny, and that culminates in an epiphanic revelation on the meaning of her own life and her needs: "Lucidamente, inesorabilmente, per la prima volta, nel gran deserto spirituale che mi si era fatto intorno, il senso della vita mi si svelava: Armonia... non altro; un appagamento di tutte le energie associate, sensi e ragione, cuore e spirito..." (178). The epiphany is associated in her psyche with an identification with her mother's destiny, a deep conviction that is reinforced, in the narrative sequencing, by the discovery of an old note from her mother, hidden among other correspondence: "Debbo partire... qui impazzisco... lui non mi ama più... Ed io soffro tanto che non so più voler bene ai bambini... debbo andarmene, andarmene... Poveri figli miei, forse è meglio per loro" (181). The mother, of course, did not leave, ending her life in an insane asylum with chronic mental illness. The author then acquires a sense of self-reflective knowledge about her destiny and proceeds to narrate herself as being faced with a tragic dilemma, in the classical sense of the word: Either she was to lose herself, her mental sanity and possibly her life, or she would lose her child: "Se io partivo egli sarebbe stato orfano, poiché certo mi verrebbe strappato. Se restavo? Un esempio avvilente, per tutta la vita: sarebbe cresciuto anche lui tra il delitto e la pazzia" (195).

It is Aleramo's stated intention in writing this book to attempt to narrate to the outside world and mainly to her child the chain of events that caused her final decision (203). With this she seizes the opportunity to purify herself by recounting the excruciating suffering she endured in the process of reaching the state of consciousness where she was left only with a monstrous choice, quite literally between life and death.

For the sake of the argument we will assume that the proclaimed intention to write a book to reach her child is the real one, although the overall itinerary described by the text may suggest that, as the narration approaches the crucial moments in her life-memory, it became essential for the writer to steer the narration toward a selfless aim, devoting it to the cause of truth rather than that of self-absolution. In fact, while the initial part is more decisively focused on the abjection of the conditions to which she is condemned by her family history and society, the second part sees a shifting of the intention accompanied by the change of the ideal audience.

Given these premises my search was for the textual elements that could provide an insight into the general organization of the narrative, and for a means to test those elements. Since it would be easy to disregard as either incomplete or biased the account of the events narrated in the book, it is necessary to find evidence of their psychological truth in textual elements likely to have escaped the author's direct control. These elements are the traces of a subconscious pattern of significance that reveals the underlying structure of perception and organization of life-events and memories into a coherent life-story. I thus looked for a general theme below the surface, a recursive formulation of facts that by virtue of their own existence, albeit inessential to the narration, would denounce at which level of consciousness the events narrated were real to the author as she remembered them. This element must also mirror and provide unity to the work.

At the conscious level of theme, unity is achieved by the struggle for liberation. As for the stylistic component, unity is insured by the sequencing of causes and effects in linear succession leading up to the present. At a deeper level our focus is on the mapping of the psychic reality that escaped the author's mechanisms of denial and control. This reaIity must be shown to possess a quality not at the level of personal literary style, as recognizable as handwriting, but rather at the level of a deep structure organized hierarchically and emerging in the form of a basic metaphor guiding the overall interpretation of the narration.

In Una donna, one of the elements offering an interpretive key to the author's true reality - the one I shall concentrate on, but not the only one - is disease, the metaphor that allows the analysis of her personality organization as expressed through the autobiography. In Aleramo's work, disease is not the literary allegory of spiritual morbidness, nor is it the naturalistic and mechanical transcribing of the affects of the spirit. We have neither the conventions of artifice, nor the materialization of an aesthetic theory of literature. Rather the association between disease and perversity of the outer world is produced and recorded at the unconscious level, and finds its way to consciousness through the text as an integral part of the experience narrated.

In Una donna Aleramo narrates approximately 30 episodes of illness, ranging from almost negligible to severe and ultimately fatal. The overall effect of this frequency of occurrence is to create a pervasive atmosphere of morbidity in analogy with the sickening sense of oppression of the rigid and suffocating social environment. In literature the analogy between physical malady and social decay is certainly not new. What is original here is the existence of a pattern serving other needs, a pattern in which the single episodes of disease are clustered in groups and correspond to moments of increased psychological tension, coinciding with the conclusion of one phase of consciousness and the beginning of a higher one. In a sense these episodes are markers, placed at choke points of transition, where the psychic energy long suppressed outflows in an organic manifestation.

On the surface it may appear that the author describes two distinct categories of illness: one type refers to organic diseases; for the other the author consciously provided a psychosomatic explanation. In reality, by their being clustered together without distinction as to the place of occurrence, they are assigned identical valence by the process of active interpretation. This is possible because they share the same function as signals of a global psychological imbalance, and _are the result of psychological self-defensive maneuvers against the pathologies of the social milieu in which the author operates.

The episodes of illness are diffused through the text, and apply to characters other than the author, as well as the author herself. Among the most revealing ones, I chose to focus on the conditions surrounding the doctor's death. Apparently caused by typhoid fever, this abrupt and unexpected event is reinterpreted in the light of a context of extreme psychological stress, where it assumes the aspect of a suicide by interruption of the will of living. In the suffocating atmosphere of the central Italian hamlet where a large part of the narration takes place, the author and the doctor had become the only mutual friend they had and trusted, sharing a sense of intellectual and spiritual affinity. The possibility that the author's family will move to Rome first causes great anguish to the doctor who will lose his soul-mate. As the prospect matures into a definite decision, it runs parallel in the narrative with the worsening of the doctor's physical conditions ending in his death.

As we proceed into the analysis of the phenomena, the author's operation of identification with other characters, takes a primary importance. The most significant of these involuntary psychic acts is the paralleling of the author's life and that of her mother's. Both women are trapped in unhappy unfulfilling marriages with punitive paranoid-personality type husbands. Both women respond with outbreaks of illness to episodes of psychological cruelty, emotional neglect and abuse perpetrated by their husbands; and both emerge from the experience of one attempted suicide in a catatonic state that lingers on for weeks. Beneath the surface similarities, the author identifies a strong and obscure omen that seems to force her destiny in the same direction of that of her mother. We can appreciate the traumatic consequences of this delusional realization when we consider that the mother was - in the narration - caught in an irreversible downward spiral into the depth of madness, culminating in her institutionalization for life. A fact this, that was very well known to the author at the moment of writing. The author fears for her mental sanity, and in more than one circumstance sees herself as vacillating on the brink of madness. I would like to suggest that this fear covers fear of death itself, for insanity represents the death of the highest functions of the rational and affective mind.

Another episode, and probably the most damaging episode of illness and death which triggers the mechanism of identification with an outside object of her representation, has as its protagonist a Norwegian woman artist, a feminist whose early life is similar to that of the author. The two women had become close friends. To Aleramo her friend represented hope in the long struggle toward discovery and assertion of the inner self. Abused by her husband, she had left and was now living independently away from her home country. As part of the process she had achieved professional recognition, and had come to terms with her own identity as an individual and as a woman. She clearly represented a role model and, at the same time, satisfied vicariously the author's need for the fulfillment of her fantasies and desires. When she unexpectedly she fell ill and after a brief agony died, in the very same days Aleramo's husband, against her will, decided to move his family back from Rome to his native hamlet. The coincidence could not have been more devastating, causing the author to attribute symbolic, and therefore real in representational terms, significance to this tragic event. The death of her friend comes to symbolize the impossibility of a way out of a destiny of doom and despair.

As mentioned earlier, a large number of episodes of illness that have the author as protagonist, or victim, present a psychological etiology, or at least are thus interpreted by the author. They appear in consequence of very intense internal strife, or sadistic outside pressure, measuring and responding to unbearable stress. Aleramo, with the conscious choice of attributing this value to some of the episodes, comes very close to diagnosing the nature of her own psychological condition, and it is my opinion that a large part of the narrative is unconsciously fashioned in such a way as to follow the outline of a a model of psychological representation and explanation of the phenomena, as could be available at the time of her writing. In other words, by narrating the sequence of events and their significance in a way that they matched the description of a symptomatic constellation, Aleramo seeks the validation of her insight that her potential insanity was induced by the pathology of the society in which she lived.

These memories marked the stepping stones of the process as it was recorded at the subconscious level, and they now find their way back into consciousness and the text as an integral part of the experience being narrated. It is my opinion that Aleramo unknowingly

portrayed a psychological condition known as conversion syndrome, or classic hysteria, clinically identified as the result of the splitting of consciousness (Janet) or, alternatively, of repression (Freud.) 16

The type of symptoms described, and the apparent causes to which they are a response, strongly point in this direction. Conversion syndrome, a gender-neutral disease, is a psychological disorder that uses cultural forms, regardless of their content, as a way to solve conflicts in marginal but not socially unacceptable extremes (unlike, for instance, paranoid-schizophrenic psychosis.) In XIX century Europe --particularly in what has been broadly defined as Victorian Era -- hysteria reached the proportion of an epidemic, most visible in women due to a unique combination of events. The Victorian woman was confronted with establishing her identity among many conflicting cultural demands, expectations and prohibitions. These expectations tapped directly onto the universal intrapsychic conflict between activity and passivity, masculinity and femininity. There was great cultural pressure on the woman to maintain the unconscious image of herself as a fragile, passive child, while in a second consciousness the sense of herself as strong and aggressive had to remain suppressed. For those familiar with Aleramo's work, it will be very apparent that her story matches almost verbatim this portrait. As a way to avoid realization of the anxiety-provoking contradictions of society, the subject would resort to a psychological maneuver, recognized alternatively as splitting of consciousness or repression.

In the seduction theory, later surpassed by more articulate and complete models, Freud suggested that at the origin of the hysterical syndrome was the existence of a psychological trauma caused by a concrete event. In reactive fashion the psyche mobilizes its resources to cope with the affects of the injury. When memories, thoughts and feelings of traumatic events are denied associative connection with reminders because the subject wants to exclude them from awareness, we have an internal conflict between repressed ideas and defenses against them. To maintain repression, to keep the unbearable unconscious, the affects connected with the trauma must be withdrawn from it. The quantity of excitation that had been connected with the idea, now detached from it, is transformed into somatic expression in a way that to the world outside signifies the occurrence of a strife, but that at the same time is perfectly in accordance with the period's cultural values.

In this historical period, to solve a conflict outwardly, by aggressive and self asserting behavior, was close to impossible for women. To be weak and sick however was considered basic to feminine nature. To fall ill became one of the few ways within the limits of social conventions in which women could express inner passion and conflicts. In a moment of great emotional crisis, women were expected to get ill, for this was fostered by society as a channel to express -- and in true hysterical fashion simultaneously disown -- impulses and conflicts. Thus dissociative repressive ego developed in response to the social ecology of the period, combined with the prevalent belief in female propensity to disease to make conversion reaction the typical form of hysteria of the time. 17

Aleramo promotes the application of this very explanation, leaving open only the question as to which was the psychological trauma whose effects she had been suppressing and how they originated. We could reasonably argue that - in her mind - the trauma was the rape itself,

an event that caused shame and guilt, whose consequences had to be kept removed from manifest expression. In tune with the general theory of hysteria, Aleramo's writing indicates that in reality, like all hysterics, she is not responding to actual events but rather to the reactivation of an earlier experience. I should repeat once again that all the reordering and logical organizing occurs after the completion of the entire event where the individual episodes are carefully placed in the effort to make sense of the debris of memory. Or, in other words, this is Aleramo's interpretation of her own story.

As for my interpretation of Aleramo's conversion syndrome, I believe that further investigation could be conducted employing post-seduction models, according to which the traumatic event is to be traced at the oedipal level of development in the sexual fantasies of early childhood. Hysteria is thus the result of internal events: hysterical symptoms are generated by conflicts over ever-fresh repressed sexual fantasies.

In Aleramo we find strong indications of an unresolved conflict involving her parents at an early age. In particular the author represents the seductive nature of her relationship with her father, and the enormous disappointment she feels when she is told that he has a mistress. Upon receiving this revelation, the author is raped and develops an emotional attachment to her rapist to the point of marrying him. The symbolic and projective meaning of this series of events will not be lost, when we observe that the the mother's precarious stability is further eroded by the accidental discovery of her husband' tryst.

In several other points, the author hints fairly consciously about the competition between herself and her mother for the love of the father. The narration of the events leading to the mother's attempted suicide is particularly revealing, mostly because it unconsciously tries to reject any shadow of responsibility on the part of the author, while in reality it provides enough details to raise some questions on her hidden interpretation of her own role. In her account, one evening a dance took place in their residence. The author, then fourteen, did not enjoy the underlying sexual connotations that the activity subsumed, and such uneasiness is immediately translated in physical discomfort: "[L]a danza non mi piaceva e mi produceva mal di capo. Ero osservata[.]" She also becomes aware of the tension between her parents: "[M]'ero sorpresa a osservare il babbo e la mamma, involontariamente. [My emphasis.] L'uno appassionato ed eccellente ballerino, pareva ritornato giovanotto, ed esercitava intorno con la spontaneità della sua natura un vero fascino...Mia madre era contenta....[m]a mi sembrava ch'ella non pervenisse a nascondere un nervosità di cui ignoravo la cagione[.]" The next morning the author remembers entering the parent's bedroom in the following way:

"Verso le otto del mattino seguente, appena alzata, passando accanto alla camera della mamma e supponendola ancora in letto, bussai per domandarle ordini; la voce di lei, fievole, mi disse d'entrare. Scorsi il profilo del babbo addormentato, vòlto verso l'uscio; il viso materno non si distingueva bene fra i cuscini e le coltri: rinchiusi la stanza, raggiunsi i fratellini che facevano già colazione. Quanti minuti scorsero?

Un grido, indi parecchi altri....Mi riscosse un vocío di

donne. Raccontavano. Avevano visto affacciarsi al nostro

balcone la figura bianca...La figura s'era sporta, indi

abbandonata, piombando di fianco sul terreno.

It is clear that the events narrated must be drawn not just from memories but also from fantasies or a reconstruction of the past that chooses to conceal much as it attempts to provide an honest account of the occurrences. Here, more than in any other circumstances, we observe how the practice of autobiographical rendition is closely intertwined with the analytical process of revelation of the psychological truth hidden behind the complex operations of integration of reality into the inner psychic sphere where facts become images and evoke primitive identifications with early drives and traumata. Once again the self reflective act performs at the deepest level of consciousness, fashioning a narrative whose objective correlative is not in reality but rather in the psychological history of the narrator.

The metaphoric value of the episodes of illness, thus corresponds to the function of disease as a symptom of deeper issues concerning the psychic reality of the narrator. In the economy of the self-reflective act, it makes possible to extract a logical order out of the chaos of the interactions between the self and the outer reality, as they are played in the memory. With the adoption of a comprehensive descriptive psychological model of understanding, such as the hypothesis about the etiology of hysteria, single episodes can be integrated into a larger schema which provides the ground for establishing the connections among otherwise seemingly unrelated events. Aleramo resorted to this operation probably unintentionally, and it is for this reason that her text ought to be analyzed with tools appropriate for the premise that we have established.

To conclude, I would like to focus on the peculiarity of Aleramo's work, and to emphasize how it reflects the values and concerns of an entire period struggling with the cultural and intellectual questions brought to the surface by the discovery of the unconscious dimension. Aleramo sensed intuitively that her story was connected with the broad issues of her time in many ways, and depended on a new sensibility both historical and cultural, to solve the problem of her identity. Her struggle to liberate herself from oppression finds a parallel in the attempts of modern science to free the human mind from the darkness of irrationality and superstition.


1 Milano: Feltrinelli, 18, 1987. All quotations from the text are from this edition.

2 In this latter capacity Una donna is an exemplary case of the kind of autobiography whose focus is the interpretation of events in hind-sight. This is not true of all autobiographies, in as much as a writer's declared intention may be that of presenting the psychological reality of the events narrated, as they were being experienced at the time of their occurrence. An obvious example of this alternative approach is Natalia Ginzburg's Lessico Famigliare (Torino: Einaudi, 1963) where the author in the "Avvertenza" (5) states her purpose and aim as being that of almost naturalistic objectivity within the constraint of a lapsing memory.

3 This assumption is implied for instance in Keala Jewell,"Un Furore d'Autocreazione: Women and Writing in Sibilla Aleramo," Canadian Journal of Italian Studies 7 (1984): 148-162; in Giovanna Miceli Jeffries, "Una donna: singolare e radicale esperienza di ricerca e liberazione di una coscienza," Forum Italicum 15.1 (1981):31-51; in Marina Federzoni, et al., Sibilla Aleramo, (Firenze: La Nuova Italia, 1980). This premise is also true for a reading of this work as a historical document on the rise of feminist consciousness, as is the case of Macciocchi in her "Prefazione" to the 1977 edition of Una donna (Milano: Feltrinelli).

4 Maurizio Viano, "Ecce Foemina," Annali d'Italianistica, 4 (1986):224.

5 I suspect that in his "Prefazione" to Una donna (Milano: Feltrinelli, 1987), Emilio Cecchi expresses more a fear than a wish when he states : "Se il romanzo Una donna fosse apparso oggigiorno, non è improbabile che si sarebbe soprattutto attirata l'attenzione dei critici freudiani" (15).

6 This is the opinion shared by most of the scholars who have approached the genre of autobiography, and more specifically the autobiographical texts that began to be produced in significant numbers in the XIX century. See W. Spengemann, The Forms of Autobiography (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980) xi; J. V. Gunn, Autobiography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982) 3.

7 Olney rhetorically asks: "Why was it not proper to produce literary studies of autobiography twenty-five years ago. Why is nothing else as proper, as vital, today?" suggesting that it may derive from "a shift of attention from bios to autos - from the life to the self." Ed. James Olney, "Autobiography and the Cultural Moment." In Autobiography : Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980) 7,19.

8Michael Sprinker, "Fictions of the Self: The End of Autobiography." In Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980) 342.

9 Georges Gusdorf, "Conditions an Limits of Autobiography." In Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980) 30.

10 According to Georges Gusdorf these conditions were met when "[t]he idol of an objective and critical history worshipped by the positivists of the nineteenth century crumbled... The recall of history assumes a very complex relation of past to present, a reactualization that prevents us from ever discovering the past "in itself," as it was-- the past without us"(40). Gusdorf continues: "In War and Peace, Tolstoy has shown the immense difference there is between a real battle lived from minute to minute by the agonized participants largely unaware of what is happening even if they enjoy the security of being staff officers and the narrative of the same battle put in fine logical and rational order by the historian who knows all the turning points and the outcome of the conflict. The same time gap exists between a life and its biography" (41) .

11 Paul De Man, "Autobiography as De-facement" Modern Language Notes, December (1979):921-22. He declares that autobiography is an appropriate definition for any "text in which the author declares himself the subject of his own understanding," adding that any text "with a readable title -page is, to some extent, autobiographical." Jean Cocteau, in turn,"when asked to contribute to a volume of studies on autobiography", is quoted of having answered that "every line we write, every blot 'compose our self-portrait and denounce us.'" Roy Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960) 3.

12 Michel David. "Le Problème du journal intime en Italie." Le journal intime et ses formes littéraires. Actes du colloque de septembre 1975. Ed. Vittorio Del Litto. (Genève-Paris: Droz 1978) 101-18.

13 Roy Pascal, Design and Truth in Autobiography (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960) 23. In "The Style of Autobiography, " in Olney's Autobiography, Jean Starobinski (77-78) deals with the motivations of discursiveness and truth in the Confessions, and the function of the narrating "I" in its relation with the addressee of the discourse, the "you" that Starobinsky identifies with two audiences: "God and the rest of mankind....one summoned directly, the other assumed obliquely as witness."

14 Armand Maurois, Aspects of Biography (Arden Library: Darby, 1977. Reprint of the 1929 edition by Appleton Co.). Maurois states that not only do we tend to rationalize conscioulsly our lives, but memory operates unconsciously to the same end (141).

15 See: Paul Jay, Being in the Text (Ithaca-London: Cornell University Press, 1984) 23. The author is concerned in the psychoanalytical implications of the self-reflective act in writing.

16 Paul Janet, The Major Symptoms of Hysteria; Fifteeen Lectures Given in the Medical School of Harvard University (New York: Hafner, 1965); Sigmund Freud, Dora, an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (New York:Collier Books, 1963.)

17 Alan Krohn, Hysteria: The Elusive Neurosis (Independence: International Universities Press,1978) 176-186.

Fabio Girelli-Carasi

Middlebury College