A striking, portrait of women struggling in the post-war years in the south of Italy. Cornelisen's black-and-white photos and equally haunting text reveal a far from idyllic life in a less-than-picturesque Italy. ...
|Title||:||Women of the Shadows|
|Number of Pages||:||245 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
Women of the Shadows Reviews
This is the story of five women struggling with poverty in the post-war years in the south of Italy. It depicts their tremendous strengths and frustrations in trying to provide for their families. The author lived among them for many years.
I have read the previous two reviews, and think I sit between them.The book is a product of the age in which it was written - the early 1970s. It trenchantly criticises the sociological methods of the day - “experts” tromping into villages with bales of multiple choice questionnaires and grilling peasants with their prefabricated assumptions.What Cornelisen does allow is the voices of the peasant women to come through, even if moderated and “interpreted” through her commentary. Much of what is said chimes with that of my Sicilian village grandmother-in-law. When Cornelisen reaches the conclusion that it is women who have the real power, it is redent of Nonna’s aphorism when filling in a modern census in Australia. Under “Head of Family” she wrote her husband’s name. Against hers she wrote in “Neck”.For as she said “The head does not move without the neck decidingIt can.” Despite this, the women are subjected to brutality at the hands of men - most notable, beatings. They in turn subject their children to the same. And occasionally wach other, as disputes become physical as well as violently verbal on occasion. Punishment is meted out with measured silences as well as cutting words and physicality.In the end it is the monotonous drudgery of work and the search dor it which is the major thing that sticks. There is not even the hint of the possibility that it may be fulfilling work (though there is the occasional act of defiance in refusing types of work which are deemed to be indignified). Any “betterment” in work is in order to gain money, as men do routinely by emigrating to Germany, Northern Italy, or America - even if only temporarily. And if not money, social standing. But never in nay sense personal fulfillment. That latter day concept is not even a “thing”.The closing remarks, the words of one of Cornelisen’s neighbours (she lived in the villages of Basilicata for 20 years) sums it up:“As for the women. Put any label on it. It amounts to the same thing: we do whatever noone else has done. That’s what we’re taught; that’s what we’re supppsed to do. Men work and talk about politics. We do the rest. If we have to decide, that’s fair too. Why should we do all the work and not decide? We decide, but we don’t have to talk about it in the Piazza. Call that power, if you want to. To us it’s just killing work. That’s what our lives are. We’re born knowing it. And these young girls - my girls, all the girls - they’re spoiled. No, they’re ruined. ‘I want this,’ ‘I want that,’ ‘I have a right to this,’ is all they know. They won’t work, it’s beneath them. The schools taught them that. Taught them their rights. Only there’s no easy way to get them so they’re going to wait for the miracle. They may starve waiting like signore [ladies]. They don’t know yet that this isn’t a world of miracles. It’s a world of work. It’s that simple. If you want something you work and sometimes even then ...They don’t know yet that miracles only happen in Church.” It is well worth reading this as a companion piece to Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped At Eboli. Set in the same villages, 20-40 years later, but not much had changed. Towards the end, post- WW2 money had provided licks of paint and new concrete housing, but INSIDE life was still much the same. And I did not know that 20,30 years after Levi, dissenters were STILL being exiled to the villages!In my Vintage (1977) edition there are beautiful photographs taken by the author. Not of the actual women we meet, but evocative of the themes. It ends with a set called “A Life Cycle” ie childhood to old age.
There is no doubt in my mind that life in Southern Italian villages was difficult and that a great many people struggled. That being said Ann Cornelisen's perspective is terribly one sided and biased. She writes from a typically feminist, humorless, and atheistic perspective.I know intimately what the life was like from my family. I was raised by a Calabrian grandmother and surrounded by her southern Italian friends. One thing I will say is that no matter how many years Cornelisen lived there, she was always considered a stranger. I am not so sure that even what little our women shared with her was absolutely true.I am not so sure she would "get it" if they did. Her chapters are written through the prism of her arrogant interpretation and the flavor of disdain. I am insulted and deeply offended.