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Italian Literature  
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This limitation is reflected also in the assumption of Ernesto's lover that Ernesto, like most teenage boys who engage temporarily in homosexual activity, will eventually marry even though he knows that he himself never will. He sees his sexuality as a part of his social identity.

The emergence in Italy in the 1980s of two highly successful and openly gay writers has begun to compensate in part for the spectral presence of homosexuality in Italian literature in the past. Although neither Aldo Busi (born 1948) nor Pier Vittorio Tondelli (1955-1991) can be regarded as gay activists, both have brought homosexuality firmly into the public domain.

Busi's first novel Seminario sulla gioventù (Seminar on Youth [1984]) set the tone for his subsequent work. It is a loosely plotted adventure story set mainly in Paris in the late 1960s. The gay protagonist stumbles through a number of sexual and emotional encounters remaining completely unchanged in the process.

The writing is humorous, linguistically inventive, and focuses primarily on the confrontation of the self and a chaotic and confusing world. Homosexuality is seen as another means of overthrowing the preconceptions of a repressed society. It has little value beyond this although its presence is constantly proclaimed.

Busi's second and third novels, Vita standard di un venditore provvisorio di collant (The Standard Life of a Temporary Pantyhose Salesman [1985]) and La delfina bizantina (The Byzantine Dolphin [1986]), accentuate his iconoclastic attitude toward plot and language, involving the reader in increasingly complex narrative games.

The more recent works of this most prolific writer consist largely of autobiographical meditations on literature, travel, and numerous other aspects of contemporary life, including sex, which for Busi remains primarily an enormously enjoyable adventure, a heretical aside in a stultifying world.

Tondelli's first novel, the episodic Altri libertini (Other Libertines), caused him to be prosecuted for obscenity subsequent to its publication in 1980. The novel deals with moments from the lives of a group of loosely associated individuals who all live somehow on the margins of society. Fluidity of sexual identity is a typical characteristic.

For Tondelli, as for Busi, homosexuality is essentially a signifier of marginality, of dissidence. Linguistically, Tondelli attacks the codes of conventional writing by disrupting syntax and by using the language of those he writes about; the novel is full of slang and foreign terms.

Tondelli's later works appear less dismissive of convention and are increasingly reflective in nature. Pao pao (Guard Duty [1982]) is a largely autobiographical piece on the homoerotic possibilities offered by compulsory national service in Italy. In Rimini (1985), he moves away from an explicitly gay theme before returning to a specifically gay context in order to explore the themes of illness, loss, and isolation in Camere separate (Separate Rooms [1989]), the last novel to be published before his death.

Italian critics--in a characteristic gesture that seeks to deny the specificity and value of gay experience--tend to insist that in this text Tondelli uses the figure of the homosexual and his existential solitude to investigate the universals of human nature. This in itself is perhaps indicative of a culture that has tended to view male homosexuality as an activity rather than as an identity while refusing to recognize the desire of women for each other as a significant option. Homosexuality is always a social phenomenon.

Derek Duncan

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social sciences >> Overview:  Italy

Although it is a founding member of the European Union, Italy lags beyond other member states in the protections and respect it accords to glbtq citizens, especially gay and lesbian couples.

literature >> Bruno, Giordano

Burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church, Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno has been seen as a martyr to religious intolerance; only recently has he also been recognized as a queer hero.

literature >> Busi, Aldo

Italian novelist Aldo Busi, while eschewing the label "gay writer," nevertheless presents homosexual acts as normative behavior and foregrounds gay sex as an epiphany for his protagonists.

literature >> Dante Alighieri

In the Divine Comedy Dante treats male homosexuality first as violence against God and then more sympathetically as merely one of the kinds of love.

social sciences >> Ficino, Marsilio

The fifteenth-century Italian philosopher Marsilio Ficino introduced the phrase "platonic love," by which he meant a relationship that included both the physical and the spiritual.

literature >> Forster, E. M.

One of the finest English novelists of the twentieth century and a tireless defender of humane values, Forster deserves a special place in the gay and lesbian literary heritage.

literature >> James, Henry

Though closeted, Henry James had a number of intimate relations with young men, and his sexual orientation imbued his fiction.

literature >> Mann, Thomas

One of Germany's greatest twentieth-century authors, Thomas Mann encoded his own homosexuality in his novels but thought that homosexuality led to the destruction of social institutions and the death of the individual homosexual.

literature >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

Best known for his genius in art and architecture, Michelangelo was also an accomplished author of homoerotic poetry.

literature >> Pasolini, Pier Paolo

Most of the fiction and much of the poetry of Pier Paolo Pasolini, one of the great Marxist homosexual artists of the twentieth century, was shaped by his fascination with the lives of subproletarian youths.

literature >> Penna, Sandro

For Sandro Penna boyhood was the embodiment of desire and the inspiration for all of his poetry.

literature >> Poliziano

The fifteenth-century Italian scholar and poet Poliziano wrote many homoerotic Greek and Latin epigrams, published when he was seventeen.

literature >> Rocco, Antonio

Italian rhetorician and philosopher Antonio Rocco is author of an early classic of pederastic literature, L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the schoolboy), which was written in 1630 and published anonymously in 1652.

literature >> Saba, Umberto

The bisexual poet who published under the name Umberto Saba wrote poems that expressed his love both of his wife and daughter and of adolescent boys.

literature >> Tondelli, Pier Vittorio

Although Pier Vittorio Tondelli occupies a central position within the Italian literary canon, the theme of homosexuality in his work has been ignored or minimized by his critics.

literature >> White, Edmund

One of the most prominent and highly acclaimed figures of contemporary gay literature, Edmund White works in many distinct categories of fiction and nonfiction.


Andrews, Richard. Scripts and Scenarios: The Performance of Comedy in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Baranski, Zygmunt G., and Lino Pertile, eds. The New Italian Novel. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1993.

Brown, Judith C. Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Cicioni, Maria. "'Insiders and Outsiders' in Giorgio Bassani's Gli occhiali d'oro." Italian Studies 41 (1986): 101-115.

de Lauretis, Teresa. "Gaudy Rose: Eco and Narcissism." Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film, and Fiction. London: Macmillan, 1987. 51-69.

Günsberg, Maggie. "'Donna Liberata'?: The Portrayal of Women in the Italian Renaissance Epic." The Italianist 7 (1987): 7-35.

Lazzaro-Weiss, Carol. From Margins to Mainstream: Feminism and Fictional Modes in Italian Women's Writing, 1968-1990. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

Ruggiero, Guido. The Boundaries of Eros: Sex Crime and Sexuality in Renaissance Venice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Saslow, James M. Ganymede in the Renaissance: Homosexuality in Art and Society. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

_____, ed. The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

_____. "Homosexuality in the Renaissance: Behavior, Identity, and Artistic Expression." Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Bauml Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr., eds. New York: New American Library, 1989. 90-105.

Smith Alan K. "Fraudomy: Reading Sexuality and Politics in Burchiello." Queering the Renaissance. Jonathan Goldberg, ed. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1994. 84-106.

Wood, Sharon. Woman as Object: Language and Gender in the Work of Alberto Moravia. London: Pluto Press, 1990.


    Citation Information
    Author: Duncan, Derek  
    Entry Title: Italian Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 26, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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