Neera (1846-1918)

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Anna Radius Zuccari, in art Neera, was born on May 7, 1846 in Milan, where she lived until her death from cancer on July 13, 1918. As she relates in her two autobiographical writings, Una giovinezza del secolo XIX and Confessioni letterarie, Neera's middle-class upbringing is marked by the death of her mother when the writer was ten years old. After a short period in a boarding school, Neera was raised at home by her father's two elderly, unmarried sisters, whose severity and lack of affection profoundly influenced the development of the writer's already melancholically inclined nature. Neera's father, with whom she was also unable to establish a close relationship but whom she immensely respected, died when Neera was twenty. In 1871 Neera married Milanese banker Emilio Radius, with whom she had two children, a son and a daughter. Neera's son, Adolfo Radius, was an engineer and her daughter, Maria Radius, married journalist and editor Guido Martinelli in 1898. Although Neera traveled throughout Italy and Europe before the debilitating illness of her latter years, she remained throughout her life firmly anchored to her homeplace in Milan. In the last years of her life, a tumor in her arm restricted the writer to bed and prevented her from writing. Neera continued her literary activity, however, by dictating her memoirs, published posthumously as Una giovinezza del secolo XIX.

Neera was one of the most prolific and successful writers of late-nineteenth-century Italy. Her presence in the history of Italian literature is connected to a vast narrative production that goes from Un romanzo (1876), published in the literary journal Il Pungolo, to Una giovinezza del secolo XIX (1919). She is author to twenty-two novels, eight volumes of short stories, ten volumes of moralistic essays and two poetry volumes. The protagonists of her novels and short stories are women struggling to fulfill the traditional roles of wife, mother and daughter in fin de siècle Italian society. Neera's numerous moralistic essays were published in journals such as Nuova Antologia, Rivista d'Italia, Il Pungolo, Illustrazione Italiana, La Lettura, Vita Nuova, L'Idea Liberale and Il Marzocco. The polemical and engaged nature of these writings, in which Neera defends maternity as woman's highest mission in life, is evident from the titles chosen for two of the volumes, Battaglie per un'idea (1898) and Le idee di una donna (1904). Although Neera defined herself an antifeminist in her essays and was not supportive of the feminist cause, feminists of the period, such as Ersilia Majno and Sibilla Aleramo, recognized the importance of her role as woman writer and the feminist nature of her narrative work.

During her lifetime, Neera received the attention of literary critics such as Luigi Capuana, who praised the verist nature of her production, and Benedetto Croce, who praised Neera's idealism. In 1976 Neera was "rediscovered" by Luigi Baldacci, who recognized the feminist nature of her production, especially the novel Teresa (1886). New editions of several of her novels have appeared in recent years by the publishing house Periplo.

Sources:

  • Arslan, Antonia. Dame, galline e regine. La scrittura femminile italiana fra '800 e '900. Ed. Marina Pasqui. Milano: Guerini, 1998. Folli, Anna. Penne leggère. Neera, Ada Negri, Sibilla Aleramo. Scritture femminili italiane fra Otto e Novecento. Milano: Guerini, 2000.
  • Kroha, Lucienne. The Woman Writer in Late 19th Century Italy: Gender and the Formation of Literary Identity. Lewiston: Mellen, 1992.
  • Merry, Bruce. "Neera." Italian Women Writers. A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. Ed. Rinaldina Russell. London: Greenwood, 1994. 286-294.
  • Morandi, Giuliana. La Voce che è in lei. Antologia della narrativa femminile italiana tra '800 e '900. Milano 1980.
  • Nozzoli, Anna. Tabù e coscienza. La condizione femminile nella letteratura italiana del Novecento. Firenze: Nuova Italia, 1978.
  • Zambon, Patrizia. "Leggere per scrivere. La Formazione autodidattica delle scrittrici tra Otto e Novecento: Neera, Ada Negri, Grazia Deledda, Sibilla Aleramo." Studi Novecenteschi XVI 38 (1989): 287-324.
Submitted by Catherine Ramsey-Portolano, 2003.


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