Sibilla Aleramo (14 August 1876 – 13 January 1960) was an Italian author and feminist best known for her autobiographical depictions of life as a woman in late 19th century Italy.
Life and career
Born Rina Faccio in Alessandria, Piedmont. At 11, she moved with her family from Milan to the Marche region of Italy, where her father had been appointed manager of a glass factory. Unable to continue schooling beyond the elementary degree in Civitanova Marche, she continued studying on her own, and asked for reading advice from her former teacher. While employed at her father's factory, she befriended a local man, 10 years her senior, who raped her in the office when she was 15. Rina did not tell her parents about the event, and was instead persuaded to marry him. A year and a half later, at 17, she had her first and only child, Walter. 
Her first book described her decision to leave her husband and son and move to Rome, which she did in 1901. After a brief relationship with a young artist, Felice Damiani, she cohabited for some years with Giovanni Cena, writer and journalist, who convinced her to turn her story into a fictionalized memoir (and to take on the pseudonym of Sibilla Aleramo). In 1906 her book, Una donna, was published. She also became active in political and artistic circles, and engaged in volunteer work in the Agro Romano, the poverty-stricken countryside surrounding Rome.
In 1908, while still involved with Cena, she met Cordula "Lina" Poletti at a women's congress, and their one-year lesbian relationship was recounted in the novel Il passaggio (1919), a book in which Aleramo also famously returned on the story told in Una donna. In it, she argued that Giovanni Cena had originally convinced her to slightly change her story, and she offered a different version of a few events, notably the ending.
Sibilla Aleramo would go on to be one of Italy's leading feminists. Her personal writings to Poletti have, in more recent years, been studied due to their open minded views toward homosexual relationships, as has her production in general. Aleramo's first book in particular, Una donna, is by now considered a classic of Italian literature, and the first outspokenly feminist novel written by an Italian author.
Throughout the 20th century, Aleramo was mostly remembered for her tumultuous love affairs, with partners that included Umberto Boccioni and Dino Campana (The 2002 film Un Viaggio Chiamato Amore, by Michele Placido, depicts Aleramo's affair with the latter). But Aleramo's life is mostly significant for her trail-blazing trajectory as an independent woman and artist, and as an individual that traversed very different epochs (Liberal Italy, Fascism, post-WWII Italian Republic) while always maintaining cultural and political visibility. In later life Aleramo toured the continent and was active in Communist politics after World War II.
- Una donna (A Woman, 1906)
- Il passaggio (The Crossing, 1919)
- Andando e stando (Moving and Being, 1921)
- Momenti (Moments, 1921)
- Trasfigurazione (Transfiguration, 1922)
- Endimione (Endymion, 1923, play)
- Poesie (Poems, 1929)
- Gioie d'occasione (Occasional Pleasures, 1930)
- Il frustino (The Whip, 1932)
- Sì alla terra (Yes to the Earth, 1934)
- Orsa minore (Ursa Minor, 1938)
- Diario e lettere: dal mio diario (Diary of a Woman, 1945)
- Selva d'amore (Forest of Love, 1947)
- Aiutatemi a dire (Help Me to Speak, 1951)
- Gioie d'occasione e altre ancora (More Occasional Pleasures, 1954)
- Luci della mia sera (Lights of My Evening, 1956)
- Lettere (Letters, 1958)
- Drake, Richard. Sibilla Aleramo and the Peasants of the Agro Romano: A Writer's Dilemma. Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Apr. – Jun. 1990), pp. 255–272
- Aldrich, Robert and Garry Wotherspoon. Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to World War II. Routledge, London, 2001, ISBN 978-0-415-25369-7
- Sibilla Aleramo via Italian Women Writers database
- Sibilla Aleramo
- Works by Sibilla Aleramo at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Sibilla Aleramo in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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