Banti, Gentileschi, Sontag, Woolf: Women Writers Engaging Across Time


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London Times news clipping, August 5th 1944, reporting on the destruction of the bridges in Florence, Italy.

‘Non Piangere.’ Don’t cry. These are the opening words of Anna Banti’s novel Artemisia.” And those were the opening words of “A Double Destiny,” Susan Sontag’s essay on Banti sixty years after fascist mines levelled, among others, Banti’s florentine home. On August 4th, 1944, the Italian author lost a manuscript, a novelization of 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, in the rubble.

Don’t cry: Sontag asks, “Who is talking to whom?” It is Banti, addressing Artemisia in a “dance with [her] protagonist” which Sontag likens to Virginia Woolf’s engagement with the eponymous character in Orlando.

Woolf and Banti were separated by geography and war; the news of the destruction in Florence would’ve reached Woolf tangentially, if at all. On August 5th, newspapers reported “South African troops…found five of the six bridges across the Arno…already destroyed.” But the two are enmeshed in the tradition of women writers. Though there is no correspondence, Banti admired Woolf and translated Jacob’s Room into Italian.

Artemisia Gentileschi's painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes

Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting, Judith Slaying Holofernes

In “Destiny,” Sontag draws the two closer, much as Banti draws Artemisia close in her novel. Gentileschi, who is most famous for Judith Slaying Holofernes, a painting often associated with the artist’s efforts to bring her rapist to trial at age nineteen, is the impetus for a conversation amongst female artists which is continued, not terminated, in “Double Destiny.” If we ask of the essay, “Who is talking to whom?” Sontag is Who, and Whom is the next generation of women writers, finding in their predecessors historical throughlines of hope. 

Posted by: Maggie Dapogny

(Header image: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/71927000/jpg/_71927730_florence_bridge_ap624.jpg)

Gentileschi, Artemisia. Judith Slaying Holofernes. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Web. 29 Feb 2016.

Our Special Correspondent. “In Outskirts Of Florence.” Times [London, England] 5 Aug. 1944: 4. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 28 Feb. 2016.

Sontag, Susan. “A Double Destiny.” At the Same Time. Ed. Paolo Dilonardo, Anne Jump. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. Print.

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