cover image Teresa


Anna Radius Zuccari, Neera. Northwestern University Press, $18 (201pp) ISBN 978-0-8101-1662-7

This novel about a vibrant and romantic young woman oppressed and gradually worn down by social mores and family ties was first published in 1886, and is the fourth work by the prolific Italian writer Neera (Anna Radius Zuccari) to be translated into English. Fifteen-year-old Theresa Caccia, daughter of a tax-collector in a provincial Italian town, is at first happy to stay at home and help her long-suffering mother care for the younger members of the family. The life of an eldest daughter offers little experience outside the small circle of home and church, and young Theresa is enraptured by any contact with the bigger world--a visit to her aunt's village, a trip to the opera. An encounter with Orlandi, a man from Parma known for his flamboyant bravery and extravagant manner, resembles an operatic scene: on a rare outing, Theresa peers out from the fragrant and romantic setting of an old church at the same moment Orlandi looks through the window from the outside, their eyes locking. Thus begins a passionate yet lofty love quickly stifled by the conventions of family and society. Because Theresa's domineering father insists that family funds must be dedicated to the education and career of his only son, Theresa is denied a dowry and forbidden to marry the penniless Orlandi, who leaves to seek his fortune, remaining faithful, in a fashion, to his ideal love. Theresa fades over the years into an image of her frail and submissive mother, becoming inwardly bitter with repressed longing for experience. Not until youth and familial obligations have ended does Theresa leave home to care for the ailing Orlandi. An excellent translation renders this dramatic feminist classic easy to read, a poignant psychological study of a conflicted young woman. (Jan.)