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Lucienne Kroha

Research interests

Prof. Kroha's area of specialization is nineteenth and twentieth century narrative literature, although in the case of Pirandello, one of her main interests, she has also ventured into the study of drama. She began her career with a series of articles on the novels of the Italian patriot Giovanni Ruffini, which he wrote in English during his exile in London in the years just before the unification of the peninsula. A page in the cultural history of Anglo-Italian relations, her research on Ruffini focused largely on the communicative dimension of his work, on his dialogue with the preconceptions and prejudices about Italy that he perceived to exist in the minds of Britons and other Europeans, and, in particular, with the image of Italy created by Mme de Stael in her famous novel Corinne ou l'Italie (1807).

Although Prof. Kroha's interests have since moved in various different directions, this early work was to set the stage for numerous subsequent forays into the relations, acknowledged or otherwise, between Italian writers and the broader European literary and cultural context to which they frequently turned for inspiration, particularly in the years just after Unification. In 1992, she published a book entitled The Woman Writer in Late-Nineteenth Century Italy. Gender and the Formation of Literary Identity (Edwin Mellen Press), one of the pioneering works of Italian feminist criticism. The book concentrates on the four main women writers of the period, Matilde Serao, Neera, Marchesa Colombi and Sibilla Aleramo, bringing to light, for the first time, the complex social, psychological and literary dynamics of women's writing in a nation coming late and with much baggage to nationhood, modernity and mass culture. This exploration of how women writers dealt with the tensions and taboos involved in breaking down the barriers of the male-dominated, elitist and archaic world of Italian letters also identifies important, frequently veiled, intertextual presences, who offered the dialogue necessary to help these writers find their voices: George Sand, George Eliot, Mme de Stael, Gustave Flaubert and Henrik Ibsen, all inhabit the pages of their stories, either for their achievements as women or for their attention to women's issues.

After focusing for several years on minor writers, Prof. Kroha turned her attention to the greatest Italian writer of the period, if not of the twentieth century, Luigi Pirandello. She was drawn to his work initially by the fact that he had published, in 1911, a novel on a woman writer, entitled Her Husband. She subsequently extended her research on him to include the entire corpus of his work - essays, novels, short stories and, of course, theatre - paying particular attention to the ways in which he dealt with issues of gender, since he appeared to be particularly sensitive to the changing choreography of gender roles and to its repercussions on the institution of the family.

The research on Pirandello - the results of which were published in eight separate articles - brought to light not only specific new sources of his work in the writings of Dostoevsky and the German novelist Theodor Fontane, but large, previously obfuscated components of it, directly related to the crisis of the patriarchal order that was part of the larger crisis of values at the end of the "long nineteenth century." Prof. Kroha's research also shows how Pirandello used what he considered his mandate as an anti-naturalist writer - to represent the "unrepresentable" - to access and inscribe in his texts the hidden psychological tensions lurking beneath the social surface. Of particular importance is her discovery of a previously unknown source of Pirandello's first novel, L'Esclusa (1893), in Theodor Fontane's L'Adultera (1882), which then led to the identification of other intertexts, including the New Testament episode of Christ and the Adulteress. The identification of these interlocutors in the Pirandello text considerably enriched the accepted interpretation of this novel, and also led to the identification of important submerged themes that cut across almost all of Pirandello's work - the theme of woman as "object of exchange," and the themes of male rivalry and male homosocial desire. Although previous criticism had on occasion alluded in passing to aspects of these recurring motifs, no one had traced their presence in so many of his novels, plays and short stories, nor had their implications for the interpretation of his work been fully understood. Her work on Pirandello then led her to examine other writers of his time, in particular his Sicilian compatriots, Maria Messina and Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, both of whom dealt with issues of gender and the crisis of values, and both of whom were influenced by Pirandello. In the case of Borgese's famous WWI novel Rube (1921), she was able to identify precise links between his representation of males in crisis and the earlier works of Freud, thus also showing that the ideas of Freud had penetrated Italian literature before the publication of Italo Svevo's Coscienza di Zeno (1923), generally considered the first "Freudian" novel.

A third area of interest for Prof. Kroha has been the work of the Italian-Jewish post-WWII novelist Giorgio Bassani, whose most famous novel is The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1960). Her work on Bassani has examined the intermingling of issues of race, class and sexual orientation in the trilogy of first-person novels that constitute his complex, multi-layered foray into the troubled psyche of a young Jew in Fascist Italy. Two articles on Bassani have already been published and she is currently working on a third, which examines Bassani's first novel, The Gold-Rimmed Eyeglasses, as a post-Holocaust rewrite of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. This article promises to be a contribution to Mann scholarship as well as to Bassani scholarship since it demonstrates previously undetected connections between the Mann text and the German-Jewish writer Heinrich Heine's Baths of Lucca, a common source for both Bassani and Mann.