This article discusses the symbolic values assigned to Italian women writers in the historical age that precedes national unification. At the beginning of 19th century, aiming at its Risorgimento, Italy shaped its own identity. Establishing a cultural genealogy of its women, the nation-to-be finds a way to shed light on the persistence of an erudite stream rooted in the glorious tradition of the “roman mothers”, as well as to define an image of itself as an up-to- date modern European nation. The cultural condition of its women becomes, thanks to a simplifying and still effective mechanism, measurement for the emancipation of a whole nation. How this mechanism works can be explained by the example of a dispute between the Irish novel writer Lady Morgan and the Italian pedagogue Ginevra Canonici Fachini, by analyzing their apparently irreconcilable argumentations under the perspective of their time, which point to the making of the nation and of its narration.
The aim of this article is to demonstrate that the setting up of an encyclopaedia of illustrious Italian women, that Canonici Fachini presents as a reply to the criticism expressed in Morgan's Italy (1821), constitutes, much more than explicit retorts that remain trapped in their own reciprocal contrasts, the constructive outcome of an encounter and clash of two different ways of narrating the nation. As postcolonial studies demonstrated, the more innovative propositions are in fact generated in those in-between spaces that are to be found in the wrinkles of an apparently insoluble contraposition: between the discourses with which the other represents us, and our own narration that institutes the myth of an objective self-definition.