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'Collective Motherliness' in Italy and Spain:

Reception and Reformulation of Ellen Key's Ideas on Motherhood and Female Sexuality in a Southern European Context (1900-1939)

Financed by the Swedish Research Council 2016-2019.

Researchers: Ulla Åkerström (GU) och Elena Lindholm (UmU)

Project description

Research questions and background
The central research question concerns how Key’s ideas were reformulated in the feminist literature published in Italy and Spain during the time period in focus, texts aimed at a wide middle class audience. How did southern European authors and critics interpret Key’s motherhood ethics? From this question other questions emerge, concerning the understanding of Key’s ideas in southern Europe. Was there a particular understanding of her ideas due to the Catholic context, and, in that case, how did it differ from how they were received and spread in, for example, Scandinavia or Germany? Which parts of Ellen Key’s ideas concerning maternal love and collective motherliness did southern European feminist writers adopt, and which parts did they not? Were there differences between the two countries in question, Italy and Spain?

In order to answer these questions, the project will focus on analysing texts that in different ways partake in debates on motherhood, women’s rights or on gender relations, and where Ellen Key’s name or ideas can straightforwardly be traced. The main sources of influence of Ellen Key’s ideas would have been her most well known works: firstly, The Century of the Child that was published in Swedish 1900 and translated into Italian in 1906 and into Spanish in 1907, and secondly, Love and Marriage (1903) that was translated into Spanish in 1907 and into Italian in 1909 (and into French in 1906, a language widely known both in Italy and in Spain). In the first decade of the 20th century Ellen Key stayed in Italy for long periods, and she became acquainted with a large number of intellectuals: the writers Sibilla Aleramo, Giovanni Cena, Ada Negri, Fanny Salazar Zampini, the feminist Ersilia Majno Bronzini, the Lombroso family (in particular Paola e Gina Lombroso) and the writer/publisher family Orvieto, among others. Key held lectures and her ideas were discussed and debated (e.g. Filippi Gabrici 1907; Vitali 1908; Wick-Allason 1909; Sighele 1913). In 1908 she was in Milan as honorary president of the Congresso Nazionale di attività pratica femminile. Ellen Key never went to Spain, but she was nevertheless studied, and her influence acknowledged, by feminist writers as Carmen de Burgos, Federica Montseny, as well as by the intellectual and writer Santiago Valentí Camp, all well-known and very active progressive debaters in the Spanish public sphere of the early 20th century. Key’s ideas were also spread to the general public through presentations of her work in newspapers and magazines.

The study focuses on a time of great changes in Europe with lively debates, in Italy and in Spain as well as in the rest of Europe, on women’s rights and open demonstrations for women’s right to vote. The material where the reception and reformulation of Ellen Key’s ideas may be identified consists of a variety of sources, such as fiction, essays, articles in newspapers and magazines and letters written by southern European intellectuals and published in Spain and Italy between 1900 and 1939. The timeframe for the project is set to begin in 1900, with the Swedish publication of the Century of the Child, the work that initiated Key’s international career. The concluding year is set to 1939 when the Second World War broke out and when the Franco regime was installed in Spain. The dictatorship in Spain with its censorship policies and persecution of political opponents, put an end to the intellectual debates on gender relations and women’s rights that had been taking place during the earlier decades. Even when Italy was under fascist rule from the mid twenties, an item such as women’s place in society was debated and the period is to be considered quite stable and uniform up to the beginning of the Second World War, and the subsequent fall of Mussolini’s regime.

Read more about the project.

Page Manager: Annika Andersson|Last update: 10/13/2016

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