Clara Sereni

 

 

Clara Sereni

Clara Sereni was born in 1946 in Rome and lived there until, in 1991, she moved to Perugia, where she lived until her voluntary assisted death in Switzerland in 2018. Her mother, Xenia Silberberg, was the daughter of two Russian revolutionaries; her father, Emilio Sereni, originally from an upper-class Roman-Jewish family, was a leading member of the Italian Communist Party between the 1930s and the 1970s.

In her 20s, she worked as a secretary, conference organizer, and occasional folk singer, and was involved in the radical leftist group Lotta Continua. Between 1995 and 1997 she was Deputy Mayor of Perugia. Being what she defined as ‘the handicapped mother’ of a son living with psychosis led to her becoming, in 1998, one of the founders of La Città del Sole, a non-profit foundation which provides holiday accommodation and support for families of people with mental health issues; she was its President until 2009. In 2010 she co-founded and directed le farfalle, a series with the Perugia publisher Ali&No which produces books about women who have contributed to Italian history, science, politics, and humanitarian activities in other continents.

All Sereni’s work has a strongly autobiographical component, straddling the line between fiction, autobiography, and autofiction: she describes her experiences within her family, at work, as the mother of a difficult son, her Jewishness, her political activities, friendships, and relationships as fragments of 20th-century Italian history. Her first novel, Sigma Epsilon (1974), overlooked by readers and reviewers, contains vivid descriptions of women’s secondary role in left-wing culture. Her second book, Casalinghitudine (1987), made her known inside and outside Italy; the title, Sereni’s own neologism, quickly became part of the Italian vocabulary. The text foregrounds food as a metonym for cultures, power relations, and the narrated self’s subjectivity. Il gioco dei regni (1993), her most complex and wide-ranging work, is a reconstruction of the complicated history of three generations of her extended family, in Russia, Italy, other European countries, and Israel. Her conflicts and disappointments in the Perugia town council are described, in a thinly fictionalised account, in the novel Passami il sale (2002). Il lupo mercante (2007) is also a collection of stories, told from the point of view of women who were little girls in the 1950s, teenagers in the 1960s, and politically and socially active women between the 1970s and the beginning of the new century. Many of their experiences mirror those narrated in Sereni’s previous autobiographical accounts. Her last book, Via Ripetta 155 (2015), set between 1967 and 1977, is a further retrieval of her own personal and political development; her hopes and mistakes are recontextualised, with ruthless honesty and irony, against the hopes and mistakes of her generation, and, at the end of the decade, against their personal and collective bitterness at what they saw as their failure to change the world.

The less directly autobiographical works also deal with Sereni’s recurrent themes of marginalization, solidarity, and relationship between the personal and the political, seen mainly through women’s perspectives. Le merendanze (2004) is about a group of Italian women who get to know migrant women through shared involvement in a fund-raising project; Sereni promoted a similar project and, as she did with casalinghitudine, created a word for it: merendanzo, a blend of merenda (snack) and pranzo (lunch). The stories in the collections Manicomio primavera (1989) and Eppure (1995) represent various forms of diversity (relating to health, age, sexuality, ethnicity) and envisage tentative possibilities for private and public survival. Una storia chiusa (2012) is a multi-voiced text focused on the tension between collective memory and individual memories: a group of elderly residents of a retirement village are, in different ways, lonely, disenchanted, and frustrated at what Italy has become 60 years since the end of WWII, with only small threads of stubborn hope holding them together.

Sereni also wrote on political and social topics for the left-wing newspapers L’Unità and Il manifesto. Some of these articles have been collected in Taccuino di un’ultimista (1998): Sereni often used the word ultimista, someone who takes the side of the people at the bottom of the social heap, as one of the ways she could define herself. She also edited Si può, a collection of essays on the integration of people with mental illnesses (1996), and Amore caro, a collection of testimonies from well-known Italians who live with disabilities, their own or those of a loved one (2009), and translated French literary works by Balzac, Stendhal, and Madame de La Fayette.

She was awarded two prizes for Il gioco dei regni (Premio Società dei Lettori in 1992-1993 and Premio Marotta in 1993) and for Passami il sale (Premio Letterario Nazionale di Pisa in 2002 and Premio Grinzane Cavour in 2003).

Sereni never identified as a feminist, but in one of her last interviews she stated: ‘I told many more stories of women than of men […] because women seem to be richer in contradictions than men, and contradictions are key to every possible story’. In Via Ripetta 155 she acknowledges that her viewing of her conflicts with men as personal rather than political was a mistake: ‘I could not see many things that were happening close to me, such as feminism. Feminism did change me, but I did not realise it’.

Her work has not received as much critical attention as it deserves, but scholars in Italy and the United States have analyzed her way of tracing the intersections between personal and public histories and between secular Jewishness and Italian culture.

 

Bibliography

Narrative

Sigma Epsilon (Venice/Padua: Marsilio, 1974; Perugia: Ali&No Editrice, 2021)

Casalinghitudine (Turin: Einaudi, 1987)

Manicomio primavera (Florence: Giunti, 1989) [short stories]

Il gioco dei regni (Florence: Giunti, 1993; Milan: Rizzoli, 2007; New edn., Florence-Milan: Giunti, 2017)

‘La figlia buona’ in Il pozzo segreto. Cinquanta scrittrici italiane ed. by Maria Rosa Cutrufelli, Rosaria Guacci, and Marisa Rusconi (Florence: Giunti, 1993, pp. 204-210); also in Sereni: Eppure (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1995, pp. 25-31)

Eppure (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1995) [short stories]

Passami il sale (Milan: Rizzoli, 2002)

Le merendanze (Milan: Rizzoli, 2004)

Il lupo mercante (Milan: Rizzoli, 2007) [short stories]

Una storia chiusa (Milan: Rizzoli, 2012)

Via Ripetta 155 (Florence: Giunti, 2015)

Collections of Essays

Taccuino di un’ultimista (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1998)

Da un grigio all’altro (Rome: Di Renzo, 1998)

[ed.] Si può! (Rome: e/o, 1996)

[ed.] Amore caro. A filo doppio con persone fragili (Milan: Cairo, 2009)

Translations into Italian by Sereni

Intrighi d’amore e altre storie [Translation of a selection of texts from Stendhal’s diaries and memoirs] (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1980)

‘La Grande Bretèche’ [Translation of Honoré de Balzac’s ‘La Grande Bretèche’] in Honoré de Balzac: L’albergo rosso ed. by Bruno Schacherl (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1984)

Marco Aurelio [Translation of Charles Parain’s Marc-Aurèle] (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1986)

Béatrix [Translation of Honoré de Balzac’s Béatrix] (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1995)

Clara Sereni presenta Zaïde di Madame de La Fayette [Translation of Madame de La Fayette’s Zaïde] (Bari: Laterza, 1995)

Stage Adaptations of Sereni's Work

Casalinghitudine [written, directed and performed by Carlina Torta] (Festival di Todi, 1990)

Manicomio primavera [written, directed and performed by Carlina Torta] (Teatro Verdi, Milan, 1996)

A cercare insieme i fiori [inspired by Sereni’s life and work; written, directed and performed by Carlina Torta] (Teatro Il filo in Mugello, 2019)

 

Translations into Foreign Languages

English

‘The Good Daughter’ [Translation of ‘La figlia buona’ by Angela M. Jeannet] in After the War: A Collection of Short Fiction by Postwar Italian Women ed. by Martha King (New York: Italica Press, 2004, pp. 217-224)

Keeping House: A Novel in Recipes [Translation of Casalinghitudine by Giovanna Miceli Jeffries and Susan Briziarelli] (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005)

French

Le jeu des royaumes [Translation of Il gioco dei regni by Fabienne-Andréa-Costa] (Paris: Éditions Autrement, 2003)

Hebrew

Mischak hamamlachaot [Translation of Il gioco dei regni by Meron Rapoport] (Tel Aviv: HaKibbutz Hameuchad, 1995)

Norwegian

Liv og livretter. Italiensk roman med oppskrifter [Translation of Casalinghitudine by Werna Wiik] (Oslo: Engelstad, 2006)

 

Criticism

Anderlini D’Onofrio, Serena: ‘Utopias, Metabolized: Queering Communism and Zionism in Clara Sereni’s Testimonial Narratives’ in Contemporary Jewish Writers in Italy: A Generational Approach, ed. by Raniero Speelman, Monica Jansen and Silvia Gaiga (Utrecht: Italianistica Ultraiectina, 2007, pp. 243-259)

Biagioli, Beatrice [ed.]: Le carte di Clara Sereni: Censimento (Regione Toscana, Archivio per la memoria e la scrittura delle donne ‘Alessandra Contini Bonacossi’, 2011) available online at https://www.archiviodistato.firenze.it/memoriadonne/cartedidonne/cdd_41_biagioli.pdf

Caputo, Francesca [ed.]: Per Clara Sereni. Scrittrice impura e sconfinante (Sommacampagna, Verona: Cierre Edizioni, 2021) [Proceedings of a conference held at the Dipartimento di scienze umane per la formazione ‘Riccardo Massa’, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy, 18 November 2019]

Carotenuto, Carla: Identità femminile e conflittualità nella relazione madre-figlia. Sondaggi nella letteratura italiana contemporanea: Duranti, Sanvitale, Sereni (Pesaro: Metauro, 2012)

Chemello, Adriana: ‘La genealogia riconosciuta di Clara Sereni’ in Parole scolpite: Profili di scrittrici degli anni Novanta, ed. by Adriana Chemello (Padua: Il Poligrafo, 1998, pp. 103-119)

Chiacchiarelli, Marialaura: ‘“Il filo della memoria”. Esperienze diasporiche nell’opera di Clara Sereni’ in Ebrei migranti: le voci della diaspora ed. by Raniero Speelman, Monica Jansen, and Silvia Gaiga (Italianistica Ultraiectina 7. Utrecht: Igitur Publishing, 2012, pp. 336-347)

Cicioni, Mirna: ‘“Better Losers than Lost”: Self, Other and Irony in Clara Sereni’s Autobiographical Macrotext’ in Across Genres, Generations and Borders. Italian Women Writing Lives, ed. by Susanna Scarparo and Rita Wilson (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004, pp. 86-99)

—: ‘Writing as Jews and Women: Negotiating appartenenze in the Autobiographical Macrotexts of Natalia Ginzburg and Clara Sereni’ in Women’s Writing in Western Europe: Gender, Generation and Legacy, ed. by Adalgisa Giorgio and Julia Waters (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007, pp. 362-374)

—: ‘Speaking “as a” and Speaking “for”: Multiple appartenenze in the Autobiographical Macrotexts of Aldo Zargani and Clara Sereni’ in Contemporary Jewish Writers in Italy: A Generational Approach, ed. by Raniero Speelman, Monica Jansen and Silvia Gaiga (Utrecht: Italianistica Ultraiectina, 2007, pp. 261-275)

—: ‘Il cibo come linguaggio nella narrativa di Clara Sereni’ in Quaderni dell’Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Melbourne 2003-2008, ed. by John Gatt-Rutter and Gerardo Papalia (Melbourne: Italian Australian Institute, 2009, pp. 89-104)

Cicioni, Mirna and Walker, Susan: ‘Picking Up the Pieces: Clara Sereni’s Recipes for Survival’ in Novel Turns Towards 2000: Critical Perspectives on Contemporary Narrative Writing from Western Europe, ed. by John Gatt-Rutter (Melbourne: Voz Hispanica, 2000, pp. 35-47)

Clementi, Federica K.: ‘Natalia Ginzburg, Clara Sereni and Lia Levi: Jewish Women Recapturing Cities, Families and National Memories’ (European Journal of Women’s Studies, 21.2, 2014, pp. 132-147)

De Angelis, Gabriella: ‘Gemiti e guaiti: bambini, animali, malati in un racconto di Clara Sereni’ (Italies: Culture, civilisation, société, 10, 2006, pp. 213-227)

—:‘Clara Sereni: la sfida della differenza’ in Contemporary Jewish Writers in Italy: A Generational Approach, ed. by Raniero Speelman, Monica Jansen and Silvia Gaiga (Utrecht: Italianistica Ultraiectina, 2007, pp. 231-242)

—: ‘Clara Sereni: cucinare e scrivere per tenere insieme il mondo’ in Tra storia e immaginazione: gli scrittori ebrei di lingua italiana si raccontano, ed. by Hanna Serkowska (Krakow: Bollettino di studi italiani, collana dell’Istituto Italiano di Cultura di Varsavia, 2008, pp. 237-250)

—: ‘Clara Sereni, ovvero l’indecente differenza’ (Cahiers d’études italiennes (Online), 7, 2008, pp. 335-345) available online at http://journals.openedition.org/cei/941

—: ‘Storia, memoria e costruzione dell’identità ne "Il gioco dei regni" di Clara Sereni’ in Tempo e memoria nella lingua e nella letteratura italiana. Atti del XVII Congresso AIPI, Ascoli Piceno, 22–26 agosto 2006, Vol. 3: Narrativa del Novecento e degli anni Duemila (Florence: Franco Cesati Editore, 2009, pp. 287-298)

Deghenghi Olujić, Elis: ‘L'universo femminile, lo spazio domestico e la famiglia nelle opere di Clara Sereni’ (Studia Polensia, 1.1, 2012, pp. 45-67)

Del Principe, Davide: ‘Consuming Women and Animals in Clara Sereni’s Casalinghitudine’ (Italica, 76.2, Summer 1999, pp. 205-219)

Gaglianone, Paola [ed.]: Conversazione con Clara Sereni. Donne, scrittura e politica (Rome: Omicron, 1996)

Gherlone, Laura: ‘Scrittrici italo-ebree tra ricordi e memoria transgenerazionale’ (Olho d’água, 10.2, 2018, pp. 163-176)

Greatti, Silvia: ‘"La scrittura di frontiera": autobiografia e altro ne Il gioco dei regni di Clara Sereni’ (Studi novecenteschi, 36.78, 2009, pp. 395-418)

Green, Paula: 'Writing Home to Her Mother and Father: Fabrizia Ramondino’s Althénopis and Clara Sereni’s Casalinghitudine' [PhD dissertation] (University of Auckland, 2004)

Kolsky, Stephen: ‘Clara Sereni’s Casalinghitudine: The Politics of Writing. Structure and Intertextuality’ (Italian Quarterly, 133-134, 1997, pp. 47-58)

Luti, Giorgio: ‘Gli anni spietati di Clara Sereni’ in Conversazione con Clara Sereni. Donne, scrittura e politica ed. by Paola Gaglianone (Rome: Omicron, 1996, pp. 33-57)

Marotti, Maria Ornella: ‘Revising the Past: Feminist Historians/Historical Fictions’ in Gendering Italian Fiction:Feminist Revisions of Italian History, ed. by Maria Ornella Marotti and Gabriella Brooke (London: Associated University Presses, 1999, pp. 49-70)

Menozzi, Giuliana: ‘Food and Subjectivity in Clara Sereni’s Casalinghitudine’ (Italica, 71.2, 1994, pp. 217-227)

Miceli Jeffries, Giovanna: ‘Unsigned History: Silent, Micro-“Technologies of Gender” in the Narratives of the Quotidian’ in Gendering Italian Fiction: Feminist Revisions of Italian History, ed. by Maria Ornella Marotti and Gabriella Brooke (London: Associated University Presses, 1999, pp. 71-84)

—: ‘La tensione civile nella narrativa di Clara Sereni’ in Studi in onore di Umberto Mariani: da Verga a Calvino, ed. by Anthony Costantini and Franco Zangrilli (Florence: Cadmo, 2002, pp. 187-198)

Palumbo, Matteo: ‘Il gioco dei regni di Clara Sereni: la Mater dolorosa e il lutto della storia’ (Notes per la psicoanalisi, 11.1, 2018, pp. 103-109)

Paulicelli, Eugenia: ‘Poetica e politica dello spazio nella scrittura di Clara Sereni’ (Athanor, 11, 2008, pp. 157-163)

Paulicelli, Eugenia and David Ward: ‘Interview with Clara Sereni’ (L’anello che non tiene, 9, 1997, pp. 82-111)

Pellizzi, Federico: ‘Casalinghitudini tra identità e storia: La scrittura pluristratificata di Clara Sereni’ in Contemporary Jewish Writers in Italy: A Generational Approach, ed. by Raniero Speelman, Monica Jansen and Silvia Gaiga (Utrecht: Italianistica Ultraiectina, 2007, pp. 277-292)

Po, Giulia: Scrivere la diversità: Autobiografia e politica in Clara Sereni (Florence: Franco Cesati Editore, 2012)

Po DeLisle, Giulia: ‘Via Ripetta 155: The Last Piece of Clara Sereni’s Life Writing Story’ (Forum Italicum, 55.1, 2021, pp. 109-125)

Properzi Nelsen, Elisabetta: ‘Clara Sereni and Contemporary Italian-Jewish Literature’ in The Most Ancient of Minorities – The Jews of Italy, ed. by Stanislao Pugliese (Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002, pp.157-167)

Raizen, Esther: ‘Jewish Identity and the Female Storyteller in Clara Sereni’s Il gioco dei regni’ (Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies & Gender Issues, 30, 2016, pp. 74-97)

Scricciolo, Puma Valentina: ‘Un doppio gioco d’archivio. Clara Sereni e la nuova edizione de Il gioco dei regni’ (Quaderni del ’900, 19, 2019, pp. 107-123)

—: Io volevo essere io. Clara Sereni e la scrittura (Rome: Aracne, 2021)

Scrimieri, Maria Grazia: ‘Il gioco dei regni: diaspora affettiva e diaspora politica nella famiglia Sereni’ (Carte italiane, 12, 2019, pp. 75-88) available online  https://escholarship.org/uc/item/89t2q64w

Serafini, Francesca: ‘Lingua e linguaggi nelle opere di Clara Sereni’ in Parola di scrittore. La lingua della narrativa italiana dagli anni Settanta ad oggi ed. by Valeria Della Valle (Rome: Minimum Fax, 1997, pp. 61-70)

Silvestri, Francesca and Puma Valentina Scricciolo [eds]: Clara Sereni (Perugia: Ali&No Editrice, 2019)

 

 

Interviews/in the Media

Interviews

Caputo, Iaia and Laura Lepri: ‘Scrivere per non mangiarsi il cuore’ in Conversazioni di fine secolo. 12 interviste con 12 scrittrici contemporanee ed. by Iaia Caputo and Laura Lepri (Milan: La Tartaruga, 1995, pp. 159-173) 

Di Paolo, Paolo: ‘Vissuto da pelle femminile’ (Italialibri, 10 September 2007) available online at https://www.italialibri.net/interviste/?ClaraSereni&id=150

Grasso, Laura: ‘Non è più tempo di “intellettuali alla finestra”. Intervista a Clara Sereni’ (n.d.) available online at  web.tiscali.it/confronti/archivio/set02_05.htm

Nicolini, Marzia: ‘Clara Sereni: “Il mio 68? Più sconfitte che vittorie, però…”’ (Corriere della Sera, iodonna, 2 marzo 2015)

Paulicelli, Eugenia and David Ward: ‘Interview with Clara Sereni’ (L’anello che non tiene, 9, 1997, pp. 82-111)

Sarasini, Bia: ‘Primavera anche all’inferno’ (Noi Donne, May 1989, pp. 76-78)

Documentaries

Clara Sereni. Ritratto a più voci di una scrittrice da rileggere (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, 21 November 2019) available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6_KIBrYyBk

Rulli, Stefano: Un silenzio particolare (2004) [on the project La Città del Sole and the tentative integration of Sereni’s son Matteo] available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68EAoiODMCQ

Segre, Daniele: Sto lavorando? (1998) [on the work experience of Sereni’s son Matteo] available online at  https://vimeo.com/ondemand/stolavorando

 

Compiled by Mirna Cicioni (Monash)