A Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2003

Roman Fever

Domesticity and Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century American Women’s Writing

Annamaria Formichella Elsden



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Table of Contents


“In this unique study, Elsden breaks new ground by exploring the various ways in which Italy, and Italian culture and art, influenced the work of five popular 19th-century American women writers . . . . [She] demonstrates how each woman uses the relative freedom of Italy to examine—and in some cases to subvert—feminine, domestic, and even national identities. Original in its focus and innovative in its findings, this refreshing book is noteworthy for its contribution to the ongoing reassessment of women’s writing in America.” —Choice

“Elsden’s readings prove illuminating and graceful, and each chapter reveals new insights. Her book makes an important contribution to studies of travel, identity, and nineteenth-century women’s writing.” —Legacy

“Using a lovely and unobtrusive blend of cultural studies, feminist, and post-structuralist theories, Annamaria Formichella Elsden argues that Italy—its literal geography as well as its mythography—has given a number of American women writers a stage on which to perform their own identities. Elsden is a marvelous writer and this critical study reads like a good nineteenth-century novel. Any scholar interested in women’s writing, travel narratives, and nineteenth-century culture should read this enlightening book.” —Cheryl B. Torsney, West Virginia University

Critical studies have frequently acknowledged the nineteenth-century American fascination with Italy, but none specifically examines the impact of Italy on American women’s writing. A number of nineteenth-century women were privileged and daring enough to travel abroad, using a range of genres to respond discursively to their new surroundings. Annamaria Formichella Elsden’s study groups six women, whose writings were shaped by their encounters with Italy, to investigate women’s attempts to leave behind the domestic, in all the senses of that term.

Roman Fever foregrounds how women writers counteracted dominant stereotypes. Popular nineteenth-century portrayals of women abroad often fell into two categories: the overly assertive “feminist” and the hyper-feminine lady. Texts about Italy by American women move beyond these stereotypes.

The author acknowledges that women wrote beyond the narrow boundaries ascribed to them by too much criticism. Elsden argues that the work of these women, which included Catharine Maria Sedgwick and Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s travel writings, Margaret Fuller’s news dispatches, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Agnes of Sorrento, and Constance Fenimore Woolson’s and Edith Wharton’s short stories, challenged American individualist ideology while contributing to the patriotic rhetorical tradition.

Annamaria Formichella Elsden is assistant professor of English at Buena Vista University.