Alba de Céspedes belonged to a cosmopolitan, wealthy, politically-prominent family and lived in various countries, namely Italy and Cuba where her father was ambassador and briefly President. She published her first novel, Nessuno torna indietro with the leading published Mondadori in 1938, the year of the promulgation of the racial laws. In this novel, she details the female condition and problematizes the role of women in Fascist society through multiple narratives. Due to its portrayal of independent and emancipated women who defied the regime's ideals, Mondadori had to rescue the novel from censorship. Nessuno torna indietro was eventually published uncensored and translated into several languages, gained significant international.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
The novel explores the role of women and female subjectivity by interweaving multiple narratives. The female protagonists Xenia, Vinca, Emanuela, Augusta, Silvia, Milly, Valentina e Anna live in the middle-class 'Convitto Grimaldi' in Rome. They are there for various reasons, from studying to escaping a scandal. They gather to talk about themselves and about their aspirations after college, often lamenting the lack of professional opportunities available to women. They also frequently discuss their romantic interests and such conversations indicate their growing independence and sexual emancipation. The themes of the novel are therefore not in line with the regime's propaganda and policies about women, especially in 1938 when the novel was released. Such themes, female professional development and emancipation, nonetheless represent a form of modernity; primarily a social modernity, aimed at modernizing the public sphere. These young women want to study or have a career in order to change their role within the public sphere and gain control of their lives. In other words, the novel does represent modernity and modernization and sits squarely within the boundaries of State art for its solidly constructed narrative.
The novel portrays women realistically, both in their individual stories and in the development of their subjectivities. In doing so, de Céspedes was a pioneer, offering a novel with intersecting narratives in which the protagonists' individual stories are turned into a collective subject, active and present within the social fabric. Nessuno torna indietro is realist novel, aptly fusing subjectivity and objectivity with potentially subversive content. Yet overall, despite this content, the novel explores the possibility of realism within the overarching the idea of building a realist novel within the overarching frame of the arte di Stato (e.g. accessible and solidly built narrative prose).
Bonsaver, Guido. 2007. Censorship and Literature in Fascist Italy. Toronto: Toronto University Press.
De Giorgio, Michela (preface). 2000. Writing Beyond Fascism: Cultural Resistance in the Life and Works of Alba de Céspedes. Carole C. Gallucci (ed. and introd.) and Ellen Nerenberg (ed. and introd.). Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson UP.
Ferme, Valerio. 2006. 'Against Marriage and Child-Rearing: Alba De Céspedes' Nessuno torna indietro vis-à-vis the Social Framework of Mussolini's Pro-natal, Pro-marriage Campaigns of the Ventennio.' Italian Quarterly 43 (167-168): 45-57.
Nerenberg, Ellen. 1991. '"Donna proprio … proprio donna": The Social Construction of Femininity in Nessuno torna indietro.' RLA: Romance Languages Annual 3: 267-73.
Pickering-Iazzi, Robin (ed.). 1995. Mothers of Invention. Women, Italian Fascism, and Culture. Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press.
Zancan, Marina (ed.). 2001. Alba de Céspedes. Milan: Fondazione Arnoldo e Alberto Mondadori.