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Arcangela Tarabotti

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Arcangela Tarabotti


1652, Venice, Italy

Paternal tyranny

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ABWIV: Arcangela Tarabotti

Arcangela Tarabotti (24 February 1604 – 28 February 1652) was a Venetian nun and Early Modern Italian writer. Tarabotti wrote texts and corresponded with cultural and political figures for most of her adult life, centering the issues of forced enclosure, and what she saw as other symptoms and systems of patriarchy and misogyny in her works and discussions. Tarabotti wrote at least seven works, though only five were published during her lifetime. Because of the politics of Tarabotti’s works, many scholars consider her “a protofeminist writer as well as an early political theorist.”


Arcangela Tarabotti Arcangela Tarabotti and Seventeenth Century Venice Meredith K Ray

Fearless Females - Marsha Fazio

Early Life and Enclosure

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Arcangela Tarabotti was born Elena Cassandra Tarabotti in Castello, Venice. Her parents were Stefano Tarabotti and Maria Cadena. Tarabotti was one of eleven children and the eldest of six daughters. Tarabotti, like her father, had physical disabilities, which made her feel physically weak and may have contributed to her father’s conclusion that she was unfit for marriage. At the age of 11 (in 1617), Tarabotti was sent as a boarder to the Benedictine Convent of Sant’Anna and took the name “Arcangela." Such monachization—especially of daughters deemed “unmarriageable”—was common in Early Modern Europe; this practice, especially when forced or coerced, formed the thematic center of her critical works.

In 1620, Tarabotti took her first vows and, in 1623, she took her final vows rendering her monastic status permanent. At least during her earlier years in the cloister, Tarabotti was said to have been rebellious and outspoken; Tarabotti refused to wear the religious habits or cut her hair until directly ordered to do so by Catholic Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice, Federico Baldissera Bartolomeo Cornaro. Her beliefs, however, remained unchanged; Tarabotti wrote of Cardinal Cornaro, explaining that “He made me amend my vanities. I cut off my hair, but I did not uproot my emotions. I reformed my life, but my thoughts flourish rampantly, and just like my shorn hair, grow all the more.” Indeed, though Tarabotti remained less outwardly rebellious after this time, she wrote that, by living as a nun, she was “living a lie.”

Most enclosed women (or nuns) at this time lived separately from lay society, and were prohibited by Canonical law from interacting with people outside of the cloister. Enclosed as she was, Tarabotti managed to educate herself, reading and writing a great deal during her years in the convent; not only that, Tarabotti also managed to circulate her works among peers through correspondence, and appears to have had many visits from outsiders—all of which contact and correspondence were in direct disobedience of Church officials.

During her time in the cloister, Tarabotti appears to have educated herself and created an impressive network of correspondents, including various writers, scientists, and political figures. Tarabotti used this network to engage in critical political and literary discourse with cultural and political figures, and to help in the editing and publishing of five texts during her lifetime (and, ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’, her most prized work, two years after her death). Though cloistered women had unique opportunities to educate themselves and sometimes had access to books and writing materials, Tarabotti’s level of education seemed unique even among this group of women—indeed, some historians have remarked that her handwriting and other indicators of literary proficiency were “well above average.” Most unusual though, may have been Tarabotti’s radical politics and connections to influential literary and political communities.

Correspondence and Peers

Some historians argue that Tarabotti’s published ‘‘Letters’’ reveal a “wide-ranging and powerful set of correspondents that included leading cultural and political figures from throughout Northern Italy and into France.” Indeed, Tarabotti corresponded with a range of people, from subversive scientists to well known writers. Tarabotti was the only woman writer in Venice ever documented to have a relationship and correspondences with—as well as enjoy the patronage of—Giovanni Francesco Loredan, founder of the Incogniti, a prestigious Venetian literary academy. Additionally, in ‘‘Letters’’, Tarabotti boasts exchanging letters with many other members of the Venetian elite. Tarabotti corresponded and exchanged her work with Francesco Pona, a subversive author of various erotic novels and deliberately anticlerical works. Tarabotti also had various exchanges with Angelico Aprosio an elite Austrian scholar. Tarabotti also had a textual relationship with a “fugitive Carthusian priest” whose works also criticized forced monachization and mistreatment of women in the cloister. Correspondence with Giovanni Francesco Busenello— a successful Italian lawyer, a prolific poet, and an acclaimed librettist also features in Tarabotti’s ‘‘Letters’’. Tarabotti’s ‘‘Letters’’ also contain correspondence with count Pier Paolo Bissari of Vicenza, another writer whose works range from prose, to poetry, to libretti Additionally, after Tarabotti’s ‘‘Letters’’ was published, she began a correspondence with Ismaël Bullialdus, a prominent astronomer and mathematician.

Her letters situate Tarabotti in a scholarly community of writers, scientists, and other important political and cultural figures, wherein her presence as a woman was unique and hard won. Her published correspondence also made clear her unyielding resolve to circulate her works and spread her political messages. Indeed, especially in the case of ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’—the text that many historians say was her most prized and maybe most politically subversive work—‘‘Letters’’ reveals an ongoing, highly strategic, and often disappointing if impressive saga of requests for patronage and editorial help.

Writing and Politics

Tarabotti’s open criticisms of the coerced monachization of women, misogyny, and other facets of patriarchal systems made her a unique political writer. Not only was the content of Tarabotti’s written work unique, but so too was the style of her writing—Tarabotti’s mode of writing melded autobiography, fictional account, literary critique, political manifesto, invective, and hermeneutics, to create powerful works that forwarded a provocative protofeminist politics.

‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’, widely considered Tarabotti’s most prized work, lays bare her radical politics. Lynn Lara Westwater, a historian who has researched and written much on Tarabotti’s life and works calls ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’ “scathing and deeply subversive.” ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’ was indeed subversive, and was received as such: in 1654, the year it was published, the Congregation of the Index attempted to get it placed on the Index—and, thus, effectively banned. ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’ was eventually placed on the Index in 1661.

‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’ is organized into three sections or “books,” the unifying theme of which is the structures of power—from state and governmental hierarchies, to hierarchies within the church, to gender hierarchies—that ensure the subjugation of women, especially through forcing women into the cloister and denying them sufficient education. In ‘‘Paternal Tyranny’’, Tarabotti critiques misogynistic narratives in popular European writings, supporting her pro-women messages with texts such as the Bible, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the works of other Venetian women writers like Lucrezia Marinella . All in all, the text combats what its title asserts: male tyranny.


The following is a list of Tarabotti’s published works (in chronological date of publication).

  • Paradiso monacale or The Monastic Paradise (published 1643).
  • Antisarita or Antisatire (pub. 1644), an anonymous response to Francesco Buoninsegni’s *Contro ‘l lusso donnesco satira menippea (1638).
  • Lettere familiari e di complimento or Letters (pub. 1650).
  • Le Lagrime D'Arcangela Tarabotti or Arcangela Tarabotti's Tears (pub. 1650).
  • Che le donne siano della specie degli uomini Difesa delk donne or That Women are of the Human Race. Defense of Women (pub. 1651 under the pseudonym Galerana Barcitotti), a response to the anonymous tract Che le donne non siano della spezie degli uomini. Discorso piacevole or Women Do Not Belong to the Species Mankind. An Amusing Speech (1647).
  • Tirannia paterna or Paternal Tyranny (pub. posthumously in 1654 as La semplicità ingannata or Innocence Deceived).
  • L’inferno monacle or The Convent Hell (pub. posthumously in 1990).
  • References

    Arcangela Tarabotti Wikipedia

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