A Rhetoric of the Decameron
Published: January 2004© 2003
220 Pages, 5.97 x 8.98 x 0.67 in
Both a passionate denunciation of masculinist readings of the Decameron and a meticulous critique of previous feminist analyses, Marilyn Migiel's A Rhetoric of the Decameron offers a sophisticated re-examination of the representations of women, men, gender identity, sexuality, love, hate, morality, and truth in Boccaccio's masterpiece. The Decameron stages an ongoing, dynamic, and spirited debate about issues as urgent now as in the fourteenth century - a debate that can only be understood if the Decameron's rhetorical objectives and strategies are completely reconceived.
Addressing herself equally to those who argue for a proto-feminist Boccaccio - a quasi-liberal champion of women's autonomy - and to those who argue for a positivistically secure historical Boccaccio who could not possibly anticipate the concerns of the twenty-first century, Migiel challenges readers to pay attention to Boccaccio's language, to his pronouns, his passives, his echolalia, his patterns of repetition, and his figurative language. She argues that human experience, particularly in the sexual realm, is articulated differently by the Decameron's male and female narrators, and refutes the notion that the Decameron offers an undifferentiated celebration of Eros. Ultimately, Migiel contends, the stories of the Decameron suggest that as women become more empowered, the limitations on them, including the threat of violence, become more insistent.
'A Rhetoric of the Decameron is extremely well written and very capably argued, and Marilyn Migiel brilliantly succeeds in mapping the usually subtle but sometimes aggressive politics of women narrators' responses to their male counterparts. With a patience that is exemplary, Migiel demonstrates repeatedly how difficult it is to make generalizations about Boccaccio and feminism, either pro or con. I think this book should be required reading not only for Italianists and medievalists as well as for feminists, but also for all historicist scholars who, whatever their political persuasion, believe it is possible to infer misogyny or philogyny uncomplicatedly from a premodern text. The excellence and the importance of the book lie just here, in its caution which is not timidity and its fervor which is not incendiary.'R. Allen Shoaf, Alumni Professor of English, University of Florida
'This is an exceptional contribution to the discussion in progress on the Decameron, particularly on topics that are central to current criticism. While there is much to praise in this book, including the author's panoramic theoretical framework, her encyclopedic knowledge of Boccaccio criticism, and her limpid and energetically communicative style, this project's real glory is the readings themselves. It is nothing short of exhilarating to read Migiel on the novellas. This is by far the most lucid, refined, and convincing of the analyses in print that try to do justice to the assignment of tales to tellers. The book is stimulating, meritorious, and tremendously useful, making an unassailable case for the urgent relevance of the past to the present.'Regina Psaki, Giustina Family Professor of Italian Language and Literature, University of Oregon
- Short-listed - Howard R. Marraro Prize