by Dacia Maraini
Dacia Maraini is something of a national treasure in Italy. The author of more than 50 books, a director of stage and screen, and an outspoken feminist, Maraini has never been afraid of controversy. The Silent Duchess won prestigious awards in Italy upon its publication there in 1990, and has since been translated into 14 languages. It tells the story of Marianna Ucria, an 18th-century noblewoman who is both deaf and mute following a mysterious childhood trauma. Though outwardly Marianna’s life follows the same trajectory as most women’s of her class and time–an arranged marriage and endless childbearing–her inner life is quite unique. Within the silent world she occupies, Marianna pursues a vigorous life of the mind; in fact, silence becomes a weapon she wields to defend her deepest, truest self against society’s suppression of women’s creativity and will. From the first, horrifying images of a child’s hanging, through Marianna’s forced marriage to her elderly uncle, and finally to her recollection of the trauma that scarred her, The Silent Duchess takes the reader on a remarkable journey through the mores and manners of 18th-century Sicily and into the mind of its enigmatic, courageous heroine.