Elsa Morante – The Andalusian Shawl


In 1963  at nearly 50 years of age and during a really difficult period of personal crisis in her life,  the writer Elsa Morante made an unusual narrative choice which would portray her as a mature and disillusioned author: she decided to publish a collection of short stories after many successful novels.

“The Andalusian Shawl” (“Lo scialle andaluso”) came about on this basis and it contains the personal and literary journey of its writer. What surprises the most is that this collection contains just one unpublished work. It is in fact mainly composed of short stories. Elsa Morante had already published in some magazines from 1937 to 1941 (“Meridiano di Roma”, “Oggi”, “Panorama”, “Il Tesoretto”, “Prospettive”, “Bel tempo”).

After many years of literary success it is so striking for the reader to discover the writer’s undertaking in reorganizing all her short, and not yet famous, stories.

Elsa Morante tries to make this second collection different from the first one  because after 20 years she does not recognize herself and her linguistic style anymore.  A very harsh judgment towards a work which represents the beginning of her literary style:  her first works were written with a very passionate and lively style and were focused on the conditions and transformations of the human psyche. But in 1963 Elsa Morante is a totally changed woman, with different wishes and different needs. For this reason the previous topics of realism were replaced by a new obsession: maternity.

The protagonists of these short stories are women, described in all their deep psychological shades, sometimes in details sometimes with just a brush stroke. They are all narcissistic, selfish women, pushed by primordial feelings: heroines and anti-heroines analyzed in their role of mothers.

Maternity is in fact a compulsion: the theme of maternity  is always depicted as the wish of a woman too old to fulfill it or disappointed for not having fulfilled it.

In the short stories there is not only a celebration of the relationship between mother and child but also a deep analysis of the role of maternity in the writer’s  contemporary society.

In the collection “The Andalusian Shawl” Elsa Morante communicates her deep anxiety for not being able to fully understand the relationship between mother and child, a relationship that she would have never experienced.

Characters try in vain to break free from their masks but they discover that their lives reflect the play they have to stage. The reader becomes protagonist  and has to conceive what will happen when  the curtains fall, the truth is revealed and the show is over.

It is undoubtedly a very complex and ambiguous work in which Elsa Morante shows her narrative and linguistic talent but she reflects above all on her literary and personal journey, touching upon all the topics dear to her heart.

Tranlation by Irene Cadeo (edited by Ester Tossi)