“Women on the Verge: Emotions, Authoritarianism, and the Novel in Italy and Turkey, 1922-1936”

This dissertation explores the relationship between emotions and politics in Fascist Italy and Kemalist Turkey, specifically focusing on women-authored novels as archives of history. Following the First World War, the regimes started by Benito Mussolini and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in 1922 and 1923 respectively, were among the first authoritarian states in the world. By analyzing women-authored novels, I present an emotional and experiential history of gender politics under the Fascist and Kemalist regimes. In this project, I focus on novels by Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Suat Derviş, Halide Edip, Maria Messina, and Nezihe Muhiddin and analyze how they registered women’s responses to and critiques of authoritarian gendered politics in the interwar Mediterranean. Traditionally, these novelists are studied in biographic terms; I believe that it is essential to read their work in dialogue at a pivotal historical moment. My methodology combines close readings of novels and the incorporation of archival documents (letters, governmental reports, book reviews, and press clippings).

My project demonstrates that in authoritarian contexts, women writing about their emotional lives functioned as political commentary and as critiques of authoritarian gender politics. My transnational study integrates an interdisciplinary approach in order to more critically reassess the politics of the Early Turkish Republic than has been done previously. While historical or literary studies traditionally focus on women authors’ political activism or their literary careers as separate entities, my research contributes to twentieth-century gender history by demonstrating that women advocating for social change were multifaceted, and that their contributions span disciplines and national boundaries.