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Alice Ceresa: Bambine [Girls]

Anyone who still believes in the Victorian-style nuclear family – paterfamilias, submissive wife/mother and two horrible children – could do no better than read this book which demolishes this type of family. This is not, however, a vicious satire or a catalogue of the ills of a Victorian father. Indeed, Ceresa is at pains to point out that he is not a bad man. What Ceresa does and does very well is to draw a seemingly objective picture of a”normal” family, almost a scientific report, if you like, which skillfully brings out the sheer horror of the normality. It is hard to compare it to anything else I have read except, perhaps, somewhat remotely, Brian AldissReport on Probability A.

Ceresa is not, of course, endeavouring to write a straightforward scientific report. She adroitly slips in comments, particularly about the warring daughters, but also about the well-meaning but ultimately demeaning father. For this book is clearly a feminist demolition of the nuclear family, showing how the mother, in particular, is a complicit victim in her own subjugation but also how both mother and father are already trying to train their daughters to be good wives and mothers (they even have domestic science homework!). Normality does not mean well-behaved. The daughters are horrible and are always squabbling, fall in love with the same men and, we are told, end up having little to do with one another as adults. However, it is, ironically, this aspect of the family’s normality that might be the most appealing. For the rest, the ogre of a normal Victorian-style father is a wonderful though frightening creation by Ceresa.

Publishing history

First published in Italian 1990 by Einaudi
No English translation
Published in French as Scènes d’intérieur avec fillettes by Editions Zoé in 1993
Translated by Adrien Pasquali
Published in German as Bambine: Geschichte einer Kindheit by eFeF-Verlag in 1997
Translated by Maja Pflug