The Bold One

Sibilla Aleramo

Gisella Lombardi

“Do we have a right to live for ourselves?”

“Do we have a right to live for ourselves?”

To this question, Sibilla Aleramo answered for her whole life with a deafening yes. Hers was a life dedicated to the pursuit of freedom, of her own self and of her own independence. A radical choice, repeated again and again, reiterated by breaking all the rules.

Rina Faccio was born in 1876 in Alessandria, the first of four children. She only attends elementary school and, afterwards, at 12 years old she begins working as an accountant in the glassware shop run by her father, to whom she is very close. Her mother suffers a severe depression that leads her to attempt suicide. She will never recover and will spend the rest of her days in an asylum. Rina, therefore, started to look after her siblings as well. In the evening, after putting them to bed, she dedicates some time to herself, stealing a bit of sleep from the night, as she writes. Writing is her way to escape, but also to fill the small-town life that fits her too tight. When she was 15 years old, one of the glassware shop’s employees, whom she will forcefully have to marry, rapes her. As expected, the marriage is anything but happy. After a miscarriage, Rina gives birth to a baby boy, Walter. She tries to identify with the role of a mother and wife, tries to find happiness in it but, despite her love for her son, it does not belong to her. A year after giving birth, Rina attempts suicide as well.

It’s a story that she’s seen before and knows how it ends. She finds the strength to get through it, holding onto her writings, and the letters that she exchanges with influential women like Alessandra Ravizza and Paolina Schliff, she begins to take an interest in practical feminism and to work for some newspapers. The relationship with her husband becomes increasingly strained; he tries to lock her inside the house, sometimes even preventing her from writing letters. At 25 years old, she does not see any way out other than leaving. And thus she leaves her husband and leaves her son. She chooses herself. If by leaving the former, she deserts social norms and financial security; by leaving the latter she draws a neat line between being a woman and being a mother, reclaiming her own individuality as fundamental. She hopes that, someday, her son will understand, that he will not see in her the example of someone who made a selfish choice; but rather, someone who reflected human rights in herself, without relinquishing her share of sun, love, work and fight. She hopes that he, too, will be bold in the pursuit of his own freedom and that, just like her, he will not abruptly put an end to his own existence merely because of a conceptual, as much as fake, perception of parental duty towards his offspring. Nevertheless, she desperately seeks to obtain custody of her child, but the law is against her.


Rina moves to Rome, where she begins an affair with Giovanni Cena: at last a modern man, whom she considers worthy of her. The relationships, personal as well as artistic, offer her a new name, Sibilla Aleramo, a new way of viewing love and the space she needed to write her first novel: “A Woman”. A novel in which she lays herself bare, recounting everything about herself, candidly, from the rape to her marriage, the subsequent depression, the extra-marital affair and, finally, the choice of leaving everything behind. This is the first time a woman has strayed from fiction in order to talk openly about herself. Boldly. Many friends of hers turn their backs on her because of her choices, but most of all because of the way she has decided to talk about them. Contrary to her friends, her only comfort is knowing that a lot of other women will find in those words a piece of themselves.

Sibilla experiences as many things as possible, does charitable works, runs and writes for several newspapers, and publishes her own texts, especially collections of poetry. However, she will never find stable employment that will allow her to live without debts and not risk destitution. She often relies on sheltered charity; poverty is, perhaps, the most painful aspect of her independent life.

As one of her friends replied when she complained about not being able to write her own novel, her novel is written every day, but to her friends and lovers in her correspondences. To Sibilla, the letter she received from her father when she was little was the first thing that made her feel like a grown-up. Letters allowed her to come into contact with the feminists of her time, who would later become her closest friends, profound relationships characterised by extensive correspondence. Letters are what she relentlessly writes to her lovers and when she writes, she discovers, explores herself, she wonders about love and she explores the other, tries to come into contact with them, maybe in a way that’s even more intimate than in person. Her letters, more than her diaries, portray her pursuit of life, of the meaning of love, of her own identity. She goes as far as writing letters long a hundred pages. In dialogue, she discovers herself. She loves, therefore she is.


Sibilla does not shy away from transgression, but she rather embraces it. She questions monogamy, falls in love with Lina Poletti with whom she will be in a relationship for two years, which were also the last ones of her relationship with Cena. She loves Lina because of her similarities and learns how distant love is from a reproductive purpose. Once the two love stories are over, her heart takes her to other shores, to older lovers as well as younger ones, famous and not-so-famous ones. She openly writes about experiencing menstruation in her fifties. The truth of the body must always be expressed. She constantly wonders about feminism and her relationship with it, she embraces it when she is young, criticises it when she’s more mature, she strongly advocates for women’s sisterhood, as reflected by her large network of friends. She wonders to what extent she is an accomplice to the patriarchy because in order to make herself heard, she had to adapt her way of thinking and speaking to those of men. At first, she compromises with fascism, managing to be given a pension, but as soon as the war ends, she joins the Communist Party, to which she will leave all her work. She always lives as an optimist and never loses faith in men, unlike many of her friends who warn her. Eager, she falls in love again.

She always abides by her inner law, passionately, and passes away at home on the 13th of January 1860.


[1]  Scaramuzza, Emma “La santa e la spudorata: Alessanrdina Ravizza e Sibilla Aleramo: amicizia, politica e scrittura” 2004

[2] Bertolucci, Rosaria “Sibilla Aleramo una vita”, 1983

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