Letter collections were all the rage in early modern Italy. In the wake of Pietro Aretino’s vernacular Lettere familiari, published in 1537, writers and editors alike raced to collect and publish all kinds of letters: personal, spiritual, and political; comic and serious. Sometimes these published letters had their origins in real correspondence, but often they were heavily revised – or composed specifically – for print. Women’s letters were particularly in demand, since early modern theorists held that women possessed the qualities of naturalness and spontaneity deemed necessary to the Renaissance letter-writer (so much so that some male writers published letter collections under female names). Whether the writer was male or female, a book of letters was an important part of an author’s public persona, intended to convey that he or she had achieved a certain level of recognition and reputation.
Here are some of my favorite letter collections by early modern Italian women – but there are many, many more not listed here.
- Lucrezia Gonzaga, Lettere della molto ill.re sig. la s.ra Donna Lucretia Gonzaga da Gazuolo (Venice, 1550)
- Ortensio Lando, Lettere di molte valorose donne (Venice, 1549)
- Veronica Franco, Poems and Selected Letters, edited and translated by Ann Rosalind Jones and Margaret F. Rosenthal (Chicago, 1998)
- Isabella Andreini, Lettere della signora Isabella Andreini padovana (Venice, 1563)
- Arcangela Tarabotti, Lettere familiari e di complimento (Venice, 1650)