Who was she?
Neera is the pseudonym of Anna Radius Zuccari, a Milanese writer of the late nineteenth century. Her rich literary production has ranged from novels to short stories, essays and articles, getting literary fortune even among her contemporaries.
Una giovinezza del secolo XIX (1921) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Origins and debut
When she was a child, she lost her mother and remained in her father's house until his death (1866). Then she moves to Caravaggio, to her aunts’ home. Lonely and introspective child, she describes the adolescent years in "Una giovinezza nel secolo XIX" (1919).
Illustrazione da La villa incantata (1901) by Belforte e C. EditoriBiblioteca Sormani
In 1871 she married Emilio Radius with whom she had two children, Adolfo and Maria. Having reached economic tranquility and re-established herself in Milan, she made her debut in 1875 as a writer of short stories, published in important magazines of the time, such as "Pungolo", "L'lllustrazione Italiana", "Il Marzocco" and the "Giornale delle Donne".
The activity of writer: novels and short stories
Neera writes novels, short stories, poems, essays, but is also very active in the press. In all her works the heroines clash with the social order of the late nineteenth century, divided between passion and reason and eager to affirm their own identity. The stories are very different from each other, but they all aim not to bore the reader, as Neera herself states in the preface to "Iride" (1881).
Iride. Nuove novelle (1881) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
From the preface to the collection of short stories "Iride": «Qui non si tratta di Iride padrona delle arpie e messaggera di Giunone...e neppure di quel graziosissimo arco che appare in cielo dopo la pioggia...però a quest'ultimo più che altro somigliano le dodici novelle che ora vi presento, variopinte come l'iride, com’esso leggere e fugaci, semplice promessa di tempo migliore. Alcune vi faranno piangere, altre vi faranno ridere o sorridere; tutte furono scritte coll’intenzione di non annoiarvi, amico lettore».
Fotografie matrimoniali (1898) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
"Fotografie matrimoniali" (1898) is a collection of short stories "caught on the fly", as Neera herself explains in the preface to the volume: «Non hanno intendimenti d’arte...e corrono leste per la loro via come scolaretti senza pensieri...come raggio di sole che raccoglie un’immagine fuggitiva e la fissa sulla carta nell’attitudine irrevocabile dell’istante».
Teresa (1897) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
"Teresa" was published in Milan in 1886 for the Galli types. The work, which together with "Lydia" (1887) and "L'indomani" (1889), composes the Trilogy of the young woman, «innesta il romanzo di costume, modellato sui capolavori d'oltralpe, sulla narrativa d'ambiente provinciale, già praticato dai letterati scapigliati...L'opera narra l'educazione sentimentale di una ragazza di provincia, rivolgendosi elettivamente al pubblico femminile della città» (G. Rosa, Identità di una metropoli. La letteratura della Milano moderna, p. 303, 314).
Il marito dell'amica (1891) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Praised by Luigi Capuana (1838-1915) for its "masculine note", "Il marito dell'amica"(1891) is a short but intense novel where Neera offers a lucid analysis of the female condition of the time through the story of the protagonist, a victim of male selfishness and forced to live in an oppressive family situation.
Le idee di una donna (1905) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
The activity of writer: the essays
In her essays, Neera rejects the idea of a woman's emancipation that is not in line with the natural dimension of bride and mother: motherhood, in particular, is never questioned and is often represented as an effective cure for marital disappointment. She raises the motherhood, in a woman's life, as the possibility of living in herself an experience of perpetuity of life, that is inevitably closed to man. In this way, she anticipates the discourse on the female question that will emerge in "Una donna" (1906) by Sibilla Aleramo (1876-1960).
Battaglie per un'idea (1898) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
"Battaglie per un'idea" (1898) is a collection of articles that have already appeared in "L'Idea Liberale" and republished by Neera to bring to light "some ideas and some problems of general interest".
Il libro di mio figlio (1891) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
"Il libro di mio figlio" (1891) presents a series of moral advices dedicated to her son Adolfo which, as Neera states in the title page, are intended to teach him to think ("per insegnarti a pensare").
The dictionary of hygiene
The dictionary was born from an initiative by Neera who invited the pathologist and hygienist Paolo Mantegazza (1831-1910) to write with her a hygiene manual addressed, above all, to women and families. In fact, the dictionary dedicates ample space to particular moments and situations in the life of a family, from breastfeeding babies, to the care of home and personal hygiene, divided into "voices" and described with a storytelling tone and a simple language, without forgetting scientific rigor.
Dizionario di igiene per le famiglie (1901) by Neera e Paolo MantegazzaBiblioteca Sormani
We point out, for example, the initial part of the item dedicated to breastfeeding (allattamento): the topic is addressed through the story and description of the situation that led the woman to face breastfeeding and then continues with the indication of rules and suggestions to be implement.
The publications in periodicals
While Italian journalism is flourishing, Neera makes space by writing about female themes also in newspapers aimed at both men and women. In 1890 she was one of the founders of the magazine "Vita intima", designed to offer a public - this time purely female - a good cultural dissemination on topics such as reading, fashion or theater. Despite the efforts, the magazine ceases its publications already the following year.
The novel "Crevalcore" was published for the first time in installments on "L'Illustrazione Italiana" between 1906 and 1907 and then, immediately after, in volume for the types of Treves. The story met with great success with the public and critics, so much so that Paolo Buzzi (1874-1956), the Milanese poet and writer with a futurist imprint, believing in the potential of the plot, transformed the text from a novel to a libretto.
Crevalcore (1906-12-30/1906-12-30) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Buzzi and Neera then asked to Giacomo Puccini to set it to music. The Tuscan composer, however, having recently completed the realization of the "Fanciulla del West", refuses (1910).
Lettera a Paolo Buzzi - recto (1919-03-24) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
This is one of the many testimonies of the relationship between Neera and the Milanese poet Paolo Buzzi (1874-1956): "Gentilissimo Buzzi, il dono veramente gradito del suo ultimo volume mi riporta ai bei giorni - anzi alle belle sere - di via S. Pietro all'Orto..."
Many of the themes present in Neera's works also return in her poems, mostly inserted in two collections: "Canzoniere della nonna" (1908) and "Poesie" (published posthumously in 1919).
Poesie. Edizione postuma per gli amici. Venere (1919) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Poesie. Edizione postuma per gli amici. Venere (1919) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Lamento di una fonte (1919) by Neera e Guglielmo CecconiBiblioteca Sormani
Some of which poems are also set to music.
Her friends and critics
Kept in archives and libraries throughout Italy, you can find the tangible signs of the close friendships that Neera had with many of her contemporaries: from Paolo Buzzi to Benedetto Croce, from Ada Negri to Antonio Curti up to Antonio Fogazzaro. Some of these traces are in Sormani.
Lettera ad Antonio Curti - verso (1912-04-04) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Trascription of the text: «Gentilissimo Poeta,
lei mi fece l’onore (l’ultima volta che ebbi il piacere di incontrarla) di chiedermi quali giornali avessero parlato della “Sottana del diavolo” ed io le risposi: nessuno italiano.
Lettera ad Antonio Curti - Retro (1912-04-04) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Dopo ciò se lei crederà di occuparsi del mio volumetto mi farà onore e cosa grata di cui anticipatamente la ringrazio.
Spero sempre di vederla in casa della sua vicina per riassicurarla che il male avuto non ha lasciato quasi traccia sul suo volto e che gli amici almeno non se ne accorgeranno neppure.
La sottana del diavolo. Novelle (1912) by NeeraBiblioteca Sormani
Antonio Curti asks Neera about how many critical reviews his novel "La Sottana del Diavolo" has already received. Neera admits that no one has talked about it for now and she would be honored if the poet wanted to deal with it himself.
The critical fortune
This silence of the critics is not surprising. Throughout her career, Neera has a fluctuating relationship with literary criticism, ranging from observations to acclaim, from accusations of plagiarism to sincere appreciation. Sometimes the most favorable comments come from those writers who seemed to be more distant from her way of thinking: like Sibilla Aleramo, who defines "Teresa" as a "masterpiece of analysis and true sentiment", and Ersilia Majno, who states that "The author of" Teresa" has and will always have in the soul of every woman who feels and thinks a cult of admiration of love". After a long and intense career, Neera died in Milan on 19 July 1918; her literary work will remain in the shadows for a few years and then be more rediscovered towards the end of the twentieth century.
More women writers in Milan, in 19th and 20th Century to be discovered:
Virginia Tedeschi “Cordelia”
Maria Antonietta Torriani “Marchesa Colombi”
Evelina Cattermole “Contessa Lara”
Sofia Bisi Albini
Would you like to read in full the books by the protagonists of the exhibits? Click here.