Virginia Tedeschi "Cordelia"

Women writers, poets and journalists in Milan, between the 19th and the 20th Century

Articolo sulla morte di Virginia Treves-Tedeschi Cordelia (1916) by Illustrazione italianaBiblioteca Sormani

Who was Cordelia?

Virginia Tedeschi signs herself as Cordelia since her first novel, "Il regno della donna" (Milan, 1879). The pseudonym evokes the youngest daughter of King Lear in Shakespeare's tragedy: a beautiful, uncompromising, proud and sincere girl, who she herself set out to be.


She was born in Verona in 1849 into a wealthy family. She received a high-level education from private
teachers who, like Erminia Fuà Fusinato, encouraged not only her literary
attitudes but also the young woman's first patriotic impulses.

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani


In 1870 she married Giuseppe Treves, who in those years with his brother Emilio started the family publishing business in Milan. Thanks also to Virginia's rich dowry, the Treves brothers soon managed to expand the first "printing house" and found the "Fratelli Treves Casa Editrice" in via Palermo, where they settled. Virginia soon became a refined intellectual and created a literary salon frequented by Gabriele D'Annunzio, Arrigo Boito, Ada Negri, Luigi Capuana, Giovanni Verga and other celebrities. She works and collaborates with the family publishing house and with other publishing realities on the national scene.

Il regno della donna (1890) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

"Il regno della donna"

"Il regno della donna" (1879) is Cordelia's first novel, an apology for domestic life and feminine virtues in the form of thoughts, reflections, confidences "of those that are made and said to a friend". The realm of a woman is her home, the place where she can find her most complete fulfillment. 

In the preface, Cordelia says: «Se, dopo averlo letto, sentisse di voler un po’ più bene alla sua casetta, e trovasse un po’ più di poesia nell’adempiere nei doveri di figlia, di sposa e di madre, ciò sarà per me una grande consolazione».

Vita intima. Bozzetti (1893) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Cordelia thinks about a new role for women in society

However, shortly after, Cordelia begins to rethink the role of women in society. In those years, numerous Milanese press publications opened to women writers and, at the same time, others are born aimed at a purely female audience: among these, “Margherita” (1878-1922), Cordelia's masterpiece. Through articles and stories by important names, the magazine offers the image of a well-groomed woman, an expert in domestic life and in the education of children, but also professionally established.

Dopo le nozze (1882) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Over time Cordelia becomes a protagonist of the publishing world and of literary production addressed to a young audience, and in particular to girls, together with writers such as Anna Vertua Gentile, Sofia Bisi Albini and others.

From the preface to "Dopo le nozze"

«Amabilissime lettrici, avete accolto tanto bene il mio libricino intitolato il regno della donna, che ciò mi ha incoraggiato a dargli un seguito. Se in quello vi parlai della donna in generale e del posto che oggidì occupa nella famiglia e nella società, in questo mi sono un po’ più estesa nella vita coniugale, sui rapporti con i parenti acquistati dopo il matrimonio, e sull’educazione dei figli… onde spero che anche questa volta voi vorrete fare nella vostra biblioteca un po’di posticino per il mio volumetto».

Casa altrui (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Among her works "for ladies" written between 1881 and 1916 we remember: "Prime battaglie" (1880), "Vita intima" (1881), "Dopo le nozze" e "Catene" (1882), "Casa altrui" (1894) "La dote di Serena" ed "Evelina" (1883), "Massime e consigli" (1886), "Il mio delitto" (1890), "All’aperto" (1892), "I nostri figli" (1894), "Casa altrui" (1894) "La dote di Serena" ed "Evelina" (1883), "Massime e consigli" (1886), "L’incomprensibile" (1900) and "Le donne che lavorano" (1916), her last work.

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani

Children's literature

At the same time to the "literature for young ladies", Cordelia devotes herself greatly to "children's literature". From 1884 to 1901 she directes with his brother Achille Tedeschi the “Giornale dei fanciulli. Letture illustrate per l'infanzia", and, from 1886 to 1905, also "Mondo piccino. Letture illustrate per bambini", two weekly magazines of illustrated readings for children published by the Treves Brothers: the first is intended for children from well-to-do families, while the second is designed for less wealthy children, as can be easily seen from the differences in typographic rendering and costs. 

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani

Both magazines have a pedagogical and playful intent, alternating serious content with cartoons and hilarious stories, fairy tales or suggestions for pastimes. Both magazines also contribute to the dissemination and knowledge of the texts of authors such as Emilio Salgàri and Robert L. Stevenson. 

This is an example of a rhyming transcription of the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani

Examples of games to play on rainy days.

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani

The column "Through the scissors" alternates short passages on different topics, as if they were clippings taken from different publications.

Giornale dei Fanciulli (1897-04-15) by Cordelia e A. TedeschiBiblioteca Sormani

Il castello di Barbanera (1927) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Blackbeard (Barbanera) and the others

The production for children and youngs occupies a large space in the Treves' production which, in addition to magazines, dedicates three series to it: “La Biblioteca illustrata per i ragazzi”, “Biblioteca del Mondo piccino” and “Opere illustrate per la gioventù”: in these series we also find the works of Cordelia: “Il castello di Barbanera”  (1883), illustrated by Dante Paolocci; “Nel regno delle fate” (1884), a collection of fairy tales illustrated by Edoardo Dalbono “I nipoti di Barbabianca”, "Racconti di Natale" (1885) and "Mentre nevica: racconti dell’amica dei bimbi" (1886).

Mentre nevica (1886) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

From the preface of "Mentre nevica"

«Ora che sono tornate le giornate uggiose dell’inverno e la neve che scende a fiocchi v’invita a raccogliervi intorno al focolare della famiglia, ecco vi reco un altro volume di storielle, che spero accogliate come offerta come le prime; e in ogni modo vedendo che non si dimentica di voi, continuerete a volere un po’ di bene alla vostra Amica».

Mentre nevica (1886) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Little heroes

In 1891 she publishes “Piccoli eroi”, illustrated by Arnaldo Ferraguti (1862-1925), that obtains an amazing success, collecting more than sixty editions. It is a work dedicated to "young people" aged 9 to 14, as Cordelia states in the preface to the book: it urges them to do their duty in the society, telling the virtous stories of guys like them, without falling into prejudices or moralisms.

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

From the preface of the book: «Questo libro è una semplice storia di alcuni fanciulli che passano mesi di autunno in campagna assieme alla sorella maggiore, la quale insegna loro la scienza della vita, e coglie l’occasione degli avvenimenti che succedono tutti i giorni, per dar loro saggi consigli ed utili ammaestramenti.

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

...Le allegre scampagnate, le visite agli stabilimenti industriali, i divertimenti all’aria aperta, vengono alternati colla lettura di racconti, nei quali si narra la storia di eroismi ignorati, di sacrifizi sconosciuti. Questo libro è dedicato ai ragazzi dai nove ai quattordici anni».

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Le donne che lavorano (1916) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

The last years

When her husband Giuseppe died in 1904, Virginia took his place in the publishing house. Entrepreneur and writer, sensitive to the problem of women's social redemption, she adheres to the association for women's suffrage. In 1908 she presents a report at the 1st Congress of Italian women (Rome), and in 1912, she is among the founders of a women's Lyceum in Milan with the aim of encouraging women to devote themselves to writing, creativity, philanthropism and scientific knowledge.

In this period she publishes the aforementioned "Le donne che lavorano": the book - emblem of her female struggle. In this work Cordelia first theorized the possibility for women to work for their own satisfaction and fulfillment and not for economic necessity, as it had always been until then. In the preface to the volume she says:

«Fra le molte questioni che si agitano nel nostro tempo si può dire che quella della donna è all’ordine del giorno... l’esistenza della donna si fa sentire anche fuori delle pareti domestiche e forse in un prossimo avvenire la donna non si contenterà più di essere una macchina per far figliuoli o una bambola da salotto; ma mostrerà che nella lotta libera delle forze individuali ha anch’essa il diritto di combattere per la propria indipendenza».

Da "Le donne che lavorano"

Piccoli eroi. Libro per ragazzi (1894) by CordeliaBiblioteca Sormani

Virginia Tedeschi Treves dies in Milan in 1916. In addition to her great skills as a writer and entrepreneur, she was able to evolve, to understand the new, especially as regards female society and to arouse them for the benefit of a world of women who have been submissive for too long time.

Credits: Story

More women writers in Milan, in 19th and 20th Century to be discovered:
Ada Negri
Maria Antonietta Torriani “Marchesa Colombi”
Anna Maria Zuccari “Neera”
Evelina Cattermole “Contessa Lara”
Sofia Bisi Albini

Would you like to read in full the books by the protagonists of the exhibits? Click here.

Credits: All media
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