Evelina Cattermole "Contessa Lara"

Women's writing. Women writers, poets and journalists in Milan, between the 19th and the 20th Century

La Madonna di Pugliano (1917) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Who was she?

Eva Giovanna Antonietta Cattermole, better known as Evelina Cattermole, was a prolific writer of works in prose and verse, most of which signed with the pseudonym Contessa Lara.

Canti e Ghirlande (1867) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Orgins and debut

Evelina Cattermole was born in Florence in 1849 by the Scotsman Guglielmo Cattermole, English teacher, and Elisa Sandusch, excellent pianist. Very precocious in learning music and foreign languages, from a very young age she learned English, French, Spanish and Italian, and studied with the poet Marianna Giarré-Billi. As she herself tells in the short story "La Rosona" (contained in the collection "Stories of love and pain", of 1893), she wrote her first poetic lines to accompany a bouquet of flowers given to her mother.

She cultivated literary activity from a very young age, so much so that in 1867, not yet eighteen years old, she published her first collection of verses entitled "Canti e Ghirlande."

First edition of "Canti e Ghirlande" with autograph dedication by the author «A S. E. il Marchese di Tresana dei Principi Corsini in attestato di considerazione e d'amicizia offre L'autrice»

Canti e Ghirlande (1867) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

The collection, published shortly after the death of her mother, is divided into six parts: the first is dedicated to the father, the second to her sister Eufrosina; the third to Pietro Giannone, a republican martyr; the fourth to Princess Elisa Poniatowska, who kept a salon also frequented by Gaetano Donizetti; the fifth to her friend Elvira Spannocchia and the sixth to Marianna Giarré, her teacher.

Canti e Ghirlande (1867) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Da "Canti e Ghirlande": "Cos'è l'amore"
Da "Canti e ghirlande": "Dante a Ravenna"

Versi (1883) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

The marriage

In those years Evelina already frequented the most prestigious literary salons in Florence and it is in this environment that she met Francesco Eugenio Mancini, lieutenant of the Carabinieri of an illustrious family, with whom she married in 1871. With her husband Evelina stayed first in Rome and then in Naples, to then settle permanently in Milan in via Cesare Correnti.

In Milan, Evelina frequents various salons, including that of the Maffei house and the meeting places of the Scapigliatura, where she meets Arrigo Boito, Giuseppe Rovani, Eugenio Torelli Viollier, founder of Corriere della Sera, and Emilio Praga.

In morte della Contessa Lara (1897) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

A troubled life

A court of admirers is created around Evelina, including the young Venetian Giuseppe Bennati Baylon who will become her lover. Discovered adultery, her husband Francesco Eugenio Mancini kills her lover during a duel and divorces Evelina. The woman, to escape the scandal, returns to Florence: these are difficult years, during which Evelina is forced to support herself financially with the sole publication of poems and piece-paid articles published by newspapers and magazines such as "Fieramosca", "Fanfulla della Domenica "and" The illustrated tribune ".

Versi (1883) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Right in the magazines, Evelina begins to sign herself with the pseudonym of Contessa Lara, a choice that is immediately appreciated also by the publisher Sommaruga, who publishes a collection of her verses under this name.

Versi (1883) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Slowly Evelina manages to get out of economic difficulties and starts frequenting the Florentine salons again, where she meets the poet and writer Mario Rapisardi, with whom she seems to have had a love affair, denied however by Evelina herself. In 1886, now an established poetess, she moved to various Italian cities and then settled permanently in Rome, where she lived between 1886 and 1894 a stable relationship with the young Sicilian Giovanni Alfredo Cesareo.

Canti e Ghirlande (1867) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Meantime, in 1886 she published a new collection, "Ancora versi", and also began a profitable activity of writing in prose, which saw the publication, among others, of the collection of short stories "Così è" (1887) and the novel "L'innamorata" (1892), and also works for children, such as "Una famiglia di topi" (1895) and "Compagni di sventura" (1892).

Una famiglia di topi (1944) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

A children's novel

Una famiglia di topi (1944) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Among the books, Leopardi's work "La battaglia dei topi e delle rane" is clearly visible.

Cronaca Femminile (1892) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

In newspapers and magazines

At the same time, Evelina collaborates more and more assiduously with various newspapers, including "La Tribuna illustrata", "La Donna", "Natura ed Arte", "L'Illustrazione Italiana", on which she keeps columns of fashion and costume and publishes numerous verses and stories.

Cronaca Femminile (1892) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Fashion column on "La Tribuna illustrata": the topic of the day is what style a widow's wedding dress should have. Evelina illustrates various models that can suit different types of women.

Il salotto della signora (1894) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Also on "La Tribuna illustrata", always talking about fashion and taste.

Il salotto della signora (1894) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Il salotto della signora (1894) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

Novelle (1914) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

The last years

After the end of her long relationship with Cesareo, the writer is linked to a Neapolitan painter of little talent, Giuseppe Pierantoni, twenty years her junior. After a short period of serenity, however, the man turns out to be violent and possessive. In 1896, following yet another quarrel, Pierantoni wounded Evelina to death with a pistol shot. Not receiving timely help, Evelina tragically dies as one of the many protagonists of her stories.

In morte della Contessa Lara (1897) by Tip. G. T. Vincenzi e NipotiBiblioteca Sormani

The fact causes great uproar and many expressions of condolence everywhere. However, the writer's death is clouded by a further scandal: the funds for her burial disappear into thin air and her remains are abandoned in a mass grave.

In morte della Contessa Lara- Dal Fanfulla (1897) by Luigi CapuanaBiblioteca Sormani

Many of his friends made their voices heard following this latest scandal. This is the memory of Luigi Capuana on the "Fanfulla".

Nuovi versi (1897) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

After death

Despite the elegance and refinement of her verses, Contessa Lara immediately paid the weight of all the scandals that have marked her biography and which have contributed to arousing suspicion and distrust of her work.

La Madonna di Pugliano (1917) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

After the writer's death, in 1897 her last poetic collection, "Nuovi versi", was published by L. Donati, followed by other volumes in prose: "Storie di Natale" (1897), "Novelle" (1914) and a collection of letters edited by E Bottini, "Lettere intime" (1897).

La Madonna di Pugliano (1917) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

From the introduction to the posthumous edition of the short stories.

L'innamorata (2007) by Contessa LaraBiblioteca Sormani

The desire for love, the love-death combination, the tormented religiosity, the fear of destiny, the sense of fragility, the everyday life told with disenchantment, are the fundamental themes of the art of Countess Lara, both in the verses and in the prose. Universal themes that are still highly relevant today.

Credits: Story

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

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

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps