From the time Catterina Vizzani, a young Roman woman, began wooing the woman she was attracted to, she did so dressed as a man. Fleeing Rome to avoid a potential trial for sexual misdeeds, she became Giovanni Bordoni, transitioning and becoming a male in spirit, deed, and body, through what was the most complete physical change possible in the eighteenth century.
This volume features Giovanni Bianchi’s 1744 Italian account of Vizzani/Bordoni, published for the first time together with a modern English translation, making available to an English-speaking audience the objective, scientific exploration of gender conducted by Bianchi. John Cleland’s well-known, albeit fanciful, 1751 version of the story has also been reproduced here, shedding light on the divergent sexual politics driving Bianchi’s Italian original and Cleland’s greatly embellished English translation.
Through a close examination of Bianchi’s work as anatomical practitioner and scholar, Clorinda Donato traces the development of his advocacy for tolerance of all sexual orientations. Several chapters address the medical and philosophical inquiry into sexual preference, reproduction, sexual identity, and gender fluidity which Enlightenment anatomists from Holland to Italy engaged with in their research concerning the relationship between the mind and the reproductive organs. Meanwhile, it is the social implications of gender ambiguity which may be analysed in Cleland’s condemnation of women who “pass” as men.
Drawing on the biographies produced by Bianchi and Cleland, the volume reflects on the motivation of each author to tell the story of Vizzani/Bordoni either as a narration of empowerment or a cautionary tale within the European context of evolving sexual opinions, some based on scientific research, others based on social practice and cultural norms.
Winner of the American Association of Teachers of Italian's 2021 book award in the 1800-Present: Film, Media, & Cultural Studies category.
'The story of Caterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni also inspires an articulate volume by Clorinda Donato. [...] In her study, [she] offers a meticulous analysis of the differences between the Italian and English versions. [...] Even more pressing are the knots linked to our present, especially on the side of statements, in the always delicate relationship between nature and culture. [...] That same thread, according to Clorinda Donato, cost Caterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni her life and continues to threaten LGBTQ+ lives today, keeping them poised between visibility and invisibility, exposing them to multiple forms of discrimination.'
Translated from Italian:
'Oggi la vicenda di Caterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni ispira anche un articolato volume della studiosa americana Clorinda Donato, [...] Clorinda Donato propone, nel suo studio, una minuziosa analisi delle differenze fra la versione italiana e quella inglese. [...] Ancora più stringenti sono i nodi legati al nostro presente, soprattutto sul versante delle enunciazioni, nel sempre delicato rapporto fra natura e cultura.[...] Quello stesso filo, secondo Clorinda Donato, costò la vita a Caterina Vizzani/Giovanni Bordoni e continua a minacciare oggi le vite LGBTQ+, mantenendole in bilico fra visibilità e invisibilità, esponendole a molteplici forme di discriminazione.'
Vincenzo Lagioia & Pasquale Palmieri, Doppiozero
'Drawing from impressive and exhaustive archival research, this highly original and engaging study focuses on the question of sexual identity in early modern Italy and England. [...] This timely study skillfully and persuasively weaves contemporary relevance into the discussion by exploring questions of gender fluidity, sexual politics, and cultural norms.'American Association of Teachers of Italian (AATI) from their 2021 book awards.
‘[…] The author Clorinda Donato considers the motivation of Bianchi and Cleland to narrate the life of Vizzani/Bordoni in the European context of the Eighteenth century, with a special attention on scientific research, social practice and cultural norms […] The interesting volume by Clorinda Donato also opens to this possibility of research and interpretation.’
Maria Pia Pagani, Sinestesie
‘Clorinda Donato’s book on the Catterina Vizzani story demonstrates the importance of an informed approach to the biographical
treatment of alternative sexualities and constitutes a rich and valuable addition to the historiography of queer sexuality in early modern Europe.’
Sara F. Matthews-Grieco, Early Modern Women