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The Silent Duchess

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  1,566 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Finalist for the International Man Booker Prize, winner of the Premio Campiello, short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award upon its first English-language publication in the UK, and published to critical acclaim in fourteen languages, this mesmerizing historical novel by one of Italy’s premier women writers is available in the United States for the first time. ...more
Paperback, 264 pages
Published January 1st 2000 by The Feminist Press at CUNY (first published 1990)
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Average rating 3.71  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,566 ratings  ·  119 reviews

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Steven Godin
It's a good job there was a family tree included at the beginning of this book, as the reader is thrown straight into a bucket load of names, titles, and family relations right from the off. Not that that's in anyway a criticism. As this novel, set in mid-eighteenth century Sicily, was one of the better pieces of historical fiction I have read in recent times. The Beautifully evocative and detailed narrative that avoids the problems of other pantomime counterparts, really vividly captures life o ...more
Oct 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Through the story of a deaf and mute duchess, author Dacia Maraini describes the stultifying culture of Sicily in the early 1700's. There is a strong class system with nobles living well, but precariously. They control the lives of those below their rank and on a whim they can pluck someone from miserable poverty and "elevate" them to servitude.

Noble women, who are well dressed and well fed, are similarly moved around, but their fate is determined more by strategy than by whim. The sons are not
Sep 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The premise of the story is interesting but the way it was written makes it very difficult and boring to read.
Jun 21, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in early 18th-century Sicily, the setting and historical details of this story are as fascinating as the unusual life of Marianna is engrossing. She is a young, deaf noblewoman from Palermo married off to her uncle at the age of 13 and while the book reads as an interesting straight-forward story, at the same time Dacia Maraini subtly makes clear that Mariana's silence is a metaphor for Sicily's historic suppression of women.
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
damn you goodreads!!! I wrote a perfectly marvelous review of this book, and you lost it into the ether! egads!!! I'll try again, but no promises that this review will be as eloquent as the prior.

wow - what a read. On the surface, a light, simple story of the life and times of a deaf-mute early 18th Sicilian aristocratic girl named Marianna, who was forced, at 13, to marry her uncle (mother's brother)... NOT weird for that time, at least not among the aristocratic. The family is all sorts of inb
In addition to being a metaphor for women's lives rendered silent under the patriarchy, the title of Dacia Maraini's The Silent Duchess refers to an intelligent deaf-mute woman in 18th century Sicily. Marianna is born into a life of wealth and privilege as a member of the aristocracy, but that does not protect her from trauma that disables her or from being married at the age of thirteen to her cold, anxious maternal uncle (view spoiler) ...more
Christy B
The Silent Duchess is the English translation from the original Italian. Taking place in 18th century Sicily, it's the story of a deaf mute woman named Marianna.

Marianna has been deaf and mute for as long as she can remember, but she suspects she hasn't always been that way. At age 12 she is married off to her uncle. I know, ick! Anyway, she becomes a Duchess.

The fact that Marianna can't speak in a time and place where women didn't have a voice was not lost on me. I knew it was on purpose. Wom
Ugh. Hard to tell what I hated; the book or Italy. Since the book is well-written and interesting in its way then I suppose it is Italy that I have such a strong dislike for. The Inquisition, the "Great White Fathers", the burning of people at the stake - a vast public event with all the royalty and religious big-wigs in their ceremonial clothes, the castrati, the hypocrisy of the dual face of Italy - pleasure seeking and piety. And then there is the story itself of the duchess, her condition of ...more
Dec 12, 2008 rated it liked it
I picked this book up at a used bookstore. I never heard of the author. The preview sounded good. The story was great although I thought it could have been told within 100 pages instead of 235. It was very heavy reading, wordy and sometimes confusing. When I finished I read the afterword. I was surprised to find out who the author was. I am wondering if perhaps the book just did not translate well. Still a good story though.
Jenny Lloyd
It would seem from the mixed bag of reviews that here is a book you will either love or hate. I loved it. It was recommended to me by a friend whose literary judgement I trust and respect and I was not disappointed. If you love meticulously researched, literary, historical fiction written from a feminist perspective, this is the book for you.

Maraini paints a vivid and unflinching representation of 18th century Sicilian Italy. It is often shocking in its honest portrayal of the inequalities at t
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
One of the joys, and dangers, of a kindle is that no sooner have you thought, “I wonder could I get a book on X, Y or Z”, when there it is, as if by magic (albeit one with a credit card bill eventually). When on holidays in Sicily this year, I thought I’d like to read a book based here, and this is what I plumped for. Overall, a good impulse buy.
Marianna is literally, as well as figuratively a deaf mute living in 18C Sicily. Married to her uncle, she becomes a young mother. The book is a series
Nov 27, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Historians
This book starts with a drama - a terribly sad story of the hanging of a very young prisoner but the connections between this event and the little deaf mute Duchess seem so curious that I didn't find myself empathising with her enough to find this a captivating book. It is worthy and has many eloquent and, I am sure extremely well researched, accurate period descriptions of life in 18th Century Sicily- such as the podiatrist who for ten carlini, "pares the corns of both young and old, who all ha ...more
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The Silent Duchess is a wonderful, feminist story by an Italian female writer. It takes place in the 1700s, and this is well described, but the focus in on the experiences and consciousness of one remarkable woman, Marianna Ucria. I like the way Maraini writes as well--it's a distinctive voice. I highly recommend this one.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
I kept waiting for something to happen. Then I read the afterward and found that I had completely missed the point of the book. Way over my head.
Oct 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Read the italian version for an italian lit class... I enjoyed the challenge more than I enjoyed the story but it was entertaining.
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Elegant, poetic and beautifully written. Maraini is a great, and important writer.
Debra George
There are several things about this book that bothered me. Since I am a reading specialist, I know that children learn to read by associating sounds with symbols. It is very hard for a child who cannot hear to learn to read. It was not believable that someone who was truly deaf would become a prolific reader of challenging literature. Second, it is believable to me that trauma would render someone mute, but not also deaf. Third, when the nature of the trauma that caused the main character's mala ...more
Robert Airhart II
Aug 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Historical fiction set in Sicily (author’s birthplace) in the mid 1700’s. The titular character spends the book trying to find her agency. Her concern for justice is apparent at places in the story.

This book is at the top of several reading lists about Sicily. (“the Leopard” by Lampedusa and “Seeking Sicily” by Keahey are the other two, which I’ve read and recommend.) I read it in preparation for a 2 week tour of the island.

The copy I read has a 43 page afterward by a feminist scholar that hel
Siel Ju
Nov 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
“To participate in embracing the bodies of strangers who have become close and intimate through the printed page, is this not is good as experiencing that embrace, with one additional advantage: that of being able to remain in control of oneself?”
Dacia Maraini’s The Silent Duchess is a sumptuous read, following the deaf and mute Marianna in early 18th century Sicily as she discovers the truth of her past and starts to determine her own future. The descriptions of her wealthy, tradition-bound, c
Sep 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This book is very good, probably my first Italian feminist work, but given the unending violence against girls in it, it is a super hard read. Also I felt like it dragged in the middle, but picked itself up at the end. One of the most jarring first chapters I’ve ever read. I picked it up because it is set in Sicily where we recently went on our anniversary trip, and it is deeply evocative of the sights and smells of that beautiful island.
Atesh Sonneborn
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Maraini's best-known novel is at root about the power of the archetypal feminine. I simply enjoyed the read, and didn't realize its feminist implications until I'd finished the book and encountered the brilliant essay that follows in the edition I had, by philosopher Anna Camaini-Hostert, which contextualized the novel's 18th-c. setting into our time.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cool book. The culture of old Sicilian noble family is really fascination and Dacia Maraini goes through the live of her character giving us lots and lots of details and transport us in that period of posturing and the cult of coming from an "old" family.
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italian
a wonderful story based on the author's ancestor, a deaf mute baroness. If you like historical details it's a great book, has a great plot too
Pat aka Tygyr
This book probably deserves a higher rating. I found the main character difficult to like or identify with. Marianna is the daughter of Duke Signoretto Ucria in Italy. Something terrible happens to her when she is around 4 years old and she becomes deaf and dumb. Her loving father takes her, when she is 7 years old, to a hanging that he plays a part in. It is the time of the Inquisition. He hopes and prays that the trauma of seeing the hanging will return her senses. She remains deaf and dumb. H ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fave
Oct 15, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was tedious. Perhaps it was the translation. Perhaps it was the Duchess, herself or perhaps the ugliness of Italian society at that time period.
Jenn Cavanaugh
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
A gorgeous story of a woman finding her voice in the written word and in independent action. The conceit of her wordy silence, while poetic, feels inconsistent. Sometimes I found the elaborate mixed metaphor off-putting, even offensive, and other times I enjoyed how it complicated the tone and the character. Ultimately I found it realistic that our heroine would purposefully make a refuge of her cage of silence and yet fill it with words that transcend it. Acceptance isn't usually portrayed as a ...more
Kenneth Tabona
Apr 28, 2013 rated it liked it
I must read the Italian original. The translation simply loses the poetic nuance of the Italian original. Not quite as literal as the Lawrence translation of Mastro Don Gesualdo which upsets me no end....this translation shows the book up as superficial; which it isn't.....
As I am Maltese living within a stones throw of Sicily I can feel the atmosphere , perhaps, more keenly and realize, possibly as i am also fluent in italian, more than most, what's missing in the English version.
Justin Cascio
Apr 28, 2015 rated it it was ok
The setting, around Palermo in the 18th century, is the reason I picked this book up from a "Free" box in my neighborhood, and the book readily supplies the historical details one expects from genre fiction. The character is exceptional---rich, literate---but also in ways that do not all receive the resolutions they deserve. The author has also had an uncommon life, and is acclaimed in Italy for her feminist writing. Unfortunately, this book left me disappointed.
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a beautifully written book of historical fiction with overtones of the magical. It takes place in the rarefied world of the 18th century Italian nobility and focusing on the life a Duchess who was rendered mute as a child. The story is a fine tale that delves into the difficulties of being a woman in that time and particularly what it is to be voiceless.
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Dacia Maraini is an Italian writer. She is the daughter of Sicilian Princess Topazia Alliata di Salaparuta, an artist and art dealer, and of Fosco Maraini, a Florentine ethnologist and mountaineer of mixed Ticinese, English and Polish background who wrote in particular on Tibet and Japan. Maraini's work focuses on women’s issues, and she has written numerous plays and novels.

Alberto Moravia was h
“Her gaze dims as her nostalgia for Palermo overcomes her. Those smells of seaweed dried by the sun, of capers, of ripe figs, she will never find them anywhere else; those burnt and scented shores, those waves slowly breaking, jasmine petals flaking in the sun.” 3 likes
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