Falcus, Sarah and Sako, Katsura (2014) ‘I Must Learn to Grow Old before I Die’: Women, Ageing and Travels to Italy. Women: A Cultural Review, 25 (2). pp. 194-214. ISSN 0957-4042

Travelling to Italy to find oneself is a common narrative in Western literature, and Italy is represented variously as a place of love, dreams, decay and death. This paper considers how the multifaceted imaginative space of Italy has been used to explore the possibilities of later life for women in three contemporary novels: Michèle Roberts’ Reader, I Married Him (2005), Sally Vickers’ Miss Garnet's Angel (2000) and Margaret Drabble's The Seven Sisters (2002). These texts all share the same plot: a middle-aged or older British woman travels to Italy in the hope of both escape and adventure, in the process challenging the restrictive stories of later life for women. Cultural scripts for older women are generally divided into two types. A pessimistic narrative represents ageing as decline, marked by reduced physical and mental functions, and, for women, loss of reproductive function and of cultural capital in the form of sexual and aesthetic desirability. By contrast, an optimistic narrative represents later life as a time of progress with opportunities for exploration, discovery and maturity, but this risks evading the ageing body and the inevitability of death. These three novels self-consciously negotiate the rich tradition of images of Italy in order to challenge these limited discourses of ageing and produce alternative narratives for older women, engaging, to different degrees, with the older body and death.

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