Journal of Romance Studies

‘Fainting is one way of disappearing. Anorexia is another’

Disordered eating in Louise DeSalvo’s Vertigo: A Memoir

Journal of Romance Studies (2020), 20, (2), 249–271.

Abstract

The Italian American autobiographical protagonist of Louise DeSalvo’s Vertigo: A Memoir (1996) uses food to discuss issues of identity, gender, and social class. This article focuses in particular on the chapter ‘Anorexia’ where her disordered eating habits, shaped by her problematic relationship with her mother and other family members, encounter the deadly eating troubles of one of her college friends, thus allowing the protagonist to engage in deep reflection on the meaning of her unconventional relationship with food. Framing my reading within Susie Orbach’s Hunger Strike (1983) and other influential feminist works on anorexia, bulimia, and food-related pathologies, I will reflect on the role that the corporeal language of self-harm plays as a way of rejecting the family and the dominant culture as well as a paradoxical instrument of empowerment, thus placing DeSalvo’s memoir in the emerging genre of Bulimanografie.

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Works cited

Albright, Carol Bonomo, and Christine Palamidessi Moore (2011) American Women: Italian Style. Americana’s Best Writing on Women (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

American Psychiatric Association (2013) ‘Feeding and eating disorders’, in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association), 329–354. Google Scholar

Arachi, Alessandra (1994) Briciole. Storia di un’anoressia (Milan: Feltrinelli). Google Scholar

Arachi, Alessandra (2015) Non più briciole (Milan: Feltrinelli). Google Scholar

Barolini, Helen (2002) Festa: Recipes and Recollection of Italian Holidays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press). Google Scholar

Bona, Mary Jo (1998) Claming a Tradition: Italian American Women Writers (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press). Google Scholar

Bona, Mary Jo, and Jennifer DiGregorio Kightlinger (2014) ‘The fruits of her labor: Louise DeSalvo’s memoirs on food and family’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 189–209. Google Scholar

Bordo, Susan (2003 [1993]) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley and London: University of California Press). Google Scholar

Burke, Cheryl (2002) ‘Bones, veins, and fat’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 105–112. Google Scholar

Calamita, Francesca (2015) Linguaggi dell’esperienza femminile: disturbi alimentari, donne e scrittura dall’Unità al miracolo economico (Il Poligrafo: Padua). Google Scholar

Calamita, Francesca (2017) ‘On the verge of emotional hunger: Anorexia, bulimia and interpersonal relationships in present-day Italian women’s writing’, in Starvation, Food Obsession and Identity: Eating Disorders in Contemporary Women’s Writing, ed. Petra Bagley, Francesca Calamita, and Kathryn Robson (Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing; Berg: Peter Lang), 67–89. Google Scholar

Caponegro, Mary (2004) Materia Prima (Rome: Leconte). Google Scholar

Caronia, Nancy, and Edvige Giunta (2014) Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

Cascone, Gina (2003) Al Dente: Laughter and Love in an Italian American Family (Waterville: Thorndike Press). Google Scholar

Chernin, Kim (1981) The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity (London: Virago). Google Scholar

Cinotto, Simone (2013) The Italian American Table: Food, Family and Community in New York City (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press). Google Scholar

Cohn, Leigh, and Raymond Lemberg (2014) Current Finding on Males with Eating Disorders (London: Routledge). Google Scholar

Colasurda, Rosanna (2002) ‘Mortadella’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 301–308. Google Scholar

Coser, Rose, Laura Anker, and Andrew Perrin (1999) Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press). Google Scholar

Covino, Peter (2014) ‘The poetics of trauma: Intertextuality, rhythm, and concision in Vertigo and Writing as a Way of Healing’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 50–61. Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1996) Vertigo: A Memoir (New York: Dutton). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1997) Breathless: An Asthma Journal (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1999) Adultery (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2000) Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2004) Crazy in the Kitchen: Food, Feuds and Forgiveness in an Italian American Family (New York: Bloomsbury). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2009) On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again (London: Bloomsbury). Google Scholar

Donini, L.M., D. Marsili, M.P. Graziani, M. Imbriale, and C. Cannella (2004) ‘Orthorexia nervosa: A preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimension of the phenomenon’, Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 9: 151–157. Google Scholar

Dottolo, L. Andrea, and Carol Dottolo (2015) ‘Legacies of migration: Italian American Women, food and identity’, in Gendered Journeys: Women, Migration and Feminist Psychology, ed. Olivia Espin and Andrea Dottolo (New York: Palgrave MacMillan), 281–301. Google Scholar

Felski, Rita (1998) ‘On confession’, in Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 37–49. Google Scholar

Fragoso, Margot (2014) ‘Louise DeSalvo’s “Even in Death, La Bella Figura”: A meditation on honor, respect, and the silences that bind’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

Gennari, John (2014) ‘The knife and the bread, the brutal and the sacred: Louise DeSalvo at the family table’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 233–250. Google Scholar

Giorgio, Adalgisa (2002) Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women (New York and Oxford: Berghahn). Google Scholar

Giunta, Edvige (2003) ‘Introduction’, in Louise DeSalvo, Vertigo: A Memoir (New York: Dutton), ix–xxviii. Google Scholar

Giunta, Edvige, and Louise DeSalvo (2003) The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY). Google Scholar

Goeller, Allison (2005) ‘The hungry self: The politics of food in Italian American Women’s writing’, Prose Studies. History, Theory, Criticism 27: 235–247. Google Scholar

Gordon, Richard A. (1990) Anorexia and Bulimia: Anatomy of a Social Epidemic (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell). Google Scholar

Heller, Tamar, and Patricia Moran (2003) Scenes of the Apple: Food and the Female Body in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Women’s Writing (Albany: State University of New York Press). Google Scholar

Hepworth, Julie (1999) The Social Construction of Anorexia Nervosa (London: Sage). Inness, Sherrie (2001) Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press). Google Scholar

Lipari, Loryn (2002) ‘Cracked’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 123–130. Google Scholar

Luciano, Bernadette (2015) ‘“There’s no place like home”: The anxiety of mobility in the works of Louise DeSalvo’, altrelettere, doi: 10.5903/al_uzh-31. Google Scholar

Lupton, Deborah (1996) Food, the Body and the Self (London: Sage). Google Scholar

MacSween, Morag (1993) Anorexic Bodies: A Feminist and Sociological Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa (London: Routledge). Google Scholar

Malson, Helen (1998) The Thin Women: Feminism, Post-Structuralism and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa (London and New York: Routledge). Google Scholar

Maraini, Dacia (1995) Conversazione con Dacia Mariani. Il piacere di scrivere, a cura di Paola Gaglianone (Rome: Òmicron). Google Scholar

Marzano, Michela (2011) Volevo essere una farfalla. Come l’anoressia mi ha insegnato a vivere (Milan: Mondadori). Google Scholar

McEachern, Patricia (1998) Deprivation and Power: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa in Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (1983) Hunger Strike: The Anorectic’s Struggle as a Metaphor for Our Age (London: Penguin). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (2009) Bodies (London: Profile Books). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (2016) Fat is a Feminist Issue: The Anti-Diet Guide + Fat is a Feminist Issue II. Conquering Compulsive Eating (London: Arrows Books). Google Scholar

Patrona, Theodora (2012) ‘Ethnic identification, food, and depression: Louise DeSalvo’s memoirs and the female Italian American experience’, Mediterranean Studies 20: 176–186. Google Scholar

Patrona, Theodora (2014) ‘Mapping the female ethnic self in the family battle-ground: Vertigo and the Greek American novel’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 210–221. Google Scholar

Peggy, Claude-Pierre (1999) The Secret Language of Eating Disorders: The Revolutionary New Approach to Understanding and Curing Anorexia and Bulimia (New York: Vintage Books). Google Scholar

Schelotto, Gianna (1994) Una fame da morire. Bulimia e anoressia. Due storie vere (Milan: Mondadori). Google Scholar

Segal, Naomi (2009) ‘Witnessing through the skin: The hysteric’s body as text’, Journal of Romance Studies 9: 72–85. Google Scholar

Sereni, Clara (2005) Casalinghitudine (Turin: Einaudi). Google Scholar

Silver, Anne Krugovoy (2002) Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Google Scholar

Stagi, Luisa (2002) La società bulimica. Le trasformazioni simboliche del corpo tra edonismo ed autocontrollo (Milan: FrancoAngeli). Google Scholar

Vivian, Cassandra (2011) ‘The Italian immigrant kitchen: A journey into identity’, in American Women. Italian Style. Americana’s Best Writing on Women, ed. Carol Bonomo Albright and Christine Palamidessi Moore (New York: Fordham University Press), 150–159. Google Scholar

Vivian, Cassandra, Vivian Pelini Sansone, and Elizabeth Parigi Vivian (2003) Immigrant’s Kitchen: Italian (Monassen, PA: Trade Route Enterprise). Google Scholar

Wirth, Christa (2015) Memories of Belonging (Boston and Leiden: Brill). Google Scholar

Albright, Carol Bonomo, and Christine Palamidessi Moore (2011) American Women: Italian Style. Americana’s Best Writing on Women (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

American Psychiatric Association (2013) ‘Feeding and eating disorders’, in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association), 329–354. Google Scholar

Arachi, Alessandra (1994) Briciole. Storia di un’anoressia (Milan: Feltrinelli). Google Scholar

Arachi, Alessandra (2015) Non più briciole (Milan: Feltrinelli). Google Scholar

Barolini, Helen (2002) Festa: Recipes and Recollection of Italian Holidays (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press). Google Scholar

Bona, Mary Jo (1998) Claming a Tradition: Italian American Women Writers (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press). Google Scholar

Bona, Mary Jo, and Jennifer DiGregorio Kightlinger (2014) ‘The fruits of her labor: Louise DeSalvo’s memoirs on food and family’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 189–209. Google Scholar

Bordo, Susan (2003 [1993]) Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley and London: University of California Press). Google Scholar

Burke, Cheryl (2002) ‘Bones, veins, and fat’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 105–112. Google Scholar

Calamita, Francesca (2015) Linguaggi dell’esperienza femminile: disturbi alimentari, donne e scrittura dall’Unità al miracolo economico (Il Poligrafo: Padua). Google Scholar

Calamita, Francesca (2017) ‘On the verge of emotional hunger: Anorexia, bulimia and interpersonal relationships in present-day Italian women’s writing’, in Starvation, Food Obsession and Identity: Eating Disorders in Contemporary Women’s Writing, ed. Petra Bagley, Francesca Calamita, and Kathryn Robson (Studies in Contemporary Women’s Writing; Berg: Peter Lang), 67–89. Google Scholar

Caponegro, Mary (2004) Materia Prima (Rome: Leconte). Google Scholar

Caronia, Nancy, and Edvige Giunta (2014) Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

Cascone, Gina (2003) Al Dente: Laughter and Love in an Italian American Family (Waterville: Thorndike Press). Google Scholar

Chernin, Kim (1981) The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity (London: Virago). Google Scholar

Cinotto, Simone (2013) The Italian American Table: Food, Family and Community in New York City (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press). Google Scholar

Cohn, Leigh, and Raymond Lemberg (2014) Current Finding on Males with Eating Disorders (London: Routledge). Google Scholar

Colasurda, Rosanna (2002) ‘Mortadella’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 301–308. Google Scholar

Coser, Rose, Laura Anker, and Andrew Perrin (1999) Women of Courage: Jewish and Italian Immigrant Women in New York (Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press). Google Scholar

Covino, Peter (2014) ‘The poetics of trauma: Intertextuality, rhythm, and concision in Vertigo and Writing as a Way of Healing’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 50–61. Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1996) Vertigo: A Memoir (New York: Dutton). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1997) Breathless: An Asthma Journal (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (1999) Adultery (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2000) Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives (Boston: Beacon Press). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2004) Crazy in the Kitchen: Food, Feuds and Forgiveness in an Italian American Family (New York: Bloomsbury). Google Scholar

DeSalvo, Louise (2009) On Moving: A Writer’s Meditation on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again (London: Bloomsbury). Google Scholar

Donini, L.M., D. Marsili, M.P. Graziani, M. Imbriale, and C. Cannella (2004) ‘Orthorexia nervosa: A preliminary study with a proposal for diagnosis and an attempt to measure the dimension of the phenomenon’, Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity 9: 151–157. Google Scholar

Dottolo, L. Andrea, and Carol Dottolo (2015) ‘Legacies of migration: Italian American Women, food and identity’, in Gendered Journeys: Women, Migration and Feminist Psychology, ed. Olivia Espin and Andrea Dottolo (New York: Palgrave MacMillan), 281–301. Google Scholar

Felski, Rita (1998) ‘On confession’, in Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, ed. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press), 37–49. Google Scholar

Fragoso, Margot (2014) ‘Louise DeSalvo’s “Even in Death, La Bella Figura”: A meditation on honor, respect, and the silences that bind’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press). Google Scholar

Gennari, John (2014) ‘The knife and the bread, the brutal and the sacred: Louise DeSalvo at the family table’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 233–250. Google Scholar

Giorgio, Adalgisa (2002) Writing Mothers and Daughters: Renegotiating the Mother in Western European Narratives by Women (New York and Oxford: Berghahn). Google Scholar

Giunta, Edvige (2003) ‘Introduction’, in Louise DeSalvo, Vertigo: A Memoir (New York: Dutton), ix–xxviii. Google Scholar

Giunta, Edvige, and Louise DeSalvo (2003) The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture (New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY). Google Scholar

Goeller, Allison (2005) ‘The hungry self: The politics of food in Italian American Women’s writing’, Prose Studies. History, Theory, Criticism 27: 235–247. Google Scholar

Gordon, Richard A. (1990) Anorexia and Bulimia: Anatomy of a Social Epidemic (Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell). Google Scholar

Heller, Tamar, and Patricia Moran (2003) Scenes of the Apple: Food and the Female Body in Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Women’s Writing (Albany: State University of New York Press). Google Scholar

Hepworth, Julie (1999) The Social Construction of Anorexia Nervosa (London: Sage). Inness, Sherrie (2001) Dinner Roles: American Women and Culinary Culture (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press). Google Scholar

Lipari, Loryn (2002) ‘Cracked’, in The Milk of Almonds: Italian American Women Writers on Food and Culture, ed. Louise DeSalvo and Edvige Giunta (New York: Feminist Press), 123–130. Google Scholar

Luciano, Bernadette (2015) ‘“There’s no place like home”: The anxiety of mobility in the works of Louise DeSalvo’, altrelettere, doi: 10.5903/al_uzh-31. Google Scholar

Lupton, Deborah (1996) Food, the Body and the Self (London: Sage). Google Scholar

MacSween, Morag (1993) Anorexic Bodies: A Feminist and Sociological Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa (London: Routledge). Google Scholar

Malson, Helen (1998) The Thin Women: Feminism, Post-Structuralism and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa (London and New York: Routledge). Google Scholar

Maraini, Dacia (1995) Conversazione con Dacia Mariani. Il piacere di scrivere, a cura di Paola Gaglianone (Rome: Òmicron). Google Scholar

Marzano, Michela (2011) Volevo essere una farfalla. Come l’anoressia mi ha insegnato a vivere (Milan: Mondadori). Google Scholar

McEachern, Patricia (1998) Deprivation and Power: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa in Nineteenth-Century French Literature (Westport: Greenwood Press). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (1983) Hunger Strike: The Anorectic’s Struggle as a Metaphor for Our Age (London: Penguin). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (2009) Bodies (London: Profile Books). Google Scholar

Orbach, Susie (2016) Fat is a Feminist Issue: The Anti-Diet Guide + Fat is a Feminist Issue II. Conquering Compulsive Eating (London: Arrows Books). Google Scholar

Patrona, Theodora (2012) ‘Ethnic identification, food, and depression: Louise DeSalvo’s memoirs and the female Italian American experience’, Mediterranean Studies 20: 176–186. Google Scholar

Patrona, Theodora (2014) ‘Mapping the female ethnic self in the family battle-ground: Vertigo and the Greek American novel’, in Personal Effects: Essays on Culture, Teaching, and Memoir in the Work of Louise DeSalvo, ed. Nancy Caronia and Edvige Giunta (New York: Fordham University Press), 210–221. Google Scholar

Peggy, Claude-Pierre (1999) The Secret Language of Eating Disorders: The Revolutionary New Approach to Understanding and Curing Anorexia and Bulimia (New York: Vintage Books). Google Scholar

Schelotto, Gianna (1994) Una fame da morire. Bulimia e anoressia. Due storie vere (Milan: Mondadori). Google Scholar

Segal, Naomi (2009) ‘Witnessing through the skin: The hysteric’s body as text’, Journal of Romance Studies 9: 72–85. Google Scholar

Sereni, Clara (2005) Casalinghitudine (Turin: Einaudi). Google Scholar

Silver, Anne Krugovoy (2002) Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Google Scholar

Stagi, Luisa (2002) La società bulimica. Le trasformazioni simboliche del corpo tra edonismo ed autocontrollo (Milan: FrancoAngeli). Google Scholar

Vivian, Cassandra (2011) ‘The Italian immigrant kitchen: A journey into identity’, in American Women. Italian Style. Americana’s Best Writing on Women, ed. Carol Bonomo Albright and Christine Palamidessi Moore (New York: Fordham University Press), 150–159. Google Scholar

Vivian, Cassandra, Vivian Pelini Sansone, and Elizabeth Parigi Vivian (2003) Immigrant’s Kitchen: Italian (Monassen, PA: Trade Route Enterprise). Google Scholar

Wirth, Christa (2015) Memories of Belonging (Boston and Leiden: Brill). Google Scholar

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Author details

Calamita, Francesca

Calamita, Francesca