The Political Afterlife of Eleonora Duse 1000
Eleonora Duse (1858–1924), international star, national treasure, and patriotic Italian died in Pittsburgh in April 1924. Those involved in the memorializing process contended for control of her body, attempting to interpolate her renown in competing narratives of national pride and the universality of art. Duse died at a turning point for Italy, the year Mussolini's Fascists became the majority party. For Mussolini and the Fascists, Duse's death became the occasion for a pageant of Italian pride through a series of carefully orchestrated ceremonies. At the same time, the theatre community tried to establish an artistic narrative more akin to the ideals Duse expressed in life. In the end, nationalist motifs dominated the memorial discourse. Duse's own assertions of the importance of spirit over corporeality became an ironic footnote to a story in which the actress's body stood in for the nation.
1000 Christine C. Mather teaches theatre at Tennessee State University. She is working on a book about actress burial. Her other publications include an article in the current issue of Text and Presentation.