Celia Romana's Love Letters

Romana, Celia (fl. 1562), pseudonym?

Lettere amorose ... scritte al suo Amante.

Venice: [Francesco Rampazetto for] Antonio degli Antoni, 1562


Octavo: [152] pp.


20thc. decorated paper over boards. Very lightly toning to first and final leaves. Printer’s device on title page, large woodcut historiated initial in text. Rare. OCLC records only five copies in North American libraries (Harvard, Yale, Duke, UCSF, and UCSB).

First edition of "Love letters written by Lady Celia, Roman gentlewoman, to her lover", one of the earliest collections of Renaissance Italian women's letters, one of the few collections addressed entirely to one recipient, and possibly "the most popular woman's letter book of the Renaissance."(Kaborycha)

Nothing is known of Celia Romana outside of her work and some attribute these lettere to a male author, possibly Girolamo Parabosco, who authored an earlier collection of letters by fictitious women. Yet there is nothing to disprove that these passionate epistles were written by a woman under the pseudonym of Celia to protect her reputation. A note at c. 4v informs us about a second pseudonym adopted in the course of the correspondence: Zima (possibly a borrowing from one of Boccaccio’s stories in the Decameron). The book is dedicated to another pious woman, Lisa, who is presented as a friend of Celia's lover, the real force behind the publication. Each letter narrates the struggle of love, the secret meetings, petty jealousies and excruciating waits.

"There are sixty-eight letters, among 'thousands written to (her lover) over the course of twelve years,' which the editor dedicates to a certain 'Magnificent and Illustrious Signora Lisa.' Each letter is dated and signed, the author sometimes signing herself as Celia and sometimes Zima, addressing her lover as Toso. The richness of detail concerning everyday life seems to indicate an actual correspondence, and despite the sobriquet of 'gentlewoman' applied in the book's title, it seems likely Celia was a Roman courtesan."(Kaborycha, A Corresponding Renaissance, Letters written by Italian Women, 1375-1650, p. 174)

"The genre, and the pseudonymous publication, would lead us to suspect that the author was a fictional creation, though the fact that a sonnet by Celia Romana appears in a verse collection of the period ("Il tempio, 1568, 31v) leaves open the possibility that she may have existed. Similar authorship issues arise with a later volume of love letters bearing a female signature, "Emilia N." 1594."(Cox, Women's Writing in Italy, 1400-1600, p. 317)

For the influence of the "fictionalized love narratives" of Boccaccio and the Lettere on Isabella Andreini's theatrical "letters", see Ray, Writing Gender, p. 172

Erdmann, My Gracious Silence, p. 210; Index Aureliensis VII, p. 262. BMSTC 164. Gay II, 795 (later eds). On authorship and contents: L. Matt, ‘Lettere “mal corrette” ma “scritte di cuore”: lingua e stile dell’epistolario amoroso di Celia Ro- mana’, in La comunicazione letteraria degli Italiani, ed. by D. Manca and G. Piroddi, Sassari 2017, pp. 129-148.