The Italian Actress

A Novel

By Frank Lentricchia

Subjects: Fiction, Italian American Studies, American Literature
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438430447, 116 pages, December 2009

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

I. Claudia

II. Mondo Sigismondo

III. Still Life

IV. Recognition

A has-been American filmmaker encounters love, cruelty, and death in Italy.


Set in Italy, Frank Lentricchia's sixth novel features a has-been Italian American filmmaker, once internationally acclaimed for the beauty of his images and his experiments in pornography but now stuck in prolonged creative drought. At an obscure film festival in Volterra he meets the aging but still stunning Claudia Cardinale, star of Fellini's 8½. She falls in love with him, but he resists, yet all the while wanting not to resist. Instead of remaining with Cardinale, he casts his lot with a perverse but compelling couple who convince him that he can regain his renown and achieve artistic immortality if he will only make a new film starring the two of them—an explicitly sexual film of shocking violence.

The Italian Actress is a meditation, by turns lyrical and bluntly brutal, on our obsession with celebrity, ambition, the cult of youthful beauty, romantic desire, the aging body, mortality, the power of the visual image, and underneath it all, the nature of visuality itself.

Frank Lentricchia is Katherine Everett Gilbert Professor of Literature at Duke University. He is the author or editor of many books of literary criticism and theory, as well as six novels, including The Music of the Inferno, Lucchesi and the Whale, and The Book of Ruth. A theatrical adaptation by Jody McAuliffe of The Italian Actress was performed to acclaim in Durham, North Carolina, in 2009.


"The novel itself is like Del Piero's films, and that is the beauty of Lentricchia's art. This is not a novel for the weak-hearted or the light-headed for it can turn even the most seasoned reader into both. But it is a novel to be reckoned with by those looking to do something new with fiction, and for that, it's a worthy contribution to the literary arts. " — Fra Noi

"A masterful novel about the reality of film, the redeeming possibilities of love and the fickle treacheries of art. " — Charlotte Observer

"…a mad, fascinating, gallop of a read … this novel is an intellectual page-turner. " — San Francisco Book Review

"The Italian Actress is about high art in circumstances where high art makes little sense. Like the avant garde films of his protagonist, Jack Del Piero, Lentricchia's novel comprises an erotics without nudity, a virtuoso monologue that veils the embarrassments of flesh, making desire less its topic than its unspeakable condition. Anyone curious about that generation, now aging, whose talents were animated by modernism's radical aims will need to read this novel. " — R. M. Berry, coeditor of Fiction's Present: Situating Contemporary Narrative Innovation

"The Italian Actress is an engaging, literate, and often beautiful study of matters relevant to artistic morality and aesthetic representation. It does quite a lot of work in relatively few pages, managing to (gasp!) entertain, as well. " — Kass Fleisher, author of The Bear River Massacre and the Making of History