Giovanni Verga, "La Lupa, " female sexuality, nymphomania, lycanthropy


At some point during early development, most children are afraid of the imaginary wolf under the bed or the wolf that hides in the closet at night. Traditional bedtime stories such as Little Red Riding Hood certainly do not help assuage such fears: these are atavistic dreads, similar to being scared of the dark or of death.1 In childhood culture, the wolf represents the “other,” the “furry non-human,” and almost always the viciously violent. Later, as adults, the occasional dream of wolverine violence, or of human transformation into a wolf (a lycanthropic aversion) might very well create anxiety and apprehension.2 Over the centuries, Western people have learned to negotiate their innate fear of wolves by capturing them, dominating them, and, in many locations, bringing them almost to the brink of extinction. It seems, then, that humans’ raw fear of the wolf eases when they can safely observe the animals from afar, confined to a cage or a managed roaming pen. In this case, the observer, now protected from the “savage beast” behind bars, perceives the wolf as controlled and tamed. The truth of the matter, of course, lies in the illusion that the wild has been stamped out of the captive wolf. Tellingly, at the same time, the very need to trap the wolf implicitly validates the wolf’s superior physical strength and affirms its powers over humans.

Original Publication Citation

Klein, Ilona. "When Good Girls Go Bad (Or Do They?): Nymphomania and Lycanthropy in Verga's "La Lupa"." MLN, vol. 134 no. 6, 2019, p. S-272-S-285. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mln.2019.0072.

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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French and Italian

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor