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Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence Hardcover – 24 May 2010


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (24 May 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801894999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801894992
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,262,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The book contains fascinating, and sometimes shocking, information about Terpstra’s topic. I appreciated that Terpstra does not exclusively limit himself to the subject of Casa della Pietà, but uses the mystery of what happened to the home’s residents as a way to examine related issues.

(Erin Schowalter Feminist Review)

Lost Girls is a fine addition to any history collection, especially those with a focus on the Renaissance.

(Midwest Book Review)

The Casa della Pietà, or House of Compassion, was one of Renaissance Florence's earliest shelters for orphaned or otherwise abandoned adolescent girls... Of the 526 girls who lived there during the 14 years it was open, 324 died there. What was killing these girls? Terpstra attempts to solve this mystery.

(Choice)

[Terpstra's] study of Pietà can be recommended highly not only to those interested in women's history, social history, medical history, and economic history but also to anyone who cares about the historian's craft.

(Jonathan Davies Reviews in History)

A masterpiece of historical writing and an invaluable contribution to the study of premodern Italy... This book should be welcomed by anyone interested in social history, gender history, the history of sexuality, religious history or the history of medicine.

(Tamar Herzig Journal of Modern History)

Energetic, archival scholarship.

(Elizabeth S. Cohen Literary Review of Canada)

Unusual and ingenious... Those interested in the history of early-modern Catholic Europe and Catholic institutions on the Italian peninsula will find much to think about while reading this book.

(Kate Lowe Catholic Historical Review)

It is well written and well researched by an established and erudite historian of this period, and it treats a difficult subject: the situation of Florentine orphaned or abandoned adolescent girls in the sixteenth century.

(R. Burr Litchfield Renaissance Quarterly)

Terpstra weaves literary evidence, intelligent guesswork, and vivid historical imagination into an eminently readable micro-history that forms part of a growing body of scholarship that challenges long-held historical assumptions about female honor in the Mediterranean world.

(Philip Gavitt American Historical Review)

Nicholas Terpstra uses the puzzling deaths of teenaged girls in a Florentine asylum for the poor to take us into many surprising corners in the life of working people, and especially women, in that sixteenth-century city—sexual, medical, religious, and more. A fascinating Renaissance mystery story and a wonderful read!

(Natalie Zemon Davis, author of The Return of Martin Guerre)

This is history with a decidedly human face. The author’s vivid descriptions of urban life and its material realities are unsurpassed. It’s no exaggeration to say that this book makes the streets of Renaissance Florence come alive like no other.

(Sharon T. Strocchia, author of Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence)

In this finely crafted microhistory he exposes the social and cultural contradictions often lost in more general studies that were critical to the existence and functioning of the Casa della Pietà.

(Duane J. Osheim Sixteenth Century Journal)

From the Back Cover

In 1554, a group of idealistic laywomen founded a home for orphaned and homeless adolescent girls in one of the worst neighborhoods in Florence. Of the 526 girls who lived in the home through its first fourteen years, only 202 survived. Struck by the unusually high mortality rate, Nicholas Terpstra sets out to determine what killed the lost girls of the Casa della Pietà. As he uncovers their sad fate, he also explores broader themes, including gender relations, abortion, syphilis, religious politics, and the challenges adolescent girls faced in Renaissance Florence.

"Terpstra weaves literary evidence, intelligent guesswork, and vivid historical imagination into an eminently readable micro-history that forms part of a growing body of scholarship that challenges long-held historical assumptions about female honor in the Mediterranean world."— American Historical Review

"A masterpiece of historical writing and an invaluable contribution to the study of premodern Italy."— Journal of Modern History

"The book contains fascinating, and sometimes shocking, information about Terpstra’s topic. I appreciated that Terpstra does not exclusively limit himself to the subject of Casa della Pietà, but uses the mystery of what happened to the home’s residents as a way to examine related issues."— Feminist Review


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dr. D. J. G. Timmins on 12 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
A truly excellent book - well researched and full of detail about the problems that a certain section of women faced in 16th century Italy.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence 27 Jan. 2011
By clarinetsarethebest - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Nicholas Terpstra's Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence is a thoughtful examination of a thoroughly fascinating question - why the adolescent girls in the Casa della Pieta were dying in alarming numbers - that reaches a satisfying, if not definitive, resolution. Terpstra's explanation of the role in the social structure of sixteenth-century Florence of the Pieta and its patrons is made even more interesting by his obvious deep concern for the women. I certainly enjoyed this book a great deal.

The problem, however, lies in the editing. Though Terpstra's habit of referring to the three girls he mentions near the beginning gets somewhat annoying (how many times do we really need to hear the phrase "girls like Margherita, Maria, and Maddelena"?), what's even more disturbing is how many sentences appear to have been left unchecked. The book is riddled with editing errors. For example, near the end, when Terpstra is considering the effects of French pox (most likely syphilis, in modern terms), the following sentence appears:

"They were more likely to visit prostitutes and brothels and were more likely to be exposed to the disease and later to pass it on to their wives, who could in turn infect pass it on to their children." (pp. 160-161)

It's fairly clear that Terpstra meant either to claim that mothers could "infect" or "pass it on to" their children, but the sentence construction makes no sense as-is. In these instances I think that the Johns Hopkins University Press has done the book a disservice.

Nevertheless, this book is otherwise quite good and is definitely worth reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A fine addition to any history collection, especially those with a focus on the Renaissance 17 Sept. 2010
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
With three hundred deaths in little more than a decade, there is more than cause for concern. "Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence" is a history of the House of Compassion shelter - Casa della Pieta. Founded by women to give orphaned and homeless girls somewhere to stay, over sixty percent of the girls who went to live in this orphanage died premature deaths, sexually exploited by Renaissance Florence. Author Nicholas Terpstra tells this tragic tale and through it, gives readers a look at the dark side of Renaissance Florence and Italy in general. "Lost Girls" is a fine addition to any history collection, especially those with a focus on the Renaissance.
A fine example of avant-garde scholarship 1 Feb. 2012
By Steven D. Sargent - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Terpstra's book is a fine example of avant-garde scholarship that pushes the boundaries of historical speculation to the limit. This does not mean that his analysis is driven by theory: quite the opposite. His meticulous research seeks out every scrap of evidence bearing on the question of what was killing the girls of the Casa della Pieta, a home for abandoned teenage girls in sixteenth-century Florence. But all his effort comes up short of providing a definitive answer. Nevertheless the value of the book lies in the questions he asks and the logic of his analysis of the possible causes. And even if he can't provide a definitive answer to the book's main question, his work reveals in sordid detail the effects of Florentine sexual politics in the late Renaissance on the lives of teenage girls. In the concluding chapter, paying homage to Natalie Zemon Davis's famous work, Fiction in the Archives, he shows us how historians' accounts of the same events can differ radically based on their differing perspectives and purposes. This means that it is virtually impossible ever to be sure we know "what actually happened." As this conclusion indicates, Terpstra's book is scholarly in its approach and requires a fair amount effort and determination on the reader's part. I've assigned it to upper-level university students who find it a bit of a slog. But for those who really want to know what Renaissance Florence was like in all its grittiness, this is a must-read book.
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