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Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy

Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy
    Book Description:

    In this groundbreaking study, unique in English, Joseph Luzzi considers Italian Romanticism and the modern myth of Italy. Ranging across European and international borders, he examines the metaphors, facts, and fictions about Italy that were born in the Romantic age and continue to haunt the global literary imagination.

    The themes of the book include the emergence of Italy as the "world's university" (Goethe) and "mother of arts" (Byron), the influence of Dante'sCommediaon Romantic autobiography, and the representation of the Italian body politic as a woman at home and abroad. Luzzi also provides a critical reevaluation of the three crowns of Italian Romantic letters-Ugo Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi, and Alessandro Manzoni-profoundly influential writers largely undiscovered in Anglo-American criticism. Reaching out to academic and general readers alike, the book offers fresh insights into the influence of Italian literary, cultural, and intellectual traditions on the foreign imagination from the Romantic age to the present.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15178-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Italy’s Ambivalent Modernity
    (pp. 1-22)

    A recent advertisement campaign by the Italian national airline, Alitalia, invites prospective leisure travelers to “fire [their] therapist” and fly to Italy. Another Alitalia advertisement depicts a couple kissing while flanked by majestic columns, with a slogan above them that challenges us to visit Italy and “do something monumental.” A third image presents an attractive woman who is savoring cannoli, with the caption: “Let’s give in to temptation.” The rhetoric of this publicity draws on a myth, formed by writers in the early nineteenth century, of Italy as a premodern, sensual, and unreflective (hence, analyst-free) oasis in a dry and...

  5. PART I: Genus Italicum

    • 1 Did Italian Romanticism Exist?
      (pp. 25-52)

      Friedrich Nietzsche’s essay “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” has haunted literary historians across the critical spectrum.¹ He writes:

      Die historische Bildung unsrer Kritiker erlaubt gar nicht mehr, daß es zu einer Wirkung im eigentlichen Verstande, nämlich zu einer Wirkung auf Leben und Handeln komme: auf die schwärzeste Schrift drücken sie sogleich ihr Löschpapier, auf die anmutigste Zeichnung schmieren sie ihre dicken Pinselstriche, die als Korrekturen angesehn werden sollen: da war’s wieder einmal vorbei. Nie aber hört ihre kritische Feder auf zu fließen, denn sie haben die Macht über sie verloren und werden mehr von ihr geführt,...

    • 2 Italy without Italians: Goethe, Staël, and Foscolo
      (pp. 53-76)

      Stimulated by the pioneering work of Edward Said and other theorists of literary geopolitics, recent criticism has explored the ideological bias behind the regional and national stereotypes ascribed to Italians at home and abroad.¹ Scholars have been especially active in examining the marginal position of the Italian south—the so-calledmezzogiorno,land of the midday sun—vis-à-vis the north, a situation that has been described as “orientalism in one country.”² Just as Said demonstrates that Westerners constructed a primitive and archaic Muslim Middle East in contrast to the supposedly more modern and ordered Occident, students of themezzogiornoshow that...

    • 3 The Death of Italy and Birth of European Romanticism
      (pp. 77-94)

      Throughout Romantic Europe, definitions of literature connected certain crises of modernity with Italian art and history, especially those related to issues of exile, nostalgia, and cultural belatedness. More specifically, anti-Enlightenment notions of the “literary” drew on poetic representations of modern Italy as a dying culture. Some of the views that helped artists break with long-standing French neoclassical principles were admittedly extravagant. In fact, a number of empirically false observations on Italy served Romantics in reconceptualizing a construct as vast as literary history, which Romantics infused with original considerations on the nexus between geography and culture. A pioneering study by Franco...

  6. PART II: Heirs of a Dark Wood

    • Prologue
      (pp. 97-103)

      Since the rediscovery of the art and literature of the Middle Ages was a defining characteristic of Romanticism, it is no surprise that one of the most prominent medieval authors in European history, Dante, would figure centrally in the formation of the principles and practices of the new cultural moment. More mysterious, however, remain the reasons that a certain idea or representation of Dante came to dominate the literary reception of the poet, both in the high literature of the age and in the public imaginary. The nature of this paradigmatic notion of Dante becomes all the more striking, when...

    • 4 Dante and Autobiography in the Age of Voltaire
      (pp. 104-123)

      This remark from Voltaire’sLettres philosophiquesin 1756 has produced endless wordplay on the fact that, for Dante, the age of light was truly obscure. A glance at the publication history of the period would seem to confirm Voltaire’s observation: in his lifetime, 1697–1778, only sixteen editions of theCommediaappeared, a figure nearly surpassed in the first decade of the nineteenth century alone. A closer look at the literature of eighteenthcentury Europe shows, however, that theCommediadid find its readers. Many major writers remarked about the work, and some devoted themselves either to attacking or defending it.¹...

    • 5 Alfieri’s Prince, Dante, and the Romantic Self
      (pp. 124-140)

      Alfieri wrote these words circa 1778, the year in which his formermaître à penserVoltaire died a celebrity in Paris.¹ Although Voltaire does not appear in the epigraph, he haunts it. As opposed to the pleasure and cultivation inherent in Voltaire’s notion of reading, Alfieri’s statement introduces a concern with ethics and character that ignores the question of aesthetic appreciation and literary value. This journey from reading to endurance suggests Alfieri’s tendency to translate literary pursuits into a quest for freedom and self-esteem if not survival. “Si esamini la storia,” he continues, “e si vedrà, che i popoli tutti...

    • 6 Wordsworth, Dante, and British Romantic Identity
      (pp. 141-160)

      Among the stacks of documents in the Wordsworth archive there lies a diary belonging to the poet’s son-in-law, Edward Quillinan, who writes soon after his wife’s death: “My Beloved Dora breathed her last at one o’clock a.m.— less five minutes by the stairclock at Rydal Mount.—Io dico che l’anima sua nobi[l]issima si partì nella prima ora del nono giorno del mese. Dante. Vita Nuova. Beatrice.”¹ Though unlikely to be published, these words attest to one of the more dramatic phenomena in modern literary history. Less than one hundred years after Voltaire had proclaimed Dante’s obituary, his work had spread...

  7. PART III: Corpus Italicum

    • 7 Italy as Woman and Wound, Dante to Leopardi
      (pp. 163-194)

      In one of the less popular corners of Santa Croce, the occasional tourist will pause in front of Foscolo’s memorial tomb. Few will know that, because of Foscolo’s poetry, this twelfth-century basilica played an invaluable role in forging Italian national identity during the Risorgimento; even fewer will realize that the success of “Dei sepolcri” helped the formerly neglected place of worship obtain necessary repairs and prestigious statuary.¹ Antonio Berti’s statue of Foscolo from 1935 (fig. 5) recalls the autobiographical image created by the author ofUltime lettere di Jacopo Ortis,for the form radiates a martial vigor and emotional energy,...

    • 8 The Body of Parini
      (pp. 195-212)

      To whom does the corpse belong? This is a question that Robert Harrison asks in his study of the debt binding us to our ancestors.¹ Critiquing Martin Heidegger, he argues that our sense of humanity derives from our living relationship with the dead and not from our consciousness of an abstract and inevitable state of death. We live in and through those specific predecessors who inspired, deluded, nourished, confounded, and loved us. When we lose them, we come to understand the notion of death as a real, concrete event instead of as a disembodied metaphysical certainty à la Heidegger. Moreover,...

  8. Epilogue: Italy’s Broken Heart
    (pp. 213-220)

    In one of the more chilling scenes in Romantic literature, Goethe lies abed with his Roman mistress, enraptured by her body and overcome by pleasure, yet composed enough to discern the outline of metrical patterns along the contours of her back.¹ Some hundred years later, in an equally signatory Italian coming-of-age moment from E. M. Forster’sA Room with a View(1909), Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson stand together above the Arno, after witnessing a murder over a few liras. “Something tremendous has happened,” George says to Lucy, something about the horror they observed, with its burst of primitive passion...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 221-284)
  10. Index
    (pp. 285-294)