British Romanticism and Italian Literature: Translating, Reviewing, Rewriting

British Romanticism and Italian Literature: Translating, Reviewing, Rewriting

British Romanticism and Italian Literature: Translating, Reviewing, Rewriting

British Romanticism and Italian Literature: Translating, Reviewing, Rewriting

Synopsis

Drawing on a long-standing tradition of fictional images, British writers of the Romantic period defined and constructed Italy as a land that naturally invites inscription and description. In their works, Italy is a cultural geography so heavily overwritten with discourse that it becomes the natural recipient of further fictional transformations. If critics have frequently attended to this figurative complex and its related Italophilia, what seems to have been left relatively unexplored is the fact that these representations were paralleled and sustained by intense scholarly activities. This volume specifically addresses Romantic-period scholarship about Italian literature, history, and culture under the interconnected rubrics of translating', reviewing', and rewriting'. The essays in this book consider this rich field of scholarly activity in order to redraw its contours and examine its connections with the fictional images of Italy...

Excerpt

As with Philhellenism, Hispanophilia or the widespread fascination with German literature and philosophy, interest in Italy and its culture has long been recognized as a major phenomenon among the many cross-cultural exchanges and intersections typical of the Romantic period. Most obviously, the theme of Italy is unavoidable when dealing with secondgeneration Romantic poets – ‘Italy’, of course, intended as a suitably vague metonym for a complex accumulation of ideas on Italian language, literature, history, and landscape, as well as first-hand experiences. Hailing Italy in the fourth canto of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1818), Byron defined it as ‘the home / Of all Art yields, and Nature can decree’. Presenting it as a natural and cultural-historical palimpsest and a femininely fertile country, he subscribed to the myth of Italy as an archive of unique natural phenomena, aesthetic manifestations, and cultural narratives. A year later, in his Venetian satire Beppo, he expressed another distinctive trait of the Italian myth, its pleasurable and easy lifestyle, declaring that ‘With all its sinful doings, I must say, / That Italy’s a pleasant place to me’, and then providing a detailed evocation of the sensual pleasures of life in ‘the land which still is Paradise’.

If, as Maura O’Connor remarks, ‘No place on the European continent has captivated the English imagination so completely and for so long as the Italian peninsula’, this fascination became more intense during the Romantic period; and, in his still invaluable Italy and the English Romantics (1957), Charles Peter Brand notes that ‘Early nineteenth-century England was […] smitten with an Italo-mania, or Italianate fashion, which has since quite disappeared’. His view might be corrected by referring to the equally intense ‘Italo-mania’ which affected British culture in Victorian times re-examined, for instance, in Alison Chapman’s and Jane Stabler’s recent edited volume Unfolding the South: NineteenthCentury British Women Writers as Artists in Italy (2003). Yet the centrality of Romanticperiod approaches to, and constructions of, Italy cannot be denied. Felicia Hemans made the foundational role of Italy as the birthplace of culture clear when, in The Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy (1816), she apostrophized it as the ‘Home of the Arts!’ and the ‘Land of the Lyre!’. But when we shift our focus from the broader picture to specific cases, at closer scrutiny the Romantics’ emotional, cultural, and ideological investments in Italy become visible as a multifaceted and unstable mosaic, a complexity compounded by the difficulty of assessing these investments against the period’s direct knowledge of, and access to, Italian culture.

The familiarity of British Romantic writers with Italian literature is too well known to require any further illustration, although, in spite of the many important scholarly contributions, this is hardly an exhausted subject of investigation. More importantly, perhaps, we should highlight the strictly chronological character of the phenomenon, its discontinuities both in relation to the Augustan age, when France held the role of leading culture in Europe, and the Victorian age, when the cultural interests of the British literati veered towards Germany. Far from being a continuum – as Arturo Graf suggested in his pioneering and highly informative study of 1911 – the Romantic interest in Italy and Italian culture was a chronologically circumscribed phenomenon. Indeed, it was not the natural development of Elizabethan attitudes or, still more remotely, the interest in Italy dating back to Chaucer. By contrast . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.