Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Cambridge History of Italian Literature

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Cambridge History of Italian Literature

Article excerpt

The Cambridge History of Italian Literature, ed. Peter Brand and Lino Pertile (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). xxxiv + 701 pp. ISBN o52I-43492-o 7o.oo.

In these days of theory it is a pleasure to report a book, written in jargon-free English, which so well asserts the validity of the historical approach. Nineteen scholars have co-operated on this stimulating volume, covering all Italian literature from the brief first appearance of the vernacular to contemporary writing.

Jonathan Usher discusses the early poetry deftly, using the De vulgari eloquentia to link groupings such as the Sicilians or the Stilnovisti and individual exponents, from Protonotaro to Bonagiunta. An interesting chapter on early prose ranges from a disquisition on letter-writing to the cautionary tales and exempla of the Novellino. Lino Pertile accomplishes the impossible by producing a summary of Dante's life and times, simultaneously illustrating the social, political and literary influences that motivated the minor works, culminating in the sublimity of the Commedia. Pertile writes helpfully on Dante's allegory, realism, moral system, views of myth and history, theories of retribution, and on Dante the pilgrimprotagonist. Pamela Stewart discusses Boccaccio, devoting six pages to his minor works before considering the Decameron, where, for concision, she wisely chooses to subdivide her essay into setting and structure, thematic patterns, story-tellers, and Boccaccio's fictionalized persona. The life and achievements of Petrarch are well treated by John Took, who sets the poet's oeuvre in a cultural and moral context, before concentrating on the Can. …

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