Mapping the reception of English Novels in Italy during the Long 18th century (1/3)

This series of posts aims at presenting a research project that is being conducted between the Vrije Universiteit of Brussels (VUB, Belgium) and the University of Guelph (Canada). Its title is The reception of the English novel in the Italian literary press between 1700 and 1830: a transcultural enquiry into the early shaping of the modern Italian literary and cultural identity, and it has been funded by the FWO (Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Research Foundation Flanders). The Flemish foundation awarded Andrea Penso of a Post Doctoral fellowship, that is co-supervised by Prof. Dirk Vanden Berghe (VUB) and Prof. Sandra Parmegiani (Guelph). The project, which will  complement Parmegiani’s work related to the project Transcultural Journalism in the Long Eighteenth Century (a recent development of A Glimpse of England. The Reception of English Novels in Italy, 1750-1850), investigates the reception of English novels in the Italian literary press during the Long Eighteenth Century (1700-1830). Its main purpose is the collection, analysis, and digitization of a set of data concerning the publication, dissemination, translations, critical reviews, and editorial advertisements of English novels in the Italian literary press in the era of the Enlightenment and early Romanticism. The corpus consists of 300 reviews published in the most relevant literary journals of the time across the Italian peninsula. The project aims also to address a still uncharted aspect of Anglo-Italian intercultural relations: the question of the Italian reception of the English novel in Europe during the Enlightenment and the early Romantic culture is crucial to understanding the impact of a genre that has been a primary vehicle for social, political, and moral ideas, and outlining the process that has defined modern subjectivity for three centuries. The study will offer insights into the links between social structure endorsement and self-consciousness development through the diffusion and the knowledge of English fiction as presented by the outputs of Italian 18th and 19th century literary journals.

In the Long Eighteenth Century the periodical press was the main instrument for the national and international dissemination of hundreds of novels; it represented, in broader terms, the most direct and widespread medium that put eighteenth- and early- nineteenth century European readers in touch with foreign literature. The reception of the English novel in Europe is a still largely unknown aspect of Enlightenment and early Romantic culture, of particular relevance at a time when the European inter-cultural dialogue was being shaped according to interpretative lines that were to influence the European perception of ‘the other’ for centuries to come. This project, which is currently in its early stages, explores the processes that enabled the transnational circulation of ideas and texts in the modern age, and promotes awareness of the boundaries of cultural traditions and of their influence on identity formation. The research has three main objectives (see infra). The first consists in pinpointing the distinctive characteristics of Italian literary journalism, by carrying out a thematic, stylistic and discursive survey of the corpus. The second is to understand how the English novels were introduced to the Italian readership, censored and translated, which moral values they disseminated and how their reception influenced the Italian process of political and cultural unification. The third is to create a methodological paradigm that can be extended to the study of the reception of English novels in other national traditions through a combined use of Digital Humanities tools, Sociology of Literature and Comparative Literature approaches.

 

The ancillary scholarly literature on the topic of Italian journalism and its role in the Italian reception of the English novel in the Long Eighteenth Century is considerably old. To this day, critics have focused on specific aspects of the role of the Italian literary press in the Long Eighteenth Century and of the reception of English novels: bibliographical enquiries (Streeter, Balay), studies about England’s cultural influence in Italy (Pfister, Loretelli, O’Gorman), surveys on the reception of English novels in Great Britain and the role of the press in the Long Eighteenth Century (Forster, Siskin, Parker, Moretti, Underwood), studies on the development and function of English readership (Klancher, Rivers, MacMurran) and studies about Italian journalism (Bellocchi, Murialdi, Crotti, Vescovo, Ricorda, Infelise). Even if these works provide an understanding of the cultural and socio-political context in which the press operated during the Enlightenment and early Romantic period, at a time of political and social fragmentation in pre-unified Italy, to this day there is no comprehensive study on the reception of foreign novels in Italy via the periodical press. Very few significant contributions on the topic have been produced in the past two decades. The project builds on studies that have focused on specific aspects of the reception of English novels in Italy and in Europe, and of the role of the Italian literary press as a vehicle for information in the “long 18th century” (as described in O’Gorman 1997 and Baines 2004). The primary comparative frames of reference for this research project are the critical literature on the reception of English novels in England and the role of the press in the long 18th century (Siskin, Reiman, Ward, Forster, Mayo), the studies on the development and function of English readership (Klancher, Rivers) and the bibliographical and critical investigations on the reception of English novels in 18th century France (Streeter, MacMurran). Studies of Italian journalism provide an understanding of the cultural and socio-political context in which the press operated during the Enlightenment and the early Romantic period, at a time of political and social fragmentation in pre-unified Italy (Infelise, Piccioni, Berengo, Murialdi). In 1962, Maria Rosa Zambon published a Bibliographie du roman français en Italie au 18e siècle, which – thanks to a substantial amount of bibliographical information and a selected anthology of text – represents a pioneering study of early translations of French novels in Italian as well as novels that were printed and read in Italy in the original French language. Very little has been done in this direction with regard to the reception of English novels in Italy during the long 18th century.

To date a systematic examination of the reviews of foreign novels in the 18th century Italian literary press is still missing, as Daniela Mangione points out in her study Prima di Manzoni (2012) which explores authors and readers in 18th century Italy. The ancillary scholarly literature dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century with a seminal work by Giambattista Marchesi, entitled Studi e ricerche intorno ai nostri romanzi e romanzieri del Settecento coll’aggiunta di una bibliografia dei romanzieri editi in Italia in quel secolo (1903). Marchesi’s book presents a substantial amount of data, but the inventory is incomplete and includes only a selected number of Italian translations of foreign novels. It thus ignores a large repertoire of titles made available to Italian readers through French translations (the language used by large portions of the learned community in most states and territories of pre-unified Italy) or through the many announcements of foreign titles in their original languages and their reviews in the literary press. In fact, all this data still needs to be thoroughly collected and analyzed today, from a stylistic, historical, geographical and sociological point of view. The project will indeed give particular importance to the role played by the French mediation (translations, book circulation and advertisements) in the Italian reception of English novels.

Maria Rosa Colombo’s Lo Spectator e i giornali veneziani del Settecento (1966) is the only study of how British journalism influenced the 18th century Italian literary press, and is still a valuable source of information on the reception of English novels in Italy, even though it focuses on one major periodical publication. The influence of English culture at large has been addressed in two studies, but they are limited to the Milanese area: Franca Rossi’s La cultura inglese a Milano e in Lombardia nel Seicento e nel Settecento (Bari: Adriatica Editrice, 1970), and La stampa periodica milanese nella prima metà dell’Ottocento. Testi and concordanze (Pisa: Giardini, 1983), by Stefania de Stefanis Ciccone.

This research project will uncover a transcultural network of European journalism that will reveal for the first time the extent of the circulation of ideas and cultural practices around the reception of the English novel in Italy. Compared to previous studies, this project aims to engage in a more comprehensive and systematic inquiry, with a high degree of innovation, as we will show with the next posts.