This course provides an opportunity to concentrate on and study in depth the work of two (out of a prescribed list of seven) of the most important writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. You will read widely within the oeuvre of each author, set them in their intellectual and historical contexts and study closely a smaller number of central works with a view to detailed textual analysis.
Authors and texts: any two of the following:
- Manzoni, with a special study of I promessi sposi. Candidates will further be expected to study Manzoni’s tragedies and a selection of his other works.
- Leopardi, with a special study of I Canti. Candidates will further be expected to study the Operette morali and a selection of Leopardi’s other writings.
- D’Annunzio, with a special study of Alcyone. Candidates will further be expected to have studied a selection of D’Annunzio’s other works in verse and prose.
- Verga, with a special study of I Malavoglia and Mastro-don Gesualdo. Candidates will further be expected to study a selection of Verga’s other fiction.
- Pirandello, with a special study of Il fu Mattia Pascal, Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, and I giganti della montagna. Candidates will further be expected to study a representative selection of Pirandello’s drama and prose work.
- Montale, with a special study of `Ossi di seppia’ in Ossi di seppia, Section IV of Le occasioni, `Finisterre’ in La bufera e altro and
`Xenia I’ in Satura. Candidates will further be expected to study a representative selection of Montale’s other poems.
- Calvino, with a special study of Il cavaliere inesistente and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore. Candidates will further be expected to study other works representative of Calvino’s development as a writer. You will be expected to read as widely as possible within the authors’ oeuvre, and in any case well beyond the texts prescribed.
To help you choose your two authors from the list, a general description and some initial suggestions for reading for each author are provided below. For background reading, see also the appropriate books recommended for preparation for the modern period course. More detailed guidance will be provided by your tutor once you have made your choice.
Manzoni (1785–1873): Manzoni’s I promessi sposi is the most important novel to have been written in Italian, and his influence on the development of modern Italian literature and language in the period leading up to Unification and beyond has been immense. He also relates in unusual and interesting ways to trends in the European culture of his time, such as Romanticism or the Historical Novel. You will concentrate primarily on I promessi sposi, but will also look at some of his verse tragedies (Il conte di Carmagnola and Adelchi), his poetry (eg. Inni sacri, Il cinque maggio) and his essays on history, language and literature (e.g., Storia della colonna infame, Sul Romanticismo, Del romanzo storico). Preparation: as well as reading I promessi sposi and some of his other works, you should read: B. Chandler, Manzoni Leopardi (1798–1837): Considered by many critics second only to Dante in his importance as a poet, Leopardi represents the high point of nineteenth-century lyric poetry and also a leap towards the idiom and rhythms of modern poetry. His Canti combine Romantic and Classicizing elements to express his bleak vision of the human condition, also outlined in his philosophical dialogues, the Operette morali. His views and his works were fed by notes and essays, including some of social critique, which make him philosophically and politically an interesting figure also. You will study the Canti and the Operette morali and make use also of his extensive personal notebook, the Zibaldone, and essays such as Discorso sopra lo stato presente dei costumi degl italiani, and Discorso di un italiano intorno alla poesia romantica. Preparation: as well as reading the prescribed texts, and particularly the Canti closely, you might like to look at: G. Carsaniga, Leopardi; I. Origo, Leopardi: A Study in Solitude
D’Annunzio (1863–1938): The most flamboyant and charismatic figure of his day, D’Annunzio was a poet, novelist and dramatist as well a notorious soldier, airman, womanizer, invader of Fiume, and self-promoter. His shaping of his decadent life to fit his decadentist work, the influence of Nietzsche and Wagner, and his undoubted flair for sensual, symbolic, often erotic, and often absurd writing make him the most vibrant representative of turn-of-the-century literature. Everyone after him felt his influence, even if only in rejecting him. You will begin by studying his most accomplished work of poetry, Alcyone, as well as some of his prose work (Il piacere, L’innocente, Trionfo della morte) and plays (La figlia di Iorio). Preparation: as well as reading Alcyone, Il piacere and a number of the other works mentioned, you might look at: N. Lorenzini, Gabriele D’Annunzio; J.R. Woodhouse, Introduction to Alcyone; J.R. Woodhouse, Gabrielle D’Annunzio: Defiant Archangel
Verga (1840–1922): Verga was the major novelist in the late nineteenth century in Italy, and the leading exponent of the Italian school of realism, known as `verismo’. After a series of early works reflecting his immersion in the bourgeois, cultural elites of Florence and Milan, he returned to Sicily and to novels and stories of poverty and struggle, fashioning a new literary language and style for this new subject matter. He was a powerful influence on twentieth-century narrative, particularly Sicilian (Pirandello, Vittorini, Sciascia etc.). You will concentrate on his two `veristic’ novels I Malavoglia and Mastro- don Gesualdo, but will also look at examples of his earlier work (Eva, Tigre reale) and of his short stories (Vita dei campi, Novelle rusticane). Preparation: as well as reading the prescribed texts and some of the other works mentioned, see also: G. Carsaniga, `Realism in Italy’ in F. W. Hemmings (ed.), The Age of Realism, ch.7 R. Luperini, Giovanni Verga
Montale (1896–1981): Montale is perhaps the most important Italian poet of the twentieth century. His work, almost entirely lyrical in nature, spans the main phases of modern Italian history, from the Fascist period to the industrialised society of the 1970s. He is a continuously evolving poet, and yet has his own particular consistency. In his earlier writings he creates a rich network of images: in his later work he is surprisingly, and entertainingly, prosaic. You will concentrate on Montale’s poetry up to and including his 1971 collection, Satura. You will also read selections from his later poetry and some of his prose-texts in Farfalla di Dinard, as well as some of the important discussions of poetry and literature in Sulla poesia and Auto da fè. Preparation: it is most important to read the poems specified for commentary beforehand and as many other poems as you can. See also J. Becker, Eugenio Montale; C. Scarpati, Invito alla lettura di Eugenio Montale.
Pirandello (1867–1936): Pirandello is one of the key figures in modern European drama. His semi- philosophical plays repeatedly challenge and attempt to dismantle received notions of identity and coherence in the individual, by setting up his characters for an existential fall. He does this in a wide variety of settings, from the theatre itself, to middle- and lower-middle- class society, to the mythical landscapes of his latter works. He also explored these fundamental issues in important novels and short stories. You will concentrate on Pirandello’s first mature novel Il fu Mattia Pascal, and two plays which deal in different ways with the nature of theatre, Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore and I giganti della montagna. You will also work on any number of his other plays (start with Enrico IV, Ciascuno a suo modo, Così è (se vi pare), Vestire gli ignudi), novels (Uno, nessuno e centomila) and a selection of short stories (Novelle per un anno – eg in Manchester University Press anthology). Preparation: as well as reading as many of the primary texts as possible, see also: R. Barilli, Pirandello. Una rivoluzione cultural; O. Ragusa, Pirandello. An Approach to his Theatre; J.L. Styan, The Dark Comedy. The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy
Calvino (1923–1985): Commonly regarded as Italy’s most successful twentieth-century novelist, Italo Calvino’s writings are characterized by originality, variety, and close affinity with the most interesting names in contemporary fiction (Borges, Perec, Vargas Llosa, etc.). You will concentrate on Calvino’s Il cavaliere inesistente and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, two works which expand the traditional notion of the novel. You will also be expected to read other works representative of Calvino’s development as a writer. You should read the whole of Il cavaliere inesistente and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, as well as some of these other major works: Il sentiero dei nidi di ragno, I nostri antenati, Le cosmicomiche, Le città invisibili, Palomar. Preparation: You should read all of Il cavaliere inesistente and Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore, and as many of Calvino’s other works as you can. The best introductions to Calvino are: K. Hume, Calvino’s Fictions: Cogito and Cosmos; M. McLaughlin, Italo Calvino; C. Milanini, L’utopia discontinua. Saggio su Italo Calvino.