- Giorgio Melchiori, Rome, 19 August 1920-Fiumicini, 8 February 2009
Giorgio Melchiori passed away peacefully in his second home in Fregene near Rome, after a long and busy retirement. Despite having lost his sight some years earlier, his last years were still active, and he was indeed deeply fortunate in the loving care given him by his wife, [End Page 431] Barbara, and his children, Giuliano and Miranda. Giorgio enjoyed a long and rich career as the outstanding Italian scholar of both English and Irish literature in the English language. His studies began at the Università di Roma “La Sapienza” under Mario Praz. He spent a brief period working for the ANSA news-agency during the war, before enjoying a distinguished teaching career at the Universities of Torino, La Sapienza, and Roma Tre. His scholarly and publishing interests included Shakespeare, Donne, Joyce, Yeats, and the modernists; his contribution to each of these fields was considerable and felt well beyond the confines of the Italian academy.
My first memory of him was of his visit (with Barbara, also a professor of English literature at the Università Roma Tre), to one of the first James Joyce Summer Schools in Dublin in the late eighties. Pushing seventy and having lost a leg to cancer thirty years earlier, he had struggled, stick in hand, and with considerable difficulty up the stairs of Newman House before giving a lecture on Joyce’s use of language that mesmerized the assembled audience who warmly hailed the “maestro.”
Later, I had the privilege of having Giorgio as extern for my Ph.D. thesis at University College Dublin. Although he was unable to travel to Dublin for a viva, he found an alternative way of clarifying various points along the way. He set about reading my work on 26 December 1995, and fairly early that day I was surprised to receive a phone call that announced, “Giorgio Melchiori here. I’m on page 19 of your work and wondered. . . .” The phone rang several more times in the following days as he worked his way through the five-hundred-odd pages and called every time he hit a hurdle. Because I did not know him very well but respected his work and his opinion enormously, my heart jumped every time the phone rang. Eventually satisfied, he sent off a positive report to Dublin, and I was duly “doctored.”
A short time later, to my great surprise and delight, a long, detailed handwritten letter arrived from him entitled “For John McCourt’s eye’s only.” There followed a detailed list of minor corrections and illuminating comments, many of which saved me from myself when I eventually converted the work into the more publishable The Years of Bloom. Today I feel deeply fortunate to have received such generous and useful guidance from a man already touching eighty and suffering with his eyes.
Giorgio Melchiori was often honored during his lifetime for his work. He was a member of the British Academy and, for his contribution to Shakespeare scholarship, was made an honorary fellow of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In 1991, he became a Commander of the British Empire. He was a member of the Italian Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the world’s oldest scientific academy (founded in 1603) and of Turin’s Accademia delle Scienze. In 2005, he was awarded the [End Page 432] prestigious Premio Sapegno and, though he could not travel to the event, made sure his presence was felt by sending a memorable and moving lecture (read by Piero Boitani) entitled “Joyce e l’eternità da Dante a Vico.” This was at once a meditation in the face of his own nearing death but also a challenging reappraisal of Joyce’s Italian debt to Dante and Vico, one which he himself, in a life of scholarship, did more than anyone to explore. The essay was published in English as “Joyce and Eternity: From Dante to Vico” in Papers on Joyce 10–11 (2004–2005) and in Festschrift for Francisco Garcìa Tortosa (2006).
Melchiori’s contribution to Irish literature tout court is lasting and important. In a publishing career that stretched from 1948 to 2008, he published...