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Plotting the Past

Metamorphoses of Historical Narrative in Modern Italian Fiction

by Cristina Della Coletta

Publication Year: 1996

Through an examination of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theoretical work and novels, Della Coletta presents an authoritatively original recasting of the notion of the historical novel. Starting with Alessandro Manzoni's classic essay "On the Historical Novel," she examines the aesthetic and philosophical questions surrounding the genre of historical fiction. Manzoni rejected the historical novel as a flawed combination of two contradictory systems: fiction and history. He also devised a new form of creative historiography that attempts to textualize the historical referent by using narrative techniques traditionally pertaining to the craft of fiction. Della Coletta then demonstrates how Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, Elsa Morante's History: A Novel, and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose took up Manzoni's legacies, reshaped the genre, and embarked on a discussion of the meaning of writing within a specific literary genre. Transformative and revisionist, these novels overcome Manzoni’s philosophical impasse by arguing that both fiction and history exploit the forms of narrative to lend a comprehensible structure to the historical past. They thus become self-conscious evaluations of the ideological, aesthetic, and epistemological values of their narrative discourses. Della Coletta’s analysis of these novels suggests that genres are ideological units molded by culture and history, and that current ideologies shape the literary representation of the historical past. This innovative case study thus illuminates not just the twentieth-century Italian historical novel but also the function of literary genres as a whole.

Published by: Purdue University Press

Series: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

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p. ix

It is a special pleasure to thank the friends and colleagues who provided insight and advice in the making of this book. I am deeply grateful to Lucia Re, whose advice and criticism inspired me throughout the project. I would also like to thank Tibor ...

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Introduction: The Historical Novel and the Dialectics of Genre

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pp. 1-18

Immediately after publishing his historical novel I promessi sposi (The Betrothed)1 in 1827, Alessandro Manzoni renounced the entire genre of historical fiction. A best-seller ante litteram, I promessi sposi, like the great epic poems of the past, would remain a model to ...

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Chapter One. Alessandro Manzoni's J'accuse: Literary Debates,the Essay Del romanzo storieo,and a Theory of Creative Historiography

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pp. 19-69

In spite of Franceseo De Sanctis's influential dismissal (349-50), Manzoni's essay Del romanzo storieo is as much a touchstone for the theory of historical fiction as his novel I promessi sposi is for its practice. Although the essay eventually rejects historical fiction as a logical ...

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Chapter Two. Historical Reconfigurations and the Ideology of Desire: Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's Il Gattopardo

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pp. 71-115

In a letter dated 2 January 1957 to his friend Guido Lajolo, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa denied that Il Gattopardo was a historical novel. Although the novel refers to Garibaldi's landing in Sicily and depicts an episode from the Unification of Italy, Lampedusa suggested ...

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Chapter Three. Fiction and Women's History: Elsa Morante's La Storia

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pp. 117-151

Elsa Morante's 1974 best-selling novel La Storia weaves together the fates of Ida Ramundo, her children Nino and Useppe, and the pageant of their acquaintances from 1941 to 1947, the years that saw the horrors of Fascism, Nazism, and World War II. La Storia is based upon a ...

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Chapter Four. Transhistorical Narratives: The Apocalypse and the Carnival in Umberto Eco's Il nome della rosa

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pp. 153-194

Discussing the protean nature of modern fiction, Bakhtin argues that the almost endless variety of its forms can be only partially accounted for and explored. Being the sole genre that currently continues to develop, the novel has no unique canon of its own, yet it can include ...

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pp. 195-198

In Del romanzo storieo, Manzoni maintains a dualistic approach toward history and fiction and denies that they can be combined into a single genre. Although he concedes that both history and fiction are ideological and linguistic constructs, he is nevertheless convinced that they ...

Appendix: English Translations

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pp. 199-213


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pp. 215-245

Works Cited

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pp. 247-260


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pp. 261-268

E-ISBN-13: 9781612490908
E-ISBN-10: 1612490905
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557530912
Print-ISBN-10: 1557530912

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 1996

Series Title: Purdue Studies in Romance Literatures
Series Editor Byline: Patricia Hart See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 605613970
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Plotting the Past

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Historical fiction, Italian -- History and criticism.
  • Italian fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • Italian fiction -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
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