- D’Annunzian Reverberations in a Rejection Slip: Joyce and “Daniele Defoe”
James Joyce’s futile attempt to see his essay “Daniele Defoe” published in Florence’s literary journal, Il Marzocco, calls for a re-examination of Joyce’s continued, and mostly successful, effort to be published in Italy. His submission of “Daniele Defoe, Part I” to Adolfo Orvieto, editor of Il Marzocco on 30 June 1913, 1 is important insofar as it shows Joyce’s determination to insert himself in the mainstream of Italian literature by publishing in one of the most prestigious journals of the day. The scenario is simple enough. In 1913, Joyce’s reputation as a writer in English was scanty at best. If an exception is made for a few critical essays and book reviews and for Chamber Music (1907), all he had to his credit were “The Sisters,” “Eveline,” and “After the Race,” published in The Irish Homestead as far back as 1904. HIs reputation as giornalista triestino instead was growing along with the approval which he received for the lectures and essays published in Trieste’s il Piccolo della Sera. 2 To insure, however, that his budding career would find more prestigious outlets, he needed to gain recognition in Italy’s leading literary circles, and the city of Dante seemed to offer the right opportunity. [End Page 395]
In 1913, Florence was the hub of the best that traditional and contemporary writing had to offer. Philosophical trends as diverse as Nietzsche’s Nihilism, Bergson’s Élan Vital, James’s Pragmatism, and Croce’s Neo-Idealism co-existed in a rare display of reciprocal tolerance. Avant-garde publications contributed fresh, untried ideas; foremost among them was La Voce, founded in 1908 by Giuseppe Prezzolini and Giovanni Papini, known respectively in Florence’s intellectual circles as “Giuliano il Sofista” (“Julian the Sophist”) and “Gian Falco” (“John the Hawk”). 3 By giving “known and unknown writers, mature or young,” differing “in temperament, in thought, and in culture” an opportunity to publish, Prezzolini and Papini managed to create a receptive atmosphere for Triestini 4 in the pages of this new Voce, which was blessedly unconcerned with classical rules and the ever-present problema della lingua, problem of the language. 5
The history of Il Marzocco, however, followed different guidelines. The journal enjoyed a long established reputation in Florence’s intellectual milieu as standard bearer of the best contemporary Italian writing. Published under the auspices of the Gabinetto Scientifico-Letterario Vieusseux, founded in 1820 by Gian Pietro Vieusseux, Il Marzocco carefully monitored aesthetic debates and printed what was reputed to be the finest in contemporary criticism and prose. Joyce must have heard of its editorial policy from Allessandro Francini Bruni, who had lived and studied in Florence. It seems that Francini was acquainted with the editor, Adolfo Orvieto. At any rate, he wrote a short message on behalf of Joyce, describing him as “a genial Italian-English writer.” Joyce was probably aware that Il Marzocco, although hospitable enough to new writers, leaned toward well-established poets and critics such as Ugo Ojetti (1871–1946), Giovanni Pascoli (1855–1912), and Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938), an added reason to make the enterprise all the more tempting. The importance that Joyce attached to the essay on Defoe can be grasped only by examining the credentials which he sent along with the manuscript.
In addition to the endorsement by Francini Bruni, he enclosed his own translation in Italian of a certificate by Robert Altman, Vice-Chancellor of Dublin’s Royal University which guaranteed the completion in 1902 of Joyce’s Doctorate in Philosophy. He also enclosed letters by Dott. Benussi and Dott. Oberdorfer, respectively president and secretary of Trieste’s Commissione ordinatrice dell’università; by Dott. Attilio Tamaro, Joyce’s former student, Secretary of the Commissione dell’università popolare triestina; and from Dott. Roberto [End Page 396] Prezioso, editor of Trieste’s Il Piccolo and its literary supplement, Il piccolo della sera, in which Joyce had published nine essays. The impressive array of credentials was obviously meant to gain the sympathetic ear of editorial readers accustomed to consider contributions from some of Italy’s leading writers.