- Romantic 'Anglo-Italians': Configurations of Identity in Byron, the Shelleys, and the Pisan Circle
One of the most recent additions to the constantly expanding bibliography on Anglo-Italian relations in the Romantic period, Maria Schoina's book is also one of the most welcome. Of course, we may feel that much, perhaps even too much, has already been written about this intricate network of literary and cultural exchanges. Yet, the constantly growing number of new and original approaches to its myriad manifestations confirms the innovativeness and relevance of research into what was an essential component in the development of British literature and culture between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Traditionally, the impact of Italy has been seen as peculiarly influential for second-generation Romantic writers. In order to shed new light on this extensively researched subject area Schoina carefully reconstructs cultural-historical perspectives and lines of continuity. In addition, she skilfully handles a composite analytical vocabulary, drawn from literary theory, sociological approaches to literature and recent developments in 'cultural' or 'new geography', that enables her to chart a course through the complex and shifting terrain of Romantic Anglo-Italianism.
From the outset Schoina states her objectives clearly, declaring her book to be an 'attempt [at] a revisionist reading of Byron, Shelley, Mary Shelley and Leigh Hunt's "italianità"'. Although this book inevitably follows a path already investigated by generations of scholars, and from a variety of different angles, Schoina's knowledge of Italian enables her to take less obvious routes by engaging with a sizeable number of hitherto neglected critical and historical materials. Moreover, there is much in the terminological and analytical premises of her book that had not yet been heard with such clarity in studies of intercultural Romantic relations, especially those between Britain and its neighbouring European traditions. For example, if we have been accustomed to regard terms such as 'acculturation' or 'hybridism' as the exclusive province of postcolonial studies, Schoina asks us to reconsider this assumption and, in line with other recent critical works, to extend their explanatory range to Romantic-period literary and cultural studies.
Prospective readers, however, should not expect a volume that deals too insistently in theoretical issues. In actual fact, Schoina's book wears its theory lightly and elegantly. It is an [End Page 64] invariably clear and clear-headed volume based on a well-organised structure. The introduction sets out the main lines of the argument and its theoretical affiliations, and offers a detailed overview of the contents. The first chapter then centres on the intersection of Anglo-Italian 'spaces and metaphors' between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, providing a preliminary sketch of the transitional and contact areas that are the central object of scrutiny in the rest of the book. The second and third chapters focus on individual personalities: Mary Shelley, and her creation of the category of 'Anglo-Italianness', and Byron's complex 'poetics of acculturation', respectively. Chapter four, by way of contrast, returns to a more comprehensive perspective, as it addresses the formation of Anglo-Italian identities in the Pisan circle, with special emphasis on Percy Shelley and Leigh Hunt. Finally, a short epilogue considers how Anglo-Italianness gradually disappeared with the changes in Victorian attitudes to Italy, and especially that pronounced mid-century tendency to teach Italians how to become a modern nation, in sharp contrast with the desire to learn from Italy that had been typical of Romantic-period intellectuals and their public.
The entire book revolves around the category of 'Anglo-Italianness', a hybrid construct, coined by Mary Shelley in her 1826 essay 'The English in Italy', in which the hyphen both connects and separates the two national, linguistic and cultural dimensions. Schoina duly draws attention to the significance of the hyphen for a definition of 'Anglo-Italianness' as a liminal metaphor, one that 'not only creates a new code of intercultural perception but is methodically involved in the production of a version of Englishness, and one of Italianness, through...