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Reviewed by:
  • Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy
  • Benedetta Gennaro (bio)
Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy. By Joseph Luzzi . New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008. 304 pp. $50.00.

Joseph Luzzi's Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy strives to fill a void in the Anglo-American academic world by providing a wide ranging discussion of the peculiar forms that romanticism took in nineteenth-century Italy. Luzzi's book joins other recent works, such as Nelsons Moe's A View from the Vesuvius (2002), and Robert Casillo's The Empire of Stereotypes (2006), in offering valuable contributions to this field of study. Moe's and Casillo's books engage with the formation of the Italian southern question as seen from the eyes of northern Europeans, whereas Luzzi's new work "examines the metaphors, facts, and fictions about Italy that were born in the Romantic age and that continue to haunt the Western literary imagination" (1), positioning itself as "the first work in English that considers Italian Romanticism and, more broadly, the modern myth of Italy in a comparative European context" (2). [End Page 249]

The book is divided into three parts. In "Genus Italicum" Luzzi asks if an Italian romanticism did in fact exist; in "Heirs of a Dark Wood" the author explains the contradictory relationship between Dante and his work and some of the most important European thinkers such as Voltaire, Alfieri, and Wordsworth. Finally, the third part, titled "Corpus Italicum," looks at the ways gender and nationalism have influenced representations of Italy as a female body.

At times, the volume falls short of its aspirations, because as Luzzi himself notes with dismay some of the most important Italian works of the nineteenth century remain untranslated in English. Overall, Luzzi's view of Italian romanticism is quite canonical in its focus on Ugo Foscolo, Giacomo Leopardi, and Alessandro Manzoni. Although motivated by his aim of rendering these authors more visible to the anglophone public, such a selective corpus and the concomitant virtual absence of authors such as Carlo Porta, Giovanni Berchet, Silvio Pellico, and Tommaso Grossi (some of whom are briefly noted on page 28 as among the major players in the discussion on the crucial "questione della lingua") limits Luzzi's project.

Situating himself in relation to the preceding critical tradition on romanticism, Luzzi writes that "the visceral connection between Italian Romanticism and Italian national identity has led to the establishment of a predominantly political and historical mode of interpreting the literary Ottocento, an approach that is unlikely to pique the interest of the non-Italian reader" (18). Although he overlooks the revitalized interest in the Italian Ottocento in recent years on the part of Anglo-American scholars (for example, Albert Ascoli and Krystyna Von Henneberg, editors of Making and Remaking Italy: The Cultivation of National Identity around the Risorgimento, he is genuinely committed to broadening the audience for Italian romantic literature, and his indictment of the mainstream comparative scholarship that has long marginalized Italian literature is particularly forceful:

Today's comparative literary historians tend either to focus on canonical texts and traditions or try to recover voices from the literary past that ideology has stifled and that inherited aesthetic standards have rejected.

Consequently, many "middle-ground" works or literary cultures that are neither canonical nor marginal have escaped comparative study, and one of these betwixt and between literary cultures, Italian Romanticism, has well nigh disappeared from the foreign critical scene. Italian Romanticism was far more cosmopolitan in scope than its foreign critics have acknowledged; the relative lack of attention [End Page 250] to it abroad has occurred because of issues of nationalism, religion, and cultural mythmaking.


Another possible objection to Luzzi's analysis is the ambiguity of his definition of romanticism. He often uses Ottocento (the Italian term designating the nineteenth century) and romanticism interchangeably, and to the new reader, this overlap could generate the inaccurate perception that Italian romanticism spanned the entire century, whereas by the second half of the Ottocento a new and arguably postromantic sensibility emerged in the works of authors such as Carlo Cattaneo, Ippolito Nievo, and Luigi Settembrini. The strong ties connecting romanticism with the...


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pp. 249-252
Launched on MUSE
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