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Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.2 (2004) 311-313
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Northern Dreams of the South:
Imagining Italy in the Eighteenth Century
Astrida Orle Tantillo
University of Illinois at Chicago
Gretchen L. Hachmeister. Italy in the German Literary Imagination: Goethe's Italian Journey and Its Reception by Eichendorff, Platen, and Heine (Rochester: Camden House, 2002). Pp. 217. $75.00.
Shearer West, ed. Italian Culture in Northern Europe in the Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Pp.237. $65.00. [End Page 311]
Travelling to Italy and especially Rome is very rarely about the present, but is usually about the past. In the late nineteenth century, this nostalgia was often about the not-so-distant past: the Rome of the papal empire. Writing in 1873, Henry James bemoans the loss of Roman ceremonies and splendor and remembers a different time, in 1869, when he saw the Vatican "in its superbest scarlet." The secularized Rome is no match for the papal one. The new Italian dandy cannot even begin to make up for the "absent monsignori, treading the street in their purple stockings" and the democratized king's retinue is but a pale shadow of the glories of the papal one. Similarly, the travel writer, Augustus J. C. Hare, rages in 1896 that the last twenty-six years "have done more for the destruction of Rome than all the invasions of the Goths and Vandals . . . The old charm is gone forever, the whole aspect of the city is changed, and the picturesqueness of former days must now be sought in such obscure corners as have escaped the hands of the spoilers." Despite their loud lamentations, both James and Hare continue to love Rome because they are able to find remnants throughout the city that evoke the brighter past. A better Rome lives on in their imaginations.
For the traveler of the eighteenth century, Rome was similarly a created vision. The post-Winckelmann traveler often came to Rome to discover, or rather to rediscover, classicism. Goethe, shortly upon arriving in Rome, writes that it is exactly how he imagined it would be: "All the dreams of my youth have come to life . . . Wherever I walk, I come upon familiar objects in an unfamiliar world; everything is just as I imagined it, yet everything is new" (1 November 1786). The Rome that Goethe discovered was one that he had been trained to see—through engravings, woodcuts, plaster casts, and books—already as a child. It was not so much a question of discovery, but of rediscovery—of bringing the static pictures already in his mind to life. In her book, Italy in the German Literary Imagination, Gretchen Hachmeister examines the pictures of Italy created by several prominent German eighteenth- and nineteenth-century authors. She argues that the Italy conjured up in the writings of Eichendorff, Platen and Heine is a reaction to Goethe's Italian Journey and Roman Elegies. In other words, the Italy portrayed by the younger authors is consciously a commentary upon Goethe's conception of Italy. In all of these cases, however, Italy is not realistically, i.e., faithfully/mimetically portrayed according to its present. Rather, the past shapes the views of the present.
Hachmeister provides a great deal of historical and biographical information on each of the authors that she discusses. Although her book often reads like a dissertation because of its use of secondary literature and background information, Hachmeister has several important insights on interpreting Goethe's vision of Italy and its influences upon the next generation of authors. Most striking is her argument that Goethe's "allegiance to the Classical" in his Italian Journey is not as certain and clear-cut as scholars generally maintain. Instead, she points to passages that illustrate an "aversion to the Classical" and notes that in many ways the reality of Italy, especially its ruins, in "some essential way did not live up to long-held expectations" (57). That Goethe valorized the Classical years after his journey "should be read more as a rebuttal of the Romantic and the post-Napoleonic Weltanschauung...