Italian Narratives and the Late Romantic Metrical Tale
This essay addresses Gothic constructions of Italy by reconsidering Romantic-period literary works that capitalised on stereotypes of the country as a land ridden with violence, vice and dangers. If Gothic discourse ‘pre-scribed’ Italy as a country of terrifying events, Gothic writings also reworked an Italy that was already ‘pre-scribed’ according to hostile notions within a stratified geo-cultural archive dating back at least to the Renaissance. This combination of disparaging images was not created exclusively on the basis of British anti-Catholic feelings and other cultural hostility. Often it originated from Italian documentary sources and, particularly Italian literature, itself the object of increasing scrutiny in the Romantic period. This essay examines the Gothic construction and uses of Italy in verse tales published in the later Romantic period and inspired by Dante‘s Divina Commedia and Boccaccio‘s Decameron, among them Edward Wilmot‘s Ugolino; or, the Tower of Famine, Felicia Hemans‘s ‘The Maremma’, William Herbert‘s Pia della Pietra, John Keats‘s Isabella and Barry Cornwall‘s A Sicilian Story. These narrative poems employ Italy as an archive of Gothic plots, atmospheres and situations, making plain its double status: that of a fictitious, approximative set of geo-cultural notions, as well as that of a repertoire of fictional materials.
Gothic Melodrama and the Aesthetic of Silence in Thomas Holcroft‘s A Tale of Mystery
Focusing on melodrama and on Thomas Holcroft‘s exemplary A Tale of Mystery (1802) in particular, this essay proposes a reinterpretation of Gothic drama and theatre as constitutively characterized by interruptions of comprehension. The tribulations of its persecuted protagonist Francisco are read in the context of the court trial of a real-life Francisco, who lived in London in 1802 and was one of the ‘stars’ in contemporary newspaper reports from the Old Bailey. Combining different generic and tonal modes, Romantic-period Gothic melodrama capitalized on explicitness and hyperbole, as well as on materializations of ethics and sentiment through their overt exhibition on stage or ‘ostension’. At the same time, it emphasized absence, silence, dematerialization and dissolution. With its continuously deferred revelations,and ostensions of the unsaid, A Tale of Mystery is a significant investment in an aesthetic of the unsaid that is central to a definition of Gothic on stage.
This chapter focuses on Byron’s ‘Italian’ satires, Beppo and Don Juan, as well as the late prose fragment ‘An Italian Carnival’. It begins by highlighting Byron’s parabasic ‘turn’ to Italy in these works in order to argue that the poet’s complex and contradictory self-positioning in Italy, during his years there, underpins the unprecedentedly multiform poetics and worldview of these texts. The chapter begins by examining the ambivalences and contradictions in Don Juan’s references to Pulci, Ariosto, Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, showing the extent to which Italy’s literature contributes to, but is also subverted by, Byron’s constructing of his new ‘medley mode’. Turning to Beppo, the chapter considers the ways in which the figure of the cavalier servente offers the poet a crucially performative model for his Italian ‘turn’ and the parabasic nature of his satires. The chapter concludes by examining Byron’s reprise of this mode in ‘An Italian Carnival’ to delineate a final image and assessment of the country.
Byron’s connection with Italy is one of the most familiar facts about British Romanticism. A considerable portion of his legend is linked to his many pronouncements about the country (where he lived between 1816 and 1823), its history, culture and people, as well as about his own experiences in Italy and among Italians. Offering new insights into Byron’s relation to Italy, this volume is concerned with the real, historical ‘Anglo-Italian’ Byron, and his ‘almost Italianness’ as a poet. Its essays bring together different critical perspectives to take the pulse of current debates and open up new lines of enquiry into this crucial theme in Byron Studies and Romantic-era Studies more widely. In doing so, they explore how Byron’s being in Italy affected his sense of his own individual identity and of the labile nature of the self. It affected his politics – both in theory and in practice – and, of course, his whole development as a writer of lyrics, dramas, narratives, satires and letters. Moreover, the essays show how Italy affected, changed and informed Byron’s thinking about matters far beyond Italy itself. As the book shows, the poet’s relation to the country and its culture was complicated by a pervasive dialectic between familiarity and distance, and thus neither stable nor consistent. For this reason, among many others, the topic of ‘Byron and Italy’ remains an endless source of intellectual, literary, historical and existential fascination.