Thursday, January 8, 2015

Now every heart is glad, and far and wide / Rises once more the rumour / of work as it once did - when Italian literature acquired an Italy

I have switched to the J. G. Nichols translation of Leopardi.  The title is from Canto XXIV, “The Calm after the Storm.”  I have finally gotten to the point where there is a united Italy.  And Italian literature expands.

Giovanni Verga – I want to revisit and read more of his stories of hard times in Sicily, like those in Little Novels of Sicily (1883), and I also want to try at least one of his novels, either The House by the Medlar Tree (1881) or Mastro-don Gesualdo (1889) or both.

Luigi Pirandello was also from Sicily.  The major plays for which he is best known are from the 1920s and 1930s, too late for me – as  usual I want to choke off my reading somewhere around World War I – but The Late Mattia Pascal, a novel, is early, from 1904.  Somebody will have to tell me what else is especially good.  I like the sound of Shoot: The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator (1915).  Pirandello is the first Nobelist I will mention in this post.

Grazia Deledda (she’s the second) is Sardinian.  I would likely enjoy her novels just for their unusual setting, but I assume they have more to offer than that.  After the Divorce (1902) and Elias Portulu (1903) are in my local library, which is encouraging.  Deledda is another reason my attention had turned to Italy.

Matilde Serao is associated with Rome and Naples – I’m back on the boot – where she was a journalist and novelist.  The fairly recent short story collection Unmarried Women looks most promising to me, but there are a large number of novels in English published a hundred years ago.  Ford Madox Ford, whose taste is eccentric but who seems to have read everything, recommends Conquest of Rome, Desire of Life, and In the Country of Jesus (see The March of Literature. p. 859).  Unlikely, but life is full of surprises.

I think of Italo Svevo as a 20th century writer because of Zeno’s Conscience (1923), but his first two novels, A Life (1892) and As a Man Grows Older (1898), are much earlier.  I have read the latter but remember nothing more than that I thought it was pretty good.  I would appreciate advice on the former.  Svevo at this point was not actually in Italy, since Trieste was part of Austria.  Another marginal region raising its voice.

Back to Tuscany, the old center of Italy, to remind anyone interested of the Pinocchio (1883) readalong at Simpler Pastimes scheduled for later this month.  Just 200 pages, including illustrations, written for tiny little children.  So easy to join in.

The poets are more of a problem.  20th century Italian poetry strikes me as very strong – Italian fiction, too – but the period before the war is either weaker or poorly represented in English.

The great figure is Giosuè Carducci (Nobel #3), but even in Italian he seems to have lost some of his status, as if squeezed between the great 20th century poets and Leopardi.  The 1994 Selected Poems shows off Carducci well.  It includes his long ode Hymn to Satan (1865), which is not what the title suggests.  One of Carducci’s major collections, The Barbarian Odes (1877-89), is also available in English, but it is one of the worst translations I have ever come across.

A number of poets began publishing during or just after the war.  I hope to read Dino Campana, who wrote just one wild visionary book, Orphic Songs (1914), then, sadly, spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals.  I have my eye on Umberto Saba, too.  Move the cutoff just a bit later and lots of interesting writers pop up.

Look how efficient I was today.  Tomorrow I will end with the hard cases.  If you have advice on Gabrielle D’Annunzio or Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, let’s save it for a day – I do want it.  Then I will browse through some books I won’t read and take a glance at the 20th century.

Five days for all of this.  In my defense, it is an exciting literature.  Even in the 19th century, exciting.


  1. I predict (from my one experience, Reeds in the Wind) that you'll like Deledda. That's a novel that has stuck. For the others, I've read some, have some on the list, and am here learning of others. An exciting literature indeed. I've just obtained a copy of Pinocchio and will be joining in if that's okay.

  2. Pinocchio is such a good kickoff book. I am so glad I was able to convince Amanda to go with it, so there will be a sprinkling of 19th century Italian literature at any book blogs.

    To encourage people: everything I mentioned in this post - well, I don't know about those Serao novels - ranges in length from short to very short.

  3. You've been adding enormously to my books-to-read list this week, and that's before you even begin on the posts on specific books. I suspect I'm going to be updating my list more than once this year.

    It didn't really take much convincing to read Pinocchio! I've been intending to get to it ever since I picked up a copy in when I was in Florence. And that was nearly 12 years ago! I'm happy to see that so many others seem to be interested as well.

  4. I've read both Svevo's A Life and As a Man Grows Older. I preferred A Life, but remember so little now about it, except the protagonist was a copy-clerk.

  5. I should try to cover both Svevo novels. They're not long. The library categories for A LIfe are hilarious: "Bank Employees -- Italy -- Fiction" and "Frustration -- Fiction."

    Amanda, I only wish I had another Italian book at hand as easy to recommend as Pinocchio.