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Romantic Naples. Literary Images from Italian and European Travellers in the Early Nineteenth Century

by Paola Villani (Author)
©2020 Monographs 212 Pages
Series: Romania Viva, Volume 30

Summary

As an urban space that becomes ideal and symbolic, Naples is a stronghold of imagination. Mount Vesuvius, the Gulf and also Pompeii, Herculaneum, Portici: the City gets lost in its own stories. Neapolis as a true mermaid, an irresistible and fatal temptation; on one side, the craddle of a very high and wise humanity, on the other, a landscape of decadence and the homeland of demons. More than a “paradise inhabited by devils”, it is a “ruined paradise”, as consecrated by Percy B. Shelley in his famous Ode to Naples, which offers one of the most fortunate ‘images’ of the city during the Romantic age.
This book is not a story of the journey to Naples in the Early Nineteenth Century, nor an anthology of works on Naples, and not even a history of the literature produced in Naples. Rather by drawing on all these fields of investigation, it presents itself as an introduction to the Romantic imagery of the Neapolitan Province, Naples as the ideal place, invented and articulated in the land of writing in a dense multiplicity of forms. By narrowing down the field of investigation to the decades between the 1799 revolution and 1860, this study endeavours to introduce the incoherent gallery of loci, clichés, and stereotypes that have been constituted from text to text, between odeporic literature and fiction, and that too often have been simplified and ‘systemised’, with the final outcome of polymorphic and incoherent stereotypical crystallisations. A short journey through the pages of Italian and European literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter I Mindscape: Invisible South
  • The Journey to Italy before Italy
  • A Country “Getting Effeminate by Idleness”
  • South, Mindscape
  • South for Everyone
  • Chapter II Corinne, or the South
  • Beyond the Grand Tour
  • Corinne’s “Meridionism”
  • The City of the Sun
  • “Ruines sur ruines”
  • Chapter III Between Preservation and Renewal
  • The Golden Lie
  • The Revolution Myth
  • The Murattian Period
  • The City of Restoration
  • Pictorial Journey
  • Chapter IV The End of a Kingdom
  • The Capital’s Last Decades
  • Southern Romanticism?
  • Giacomo Leopardi and Naples
  • Beyond the Pictoresque
  • Chapter V Grand Tour Sites
  • The Salons
  • The Streets of the “Lazzaroni”
  • “Sterminator Vesevo”: The Ascent to the Mountain
  • The City of the Dead: Pompeii
  • Indice dei nomi
  • Series index

About the author

The Author
Paola Villani is a Full Professor of Modern Italian Literature at the University of Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples Italy where she also directs the Department of Humanities.
Professor Villani referees numerous literary journals of high scientific prestige, and belongs to many scientific committees amongst which that of the ‘Premio Napoli’ for literature. She teaches Travel Literature and her research interests concern 19th and 20th century Italian literature with a focus on the journeys of European travellers, and the image of Southern Italy in Europe. Her recent studies have concentrated on the investigation of journals written by European travellers visiting Pompei and the Campania region.

About the book

Paola Villani

Romantic Naples. Literary Images from Italian
and European Travellers in the Early Nineteenth Century

As an urban space that becomes ideal and symbolic, Naples is a stronghold of imagination. Mount Vesuvius, the Gulf and also Pompeii, Herculaneum, Portici: the City gets lost in its own stories. Neapolis as a true mermaid, an irresistible and fatal temptation; on one side, the craddle of a very high and wise humanity, on the other, a landscape of decadence and the homeland of demons. More than a “paradise inhabited by devils”, it is a “ruined paradise”, as consecrated by Percy B. Shelley in his famous Ode to Naples, which offers one of the most fortunate ‘images’ of the city during the Romantic age.
This book is not a story of the journey to Naples in the Early Nineteenth Century, nor an anthology of works on Naples, and not even a history of the literature produced in Naples. Rather by drawing on all these fields of investigation, it presents itself as an introduction to the Romantic imagery of the Neapolitan Province, Naples as the ideal place, invented and articulated in the land of writing in a dense multiplicity of forms. By narrowing down the field of investigation to the decades between the 1799 revolution and 1860, this study endeavours to introduce the incoherent gallery of loci, clichés, and stereotypes that have been constituted from text to text, between odeporic literature and fiction, and that too often have been simplified and ‘systemised’, with the final outcome of polymorphic and incoherent stereotypical crystallisations. A short journey through the pages of Italian and European literature.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

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Introduction

[…] the myth of Paris as the absolute city, summary of the universe […] was born at the same time as an omen of destruction, and behind the multiform richness of the urban spectacle one can glimpse a desert landscape with ruins1.

Like Paris, perhaps also the myth of Naples was born and lives intertwined with an invincible “omen of destruction”. No longer ‘a place of memory’ but the ‘memory of a place’, its history ends up dissolving in its stories and bearing the meanings and the ultimate directions of a ‘ruin’. It dematerialises and disappears, buried in narratives and crystallised into common places, even for those of us who were born here and who live here today; this city is a unique enigma. It is a siren of immense fascination that is one of a kind, whose overbearing and treacherous beauty escapes any attempt to know or classify it. It is a city of a thousand faces and a thousand portraits for travellers of yesterday and today, but also for its citizens, who keep moving around in its spaces like guests. They are amazed by an unexplainable sense of extraneousness, pushing them away from this city with a power that is at least equal to the force that urges them to stay here, or to ‘nostalgia’ (in the proper sense of its Greek etymology) when the city itself forces them to leave.

As an urban space that becomes ideal and symbolic, Naples is a stronghold of imagination. Mount Vesuvius, Largo di Castello, Villa Reale, Pozzuoli, the Gulf and also Pompeii, Herculaneum, Portici: in an inextricable intertwining of Nature and History, the territory becomes a ‘landscape’, a stratification of visual and imaginative perceptions, which also bears a necessary project aspect in itself.

Naples, therefore, gets lost in its own stories. Physical places are not only geographical coordinates, but themes offered by a city suspended out of time, projected into the chaotic vitality of the great contemporary metropolis while simultaneously being made unique by its millennial age. This is basically the ‘diabolic’ and fascinating duplicity of the Parthenope Siren, a founding myth and an icon of identity. Antagonistic and opposing thrusts push towards a liquid, plural, ←11 | 12→and dynamic modernity, and at the same time they hark back to the static time of a glorious past which affects the present and future of the city.

Via Toledo (now called ‘via Roma’) is among the most eloquent examples of this narrative dematerialisation of physical spaces, as a ‘place’ and ‘locus’ crossed and described by many travellers. With its narrow alleys, this street represents the two faces of Naples, the ‘lights and shadows’ of a city which perhaps Salvatore Di Giacomo had best identified in its dual and ambivalent character, finding an eloquent symbol in that urban artery. Looking at via Toledo, sitting at the very elegant Caffè Gambrinus in the summer of 1936, an ‘intellectual against the tide’ as was Jean Paul Sartre, wondered: “Am I in Naples? Does Naples exist? Wasn’t Naples only a name given to thousands of iridescent reflections bordering on the ground, to thousands of gleams in thousands of glasses, to thousands of passers-by […]?”. This is perhaps the best viewpoint from which to observe Naples. Pleasantly poised on the ridge between reality and illusion, an urban-rhetorical figure of metalepsis, it is best to rely on narratives for a metropolis that ‘becomes a story’, which travels the world in the form of texts, songs, paintings, and novels.

Naples is a landscape with spectators. In the (iconographic or literary) portraits of the city, ‘Naples’ is dominated by the ‘Neapolitans’. The great travellers or European residents were annoyed, but more often intrigued and seduced, by the impetuous spectacle of its inhabitants. For writers, artists, intellectuals, and diplomats, the architecture and archaeological finds were overshadowed by the overwhelming vitality of the Neapolitans, by the superstitious joy of existence, in the background of a powerful memento mori, the Vesuvius, both a warning of death and an invitation to life. It is actually in the nineteenth century that the European intelligentsia found in Naples the most powerful example of a ‘people’. Neapolitans become the protagonists of the story of Naples, the people themselves became characters, individuals were reduced to types, giving birth to a comfortable stereotype which is still famous nowadays.

These are some of the ingredients that make the journey to Naples truly unique. A wealth of artistic, sacred, and socio-anthropological images constitutes the highly successful ‘myth of Naples’. A myth that is continuously rewritten and renewed, an iridescent myth, a myth of a thousand faces, many of which can be traced back to generic as well as fruitful polarisations. On one hand there is the enchanted land, the realm of eternal beauty, the Eden of Nature and History; on the other, a dark magical place. Neapolis as a true mermaid, an irresistible and fatal temptation; on one side, the cradle of a very high and wise humanity, on the other a landscape of decadence and the homeland of demons. More than a “paradise inhabited by devils”, it is a “ruined paradise”, as consecrated by Percy ←12 | 13→B. Shelley in his famous Ode to Naples, offering one of the most fortunate ‘images’ of the city during the Romantic age.

Biographical notes

Paola Villani (Author)

Paola Villani is a Full Professor of Modern Italian Literature at the University of Suor Orsola Benincasa in Naples Italy where she also directs the Department of Humanities. Professor Villani referees numerous literary journals of high scientific prestige, and belongs to many scientific committees amongst which that of the ‘Premio Napoli’ for literature. She teaches Travel Literature and her research interests concern 19th and 20th century Italian literature with a focus on the journeys of European travellers, and the image of Southern Italy in Europe. Her recent studies have concentrated on the investigation of journals written by European travellers visiting Pompei and the Campania region.

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Title: Romantic Naples. Literary Images from Italian and European Travellers in the Early Nineteenth Century