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Re-Making the Italians

Collective Identities in the Contemporary Italian Historical Novel

Gala Rebane

Can the unprecedented rise of the historical genre in Italy after 1980 be explained out of the «Umberto Eco effect» alone, as many critics believe? Why are so many Italians nowadays inclined to believe in their Celtic origins? How many middle Ages were there and do we actually live in a high-tech version of them? Has Italy ever been unified? This book discusses the ongoing literary quest for new collective identities in the present-day Italian nation challenged by European integration, globalisation and the burgeoning regionalism, and shows the intricate routes of historical revision on which contemporary Italian fiction embarks.


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About 1980, the historical novel in Italy saw its sudden and clamorous renais- sance. The international success of Il nome della rosa by Umberto Eco marked a true turning point in the fate of the genre, inducing some critics to attribute the renewed interest in the literary explorations of the past directly to the “Eco ef- fect” (Pautasso, 1991:45). Not only the less known authors and debutants but al- so some of the established writers, such as Carlo Cassola and Fulvio Tomizza, rediscovered and actively exploited historical fiction’s potential. From then on, it has been remaining one of the leading genres in Italian literary arena, exempli- fied by ever more new prominent titles. This does not mean there had not been any historical novels before the 1980s: it is enough to think about Artemisia (1947) by Banti, Il Gattopardo (1958) by Tomasi di Lampedusa, or La Storia (1974) by Elsa Morante. Yet the- se highly acclaimed books also stood out because of an absence of a mainstream trend. The number of the historical novels published between 1978 and 1981 ex- ceeds the analogous total for the nearly twenty-year span from 1945 to 1963 and is a far cry from the long period of lethargy between 1963 and 1978 (Paccagnini, 1995). Moreover, the interest in the genre has not receded up to the present and even additionally increased after the year 2000. However, not the numbers alone allow speaking of the contemporary revival of historical fiction in Italy as a...

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