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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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IV. Hierarchies of the past

Extract

1. Historical settings of the novels It is hard to overlook the fact that several epochs especially frequently function as settings for present-day Italian historical fiction. The margin by which these topical historical periods top the ranking hardly allows ascribing it to a mere co- incidence. The analysis of over 250 contemporary novels15 has revealed a clear pre-eminence of some historical settings over others. The most topical ones are the ancient Rome (sixty-three novels), the Middle Ages (fifty-one novels) and the ancient world (forty-one novels). These are followed by the 19th century and the Risorgimento (twenty-eight novels), the very vague Renaissance period (twenty-seven novels), the 18th century (twenty-three novels) and, finally, the 17th century (eighteen novels). The chart below shows both the number of nov- els published each year between 1980 and 2005 and the respective historical epochs they are set in. Such a graph does not only allow underpinning major importance of certain historical periods but also highlights the dynamics of their topicality. Table 1. Settings of contemporary Italian historical fiction between 1980 and 2005. Total amount of novels: 251. 15 Nowadays many researchers bemoan general difficulty in getting an overview over all recent publications in Italy. Therefore it is a rare case to come by a study on literary mo- tifs in contemporary literature with an objectively complete list of primary sources (cf. Putz, 2002:iii). Settings of contemporary Italian historical fiction 0 5 10 15 20 25 1980-1985 1986-1990 1991-1995 1996-2000 2001-2005 Ancient world Roman times Middle...

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