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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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VIII. Quo vadis? Roots and routes of modernItaly


243 VIII. Quo vadis? Roots and routes of modern Italy Although my study focuses on the Italian historical novels published between 1980 and 2005, the explorations of the past in fiction have by no means lost their salience in the Italian literary panorama up to the present. What conclusions can be made about the actual reasons that have been and still are prompting the re- lentless revisitations of the collective past in contemporary Italian literature? Is it a mere regressus ad uterum of a culture that proves unable to face the chal- lenges posited by postmodernity, as the critic Romano Luperini asserts in La fi- ne del postmoderno, harshly denouncing “a civilisation [that] can no longer search for its identity in the future and is forced to fold upon itself”, and to which “nothing is left but an identity in the most remote past, in medieval ori- gins, fantasies and regressive myths” (2005:19f.)? While Luperini’s statement undeniably holds true with regard to some strands of history-inspired fiction, I believe to have demonstrated that his diagnosis does not do justice to the con- temporary Italian historical novel and its identitary quest on the whole. The literary inquiries into the collective past I have discussed in my study pursue several specific agendas, none of which qualifies as a purely escapist, nostalgic reverie. Instead of haphazardly meandering across places and ages, present-day historical fiction mainly focuses on few epochs only – the Roman antiquity in the first place, which is closely followed by...

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