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A Narrative Strategy in the Italian Novel


Olivia Santovetti

‘Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; – they are the life, the soul of reading’. So declared Laurence Sterne in his Tristram Shandy, the greatest of all monuments to digression. The modern Italian novel was not slow to pick up on Sterne’s lesson. This book examines the workings of digression in the novels of five major Italian authors – Manzoni, Dossi, Pirandello, Gadda, and Calvino – from the birth of the modern novel in the early 19th century to the era of postmodernist experimentation. Digression is shown to play a role in defining not only the poetics of the five authors, but also their underlying world-views, their cognitive and philosophical dispositions. The book explores the tensions digression engenders in narrative texts, by creating extra time within narration, disrupting the readers’ expectations, and generating an act of reflection upon the narrative process itself. What emerges is a sense of the vitality and flexibility of the device of digression in the Italian tradition, both within the canonical novel and the anti-novel, as well as an illuminating and original web of relations between the five authors under analysis.
Contents: Authors examined: Manzoni, Dossi, Pirandello, Gadda, Calvino – Laurence Sterne and the eighteenth-century tradition of humour – The tradition of the anti-novel – Self-reflexivity in the novel – The concept of plot from Aristotle to Ricoeur – Narrative devices in the novel – The practice of intertextuality – Reader and reader-response theory.