International History of Magazines 2: Italy


As in other European countries, magazine publication in Italy was begun in order to disseminate the ideas of elite groups, in the Italian case a process closely allied to the Catholic Church, at least initially. Unlike in France and Britain, there was no single capital city as, like Germany, Italy was divided up into many different states. For this reason magazines tended to be local productions.  In 1668 the quarterly Giornale de’ Letterati was launched by Francesco Nazzari, a professor of philosophy at La Sapienza University, Rome, and also president of the papal college concerned with propagation of the faith, De Propaganda Fide. Very soon other cities set up similar publications. The most activity took place in Venice where there was already a thriving print industry.

While as in the rest of Europe, elite magazines, including ladies’ fashion magazines inspired by French models, were being published in the eighteenth century, the mass-market press took off later than elsewhere largely due to restrictions on the market caused by Italy’s fragmentation into different states, and by low literacy rates. There was huge variation in density of readership: Ottino (1875, p. 11) noted that in 1864 the vast majority of newspapers and magazines were published and circulated in the North East quadrant of Torino, Milano, Firenze and Genova. Undertakings such as Sonzogno’s sumptuous and loss-making L’Illustrazione Universale (1864-1867) and its cheaper and much more popular analogue the Emporio pittoresco (1864-1889) were risky, and only after unification in 1871 did the markets begin to open to magazines in a sustained way, the most successful magazine being Treves’ L’Illustrazione italiana (1875-1962).  Magazines such as the Nuova Antologia (1865-) and the Rassegna nazionale (1879-1952) became influential in seeking to promote the idea of a single Italy, and politicians such as Bonghi steered their contents to suit their policies. The magazine press was never as rich and diverse as in Germany, France, Britain or the USA, not least because until the twentieth century literacy rates and standards of living were comparatively low. Only in the twentieth century did the history of Italian periodicals become more similar to that of the rest of Europe, its family-run businesses gradually undergoing a series of mergers until they were absorbed into huge media conglomerates.

Even less than in France, Germany and Britain, little attention has been paid to the national history of magazines. As so often, the researcher needs to glean what she can from surveys of the national press as a whole. These, as in the rest of Europe, began to appear in the mid nineteenth century (see Ottino below), and in 1894 Piccioni’s ground breaking Giornalismo Letterario appeared (q.v.). But it was only with Castronuovo and Tranfaglia’s work from the 1970s (q.v.) that sustained academic work on press history began. As in other European countries, press directories have been compiled since the nineteenth century: the earliest is probably the Elenco dei giornali che si pubblicano nel Regno d’Italia (Torino-Firenze-Venezia: Bocca-Loescher-Munster). It is undated but the preface declares that it was compiled as a result of the unification of Italy and clues date it almost certainly to 1869. Alternatively, one may turn to  studies of publishing history more broadly, though as late as the 1990s it was possible for Turi (q.v.) to lament the scarcity of more than antiquarian or local studies. Of particular interest for Italian scholars of the press have been early literary magazines (and the literary magazine in general) and the Fascist period. A good deal of work remains to be done on the nineteenth-century magazine, including the trade and professional periodicals which Ottino listed in considerable numbers.


Bertacchini, Renato. 1980. Le riviste del novecento. Introduzione e guida allo studio dei periodici italiani: Storia, Ideologia e Cultura. Firenze: Le Monnier

This useful guide to literary magazines from 1880 to the early 1970s is organised chronologically and offers descriptions of individual publications (some prioritised over others very markedly) along with background context, and bibliographies. There is almost nothing on production history, the focus being on the ideological role of the magazines.

Castronovo, Valerio and Nicola Tranfaglia. Eds. 1976-2002, Storia della stampa italiana, Roma-Bari: Laterza, 10 vols.

The starting point for any detailed historical study of the Italian press must be Castronuovo’s epic project that traces its  history from its beginnings to 2000. Magazines appear repeatedly in this account, but the main focus is on the newspaper press and politics.

Franchini, Silvia. 2002. Editori, lettrici e stampa di moda: giornali di moda e di famiglia a Milano dal Corriere delle dame agli editori dell’Italia unita. Milano: FrancoAngeli [sic]

A readable and well-researched illustrated history of women’s magazines from 1804 to 1870 using a materialist methodology in the Anglo-American tradition. The extensive bibliography, and the methodological introduction, are useful for the historical study of Italian magazines in general.

Hallamore Caesar, Ann, Gabriella Romani, Jennifer Burns. eds. 2011. The Printed Media in Fin-de-siècle Italy. Publishers, Writers and Readers. Oxford. Legenda.

While not all the essays in this collection focus on magazines, several highlight the importance of (especially) high culture, avant-garde magazines, such as the Florentine Il Regno, La Voce, Lacerba and the more famous Futurist Poesia.

Mondello, Elisabetta. Gli anni delle riviste. Le riviste letterarie dal 1945 agli ammi ottanta. Lecce: Millella.

A useful volume, similar in format to those produced by the Greenwood Press. It offers a substantial discursive introductory history followed by descriptive accounts of 172 literary magazines organised alphabetically. Despite the chronological constraints suggested by the title, there are descriptions of magazines from earlier in the century as well.

Mondello, Elisabetta. 2912. L’Avventura delle riviste: Periodicai e giornali letterari del Novecento. Roma: edizioni Robin

While seeming to trace again the work of Bertacchini (q.v.) Mondello offers a newer view by highlighting the role of periodicals directed at women. The volume concentrates on the first half of the century, the remaining 50 years comprised into one relatively brief final chapter (cf Mondello, 1985, q.v) . Again the approach is on ideology rather than on data concerning material production or dissemination.

Ottino, Giuseppe. 1875. La stampa periodica, il commercio dei libri e la tipografia in Italia, Milano, Libreria-Editrice Brigola.

Organised around a list of magazines and newspapers with much the same information as in a contemporary British press directory, this also contains two useful essays on the history and current state of the Italian periodical press, along with a bibliography of relevant works organised by place. The project to map the current condition of the Italian press was originally commissioned by the Associazione tipografica-libreria italiana in 1870.

Piccioni, Luigi. 1894. Il Giornalismo letterario in Italia: Saggio storico-critico. Torino-Roma: Ermanno Loescher

Surprisingly, given its date, this is an accessible place to start a study of early Italian magazines, with useful indexes and bibliographies and brief accounts of a large number of magazines (which, of course, needs to be checked against more recent studies). Projected as the first of a multivolume series, the others never appeared.  Piccioni, however, went on to become one of the most authoritative writers on Italian journalism history, on which he published mainly journal articles.

Turi, Gabriele. ed 1997 Storia dell’editoria nell’Italia contemporanea. Milano: Giunti editore

Inspired by Chartier and Martin’s Histoire de l‘édition française, this is an ambitious multi-authored book that covers Italy’s publishing history from its beginnings to the 1990s in a series of essays. Magazines are often mentioned though the index will need to be used to find specific titles.


Biblioteca Digitale Toscana

A clunky database containing 65 magazines and newspapers from various Tuscan libraries. It is not full-text searchable, the searches being restricted to titles and (some) authors. Users need to know in advance of searching the date of what they are looking for and also in what periodical. Searches bring the user to folders organised by year and then date. The user can then download individual issues one by one.

Biblioteca Nazionale di Firenze, di Roma;

The library site claims to have digitised millions of pages since the 1980s, with especial attention to periodicals but most are currently (September 2015) unavailable because of the reorganisation of the site. The Italian National Library of Rome likewise () promises the imminent appearance of digitised periodicals but nothing is yet available.

CIRCE: Catalogo Informatico Riviste Culturali Europee.

CIRCE is a database of European “cultural magazines” set up and maintained by staff at the University of Trento. It does not offer digital facsimiles as yet so much as descriptions and content indexes of literary, musical and artistic magazines.

Book Review: British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art 1793-1840

British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art, 1793-1840Maureen McCue
British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art 1793-1840
Farnham, UK/ Burlington VT: Ashgate, November 2014.
204 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4094-6832-5

How does one study the reception of art work? As we know from the work of Caroline Burdett (19 (2011) and others, in the early part of the twentieth century Vernon Lee scrutinised and recorded the physical responses to paintings of her lover Kit Anstruther-Thomson: a direct scrutiny of scrutiny’s effects that Lee then translated into words. Starting from this empirical position, Lee claimed in her 1912 Beauty and Ugliness that memories and associations caused unconscious changes in posture and breathing: the “reception” she sought to systematise and map was a bodily one. It scandalised contemporaries – the New York Times review is now notorious – but if the horrified critics of 1912 had been able to read Maureen McCue’s well-written study of how some of the major Romantics reacted to Italian Old Masters, they would have been able to appreciate how Lee’s emphasis on the physical had a very respectable genealogy in canonical poets and prose writers of the Romantic period.

Comprising four chapters with a substantial Introduction and a brief recapitulatory Conclusion, British Romanticism and the Reception of Italian Old Master Art 1793-1840 covers the tensions involved in appreciating Italian art from the early Renaissance and afterwards from the perspective of the mainly male educated middle classes in the first decades of the nineteenth century (“Old Masters” McCue helpfully defines as paintings from Giotto to Guido Reni). The volume also deals with the changing nature of the arbiters as well as the rules of taste, the effect of Old Masters on literary texts, especially by Shelley, Byron and Hazlitt, and above all on the poem Italy (1822 and revised substantially in 1830) by the fascinating and influential Dissenting banker and poet, Samuel Rogers, to which an entire chapter is devoted. Other authors several times referred to but quite briefly discussed include Mary Shelley, Madame de Staël, Lessing, Hazlitt’s contemporary the art critic P.G. Patmore, Anna Jameson, Lady Morgan, William Roscoe and Wordsworth. Much more unexpectedly, Pierce Egan the Elder, the author of the racy Life in London, receives a few interesting pages too.

The Venus de Medici, which provoked strng repsonses from Byron and Hazlitt, ina  Russian copy "Venus medici pushkin" by user:shakko (Own work). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -
The Venus de Medici, which provoked strong responses from Byron and Hazlitt, in a Russian copy “Venus medici Pushkin”. Photo by user:shakko (Own work). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

McCue begins by anchoring the well-known idea that Italy came to be regarded as “a land of the imagination … a country which has all but become a work of art in itself” (p. 1) in the wake of the Napoleonic wars. England began to see itself as the protector of Italy and of its art treasures in the face of Napoleon’s depredations. The import of Italian art into London, which was considerable, could at this point be justified as an act of curatorship. Such raiding could also be sanctioned by acts of appreciation – of newly refined forms of perception as described and recommended by literary texts – and it is these latter that McCue is mostly concerned with. Her description of Hazlitt’s stress on “gusto” – the body’s response to an art work – prefigures Vernon Lee’s, though one need hardly look for a single point of origin, as Hazlitt’s focus on corporeal reaction was by no means unique. It also had, as McCue reminds us in her first chapter, a political dimension. For the aristocratic Grand Tourist in the eighteenth century, art had had a grand moral lesson that required a considerable education to appreciate: he needed to know both “the mechanical aspects of art, such as perspective and composition” (p. 27) and the usually Biblical or classical narrative subject matter. The approach was in other words resolutely intellectual. Attending to art’s direct effects on the body on the other hand had a decidedly political edge, for by moving the spotlight from the intellect to the body a role was given in aesthetic appreciation to those without the specialist education of the aristocrat. All the responder needed to do was verbalise as imaginatively as possible his or her feelings aroused by the art work. Art, in other words was, at least in theory, democratised.

That McCue does not entirely fall for this oversimplification (after all, Hazlitt did think one needed to be of unusual sensibility properly to appreciate art)  is one of the instructive pleasures of this volume. Instead, McCue foregrounds the commercial, religious and cultural interests that always inflect perception when it is filtered through words.
Although McCue devotes by far the greater number of words to male writers, the question of women’s perception of art is also raised at several points (the most sustained passage comprising a discussion of Anna Jameson’s Diary of an Ennuyée on pp. 72-76). This focus on men is a pity in these days of renewed attention to women’s writing. One looks in vain for discussion of L.E.L’s Improvisatrice or Hemans’ “Restoration of Works of Art to Italy” or “Properzia Rossi for example.

In any study of reception one must have a very clear idea of who is doing the receiving where, when and how. McCue’s study is split on this notion of the specificity of response in ways typical of older literary history. On the one hand she is very precise in that she assiduously employs the citational apparatus we were all taught as undergraduates, focussing on authors rather than publishers or periodicals. In this system we are told who wrote the words and when the volume in which the researcher found them was published. Attention to the actual material forms through which the reception of Old Masters was disseminated in the Romantic period would, however, have revealed some surprises.

John Hill, Exhibition Room, Somerset House, from Ackerman, The Microcosm of London, 1808
John Hill, Exhibition Room, Somerset House, from Ackerman, The Microcosm of London, 1808

First of all, despite titling her volume “British Romanticism”, Britain turns out to mean “England”. There is no differentiation between Scotland and England (and certainly not Wales or Ireland). In fact, what “British” means predominantly is London, for it was there that all of the primary texts that McCue discusses were published. There is no reference to material published in newspapers or periodicals outside London, not even to that alternative centre of early-nineteenth-century periodical culture, Edinburgh. McCue does seem aware of this at times, but the metropolitan orientation of the volume could have been made more explicit, not necessarily in the title, but in the Introduction (which is in many other ways excellent).

The trouble is that while McCue several times claims she is alive to the importance of the “periodical press” and “print culture”, she doesn’t follow this through. The index lists 29 occurrences of these two terms but, alas, what the page numbers in the index refer to are just occurrences rather than discussions or methodological procedures. In short, “periodicals” and “print culture” are gestured towards. They are not ways of thinking about material that are truly activated (see for example the description of annuals on pages 133-4 derived from a secondary source rather than perusal of the texts themselves). In order to understand the who, what, where and why of reception, I should have liked so much to know, for instance, exactly where and when the Hazlitt essays repeatedly quoted were originally published, and what the significance of those places of publication were. We may be told that Hazlitt’s Sketches of the Principal Picture Galleries in England (1824) were originally published in the London Magazine and the New Monthly over 1822-1823 (see p. 85), but nothing is made of the different and overlapping readerships of those periodicals. The bibliography indeed only lists Howe’s Complete Works of William Hazlitt in 21 volumes.

McCue is well aware that the art periodical was just forming in the period the book covers. Yet detailed examination of that early art press would have added considerably to her argument, and not least helped to specify the audience that was being affected by the new ways of seeing that her volume so ably describes. If Charles Taylor’s Artist’s Repository and Drawing Magazine (1785–95), only just falls within its historical purview, the volume could have considered the Artist (1807–09), the Annals of the Fine Arts (1816–20 – this gets the briefest mention), the Magazine of the Fine Arts (1821) or the Library of the Fine Arts (1831–34). The hugely influential Rudolph Ackermann is referred to in passing twice, but careful perusal of his lavishly illustrated and beautifully printed Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, &c (1809–29) would have helped a good deal in specifying the audience for, say, Rogers’s Italy (see the discussion of it in Ackermann’s Repository, 1 August 1828, pp. 94-97 – a volume available online). Attention to pricing, distribution and circulation of such materials might have contributed to the avoidance of vague terms such as a “significantly wider public” for art (p. 130). For where did this public live? What else did it read? What was its demographic profile? The problem lies perhaps in the restricted secondary material consulted on romantic and nineteenth-century periodicals. The important work of Parker, Stewart, Simonson and Higgins are cited, it is true, but it is a pity that their subtle thinking about periodicals and print culture is not really mobilised.

A final point which situates my own response to this volume as that of a periodicals specialist in 2015 who has access to fast broadband and to major electronic resources which to most lie behind hefty paywalls: there is little visible use in the volume of online resources beyond a few bibliographical references to Eighteenth-Century Collections Online. There is no sign at all of the several methodologies that Digital Humanities have alerted us to over the past few years, such as quantitative distant reading or data visualisation (all of which, when used judiciously, can help gauge and specify who may be receiving what, when, where and how). This to me is a great pity, as such methodologies seem to point to one of the futures of reception studies. Claims to representing an entire culture, such as Britain 1793-1840, based on a few texts by authors who are on the whole institutionally sanctioned (or at least recognised), a procedure that we can trace back to the Enlightenment, is becoming increasingly untenable.

If the previous paragraphs sound very critical, they are only meant to identify my situation vis-à-vis the volume more precisely, and as a result my reception of it. If one accepts the validity of the book’s methodological procedures – those of a largely pre-digital and traditional literary study of how encounters with Italian Old Master Art by mainly well-known authors were translated into words – I happily affirm that this is, without doubt, an eminently readable, well-argued and fine example, replete with aperçus useful for anyone interested in romantic period aesthetics. To that extent, I recommend it. Unfairly, I know, I clench my fists, frown and bite my lip for it to be more, since I feel it could have been. Vernon Lee would no doubt have a field day if she could scrutinise me now. More importantly, though, let’s see where McCue takes us in future.

From the Greek Anthology

Concert programme 4 June 1988, Club Voltaire, Catania
Concert programme 4 June 1988, Club Voltaire, Catania

Yesterday I came across an old cassette tape of a concert I gave at the Club Voltaire in Catania, Sicily on the 4th of June 1988. What a shock to hear this after more than thirty years!

The first half comprised a selection of preludes by Scriabin, while the second half comprised a piano suite I composed myself “From the Greek Anthology”.

The concert was very kindly recorded informally by a friend and the sound quality is very poor, especially of the first half. In fact, the sound quality of the first half is so bad it’s not worth trying to rescue it; what I’ve embedded below is the rescued version of the second half.

from the University of Tasmania

That second half, the suite, comprised a set of nine short portraits of friends and acquaintances, imagined as though poems from the collection of often scurrilous as well as grave epigrams, the “Greek Anthology“. The suite was written in a playful code that makes reference to a host of works in the orchestral and operatic repertoire (with some piano music too).  While conveying “secret” messages to and about individuals, I also wanted to bridge the popular and the elite through postmodernist mash-ups, emphasising the sensuous and physical side of performance with violent contrasts and virtuoso techniques, mobilised by lucid – even very strict – musical form.

As I explained in the notes I wrote to accompany the concert, I wanted to emulate in sound the poetic techniques of the Greek Anthology and the centos of late antiquity which happily – and often very cleverly – used ready-made phrases borrowed from previous poetry. Their work was also the precipitate out of – and glue between – friends, neighbours and enemies. With this music, then, I wanted to create a personal, situated, non-institutional, occasional art like theirs which was also capable of communicating to a broader public. I was also aware at the same time that if I were to write epigrammatic musical portraits, I should necessarily strip people of their complexity and reduce them to types (I was thinking of Theophrastus at this stage): the form itself would necessarily  distance us from them. In that respect my pieces were satiric even when they appear most sentimental and sympathetic.

Now, 30 years later, I hear these pieces as normative and utopian, even moralistic: there was in them an element of criticism, that desire to correct that is key to satire. Now I would prioritise their stories over their Theophrastian “character”. I wonder, rather, what the stories of these characters were. Some I know, but others? What happened to the addressees – to the princess whose extraordinary beauty could not hide her terrified grasp on love which she hoped would prevent her falling into the abyss, a terror all too clear in her nightmare of being smothered by bees that I’ve tried to represent in the piece dedicated to her?  What happened to the braggart soldier to whom she clung as though to a branch over the abyss, even while knowing he could not stop her falling? Did the feigned vestal live out the comfortable life of public virtue she craved as much as private sensual indulgence? Philosopher 1, I have discovered, turned to analysis of the surface of things, eschewing all depth.  He’s a photographer. The failed stoic, alas, I know now had a far stronger pull to a minor key than I presented, but I caught him at a good time and this is a happy memorial of that. The lady lives on as charming and nonchalant as ever, but philosopher 2 – what was or still is the story there? I think he became a therapist. As for the curse tablet, the body it referred to is quite forgotten.

A single file of the whole second half of the concert would be too large to upload, so here it is in two parts along with some notes. First, the 5 pieces to “Defixio” (just over 8 minutes). Parts have an unfortunate hum or hiss, but that becomes inaudible very soon.


1) To a philosopher 1 – a pale, still, very disciplined piece  in Gm /B flat which nonetheless can’t avoid sentimentality even if it aspires to do so. Aspiring higher and higher, it keeps falling back. It’s strictly based on the first four notes of Holst’s chaste “Venus” from the Planets suite played in a variety of combinations and sequences (even the final chord comprises the notes played simultaneously).

2) To a feigned vestal – a passionate but entirely conventional – even banal – answer in E flat to the first piece, as if they were a couple unable to talk together. Most of “To a feigned vestal” is based on two themes, each from Strauss operas: the first subject is Arabella in search of “the right man” and the second Christine (from Intermezzo) who dreams of a glamorous alternative to her workaholic husband. They are woven together in a mini-sonata form whose coda quotes a coquettish version of the heroine’s theme from a third opera by Strauss, Salome, before an inconclusive end (a bland version of the terrible dissonance at figure 361 at the climax to Salome), broken into by …

3) To a married lady / matron– a bad-tempered, quixotic and querulous piece, whose main theme is a slow, cabaret-Satie-esque waltz in G minor, which tries to cheer up, but which eventually collapses  into the funeral march  from “The Farewell” from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The piece ends with a nod to Debussy’s Jeux. This was a portrait of my dear friend Nini Floreale, who died in 2005.

4) To a failed stoic – another passionate torrent of notes, this time based on Scriabin’s opus 11 C minor Prelude, of which, turned very definitely into C major, only the melodic shape remains. Other key references are to the theme of redemption in Wagner’s Ring and the interrupted cadence from the final , happy, movement of Mahler VII, whose key it shares. Structurally reminiscent of 1) – an A-A form – it is also a  solar answer to (or aspiration for) 3).  The two pieces share an interest with two adjacent notes at key moments, though used for different purposes.  The failed stoic is fact a portrait of my friend Lawrence Razavi of whom I have fond memories not for his deeply  problematic research on genetics  (long before genetics were fashionable) but for his passionate and humane engagement in art.  The piece is counterposed by….

5) To the infernal powers / Defixio. A defixio was for the ancient Romans a lead tablet on which a curse was inscribed before being thrown into a sacred spring. I tried to create the sound of hellish water bubbling up from the underworld at midnight using chords I found originally in the funeral march from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet; the melody by contrast is a dark parody of the main theme of Debussy’s sensuous waltz, La plus que lente, for of course this is a curse by a frustrated lover on a faithless or unobtainable beloved. The melodic line eventually gets trapped within the devil’s interval – the tritone –  and the curse comes true, with terrifying consequences, even if it ends in B flat major. An A-B form.

Here are pieces 6-9 (9 minutes).

6) To a lady. In the nonchalant, carefree style of popular songs of the early twentieth century – Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” is nearby. The melodic line is, though, built up of a host of references to other music, from Stravinsky’s Firebird and Scriabin’s Sonata no 5  to Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. Another simple strophic form (A, A), this time centred on G major, with elaborations in the repetition.

7) To a princess. A mirror of the first piece in its compositional technique and an echo of 5) in its sound world, this seeks to represent the nightmare of the princess’s dream of being smothered by bees. How I interpreted the bees is suggested by how the piece is obsessively based on the first two bars of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde (which becomes clear only towards the very end, when it is quoted in recognisable form). On the whole though the notes of Tristan are jammed together in extreme dissonance, the last thumped chord comprising all the notes of the two bars played simultaneously in the bass (except for the previous pathetic rising 6th). There is also a passing and rather hopeless reference to the Falcon’s warning cry from Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten (don’t do it!) – and a Messiaen-esque ornithological screech towards the end still based on the Tristan semitone cluster. A-B-A. Atonal with hints of F minor.

8) To a braggart soldier. A mirror of the second (and again in E flat), but even more empty of content, whose main melodic line is built on a simple descending scale. Just as the second mocked conventional femininity, this satirises the masculine. There is mock-military version of Wagner’s Siegfried which falls short in its final phrase (a rising 5th instead of a 6th), some Beethoven III (the “heroic” symphony) shoehorned into march tempo, a moment from the apocalyptic 4th movement of Mahler VI, and lots of gesture without content on one note – the musical equivalent of hot air or a military side drum – that eventually peters out because it has nowhere to go. A-B-A but something of a mess in its determination to aurally manspread.

9) To a philosopher 2. Another march, but a very different masculinity from 8). The Siegfried-derived theme is taken up again (but now quietly in A minor – as far as possible from the soldier, and recalling the quietness of philosopher 1). The style distantly recalls the Poulenc of “L’aube” from Les animaux modeles (and thereby Parsifal). The opening chords from the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (chords as distant from each other as it is possible to be in terms of key) move the piece into the atonal B section and quotations from Alban Berg – the Lulu Erdgeist-motiv and “Wir arme Leute” (“We poor people”) from Wozzeck. The climax cadence  is a version of the defixio chord, now rhythmically echoing not just the climax of 5) but also the funeral march of 3). The chord resolves into the A section again, now more insistently repeated in way that highlights its march-like quality (the soldier is not as Other as the philosopher thinks). The A-B dialectic is repeated until the New World chords eventually break free into the coda, a tiny syncopated dance that soon ends back with the New World chords calling for new ways of thinking that includes everything — even the devil’s tritone of the defixio. The chords fill out, eventually sounding simultaneously, clusters of the black notes of the piano glistening rhythmically high up in the air while all the white ones reverberate after a double glissando from middle C simultaneously up and down to cover the length of the keyboard. This is the aspiration this philosopher sought: to be open to everything.

And finally the encore (3 minutes).

This was my rather over-excited and not entirely accurate version of the famous Scriabin Etude opus 12 no 8 – except with even more notes tumbling over the keyboard than in the already full original. I always justified such excess to myself on the grounds that Scriabin used his piano scores as palimpsests for improvisation. My musically purist friends just thought all this sort of thing vulgar, and always made sure I knew it – so much for postmodern dissolution of aesthetic value in 1988!

Now I think they were right.

The Army Surgeon – some comments

“The Army Surgeon”

Sydney Dobell

Over that breathing[1] waste of friends and foes,[2]
The wounded and the dying, hour by hour,-
In will a thousand, yet but one in power [3] ,-
He [3] labours thro’ the red and groaning day.
The fearful moorland where the myriads lay
Moved as a moving field of mangled worms. [4]
And as a raw brood, orphaned in the storms,
Thrust up their heads if the wind bend a spray
Above them, but when the bare branch performs
No sweet parental office, sink away
With hopeless chirp of woe, so as he goes
Around his feet in clamorous agony
They rise and fall;[5] and all the seething plain
Bubbles a cauldron vast of many-coloured pain.[6]

[1] This immediate emphasis on breath not only suggests breath as a theme but as a corporeal sensation for the reader – for the poem itself offers various challenges to the reader’s control of her or his own breath: it starts with pretty regular rhythm (iambic pentameter), but especially during the epic simile from line 7 onwards, the convoluted syntax spreading over clever enjambements and caesuras strains the reader’s own breathing as well as the rhythm.

[2] The rhyme scheme gives the impression of being broken, befitting the damaged bodies the poem describes. As with the rhythm, the syntax fights the rhyme scheme, making it difficult to discern. When split into two sestets the scheme seems less awry — abbccd, d[eye rhyme]cdcac [pseudo rhyme], ee — but the rhythms, especially the strong pause at the end of line 4 and the recall of that line’s rhyme at line 8 suggest a tough yet ghostly tension with an organisation of the poem into the more traditional 3 quatrains which is never realised.

[3] Death and its proximity unite all into one undifferentiated nameless mass. This is a particular example of the sublime, as defined by Edmund Burke. Today we might be tempted to regard the use of the sublime here not for aesthetic purposes but for political — in describing and enacting the horrors of war, we might assume the poem is against war. However, other readings are certainly possible: quite what the poem’s politics are depends on how we read the poem. Read in isolation, it is true that its violent sensationalism seems to oppose war. Yet when read as an element of  the whole collection it might be regarded as indicating the depth of sacrifice necessary to make Britain Great. This latter was a reading of the collection certainly made at the time by critics and newspaper editors.

[3] The final line of the first stanza introduces the single character into the undifferentiated mass of humanity. Both are unnamed: neither the mass nor the surgeon are individuals, but effects of their jobs. We might also regard the surgeon as the poet who surveys and dispassionately reports. Given the emphasis of the poem on painful suffering this might be a surprising suggestion, yet we should not forget the sheer skill of the poet’s pen here mirroring the surgeon’s own expertise with the scalpel. In neither case can professional knowledge alleviate suffering (see also below, note [5]). What the poet can do, however, is in a curious way comfort readers by reminding them that, like the surgeon, both he and they have survived. This is quite consonant with the Burkean understanding of the sublime, which was based on the perceiving subject’s realisation that he or she had survived death even though death had been encountered.

[4] The fallen seem already to have become prey to being eaten by worms: time, in this case the future and the present, has been collapsed in ways typical of the sublime. Simultaneously, a point is being made about the unity of living creation, a notion reinforced by the following comparison of the wounded to chicks desperate to be with their mother who will never come, and the surgeon to the tree branch which the chicks believe to be her but which cannot, by its nature, help them. We are all mortal animals dependent on the rhythms and failures of breath.

[5] The suggestion is of a wave – a rhythm – that rises and falls uselessly. The surgeon can do nothing for the dying. Here is the limit of the professional’s ever-increasing pastoral role caring for his flock (cf. King para 31). Scientific rationality cannot have a purchase here: the only language adequate for such suffering is that of flesh itself – the body and its breath, fragile, easily interruptible: in short, corporeal sensation, the spasmodic. This is not representation so much as presentation that produces in the reader the same sensations felt by the described.

[6] The last line shockingly introduces the language of the kitchen, suggesting a parti-coloured stew of boiled meats and vegetables seen from the point of view of the meat rather than the cook (whether the reference is to a witches brew leads to the same conclusion). Suddenly in this line we are presented with a space  where damaging flesh, even if not human, is the norm. This normalisation and naturalisation of suffering, legible in the epic simile too, confirms a preoccupation for how suffering is to be represented (or presented) rather than politically or ethically dealt with. Death is natural and normal, however painful and horrific, and it is the poet’s duty to communicate it. How to communicate death and dying is both the “scientific” and aesthetic point of the poem. Whether the suffering is to be valorised or condemned – that is, read politically and ethically – is, however, for the reader to decide, at least in this poem.

Publication and Reception Note

Sydney Dobell’s sonnet “The Army Surgeon” was originally published in Sonnets on the War, a joint collection with Dobell’s friend Alexander Smith that is now freely available or

No manuscript source seems to have survived (see National Archives entry on Dobell). The one contemporary reprinting (see below) offers no variation of the text. While Dobell used only ‘the Author of “Baldur” and “The Roman”‘ on the title page, contemporary reviews show that his name and identity were already well known.

Frontispiece from 1856 edition

Smith and Dobell’s slim volume (of just 48 pages) was published in the first days of January 1855 by Bogue of Fleet Street as a shilling paperback (we can date the publication from a reference to it in a letter from Dobell to one of his sisters dated 5 January in which he says he hopes to send her a copy the next day – Life and Letters of Sydney Dobell, p. 396). Presumably Smith and Dobell’s usual publisher, Smith, Elder and Co (who published Dobell’s later and more expensive hardback collection England in Time of War) was unable to insert publication of the volume into their schedules, whereas the lower-status Bogue was more flexible. The poem was republished without emendment in The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell (2 vols, Smith, elder & Co, 1875)  on p. 226, where Dobell’s contribution to “Sonnets on the War” are precipitated out from that volume, enabling us to distinguish them from Smith’s. The Poetical Works of Sydney Dobell is also available through

Although “The Army Surgeon” can certainly be read as a self-standing commentary on (or description or enactment of) generic horrors of war, it in fact forms part of a narrative sequence that very firmly locks the poem into its historical context. The borders of this particular sequence are porous since the entire volume begs to be read as a whole, but one can see a distinct set of poems centred on the Battle of the Alma (20 September 1854, generally considered the first major battle of the Crimean War), comprising the sonnet “Alma” that immediately precedes “The Army Surgeon”, and the following three, two entitled “Wounded” and the last “After Alma”. Dobell only wrote “The Army Surgeon” amd the two “Wounded” poems but the arrangement of the pages certainly asks the reader to think of the Surgeon at the Alma.

Even though I have been unable to locate specific examples in newspapers before the collection appeared, I nonetheless think it helpful to regard the collection as comprising a specific type of what Natalie Houston has called the “newspaper poem,” that is, occasional poetry responding to or commenting on contemporary events reported in the press. The most famous Victorian example of this is Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade”  first published in The Examiner on 9 December 1854 in response to a Times article.

Andrew Hobbs has persuasively argued that the provinciual press was a major locus of poetry publishing in the nineteenth century,  and poems from “Sonnets on the War” is no exception. But rather than reprint all of them equally, there is a decided preference by newspapers for some over others. “The Army Surgeon” was not amongst those favoured at the time, perhaps because its imagery was too strong or its sentence structure and long and tortured central metaphor were considered too difficult.  The Aberdeen Journal (10 January 1855, p. 6) reprinted six sonnets: “Alma”, “After Alma”, the two sonnets on “The Cavalry Charge”, “Miss Nightingale” and “Cheer.” This is a selection that offers a reassuring narrative arc and avoids too much horror. The first three are reprinted again by  The Blackburn Standard on 7 February (p. 4) along with “Sebastopol” with a similar effect.

The politically more radical Lloyd’s Weekly, full of praise for the collection (14 January 1855, p.8), offers a different selection. Starting with “Alma” again, it continues with the second “Wounded” poem (a startling choice given the poem’s poetically very new technique of assembling fragments of everyday speech and follows it with “America”, “Freedom” and “Volunteers”. Again, however, despite a selection emphasising the politically and aestehtically radical, the arc remains comforting: for even if poetic novelty is admitted in Lloyd’s pages, the most shocking, visceral poems are omitted.

The volume was greeted with a mixed reception at the time. The lengthy review in the Inverness Courier (1 February 1855, p. 2), the only contemporary newspaper where I have found “The Army Surgeon” reprinted, regarded the collection’s level as of “respectable mediocrity.” But it did praise the the poets for “producing work on a practical subject, which, if its poetry is not of a very high order, contains nothing visionary, absurd or impracticable”. It singles out “The Army Surgeon” as one of the best according to these criteria. The review of the collection in The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent (5 May 1855) is likewise very lukewarm. Its principle bone of contention is that the sonnets are not musical: “In the hands of of a master the sonnet gives exquisite music;but strung by a tyro the sounds will be discordant.”  Ironically, of course, it is precisely the violence the authors of “Sonnets on the War” do to the traditional expectations of the sonnet that today constitutes one of the collection’s main interests. The review ends  by reprinting two of the more conservative poems (both ideologically and formally): “Miss Nightingale” and “Good Night” which they assume to have been written by Smith and Dobell respectively. It thus rescues the collection for patriotism just as the other newspapers had done.

Interestingly the London Lancet (the American edition of the British medical journal Lancet)- which reprinted the poem in 1856 – uses the isolated poem as an example of “all the heroism and self-denying devotion of which we have spoken” (p. 222), suggesting not only a reading of the individual poem through the lens of the self-abnegating professional (cf. King para 34) but also a reading of “The Army Surgeon” through other poems in the volume. Whatever our own views, this is a reading made possible by the poets’ interest in the problems of communication rather than in the politics of the described action.

That said, when the poem became detached from its collection, the alternative anti-war reading became more easily available. This is certainly possible for example in the New Zealand Herald (10 February 1917, p. 1).

The context of the poem in the Crimean War and has been well covered elsewhere: Kathleen Béres Rogers “Embodied Sympathy and Divine Detachment in Crimean War Medical Poetry” is recommended as offering an attentive reading of the poem which places “The Army Surgeon” in a slightly different context from what I have offered here.

University of Macerata Final Report: Collaborazione, bilocazione, internazionalizzazione

2014-12-08 12.23.24RELAZIONE FINALE

10 dicembre 2014

Come alcuni di voi sapranno, sono Andrew King dell’Universita di Greenwich di Londra, luogo dove ricopro l’incarico di professore ordinario di letteratura inglese e direttore del gruppo di ricerca LAD  – Literature And Drama, cioè letteratura e teatro, nel Dipartimento di Letteratura, Lingue e Teatro.

Sono stato vostro ospite qui a Macerata per 3 mesi come visiting scholar presso il collegio Matteo Ricci, grazie a un progetto, organizzato quest’anno per la prima volta, il cui scopo è quello di far crescere la cooperazione e la collaborazione tra Macerata e le università straniere.

Purtroppo per voi,  fa parte del mio contratto spiegare, non solo in forma scritta, ma anche in forma orale alla vostra presenza, ciò di cui mi sono occupato durante il mio soggiorno. Nonostante il mio pessimo italiano, motivo per cui leggo questa relazione invece di improvvisarla spontaneamente, conto di non farvi perdere troppo tempo – 5 minuti al massimo – e, di conseguenza, non elencherò proprio *tutto*!

Voglio, innanzitutto, ringraziare la professoressa Colella e tutti i colleghi di lingua e letteratura anglo-americana per la loro generosa ospitalità e sopratutto per il loro umorismo e le indimenticabili lezioni di dialetto napoletano.

Tra i risultati più rilevanti nella fattispecie, c’è il mio blog, che riflette sulla mia esperienza di insegnamento qui a Macerata. Non lo riassumo, perché potete trovarlo facilmente tramite google cercando “andrew king Greenwich” – Il post specifico si chiama “teaching as pasticceria” – “l’insegnamento come pasticceria”. È in inglese ma con, ad esempio, google translate  potete farvi un idea anche senza conoscere la mia lingua.

Un altro mio blog scritto qui a Macerata e di rilevanza generale, parla delle difficoltà morali nello scrivere una biografia quando si tratta il soggetto della biografia come un ospite, un’idea evidentemente ispirata dalla mia presenza qui come ospite vostro. Una versione audio-visiva si trova qua.

Più centrata sul mio campo di studi vittoriani è stata la sottomissione alla casa editrice americana del primo volume del Ashgate Companion to Nineteenth-Century British Periodicals – un’impresa titanica sulla storia della rivista nel Regno Unito nell’ottocento, di cui sono il curatore principale: comprende 45 saggi scritti da esperti inglesi, americani, giapponesi, australiani e europei – il chiaro risultato di una cooperazione internazionale. Ho portato a termine qui a Macerata anche la seconda fase del secondo volume – cioè la prima recensione dei saggi.

E poi ancora tanto altro che non elenco per non annoiarvi troppo.

Due cose voglio aggiungere.


La prima è una confessione. Confiteor che anche se la mia università mi ha molto generosamente concesso un periodo sabbatico perché potessi venire da voi, ho dovuto emulare alcuni santi per la necessità di bilocazione. Ho continuato, infatti, a presentarmi alla mia università a Londra tramite tipi di proiezioni astrali, email e Skype, a scrivere relazioni, e a intervenire in comitati e consigli come questo.

Soprattutto ho continuato, nel mio ruolo di direttore di ricerca,  ad aiutare e consigliare da lontano i miei bravi colleghi e i dottorandi. Sono molto fiero dei risultati della nostra continua collaborazione intellettuale e ve ne do un solo esempio: una mia dottoranda, Ann Hale, ha vinto di recente due premi internazionali. Mi dice che senza l’aiuto non solo mio, ma anche dei miei colleghi fisicamente presenti a Londra,  non avrebbe vinto niente. La sua vittoria è la nostra; risale  alla collaborazione del gruppo, risulta nel successo del gruppo, e quindi nel successo di ciascuno di noi.

Per concludere, che cosa ho imparato dalla mia permanenza qui per quanto riguarda l’internazionalizzazione? Che la collaborazione con le università straniere è più importante che mai. In questo clima reso ostile da chi contesta la mancanza di  profitto immediato o almeno prevedibile entro date precise, reso ostile anche da chi ha paura e, imbarazzato, maschera la sua paura dietro la rabbia, il disprezzo o il garbo, tutti noi studiosi delle scienze umane non possiamo che collaborare, essere solidali, condividere esperienze, sapienze.

Bilocation of St Antony of Padua, Urbino, chiostro di Santa Maria del Paradiso
Bilocation of St Antony of Padua, Urbino, chiostro di Santa Maria del Paradiso

Dobbiamo essere in grado di almeno bilocarci, quando non multilocarci. L’epoca del locale, degli interessi individuali e del piccolo gruppo chiuso e singolo ci ha portato nella difficilissima situazione in cui tutti ci troviamo adesso, da Roma alle universitá inglesi orientate verso il profitto economico, e ci costringe a compiere passi impegnativi. In base alla mia esperienza e alla mia ricerca ormai da quasi 40 anni in diverse università di 6 paesi europei ed extra-europei, il vero successo si raggiunge tramite le pazienti collaborazioni, superando i limiti dei localismi, sia temporali che geografici e culturali.

“No man is an island” scrisse il poeta inglese John Donne – nessuno è un’isola. S’intende. Ma vivere veramente quel concetto nel contesto accademico è ora di importanza vitale se vogliamo mirare ad un futuro migliore sia materiale che morale. È difficile, lo so; ma non impossibile per persone dedicate, come voi, ad un umanesimo che innova.


Questa è la lezione principale della mia presenza come ospite tra di voi, una lezione di cui sono, e rimarrò, infinitamente grato al collegio Matteo Ricci e ai cari colleghi.

Vi ringrazio per la vostra pazienza ed accoglienza, e vi auguro un felice e fiorente proseguimento collaborativo.

A Big Thank You to my old friend and Italian teacher Francesco Gulizia for checking the grammar and vocabulary of this. 

All remaining faults are of course mine, including the mention of Google Translate which Prof. Gulizia, a translator himself, expressly asks to be dissociated from.

Teaching, pasticceria, and the purposes of education.

What is university education?

What is university teaching? What is its purpose? What should it be?

downloadIf the questions have preoccupied many of us in the UK even before students started to be conceptualised as customers, they were recently brought back to me anew and with unusual clarity, as for the first time for some years I was privileged to teach, in an unfamiliar setting, students of a kind who had been through a very different education system from my students in the UK.

Over ten days in November I was lucky to teach six 2-hour sessions at the University of Macerata to 1st year undergraduates, and 1st year MA (“magistrale”) students in Languages in the Department of Humanities.

The sessions were divided equally between three longer courses, two on the nineteenth-century novel and one on modernist women’s poetry. Unlike in the UK, there are neither elaborate course booklets nor dedicated virtual learning environments such as Moodle   or Blackboard; rather there are basic directions to the students about what set the set texts are and what the general aims of the course are, as follows:

(1st year MA ) and

1st year undergraduate

Such elegant indications of course content give the teacher great flexibility and, importantly, the ability to keep absolutely up to date by changing research questions and incorporating new material as it emerges during the teaching year – which of course it will do, produced either by the teacher herself or by other academics. This also means it is easy to insert sessions such as mine even after the course has started.

Naturally, I tried to make connections between what I understood to be the focus of the extant courses and my own concerns and expertise, without risking overlap or duplication of material. Talking to the usual teachers of the courses was helpful. But at the same time, the sessions were (in theory at least) open to the public. The result was inevitably something of a mash-up, and had to offer something attractive. Hence the rather sensationalist titles.




Example of page 1 of a "preslide"
Example of page 1 of a “preslide”

The fact that the sessions were to be delivered in English to non-native speakers was another issue. I sought to deal with this by making available in advance what I called “preslides” in the “Teaching documents” section of my site and /or on the usual professor’s university site: the usual prof informed the students orally in class that they should download the preslides and read them carefully along with the set texts, electronic copies of which I also provided. The preslides were designed to help students take notes. They comprised PDF versions of black and white PowerPoint slides stripped almost entirely of images, 6 slides to a page, and asked questions and provided quotations with gaps where key words should be. They were based on, but certainly not identical to, the much more elaborate PowerPoint slides I showed in class (these were also made available to students after the sessions, again in PDF, 6 slides to a page, on my page).

Since I knew the sessions would not be examined, there was no obvious way that I could properly test the effectiveness of my teaching of the class overall (I always think of exams as testing the teaching as much as the learning). As is my wont, I planned abundant interaction from which I would normally be able gauge a class’s understanding, but I also knew that Italian students were not used to this and would probably be shy. I therefore devised a questionnaire for the students to fill in at the end of my time with them (that is, at the end of the second of the two-hour sessions). Such questionnaires are of course always double edged; they not only inform the researcher of the results, but inform the person completing the questionnaire, in this case making the students reflect on what they really had got out of the sessions and how they could get more out of future ones.questionnaire

I had 35 responses from the 1st year undergraduate class, and 22 from the first MA class, and 9 from the second (31 MA responses in total). It was quite wonderful to see the students take this questionnaire very seriously – it seems, from talking to them afterwards, that they are not used to doing this kind of thing, and that is why they spent so much time thinking about it, no matter how much I insisted it was not a test.

Of course one wants to find out what the students think of one – hence my immediate turn to the question of what I could have done better.  Almost of them were embarrassingly positive in their responses to “What could Andrew have done to help you learn better?”, especially the 1st years. “Involving” (= “coinvolgente”?) occurred in 8 of the 35 1st year responses (28%), “catch our attention” in 3 others, along with numerous generic positives.

“he was very involving, so he couldn’t have done anything more to help me learn better than this”

“it was a fantastic and involving lesson! The slides were useful and the explanation was clear”

“he was very involving and funny in his lesson”

There were just 4 suggestions for improved teaching: more on Dickens (x 2) and talk more slowly (x 2). I was delighted that only two students asked for the latter, as it meant that, for the vast majority, the care I had taken over oral delivery – speed, choice of Latinate vocabulary – had paid off.

beignetThe MA students were slightly – but only slightly – less positive on the same question. 11 wrote “nothing” and there were in addition 13 superlatives. There were, however, 8 suggestions for how I could have improved: more history (x 1); more on the concept of satire (x 1) which in retrospect I agree would have very useful (thank you to whoever wrote this – excellent idea!); don’t wait for responses from the class but just give the answer (x 1 – sorry, but my pedagogic tradition wants you to think for yourselves, not be choux buns – beignets – which I stuff with crème Chantilly!). Two wanted more time to discuss the texts, one of these two sensibly suggesting that what turned out to be a 4 hour session be split over two days. One wanted more videos (we saw just one – a Youtube video of the controversial Royal Opera performance of Salome, with Nadja Michaels, naked executioner and very bloody head). I’m a bit sceptical of this given the time constraints and the purpose of the aim of the session, but I take much more seriously the remark of another that “he could have spent more time on some extracts we’ve quickly seen”. This was echoed by another who wanted to concentrate on fewer texts (and indeed by the one who wanted more time in general). For what I had forgotten was the sheer difficulty of nineteenth-century prose and poetry for second-language learners – not only its unfamiliar vocabulary and syntax, but also its cultural references. I was treating them like UK MA students and that was very unfair of me. I really should have put myself in their shoes (as opposed to choux).

What’s the ONE most important thing you’ve learned from Andrew King’s sessions?

“That learning literature is not about studying in books but getting into the text and asking yourself questions and trying to give answers”
“I hadn’t thought it possible to find advertising language in literary works”
“There’s no limit to desire”
“Realism is a contract between author and reader which demands trust”
“Realism is still dominant in Britain today”

The biggest surprise to me, though, was the variety of the responses to the first two questions. Of the 35 1st year responses to the first question “What’s the ONE most important thing you’ve learned,” 28 wrote something about realism (6 were very specific on realism as a contract between reader and text; while 7 more were also specific in a variety of ways; the remainder more generic – e.g. “I’ve learned better realism in a more specific way”). The real delights lay in the 7 alternative responses, two of which are cited above; two others showed a delight in semiotic theory and in the problem of refusing value judgements in literary discussion. A great deal of variety was evinced in the responses to the second question, that concerning what students wanted more of (these don’t add up to 35 as not everyone wrote something – 10 wrote “nothing” while others left a blank; a very few wrote more than one thing). It’s easier to present the results in tabular form:

  • Household Words
    Household Words

    Dickens (x 6);

  • historical context of various types (x 6);
  • Victorian art (x 4);
  • literary context (x 3);
  • realism and crime (x 1);
  • theory (x 1);
  • effects of journalism and literature on lower classes (x 1);
  • realism (! x 1);
  • comparison of British realism with Italian verismo (x 1);
  • close reading (x 1)

There’s no pleasing a class completely of course. For in response to the question about what the students wanted to study less and why, 9 of the First Years didn’t want Dickens at all as they thought him “boring”; 5 found the theory of realism too hard; 1 wanted less history and 1 didn’t see the relevance of looking at the details of Victorian art. The rest said “nothing” or similar, or left the question blank.

Rather than look at Dickens journalism then, I should perhaps have looked at some short and simple contemporary newspaper articles, perhaps culled from the British Newspaper Archive. I should certainly have omitted the part of the lecture most interesting to me, the part concerning semiotic theory and realism’s aspirations faithfully to represent the world. Yet the students were perhaps right: I wonder now if that part is just me being clever, playing a kind of cadenza, with surprising trills and scales and leaps over the intellectual keyboard. It may be ingenious and of course it IS thematically integrated  – but removing it won’t weaken the overall argument. The students helped me realise that while it is integrated it is not integral. I shall accordingly drop that section in future.

Thank you 1st years at Macerata!

Herod seeks to persuade Salome of the value of his pearls, using techniques derived from contemporary advertising
Herod seeks to persuade Salome of the value of his pearls, using techniques derived from contemporary advertising, including incremental analogy and royal endorsement.

Although less effusive in their praise, the 31 MA students also wished to change less: 5 said they wanted less history, 1 wanted less on women in print. This ties in with students’ desire to focus more on the texts (though on individual questionnaires there was not necessarily a correspondence). In short, I concluded that the MA students wanted help with reading strategies. I don’t think it was just a question of not understanding syntax and lexis but of interpretative frameworks and how to test these frameworks against specific texts through close reading. I sought to remedy this in the last session with the MA students, in which I offered a framework and pretty rigorously tried to apply it to texts and historical data. Explicit feedback from 5 of the 9 students in this session suggested that that worked, but of course there is a severe limit on what it is possible to teach in such a short time. Any significant development of reading strategies requires, I think, at least 20 hours of contact time.

While I am a great believer that questionnaires which indirectly ask students to reflect on their learning have great pedagogic value, perhaps the most valuable of all is the last question: “What could you have done to help you learn better”? The undergraduate class was actually delightfully talkative and responsive, but still 7 wrote that they could have been less shy and talked more. No fewer than 19 confessed that they should have prepared in advance(about 55%) , including printing out the preslides; 10 wrote that they should have paid more attention, including two who said they should have slept the night before and 1 who, with charming candour, admitted that she should have turned off her iphone and not read messages from friends! The MA students were much more tentative and perhaps alarmed by this question: in the first, larger, of the MA classes, a slightly smaller proportion (50%) said they should have prepared for the class, but a larger proportion (25% as opposed to 20%) said they should have talked more in class. One said that the texts couldn’t be unzipped and another said that s/he should have come to both sessions, not just the second. In the second MA class, of the 9 students, no fewer than 8 said they should have come prepared; no-one said they should have talked more as in fact the smaller group did encourage more interaction.

crostata di castagne (chestnut tart)
crostata di castagne (chestnut tart)

What wasn’t captured by the questionnaire, but which I think very important indeed, was the pleasure I felt as a teacher of such socially skilled and charming students. There was a great deal of social stroking of the teacher. From my shoes, this is a great danger, whose nature is visible in the apparent difficulty students had in arriving at conclusions based on evidence independently of the teacher. I found at times compelled to make ridiculous statements to try to get the students to contradict me, even to the point of confusing the gender of the people they saw on the screen. It was hard to get them to dare to draw their own conclusions without a clear guide from me! This was especially notable amongst the larger MA group, who seemed to have been very thoroughly socialised into agreeing with what they perceive to be authority at the expense of evidence.

This certainly does NOT occur only in Italy: the rather exasperated account of an American university teacher here shows that. But I do think that it Italy it is performed with an unusual charm and subtlety. Perhaps it is even connected with the form the students’ self-criticism took (I am interpreting “I should have talked more/ prepared better ” as what they thought I as authority figure wanted them to do). It may also be connected with a short but significant discussion with the first years on the differences between the breakfast news shows on television in Italy and the UK, 1Mattina on RAI1 and its UK equivalent, BBC Breakfast. While we agreed that both involved evidence-based reasoning and the maintenance of human relations and, importantly, of social hierarchy, the balance seemed to be in favour of the latter in Italy. In other words, hierarchy determines knowledge more than disinterested reasoning. This leads me on to a speculation about the different social functions of education in Italy and the UK.

ciambellone maceratese stuffed with chocolate
ciambellone maceratese stuffed with chocolate

Does the teacher in Italy perform less the part of a model of how to draw conclusions from evidence than that of a master patissier who creates and fills beignets and other delightful pastries? An important role that of the pastry chef. I’m a great fan of beignets as well as crostate and ciambelloni maceratesi – but I do worry about how delightful it is to consume them. My concern is not with my waistline in this context. Rather, if students treat themselves as beignets that teachers fill or bake, my worry is who will use them up, and for what end? Do students perhaps need to be taught to be more rebarbative, less consumable, more overtly and independently critical of authority, more self-moving, rather than taught to sit on a shelf oozing charm and creme Chantilly, resigned to their fate? Do students need careful and phased training in specific skills of independent problem identification and solving rather than stuffing with information?

But then, putting myself in their shoes, I wonder if such a powerful focus on distanced, rational problem-solving is really a life-skill that is, or will be, useful for students in their cultural context which is very different from mine? Am I fetishising problem-solving too absolutely, too glibly? Perhaps in the lived experience of their day-to-day lives, social skills of a very particular kind are more necessary — charming consumability to ensure cooperation and loyalty from authority and colleagues, and resignation in the face of opposition to one’s needs and demands.

Is, after all, the best Italian translation of “education” perhaps not what the dictionaries tell us — istruzione or formazione? Maybe, even though we learnt it long ago as a “false friend” meaning “politeness,” it is educazione ?  Is this what teaching as pasticceria would mean?

That’s not for me to decide. I remain an outsider to Italy, still wearing my battered old British shoes, even while delighting in the many charms of Italian choux. It would be irresponsible of me to do other than raise such questions, not least because, alas, I have to confess that my pastry has always been on the heavy side. Though I’m a bit better at the picante.

Ouida A Dog of Flanders/ Nello e Patrasche

Ouida, “A Dog of Flanders” (1872)/ Nello e Patrasche (1880)

 editions in English and Italian

1893 Giftbook edition of "A Dog of Flanders", Lippincott's (USA)
1893 Giftbook edition of “A Dog of Flanders”, Lippincott’s (USA)

English edition: A Dog of Flanders edited by Andrew King

Italian translation (large file – be patient): nello e patrasche trans T Cibeo Treves 1880

“A Dog of Flanders: a Story of Noel” was originally written as a Christmas tale for the American Lippincott’s Magazine, where it appeared in volume 9, January 1872, pp.79-98.

Later that year it was published in London, Philadelphia and (again in English) in Leipzig as part of a collection of short stories given various titles but which was (in textual terms) virtually the same: A Dog of Flanders and Other Stories (London: Chapman & Hall) with illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti; A Leaf in the Storm, and Other Stories (Philadelphia: Lippincott); A Leaf in the Storm; A Dog of Flanders; and other stories (Leipzig: Tauchnitz).

In 1873 there was a pirated Australian edition – and soon a flood of translations (some pirated and some not) in various languages. Beyond the usual French and German, there were also Russian, Polish, Finnish, and eventually Japanese, Korean and – surprisingly perhaps given its specifically Christian setting – Yiddish, as well as an enormous number of pirated American editions in English. There are at least 11 film and TV versions (the 1999 film can be found in its entirety here ) plus a documentary made in 2007 on the story’s incredible popularity still in Japan.

There was of course an Italian translation (called “Nello e Patrasche”).  It came out in 1880 with the Milanese publisher Fratelli Treves, with whom Ouida published translations of several of her novels as well as collections of stories.  “A Dog of Flanders” was, however, a makeweight in a volume whose principal part – and the only one mentioned on the title page – was Zola’s short novel / long short story “Nantas” (1878). Besides “Nantas” (pages 5- 177), the volume in fact also contained “Storia d’amor sincero” by Dickens (pages 181-196; actually an extract from chapter 17 of Pickwick Papers – the tale of Nathaniel Pipkin); “Nello e Patrasche” (pages 199-238); “Una Strage in Oriente” (pages 241-313) by the Russian journalist and traveller Lidia Paschkoff (or Lydia Pashkoff and other variant spellings in Roman script).

I’ve made an uncorrected PDF of Nello e Patrasche taken directly from this out of copyright edition. It is a very large file as it comprises images of the pages. It you missed it at the top of the page, here it is again:  nello e patrasche trans T Cibeo Treves 1880

"A Dog of Flanders" in 1906 Roycrofters edition - it's covered in suede and very tactile --like the fur of a dog!
“A Dog of Flanders” in 1906 Roycrofters edition – it’s covered in suede and very tactile –like the fur of a dog!

This translation is significantly different from the English not in its plot (though a significant name is changed) but in its lack of interest in sound and rhythm. Several descriptive passages are simplified it seems to me, which is strange as these were one of the key things Ouida was most appreciated for in Italy as elsewhere. This is how “Memini,” the translator of some of Ouida’s short stories as Affreschi ed altri racconti (Milano: Treves, 1888), described her powers of painting the Italian landscape in words:

I suoi paesaggi sono mirabili illustrazioni descrittive; alcune pagine… raggiungono la perfezione del genere e ci obbligano all dolorosa confessione della nostra inferiorità nello studio e nella descrizione letteraria del nostro paesaggio… (pp. xvi-xvii of the “Appunti critici”)

Why therefore did “T. Cibeo”, the translator of “A Dog of Flanders,” choose not to try to aim for similar effects in Italian? Why too is the title changed from a representative animal to the names of the two main characters? It’s a quite common title change in translations of this tale – try searching for “Nello e Patrasche” online – but we must ask what the implications of such a change might be.

And then there’s another curious thing. “Nello e Patrasche” was not reprinted in Italian so often as other Ouida stories. Her children’s story “La stufa di Norimberga” (“The Nurnberg Stove”) is very easy to find, for example, and has been translated several times, whereas the 1880 translation of “Nello e Patrasche,” buried in a  volume whose main attraction was Zola and not even mentioned on the title page, was the only one I could locate really to exist (others turned out to be mistakes). Why was this story not so popular in Italy when it is so popular elsewhere? That is surely a question for investigation. It can’t be just the quality of the 1880 translation but something about the story itself. What values does it suggest that might prove unattractive to the Italian market? That is something that can and should be discussed in dialogue with Italian native speakers.

We’ll never know how many copies and translations of “A Dog of Flanders” were sold or how many people read this story. Certainly many millions in Japan alone beside the many millions in other languages. All we can say is that it was very successful amongst a very wide cross-section of society in many countries, including not only the general public but also amongst the elite. The artist Burne-Jones wrote a letter to a friend telling a lovely story of how he recalled (the influential Victorian art-critic) Ruskin and Cardinal Manning (Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England from 1865 until his death in 1892) one day grubbing about on the floor desperate to find a copy of this story they both loved.

There are various free online editions of “A Dog of Flanders” available in English though none in Italian besides the one I’m offering you here. Some of the English texts are digital versions with little indication of what the source volume was, though you can find PDFs of actual books containing the texts through the very useful site (see for example the beautiful – and certainly pirated – American Christmas gift-book version with lots of illustrations or the equally lavish 1909 Lippincott version illustrated by the famous children’s illustrator Louise M. Kirk).

The edition that I made is based on the Project Gutenberg text version, which claims to be a checked transcript of the 1909 edition from Lippincott.

I have, however, checked the Gutenberg edition against both the 1909 Lippincott version, the original serialisation and the first British edition by Chapman and Hall (no manuscript seems to have survived). I have edited so as to return the spelling to British standard (which Ouida always wrote in) and also adjusted the paragraphing again to the original (the Gutenberg text was in fact very faulty and didn’t even accord fully with the Lippincott edition, let alone the original).

If you missed the link at the top of the page, here it is again. It’s not a large file as it’s a PDF created from Word.

A Dog of Flanders edited by Andrew King

Cooking a PhD, 1997 style

I’ve just discovered in an old file a jeu d’esprit I wrote for the British Council Family’s Association (BCFA) Magazine in 1997 while I was a PhD student studying in London and living in Warsaw. While it reads as quaintly old-fashioned now – the universe was very different 20 years ago – I know some colleagues will appreciate its mix of cooking and academic research. It even has a few footnotes. So…

mrs beeton dessertsPART-TIME PuDding; or, advice from the kitschen

a confection written over the Christmas festivities,

 over-indulgence in which may go some way to explaining it

To follow up the controversial article that appeared some months ago on representational cooking, the following may be of interest to readers of the BCFA Magazine.

Life is often difficult for a BC spouse who has had to give up career, family, friends and the local Sainsbury’s for the greater benefit of the Beloved Company, or even for the company of the beloved. One of the many ways this deprivation has been made bearable for me has been retraining in the rather drastic form of a PhD – pronounced “PuD” by some of those who know my culinary pretensions.

Since 1994 I’ve been collecting ingredients and stirring them all up in the hope that a further degree will emerge towards the end of 1997. In other words I’ve been PuDding. I’ve had to do this part-time and by distance, living in Warsaw and studying in Birkbeck College, London. I can’t say my PuD has been an easy dish to cook so far, even with BC financial help with the fees. It’s not a Delia cooking-by-numbers, more a Jane Grigson where the quantities and ingredients have been blanked out, but the arcane references left in. Goodness knows the pleasures I have already savoured though – profoundly intellectual of course you understand.

My research concerns popular Victorian culture. I’ve been reading best-sellers from the 1840s to 1880s, pouring over fashion illustrations from the 1860s, licking my lips at accounts of the Great Exhibition and Crimean War, and suddenly, after long, fruitless, and always cakeless, searching in libraries that smell like old dry toast, serendipitously lighting on the element that binds the sauce and gives unity to the dish…

Mrs Beeton cold entrees
Mrs Beeton cold entrees

Mrs Beeton’s menus and my material may occasionally be on the heavy side but each has its own particular delights. Believe me. I’ve tried both. Sometimes simultaneously. But my research is actually more typical of post-modern present-day “New British” cooking than Mrs B’s huge repasts based mainly on local food-stuffs. Today we want freshly imported lemon-grass and star-fruit, not half a pig from the friendly farmer down the hill and a churn of cream from the dairy maid. Just as in Warsaw it’s impossible to get fresh lemon grass when most you need it [1], so it is impossible to get the materials for my research. My supervisor at Birkbeck seemed to realise this only too well at our first interview. In order to prove my commitment she demanded I return to London every 3 weeks to see her and collect fresh ingredients (or was it materials?). It took some persuading to cut this down to three times a year and the promise of written work twice as often. To effect this I went to the registrar and explained my situation. It was only by his being – shall we say – “sympathetic” that I was enabled to begin at all. Let this be a lesson to us. Go through admin. if you have problems enrolling in a course. These days university administrators want your money. Use their greed for your own reasons, just we cooks play on the greed of our guests for representational purposes!

The London Journal Christmas issue 1858 - lots to eat and drink here
The London Journal Christmas issue 1858 – lots to eat and drink here

As for my materials, well, just as you can take dried lemon grass (a pallid simulacrum of the real thing) from Chiswick Sainsbury’s to Warsaw, so you can spend a fortune on blotchy photocopies (of non-copyright works) and on books. If you find that you need cardamom and not lemon-grass after all, you’ve got problems until you come to the UK next time. Of course, you can order that special ingredient from specialist firms[2], but it will almost certainly arrive after that particular dinner for the vice-rector. It’s not the predictable that catches you out but the inspired pinch of spice for that extraordinarily rich footnote you just know will make all the difference to the course (I seem to be getting a little mixed up between cooking and research here…).

Several options face you when the empty space on the shelf catches in your throat. Firstly, suicide, like Vatel when the fish didn’t arrive. When you have been weaned off that by the thought of the smiling eyes and delicious lips of your beloved, as ready to consume your blanquette as comment on your latest chapter, you are left with less operatic possibilities: 2) make an entirely different dish/ chapter; 3) experiment with what you do have and hope you cook up something that will pass mustard; 4) substitute caraway for cardamom, George Eliot for George Lewes, and pray that everyone will have a cold and be unable to notice anything anyway.

Option 4) is not advised. You may be able to count on the cold in Poland and the UK this winter, but not on colds. After all, guests / supervisors may have been in training before and for your offering, intent on bringing to your creation their critical faculties at the acutest pitch. Whether they have done this to catch you out, thinking you a rookie cookie, or because your reputation as a culinary Vivienne Westwood precedes you, is quite irrelevant. Option 4) remains a high-risk strategy. It is only advised when the subtly altered confection has been approved in advance by your most critical tester/taster, who should ideally be your beloved. S/he will no doubt recommend additions and subtractions, as is the duty of beloveds. In which case you will be following Option 3) anyway, not Option 4), and you should copyright your invention before someone else does. Remember the golden rule of culinary and academic hygiene: throw out what you are unsure of then copyright the rest!

Probably the most effective cause of indigestion I have found though is not scarcity of ingredients, but the difference in tastes each culture has. Thai influence may have been a sign of a Refined Tongue amongst the London chattering classes two years ago, but it may still be a wally taste in Walbzych. What if everyone who comes to dinner from Krakow hates coconut milk – but you know you’re only practising on them for a slightly out-of-date supervisor who lives in Camden Square?

There is only one answer. Bilocationism. You have to do what medieval saints found easy. You have to be in two places at once, the place of your research and the place where you live. You daren’t go positively Polish as the Taster/Tester who controls your life in London won’t like it; you can’t cut yourself off from your local culture and refuse to deride Derrida, as you risk isolation and alienation. You have to do the impossible: you have to become something of a cow, with two stomachs. But since you have to be a saint too, so you become a Holy Cow.mrs beeton cuts of beef

This is the only way of dealing with the indigestion caused by PuDding.

Not everyone finds sacred cowishness entirely to their liking. My beloved endures my beastly metamorphoses by perpetually looking forward to the new frock she will buy to wear at the presentation of my PuD to the world. And then dinner at the River Cafe in Hammersmith[3]. Poor dear! She deserves them after years of being force-fed Victorian best-sellers and spinach timbales. But will she still fit into a size 8?

We mustn’t think of things like that or allow such thoughts to occur to our beloveds. Instead we must keep dangling the carrot (or preferably tarte tatin aux poires or papaya and vanilla bavarois rubané) in front of those sensory organs we ourselves have delicately attuned, whenever they demand the real PuDding before it’s done.

After all, as I tell her, who cares about triple-decker doctorates at a time when edible chocolate body-paint has been the best-selling product on the British Christmas market? The proof of the PuDding must lie in the eating.

Bon appetit for 1997!

[1] Doesn’t Delia drive you nuts with her assumption that a super-Sainsbury’s is just down the road? For that reason the post-war books by Elizabeth David are more useful, as they give you alternatives if basil isn’t in the market when it’s colder there than in your freezer.

[2] Dillon’s, Blackwell’s, or if you need out-of-print arts material, the London Library.

[3] Recently voted the best Italian restaurant in the world.

Reading the Olympics 2: the Discobolos Redivivus (1896)

Robert Garrett 1896 Olympics
Robert Garrett 1896 Olympics

After the set up in the first part of this talk, here, surprise surprise, is a photograph of a discus thrower of the 1896 Olympics. It is the celebrity victory photo of Robert Garrett, who won the discus event on the evening of the 1st day of the first modern Olympics , 6 April 1896. An American athlete, Garrett – so goes the founding myth – had originally not intended to enter the competition at all. Indeed, the American contingent – all from Boston Athletics Association and Princeton University – had almost not been able to go. Senior students from their University – who would have been of the appropriate age – could not attend because they had finals to sit, and the expense of travelling to Greece was high. But Garrett’s father coughed up the funds and in March Princeton University Track Athletics Association sent 4 men, including Robert.

Now discus throwing  was not internationally practised at this time – it was pretty much a reinvented sport by the modern Greeks in imitation of the discobolos statue that Curtius had unearthed. It was a sport that they had designed so that they could win. But Professor Sloane of Princeton, a future IOC member and friend of the driving force behind the 1896 Olympics, the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin, suggested to Garrett that he enter the discus competition anyway. Not short of funds, Garrett commissioned a Princeton blacksmith to replicate the discus of the Discobolus – it weighed 9 kilos, and was just too heavy to throw in a discus-like way, so Garrett decided that he wouldn’t go ahead and enter.

But, so the story continues, Garrett picked up a  discarded discus used by Greek competitors that he found on the track the morning of 6 April – the very day of the first modern Olympic Games. It was much lighter than the discus he had had made back in Princeton, and there and then he decided to enter after all. Clearly, things were much simpler back then! The Games hadn’t become the highly mediated and orchestrated event it has today – Gale NewsVault for example gives only 145 mentions of the Olympics in its corpus of British newspapers throughout April and May 1896, many of them, as was usual for the time, duplicates of London newspaper commentary on the idea of the games themselves.

But to return to the story of Garrett.

Discus throwing was the last event of the day. After the King of Greece had formally opened the Olympic Games at 2.15pm, there had followed the 100m heats followed  by the long jump  and the first medal of the games – won by a Bostonian – and then there were the 800m heats. Now the sun was going down and the air was cooling. It was time for the discus. The Greeks, unsurprisingly, were considered elegant: they were being measured by Myron’s discobolos and in turn had used it as their measure. It was, as so often, a self-confirming evaluation. The English entrants were apparently nothing short of ludicrous. Nonetheless, in true heroic style, Garrett won the discus event after a couple of false starts. Later in the Games, he came second in the long jump to the Harvard athlete Ellery Clark, and went on to win the shot put. Garrett went on to become a very successful  investment banker – and collector of Egyptian manuscripts (which he donated to Princeton in 1942). He is the very type of ancient Greek athletic aristeia, perfect in body and mind, on the field and in society, who wins and offers a sacrifice (his manuscripts) to the organisation that nurtured him. He is indeed the discobolos redivivus, the Winkelmanian mortal embodiment of the divine, a wonderful extension into sport of the Paterian ideal of the artistic god descended to earth that is explored in Pater’s essay on Pico della Mirandola. Even more, Garrett is the perfect student, the product of University-as-Pygmalion+Inspiration. As a student he is a statue moulded and brought to life and inspired by his institution.

Yet pause for a moment – look at this photograph again. The US flag is the wrong way round. The American hero was left-handed!

Garrett did not therefore accord with the classical precedent of the right-handed discobolos. In ways quite typical of late nineteenth-century celebrity photography, trickery was involved to make the reality conform to an idea. The photograph was turned round so that in this case  the celebrity could be attributed more easily an illustrious classical ancestry. I don’t think we can say this is just an American trick, a US claim on the authority of the classical, a simple usurpation of the ancient Greek ideal or effacement of modern Greek claims to it. It’s not just national propaganda so much as conformity to media propriety. Of course the discobolus redivivus had to come to life from the ancient pattern, and therefore he had to be right handed. This was one of the rules of what was by now the dominant pop-classical discourse about aesthetics that classically derived sport incorporated. We can see its roots in Winkelmann and Pater extended by 1896 to become demotic and general, a notion spread far and wide by an ever more intense celebrity culture: by this stage it’s tacitly accepted that celebrities have something divine about them, as Barthes, 60 years later, was to explore when discussing Greta Garbo.

But clearly, Garrett’s photographer was not entirely in change of the technology: it was in change of him. Unlike so many better celebrity photographers (such as Queen Victoria’s as explored by John Plunkett), he forgot about the details, reminding us all too clearly that the divine is moulded from the same flesh and clay as us. 40 years later, another visual artist will not allow such slips, with more sinister results.

Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): an Encounter with Italy 3

Corinne title page of 1st edition
Corinne title page of 1st edition
consuelo 1842 title page 2
consuelo 1842 title page







 This and the previous two blog posts were originally published as  “The origins of Ouida’s Pascarèl (1873): the  combination novel, myths of the female artist and the commerce of art.” In: Anglistica Pisana. 6.1 (2009) Edizioni ETS, Pisa, Italy, pp. 77-85. ISBN 9788846725967. Please see the first post on the purely visual additions. 

Corinne, as is well known, was “one of the most important documents in the growth of the English Romantic image of Italy” and the favourite guidebook to Italy of the first half of the nineteenth century.[1] Following the pioneering efforts of Ellen Moers in the 1970s, more recent work has reminded us that it offered a way for women to discuss aesthetic matters not only by generating a new myth of a woman artist, but also by providing a transgeneric model in which novel, tourist guide, autobiography and aesthetic tract all intersect.[2] Sand’s Consuelo has been less studied until recently, but was equally influential, offering an alternative model for the female artist as the divinely inspired “sophia” as opposed to the self-expressing, “political sybil” of Corinne.[3] Like the de Staël, Consuelo offers a nationally hybrid, displaced, orphan heroine with traits derived not only from Sand herself but also from Sand’s friend, the operatic diva Pauline Viardot-Garcia; in terms of genre, it is as hybrid as Corinne, mixing gothic, political, religious and aesthetic tract with silver fork (the guide-book element, while present, is much less visible than in Corinne).

Pascarèl follows these texts not only in its transgeneric nature but also in plot elements. Ouida teases us by seeding expectations of Consuelo early on. The donzellina’s singing, references to the opera suggest Sand’s heroine just as ’Ino’s Venetian origins, physical appearance, relationship to the heroine, the way he appears substantially at the beginning, appears to be forgotten by the plot but then returns towards the end as the catalyst for the eventually union of the lovers, links him to Consuelo’s childhood love Anzoleto. Just as Consuelo has an aged and embittered music teacher in Porpora, so does the donzellina in Ambrogio Rufi.

At the point where the heroine recognises Pascarèl, however Corinne is introduced. Just as de Staël’s Lord Nelvil falls in love with a Corinne idolised by the people and learns her name when it is shouted by them, so the donzellina learns the potency of Pascarèl’s name when it is acclaimed by the crowd. Both of course, figure the artist’s ideal audience, but Ouida reverses de Staël’s gendering by making a man’s name allow the heroine to speak. If later Pascarèl speaks in his own voice, he can do so only when he has lost the donzellina: she does not bestow identity upon him. The donzellina may abandon her singing like Consuelo, but unlike in the Sand, the role of artist is decisively taken over by Pascarèl. In place of de Staël’s female improvisatrice who lectures her beloved but rather stupid Lord Nelvil and takes him on a tour of Rome and Naples, Ouida offers a male improvisatore who lectures his beloved donzellina and takes her on a tour of places the English had “discovered” in northern Italy in the 1820s and after. Corinne is masculinized as Pascarel. Insofar as Pascarèl takes on board conventional paradigms of Gothic Italy,[4] then, it does not seek to reconfigure them to present Italy as a figure for a proto-feminist lost matria as Barrett Browning had done. Instead, Ouida energetically puts the lost father at the centre: twenty years older than the heroine, there is never any question that Pascarèl is caringly paternal, the antithesis of the heroine’s (and Ouida’s) biological father.

If Ouida’s Corinne is rewritten as Pascarel then, Consuelo is the donzellina. Consuelo is a female Orpheus who leads her beloved out of the caverns (literal and metaphorical) of his solipsistic madness so that he may be reborn (eventually) as a member of a Saint-Simonian secret society. This is the donzellina’s function: she enables Pascarel to achieve his rightful place in society as social activist.

The national hybridity of the heroine refers to both Consuelo and Corinne. Pamela Gilbert remarked that “racial /cultural hybridity both grants [Ouida’s heroines] more freedom to act, and dooms them as tragic characters for whom no narrative is ultimately possible in the normative social world into which other characters must be integrated”.[5] This is as true of Corinne as it is of those heroines of Ouida that Pamela Gilbert discusses (Folle Farine and Cigarette of Under Two Flags). De Staël indeed was pessimistic about women’s place in the arts, commenting in an essay that the position of the woman genius was ineluctably that of an exile to society.[6] But in mass-market narrative and at the other end of the cultural continuum, Elizabeth Barrett Browning with her decidedly restricted-market Aurora Leigh, a tragic outcome for hybrid women was by no means the only option.[7] Likewise, the donzellina ends her story in the embrace of her beloved and “the paradise of LOVE” (Pascarèl, III: 356).

Essential to this journey towards paradise is, however, the abandonment of the self for both hero and heroine. Pascarèl has to give up the Bohemian life he loves in favour of dedicating his art and his life to social improvement. Having witnessed such selflessness, the donzellina also gives up her new-found wealth and wilfully reduces herself to being “nothing”. While the text emphasises that he has nothing while she is nothing, a balance between them rich in ethical questions for feminism (Pascarèl, III: 349, 354), the real point is that both abandon their possessions and desires to become selfless. Now while de Staël had believed that it was the duty of women to be selfless, for Sand self-sacrifice was a duty for both sexes. She had ended La comtesse de Rudolstadt (1845), the continuation to Consuelo, with the heroine, having given up singing and joined her husband’s secret society in a paradise garden, an analogue of Ouida’s “City of Lilies”. But importantly, in the Sand, the heroine’s beloved Albert has sacrificed everything as well. Pascarèl has in the end preferred Sand’s call for both men and women to give up personal ambitions – Satan’s poisoned arrow ‑ and instead perform their “duty” (Pascarel’s last point in his political speech), It is only then that they truly enter the terrestrial paradise of Florence (an echo of the Comtesse de Rudolstadt finale in a paradise garden).


Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 355
Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 355
pascale chapman and hall 1873 vol 3 p. 356
Pascarel, Chapman and Hall 1873, vol 3 p. 356


This seems a disingenuous conclusion, that the gorgeous envoi (like Sand’s precursor) seeks to conceal: after all, it is Pascarèl who ends as the public social actor and the donzellina merely his support. If one is also reminded of the similar situation at the end of Pascarèl’s contemporary, Middlemarch, Ouida’s regendering of Corinne needs to be seen in a different and specific commercial context. When Corinne was presented as a metonym for Italy it was playing into the Gothic vogue for presenting women in this way. By the early 1870s, however, Italy had came to be figured in Britain as a gentlemanly military hero of the Garibaldi mould.[8] Ouida’s combination and partial regendering of two key female kunstlerromanen can be viewed, thus, as an attempt to meet the demands of the early 1870s British culture industry. She was also, of course, publishing the story in an Italian periodical where political articles were generated by the pens of men. But Ouida’s masculine image of an Italian unity achieved through male artists is contradicted both by the donzellina’s narration of most of the novel and by Ouida’s own signature upon it. In the end, women mediate and so control both the narrative and its politics in a very marked way. What is interesting is that the Nuova Antologia seems to have felt threatened by this, removing the most flagrant declaration of female agency over the narrative act by deleting the entirety of the last section of chapter 2, where the donzellina so shockingly bursts through as a speaking subject in her own right. Its very amputation seems a sign that it was aware that while men may be shown as the public faces of art, women were contesting that. This is tension that Ouida does not explore until Ariadne four years later

That Pascarèl is only the first of several novels to discuss the nature and role of art suggests that its composition made Ouida conscious of problems that she needed to work through. The promotion of nationalist politics she regards as a duty here, like her gendering of the artist, did not remain unchallenged, indeed. In a diary entry for 29 April 1887, Lady Paget would write that Ouida now hated Italy ‑ “which seems extraordinary after Pascarèl and Ariadne”. [9] In 1878, Ouida had started to write protest material for the Whitehall Review and, the following year, a stream of letters to the Times. By the time of A Village Commune (1881), she was denouncing the modern Italian state so ferociously that, along with her letters to the Times, it caused her to be banished from the Italian royal court. While deplored as inaccurate in some quarters, Ruskin recommended it as ‘photographic’ in its veracity. It was immediately translated into Italian – unauthorised –with a preface declaring it so important that all Italians should read it.[10] By this stage, the woman artist for Ouida was a social activist. She had herself become a Pascarèl. If in the result of her first encounter with Italy she did not yet pursue her politics with as little recourse to economic self-interest as she later would, we nonetheless see there how, paradoxically,  the exploitation of commercial combination opened up the possibility for the first time.

Pascarel, Tauchnitz, 1873 frontispiece and title page
Pascarel, Tauchnitz, 1873 frontispiece and title page


[1] Kenneth Churchill, Italy and English Literature 1764-1930, London: Macmillan, 1980, p. 24.

[2] Ellen Moers, Literary Women (The Women’s Press, 1976), pp. 173-210. On Corinne’s hybridity, see Maddalena Pennachia Punzi, Il mito do Corinne: Viaggio in Italia e genio femminile in Anna Jameson, Margaret Fuller and George Eliot, Roma: Carocci, 2001, p. 11.

[3] On this binarism, see Linda M. Lewis, Germaine de Staël, George Sand, and the Victorian Woman Artist, University of Missouri Press, 2003. For a useful related analysis of the female kunstlerroman, see Kari Lokke, Tracing Women’s Romanticism: Gender, History and Transcendence (Routledge, 2004).

[4] Churchill, op. cit., p. 66.

[5] Pamela Gilbert, ‘Ouida and the other New Woman’, Victorian Women Writers and the Woman Question, ed. Nicola Diane Thompson (CUP, 1999), pp. 170-188, p. 173.

[6] See Punzi, op. cit., pp. 16-17.

[7] For key role quadroon women play in mass-market fiction of the 1850s, see Andrew King, The London Journal: Periodicals, Production and Gender (Ashgate, 2004), pp. 203-4.

[8]“Liberty, Equality and Sorority: women’s representations of the Unification of Italy”, Unfolding the South: Nineteenth-century British Women Writers and Artists in Italy, ed. Alison Chapman and Jane Stabler (Manchester University Press, 2003), pp.110-136; Maura O’Connor, The Romance of Italy and the English Imagination (Macmillan, 1998), ch. 5.

[9] Walburga, Lady Paget, The Linings of Life, (Hurst and Blackett, 1928), 2 vols, II, p. 426.

[10] Ruskin, Art of England, 1883, quoted in Lee, op. cit., p. 110. Un Comune rurale in Italia. Racconto di Ouida, trans. by Sofia Fortini-Santarelli (G. Barbera, 1881). This precedes the better-known version by Isabella Ada Spinelli, Il tiranno del villaggio : Delizie dell’Italia rigenerata (Tip. Degli Artigianelli, 1890), based on an earlier French translation, Le Tyran du village, moeurs de l’Italie régénérée, trans by Victor Derély (A. Mame et fils), 1886.