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The Reception of Irish Literature in Italy: 1900-1950

Final Report Summary - ITALIANIRISH (The Reception of Irish Literature in Italy: 1900-1950)

A description of the project objectives and of the work performed since the beginning of the project

ItalianIrish investigates crucial aspects of the perception and reception of Irish literature in Italy during the first fifty years of the twentieth century, with special attention to the politics of translation and mediation in the fascist era. Having devised a theoretical framework that combines cultural and translation studies with evidence-based historical research, I read archival evidence in the light of recent scholarship on cultural mediation/translation, and discuss the strategies adopted by translators, publishers and intellectuals in their attempt at introducing Irish literary products within Italian culture. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether or not the Italian cultural system recognized Irish specificity within Anglo-American literature and, if so, in which ways such specificity was articulated. In order to investigate this topic, I have analysed both publications about Ireland and translations of Irish literary works, as well as private texts by key mediators. The study has assessed the degree of awareness in Italy of the distinctiveness of Irish literature and produced a "cartography" of its reception.

This project had two main objectives:
1. Produce an annotated database of the reception of Irish literature in Italy.
2. Examine the various responses in Italy to this emerging literature, with special attention to the politics of translation, the function of mediators, and translation practices.

With regard to the first point, I have produced an annotated list of archival and bibliographic data which forms the foundation of an on-line database. The database is part of a wider project including other datasets concerning the reception of other foreign literatures in Italy (e.g. German, Scandinavian etc.). It will be launched in Spring 2018.

With regard to the second point, I have evaluated the data gathered in the archives and scrutinised which aspects of Irish literature and culture were imported/translated and what is instead left out of the Italian market. At the centre of the analysis lies a diverse corpus consisting of books and articles on Irish politics, culture and literature produced in Italy by both Italian and Irish literary figures, including pamphlets, anthologies, literary histories and propaganda material; translations of texts by Irish writers, their peritext and paratext; and archival material produced by writers, mediators, publishers, as well as cultural and political institutions. The concept of Ireland emerges at critical moments in Italy during the first half of the twentieth century, with Irish politics entering national debates and contributing to both a wider dissemination and a better understanding of the specificity of Irish literature in the country. In order to examine the literary and cultural relations between Ireland and Italy, the study of the images and notions of Ireland within the Italian cultural field has been combined with a literary reception approach.

A description of the main results achieved so far
ItalianIrish claims that in order to understand the dissemination of Irish literature, as well as the awareness of the specificity of Irishness in Italy, it is necessary to refer to the images of Ireland that circulated at the time. This research has proven that the nationality of Irish writers was a significant factor of their introduction to Italian readers, an aspect often neglected in studies on the Italian reception of individual writers. The construction of different and often conflicting ideas of Ireland in Italy, as well as the wavering understanding of the distinctiveness of Irish culture, substantially affected the Italian responses to Irish writers and their presence within the Italian publishing field. At the start of the century and until the mid-to-late 1920s, the Celtic Revival alone (and particularly its theatrical production) was identified with Ireland, while the “Irishness” of writers such as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw generally passed unnoticed. After the establishment of the Free State in Ireland (1922) and especially with the rise to power of fascism in Italy, a new idea of Ireland as a rebellious country started to arise only to become fully-fledged towards the early 1930s. This Ireland, which co-existed with notion of the earlier Celtic and mystical country, was especially favoured by fascist intellectuals trying to propagate the image of a potentially fascist postcolonial victim of the “cruel British empire”. This prompted a greater interest in Ireland, which reached its peak with the ban on English writers during WWII. At this time, writers with either little connection with Ireland or none at all (e.g. Eugene O’Neill, George Kelly, Allan Langdon Martin, Emily Brontë) were marketed as Irish in Italy, while the anti-British sentiment of writers such as Shaw was ingeniously adopted and magnified by fascist intellectuals. Irish literature could have such a unique role in Italy mainly due to the porosity of its borders. The Italian public’s relatively scarce familiarity with its repertoire, as well as its liminal political status made it the ideal instrument for both political and aesthetic manipulation. This facilitated its appropriation by both fascist and anti-fascist intellectuals. The very fluidity of Irish literature granted it a key role in the transition from the fascist theatre scene of Second World War Italy to the post-fascist and left-wing restructuring of the Italian stage operated by the likes of Paolo Grassi. The analysis of the images of Ireland produced in this crucial period in conjunction with the investigation of the complex canon of Irish writers in Italy constitutes a key aspect of the research and sheds light on two main issues: the politics of cultural exchange and translation in the fascist era compared with those of early-twentieth century and post-war Italy, and the porous and fluctuating borders of Irish literature.
A second related argument concerns the transnational aspects of canon formation and nation building. I claim that the reception of Irish writers abroad needs to be taken into account when studying the literary history of the country, especially when literary figures are personally involved as mediators. At the start of the twentieth century, many Irish writers and intellectuals travelled or lived in Italy (such as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, the rectors of the Pontifical Irish College), and were concerned with either influencing its literary field or creating a space in it to accommodate Irish literature and politics, often in close collaboration with Italian intellectuals (as in the case of Carlo Linati and Joyce). As such, my study has illuminated, through liminal figures such as Joyce, Mario Manlio Rossi, Ernesto Buonaiuti and others, a two-way encounter, which sheds light both on the reciprocal construction of images and on the transnational character of literary canons.

The expected final results and their potential impact and use (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)
One of the main outputs of the project was the “Irish in Italy” exhibition held at the National Library of Rome (Italy) from the 15th of October 2016 until the 8th of January 2017, co-sponsored by the Embassy of Ireland. The exhibition offered a picture of the complex relationship between Ireland and Italy and of the interactions between the literary landscape and the political system which characterised, and often facilitated, exchanges between the two nations. Irish in Italy was organised in collaboration with literary archives (Turin, Genoa, Milan, Como) and displayed several important documents such as letters by Pavese, Joyce, Montale, Yeats, Linati and a number of first editions of Irish literature in Italy, both in periodicals and in book form. At the end of the tour, the visitors could sit in a reconstruction of an Italian living room from the 1940s (with original furniture provided by the Museum Passatempo, Genoa) and listen to bespoke recordings of period translations of the works of Joyce, Sterne, Yeats and others. The recordings were produced in collaboration with Compagnia Bottega Bombardini and featured actor Luca Iervolino. As a result of its success, “Irish in Italy” was mounted again during the University of Notre Dame Irish and Italian Seminars [] (June 2017) and will be hosted by the University of Cork Library in 2019 (January-March); also it will migrate online as a digital exhibition thanks to a Project Call Development Grant at Manchester (scheduled launch: December 2017). Website of the Exhibition “Irish in Italy”:
Furthermore, two main events were organised during the exhibition in order to engage with both the academic community and the general public. An international conference ("Irishing Italy") with both Irish and Italian scholars was held at the Rome Global Gateway of the University of Notre Dame on the 22nd of November; on the 17th of November a local bookshop, Feltrinelli International (Rome), hosted a round table discussion with Irish and Italian writers and translators (including Catherine Dunne and Francesca Melandri) focused on the Irish-Italian anthology Lost Between, published both in Italian and English. Details can be found on the website:
The composite portrait of the various images of Ireland in Italy has provided significant information about both Italian culture and its mediators, and consequently enhanced our understanding of intercultural dynamics in early twentieth-century Europe. The dissemination activities were addressed both at the academic community and at the wider public. As testified by the feedback received (guestbook, private communications etc.), the exhibition, in particular, has reached a wide public and strongly contributed to a greater understanding of both the nature of Italian translation between the wars and the fluctuating images of Ireland that circulated at the time.”Irish in Italy” attracted extremely positive feedback also from scholars, international press (e.g. The Irish Times: and public, including in particular local secondary schools.