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IT5: Italian Identities: Place, Language, and Culture

Can we speak of an Italian culture and society (and language) if Italy de facto did not exist before 1861 as a political entity? Can we speak of a single Italian identity in Italy's history or should we rather consider several Italian identities? From the Middle Ages to the end of the nineteenth century Italy was a politically and linguistically fragmented country. To more adequately understand Italy's tradition and culture through the centuries, one must then consider the variety of political and cultural centres that developed across the peninsula: from the 'comuni' and the 'signorie', to the republics, the Renaissance courts, the papal state, the dukedoms and the kingdoms, to the creation of a unified state in 1861, following the Risorgimento process. The aim of this paper is to acknowledge the richness and variety of Italy's local traditions, which often remain undifferentiated under a general umbrella of 'Italian' culture: it will offer students the possibility to gain a more detailed understanding of the country's history, language and culture by focusing on its local identities and texts of various genres that chronologically range from the Middle Ages to the present times. 


Topics for 2019-20 are as follows:

Topic 1 Florence: Boccaccio's Decameron​

Core text: Selections from Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron (students should if possible purchase or otherwise get their hands on an edition with notes by V. Branca).
Boccaccio can be difficult to read in the original Italian. If you're having trouble, try reading an English translation of the story in question first so that you know what to expect and then try reading the story in the original. The Brown University Decameron web site (see below) has a hyperlinked original text plus translation that will allow you to skip back and forth as needed. Inexpensive editions of English translations are also widely available.

  • Read as much of the Decameron as you can. Lectures and exams will focus on the following novelle:
  • Proemio e Introduzione
  • I,1 I,6
  • II,3 II,5 II,10
  • III,1 III,3 III,4 III,7 III,9
  • IV,1 IV,7 IV,8 IV,9
  • V,9
  • VI,1 VI,2 VI,3 VI, 4 VI, 5 VI, 7 VI,8 VI,9 VI, 10
  • VII,6 VII,8
  • IX,3 IX,7 IX,8
  • X,6 X,10

Other Resources:

  • (primary sources on the plague in Florence, maps of places referenced in the novelle, bibliography, bilingual hypertext)
  • Boccaccio and Feminist Criticism ed. by Thomas Stillinger and F. Regina Psaki, Annali d’Italianistica, 2006.
  • The Cambridge Companion to Boccaccio ed. by Guyda Armstrong, Rhiannon Daniels, and Stephen J. Milner, 2015
  • Kirkham, Victoria. The sign of reason in Boccaccio's fiction. Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1993.
  • Levenstein, Jessica. "Out of Bounds: Passion and the Plague in Boccaccio's Decameron."Italica Vol. 73, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996), pp. 313-335
  • Mazzotta, Giuseppe. The World at Play in Boccaccio's Decameron. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1986.
  • Migiel, Marilyn. A Rhetoric of the Decameron. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.
  • Migiel, Marilyn. The Ethical Dimension of the Decameron. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015
  • Morosini Roberta., ed. Boccaccio Geografo, Firenze: Polistampa, 2010.
  • Ricketts, Jill M. Visualizing Boccaccio. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Wallace, David. Boccaccio: Decameron (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)
  • Watson, Paul F. "The Cement of Fiction: Giovanni Boccaccio and the Painters of Florence" MLN Vol. 99, No. 1, Italian Issue (Jan., 1984), pp. 43-64
  • The Decameron First Day in Perspective,ed. by Elissa B. Weaver, Toronto, 2004.
  • The Decameron Third Day in Perspective,ed. by Francesco Ciabattoni and Pier Massimo Forni, Toronto, 2014

Supervisors will guide students to other resources according to their interests.

Topic 2 Urbino: The essence of courtly life: Castiglione's Il libro del Cortegiano​​ (1528)

Core text: Baldassare Castiglione, Il libro del Cortegiano​ 

The following editions have good notes (but you could also use other Italian editions if you prefer; do not rely solely on translations):

  • Castiglione Balddassar, 1998. Il Libro del Cortegiano, ed. by Walter Barberis. Turin: Einaudi.
  • Castiglione Baldeassar, 2000. Il Libro del Cortegiano, introduction by Amedeo Quondam and notes by Nicola Longo. Milan: Garzanti.

Preliminary reading on Castiglione and the Renaissance (for further bibliographical references, see the IT5 Moodle page)

  • Anglo, S., 1977. 'The Courtier: The Renaissance and Changing Ideals', in A. G. Dickens (ed.), The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage and Royalty, 1400-1800. London: Thames and Hudson, pp. 33-53.
  • Burke, P., 1988. 'Il cortigiano', in E. Garin (ed.), L'uomo del Rinascimento. Bari: Laterza, pp. 133-65; English version 'The Courtier', in E. Garin (ed.), Renaissance Characters, trans. by L. Cochrane. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, pp. 98-122.
  • Burke, P., 1995. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione's Cortegiano. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Burke, P., 1999. The Italian Renaissance: Culture and Society in Italy, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Cox, Virginia, 1992. Renaissance Dialogue: Literary Dialogue in its Social and Political Contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (the chapter on Castiglione in particular).
  • Finucci, Valeria, 1992. The Lady Vanishes: Subjectivity and Representation in Castiglione and Ariosto. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Gardini, Nicola, 2010. Rinascimento. Turin: Einaudi.
  • Hanning, Robert W., and David Rosand (eds), 1983. Castiglione: The Ideal and the Real in Renaissance Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Mackenney, R., 2004. Renaissances: The Cultures of Italy, c.1300-c.1600. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ossola, C. (ed.) 1980. La corte e il "Cortegiano": I. La scena del testo. Centro studi 'Europa delle corti', Biblioteca del Cinquecento. Rome: Bulzoni.
  • Ossola, Carlo, 1987. Dal "Cortegiano" all' "Uomo di mondo": storia di un libro e di un modello sociale. Turin: Einaudi, 1987.
  • Quondam, Amedeo, 2000. Questo povero Cortegiano: Castiglione, il libro, la storia. Rome: Bulzoni.
  • Woodhouse, J. R., 1978. Baldesar Castiglione: A Reassessment of 'The Courtier'. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. London: Batsford.​

Topic 3 Between the old and the new: Grazia Deledda's Sardinia 

Core texts (read at least 3 of the following novels; any Italian editions): Elias Portolu (1903); Cenere (1904); Canne al vento (1913); Marianna Sirca (1915); La madre (1920)

Students are also strongly encouraged to further explore Deledda’s rich oeuvre (novels, short stories, and theatre). Note that her posthumous Cosima (1937) is considered to be partly autobiographical. 

Preliminary reading on Deledda (for further bibliographical references, see the IT5 Moodle page):

  • Migiel, Marilyn, ‘Grazia Deledda (1871-1936)’, Italian Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, ed. by Rinaldina Russell (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994), pp. 111-18.
  • Balducci, Carolyn, A Self-made Woman: Biography of Nobel-prize-Winner Grazia Deledda (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975).
  • De Giovanni, Neria, Come la nube sopra il mare: vita di Grazia Deledda (Alghero: Nemapress, 2006)
  • Abete, Giovanna, Grazia Deledda e i suoi critici (Rome: Edizioni Abete, 1993)
  • Aste, Mario, Grazia Deledda: Ethnic Novelist (Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica, 1990)
  • De Giovanni, Neria, Senza scampo: personaggi maschili nella narrativa di Grazia Deledda (Alghero: Nemapress, 2015)
  • Di Zenzo, Salvatore-Floro. Il narrare visivo di Grazia Deledda (Naples: T. Pironti, 1979)
  • Dolfi, Anna, Grazia Deledda (Milan: Mursia, 1979)
  • Farnetti, Monica (ed.), Chi ha paura di Grazia Deledda?: traduzione, ricezione,comparazione (Pavona: Iacobelli, 2010)
  • Guiso, Angela, Grazia Deledda: temi, luoghi, personaggi (Oliena: Iris, 2005)
  • Heyer-Caput, Margherita, Grazia Deledda's Dance of Modernity (Toronto: University of Toronto Pres, 2008)
  • Miccinesi, Mario, Grazia Deledda (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1975)
  • Piano, Maria Giovanna, Onora la madre: autorità femminile nella narrativa di Grazia Deledda (Turin: Rosenberg & Sellier, 1998)
  • Rasy, Elisabetta, Ritratti di signora [on Grazia Deledda, Ada Negri and Matilde Serao] (Milan: Rizzoli, 1995)
  • Tanda, Nicola, Dal mito dell'isola all'isola del mito: Deledda e dintorni (Rome: Bulzoni, 1992)
  • Wood, Sharon (ed.), The Challenge of Modernity: Essays on Grazia Deledda (Leicester: Trobadour, 2007)

Topic 4 Italo Svevo and Trieste

Primary Text:

  • La coscienza di Zeno (1923)

Secondary reading:

  • Elizabeth Schächter, Origin and Identity: Essays on Svevo and Trieste (Northern UP, 2000) 
  • Enrico Ghidetti, Italo Svevo. La coscienza di un borghese triestino (Editori Riuniti 1982)
  • Moloney, B. Italo Svevo: a critical introduction. Edinburgh, 1974.
  • Nanni, L., ed. Leggere Svevo: antologia della critica sveviana. Bologna, 1974.
  • Bon, A. Come leggere La coscienza di Zeno di Italo Svevo. Milano, 1977.
  • Lavagetto, Mario. L’impiegato Schmitz: e altri saggi su Svevo. Torino : Einaudi, 1986.
  • Katia Pizzi, A City in Search of an Author: The Literary Identity of Trieste
  • C.C. Russell, 'Italo Svevo's Trieste'
  • Esman, A. 'Italo Svevo and the first Psychoanalytic Novel' International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 82:1225-1233
  • M B. Moloney, 'Psychonalysis and Irony in La coscienza di Zeno'
  • G. MInghelli, 'In the Shadow of the Mammoth: Narratives of Symbiosis in La Coscienza di Zeno' .pdf
  • G.P. Biasin, 'Literary Diseases'
  • E. Saccone, 'Svevo, Zeno e la Psicanalisi'
  • A. Bonadeo, 'Ideale e reale nella Coscienza di Zeno'



Preparatory reading: 

The preparatory reading for this paper is the primary texts listed above. In addition, students may wish to consult the following preliminary readings on Italian history, identity, regionalism, polycentrism, language:

  • Asor Rosa, A., 1989. 'Centralismo e policentrismo nella letteratura italiana unitaria', in Id. (ed.), Letteratura italiana. Storia e geografia, vol. III, L'età contemporanea. Turin: Einaudi, pp.5-74.
  • Coletti, V., 1993. Storia dell'italiano letterario: dalle origini al Novecento. Turin: Einaudi.
  • Dionisotti, C., 1967. Geografia e storia della letteratura italiana. Turin: Einaudi, pp.1-54, 89-124.
  • Duggan, C., 1994. 'The geographical determinants of disunity' in Id., A Concise History of Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Levy, C. (ed.), 1996. Italian Regionalism: History, Identity and Politics. Oxford: Berg.
  • Raimondi, E., 1998. Letteratura e identità nazionale. Milan: Bruno Mondadori.
Teaching and learning: 

There will be 6 discussion seminars, to which students will be expected to contribute, interspersed between a series of 12 lectures - 3 on each of the four topics:

Michaelmas Term:

Two introductory seminars;
three lectures and one seminar on Topic 1;
three lectures and one seminar on Topic 2

Lent Term:

Three lectures and one seminar on Topic 3; three lectures and one seminar on Topic 4

These lectures/seminars will be supplemented by 8 supervisions, organised and run by members of the department.

For the It.5 Moodle site, please see here


One three-hour examination will be set. You will be required to answer three questions.

Course Contacts: 
Professor Helena Sanson