This article considers how the concept of national character changed in post-revolutionary Europe by examining how Italians are depicted in Madame de Staël's Corinne, Percy Bysshe Shelley's “Lines Written among the Euganean Hills,” and Giacomo Leopardi's “La ginestra.” I show how national typing based on immutable factors such as climate and physiology was reformulated in a way that foregrounded history and human agency. The old discourse of civic humanism, with its emphasis on virtues and good government, is invoked here both as explanation and remedy for Italy's decline. Staël's “immersive” version of Italian history, Shelley's indictment of moral degeneration, and Leopardi's theory of society all hark back to the values of citizenship, liberty, and solidarity of classical republicanism. By connecting representations of Italy to contemporary developments in the philosophy of history and national typing, this essay raises new questions about the Romantic engagement with the idea of Italy.
Research Article|December 01 2015
Rosa Mucignat; Characters in Time: Staël, Shelley, Leopardi, and the Construction of Italianness in Romantic Historicism. Comparative Literature 1 December 2015; 67 (4): 375–393. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-3327492
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