BARS Digital Events: Geo & Eco Criticism – Returning to Romantic Italy

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In collaboration with CISR (Inter-University Centre for the Study of Romanticism)


Gioia Angeletti (Chair)

Serena Baiesi; Paolo Bugliani; Lilla Maria Crisafulli; Diego Saglia; Elena Spandri.

Geo & Eco-Criticism: Returning to Romantic Italy

15 April 2021

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Our roundtable aims to open up a discussion about the benefits to be derived, in Romantic studies, from an intersection of the methods and approaches of geo-criticism and eco-criticism. On the one hand, we take our bearings from positions, such as Kate Rigby’s, that focus on the natural world as a dynamic, active dimension enabling all cultural production, which in turn bears traces of its more-than-human genesis. On the other, we intend to suggest that geo-criticism, as developed by Bertrand Westphal and others, stresses the crucial importance of considering the geographical specificities of Romantic-era engagements with ecosystems, and more particularly how such engagements are inextricably bound up with notions of geo-politics and geo-culture (the nation, borders and boundaries, economic geographies, north vs south, the national character). Indeed, geo-criticism opens us specific insights into how literature can translate the experience of places into a critique of predominant modes of construction of reality.

Since the notions of space and place are constantly shifting (the former encompassing conceptual space and the latter factual place), authors such as William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy B. Shelley, Mary Shelley and Leigh Hunt among many others, represent environments as manifesting the variety of interconnected human and non-human spaces, and their im/material valences, in ways that are also always tied up with the political, economic or cultural forces bearing upon and conditioning such spaces (which, following Henri Lefebvre, may be viewed as intersections of perceived, conceived and lived space). 

Exploring the possibilities of combining ecocritical and geocritical approaches, the roundtable aims to propose this methodological intersection as a way of unlocking new features of Romantic-period treatments of the connections between the environment and humans, their identities, activities, and institutions [Tuan, Yi-fu, Space and Place]. We believe that our approach may prove interesting to a wide audience by throwing light on Romantic representations of the environment as critical narratives (and counter-narratives) about the imbrications and overlappings of the identities of individuals, human communities and polities, and the environment. In particular, we aim to discuss the potential advantages of this mixed approach by throwing new light on Romantic-period representations of Italy as a particularly complex and unstable crucible of issues of nature and nurture, ecosystems and political systems, environment and polities, and so on. In Romantic-period literature, the highly diversified and challenging natural world of Italy – from the Alps to Vesuvius and Etna, its frayed coastlines, Northern plains, Venetian lagoon, Roman marshes, Campanian sulphur lakes, etc. – is everywhere enmeshed with the country’s complicated, fragmented and fraught cultural, political and economic context. Our aim is ultimately to stimulate a lively debate on how ecocritical and geocritical outlooks can be made to interact in order to identify new and exciting ways of capturing the multifaceted complexity of Romantic-period representations of human-environmental interrelations.  

Serena Baiesi (University of Bologna)

Leigh Hunt’s Italian Green footsteps 

I would like to discuss a less-known aspect of Hunt’s aesthetic: his deep involvement with the external world, meaning the natural and urban landscapes which played an important role in his writings during the 1820s. In particular, I will focus on his descriptions of Italian places from an eco- critical and geo-critical point of view that examines the interaction between the human and non-human in cities, as well as in the natural environment. Indeed, it is during his stay in a foreign land that Hunt developed a deep and controversial interest in urban and natural surroundings, that is, what we can call a “botanic” eye for the multifaceted environment of Italy.

Paolo Bugliani (University of Pisa – ECR) 

William Hazlitt’s Italian Spots of Time 

My contribution aims at interpreting, through an ecocritical lens, some of the spots of time which William Hazlitt implanted in the Italian section of his Notes of a Journey through France and Italy (1826). Although these instants of highlighted sensation are more commonly associated with urban landscapes or indoors museum spaces, I wish to explore circumstances in which they are aroused by a natural landscape, most notably in the Appennines, near lake Bolsena and on the Plain of Lombardy.

Lilla Maria Crisafulli (University of Bologna)

Going Green and Blue in Mary Shelley’s work 

I intend to explore not only the process of inter-human relationship, but also the conversation between humans and the world of signs or the religious universe that the works of Mary Shelley convey. It is such a self-dissolving opening up towards the universe that, it seems to me, deeply characterizes much of Shelley’s work in which the ‘biophysical environment’ deeply matters, be it the marine life or the inshore, with particular reference to Italy and Italian landscape. 

Diego Saglia (University of Parma)

Re-Viewing Northern Italy 

I will be looking at William Stewart Rose’s 1819 Letters from the North of Italy to demonstrate how, in the literature of the period, representations of Northern Italian landscapes such as those in Byron’s or Shelley’s poetry coexist with an attention to questions of agricultural and industrial exploitation, deforestation and depopulation, and climate change.

Elena Spandri (University of Siena)

Wordsworth’s Franciscan Ecology

I will be looking at Wordsworth’s poems “Musings Near Acquapendente” and “The Cuckoo at Laverna” included in his late series Memorials of a Tour in Italy (1842) as specimens of a typically Romantic – and Wordsworthian – structure of feelings in which Italian monasteries provide geo-cultural environments both for a revitalized poetics of memory and for a reflection on the mutual imbrications of natural sites, religious ethics, and national consciousness.