The figure of Napoleon in Italian literature, 1796-1821

Millar, Eileen Anne (1972) The figure of Napoleon in Italian literature, 1796-1821. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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The purpose of this Thesis is to make a comprehensive examination of the influence of Napoleon on the contemporary Italian scene as reflected in the literature of that period. These twenty-five years marked the transition in Italian thought, life and letters from the world of the ancien regime to a world inspired by the Rights of Man and anxious to shake off artificiality of every kind. The liberal world of the 1820's was making a conscious effort to reach these fundamental ideals of mankind, and in the particularly Italian context, this effort was closely connected with nationalism and the beginning of the Romantic Movement. Hence the significance of these years which bridge the 18th and 19th Centuries: they mark the end of an era and the beginning of what can be considered as the modern world. In order to put this study in perspective, the First Chapter is concerned with the political and literary state of Italy in 1796. Although politically weak and divided, Italy did have a profound cultural unity. Parini and Alfieri realised the weakness of contemporary society, particularly its dependence on foreign rather than Italian influence, and began the moral and political awakening of the Italian people. However, although the attempt to form a national conscience in Italy was made in the latter part of the 18th Century, it lacked a leader and a driving force. Chapter Two deals with the arrival of Bonaparte in April, 1796 when he was welcomed as a saviour, the one who embodied the ideals of the French Revolution and who would drive out the Austrians. This young general also seemed like a fellow countryman/fellow-countryman rather than a foreign invader because of his Italian ancestry and so it seemed that Italy could now take a short-cut to freedom and unity. The overwhelming enthusiasm was considerably dampened by the news of the Treaty of Campoformio, but by 1799, anger among writers had become more controlled and therefore more powerful and gave way to constructive plans for trying to improve the situation. The Third Chapter contains a detailed examination of the impression on Italy of the career of Napoleon from 1800 to 1821. This could well be demonstrated by a graph rising steadily from 1800 to the consolidation of his power and coronation in Milan, until 1812, then rapidly declining until 1814 and 1815, followed by a period of enforced silence after which the graph again begins a gradual upward incline. This literature is not all one-sided. Where there is adulation, it is always balanced by satire or serious criticism - the product of careful analysis and thought. Napoleon was seen as a means to an end by all writers, and it is this indirect aim which gives the work produced during the period its great importance. The aim in question was the liberation of Italy and the restoration of her historic greatness in the best possible way; some carried this general idea further to speak of Unification. Obviously, war was the most undesirable background for this work, and this explains why writers made such earnest demands for peace throughout the period. Chapter Four traces the development of Monti's attitude to Napoleon. The Fifth Chapter examines Foscolo's image of Napoleon which could also be called, "neoclassicismo idealistico". Foscolo belonged to the new age although in many ways he was the heir of Alfieri. He was nineteen years old in 1799 and at that time he was convinced that Bonaparte was the bringer of liberty to Italy. Hence his furious anger and disillusionment after Campoformio. In Chapter Six, there is an attempt to draw conclusions from all these commentaries on the period. The most obvious general impression is the inter-action of life and literature. Italy had been changed irrevocably in these twenty-five years; she had had practical experience of unity and an understanding of the meaning of being a nation. The ultimate goal, unity and freedom, had not been attained, but undoubtedly, this no longer seemed a vague ideal, but rather, a realistic, practical proposition which would have to be reached by long planning and considerable personal effort on the part of the Italian people. Even in 1821, men realised that the importance of this period in their history could only be assessed in the future when it could be put in its historical perspective. There is calmness, serenity, maturity and spirituality in this outlook which was only reached through personal suffering on the part of individuals. Manzoni epitomises this attitude of mind: man could not make a definitive judgment of Napoleon in 1821 - he could only recognise that the Emperor had put a brake on the excesses of both Revolution and Reaction; that he was the bridge between the 18th and 19th Centuries; posterity would be the judge and contemporaries could only place their trust in their Creator and try to see His hand in the creation of Napoleon. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: M FM Meiklejohn
Keywords: Italian literature, Romance literature
Date of Award: 1972
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1972-72751
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2019 11:06
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2019 11:06

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