Frye and Italy


1.  Frye in Italy.  

The most extensive connection that Frye had with a foreign country was with Italy, a country he visited on seven occasions.  In March of 1937, during his first year at Merton College, he spent time between terms touring Italy with Mike Joseph, a fellow student, visiting Genoa, Pisa, Siena, Orvieto, Rome (where they meet another fellow student, Rodney Baine, and two students from Exeter College), Perugia, Arezzo, Florence, San Gimignano, Assisi, Ravenna, Venice, Verona, Mantua, and Milan.

Two years later, after Frye has finished his Oxford exams, he and Helen took a hurried trip to the continent, leaving London for Paris in late July and meeting Mike Joseph in Florence for a two‑week trip through northern Italy, where they found it difficult to escape the presence of Mussolini:

Some of our friends have objected to our taking a holiday in a Fascist country, feeling that we ought to spend our handful of vacation money in those noble, generous, brave‑spirited, free republics, Great Britain and France. Well, perhaps. Certainly at Sienna, where we had an air‑raid practice and a blackout, we began to get restive at being in an officially hostile country with the papers all hermetically sealed against news. “La politica non è serena,” as our landlady said. But surely away up on this mountain, breathing this free mountain air (one of the voices of liberty, according to Wordsworth, who ought to have known), we can forget about Mussolini for a few hours.

When we get there we find, however, that the town has been made into a “national monument” and Mussolini’s plug‑ugly sourpuss is plastered all over it. His epigrams, too. For every conspicuous piece of white wall in Italy is covered with mottoes in black letters from his speeches and obiter dicta—the successor to the obsolete art of fresco‑painting. One of them says, with disarming simplicity, “Mussolini is always right.” “The olive tree has gentle and soft leaves, but its wood is harsh and rough,” says another more cryptically. “War is to man what maternity is to woman,” says a third. “The best way to preserve peace is to prepare for war,” says a fourth, and it looks just as silly in Italian as it does in English. Another one of the few not of Mussolini’s authorship reads: “Duce! We await your orders.” Up here they present us with “We shoot straight.”

One of these, “The nation should be as strong as the army and the army as strong as the nation,” reminds us how Italy is taxed to the back teeth for her army and how oddly all this gathering of pearls from swine contrasts with the miserable poverty of the town, a poverty as patient and humble as that poor old donkey. But is it so odd? Peasant feeds soldier and soldier kicks peasant—that was the Roman arrangement, so why not now, when the grandeur of Rome is revived and the national emblem once more is a whip? (“Two Italian Sketches. 1939,” Acta Victoriana 67 [October 1942]: 12–14, 23; rpt. in Northrop Frye on Modern Culture, 188–93). 

 Thirty years later Frye returned to Italy to attend the Dædalus Conference at the Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio, 31 August–10 September, where he presented a paper entitled “The Critical Path.”  Then in 1979 he gave an extensive series of lectures in Italy, speaking on “Castiglione,” “Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” and “Myth and Literature” in Milan, Florence, Padua, Vicenza, Venice, Urbino, and Rome, 12 May–June 1.  According to William French, the three‑week lecture tour was

described by those who were there as a triumph.  [Frye] spoke to capacity audiences in Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and other cities and was welcomed as an intellectual celebrity. The Italian state television did an interview with him on his critical theories, against a backdrop of Florence, that will lead off a new series on the most influential personalities of the twentieth century.  Roloff Beny photographer him in his Rome apartment for his new book, People of Achievement and Influence.  There were several other TV, radio, and newspaper interviews, including one by the Communist daily in Rome” (Frye the Conqueror Wows Them in Italy,” Globe and Mail [14 June 1979]: 15).

 In early May of 1979 Frye was interviewed in Toronto prior to his departure for Italy by Gian Piero Brunetta for the newspaper La Repubblica (Rome).  The other interviews French refers to were by Umberto Eco for Alfabeta, Claudio Gorlier for Tuttolibri (Turin), Beppe Cottefavi for L’Unità, Gilbert Reid for Canada contemporaneo (a magazine Reid was publishing for the Canadian embassy), Sergio Perosa for Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), Domenico Petrocelli for Il Tempo (Rome), Carla Plevano for Il Giornale di Vicenza, and Angela Barbieri for Il Gazzetino (Venice).  The television interview French mentions was made into a film produced by Claudio Gorlier, Frye a Firenze.  

Frye’s fifth trip to Italy was in 1987, when he attended a Rome conference devoted to his work, “Ritratto di Northrop Frye,” 25–27 May.  He presented a paper at the conference, “Maps and Territories,” which was published in the conference proceedings, Ritratto di Northrop Frye, ed. Agostino Lombardo (Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 1989). 

In April of 1989 Frye traveled once again to Italy, staying in Venice, Mantua, and Bologna, where he received an honorary degree (D.Litt.) from the University of Bologna on 24 April.  His address on this occasion was published as “Convocation Address: University of Bologna” in Northrop Frye on Literature and Society 340–6.  And on April 17 in Venice he gave a talk, “On the Bible,” at a conference on “Venice and the Study of Foreign Language and Literature,” organized by the language faculty of Ca’Foscari.

Frye’s final trip to Italy was to Palermo in September 1990––four months before his death––where he received the Primio Mondello, a prestigious prize honoring his lifetime dedication to literature.  He attended the citation ceremony at the University of Palmero, broadcast live on Italian national television, and the presentation itself the next day in Mondello.

 2. Frye on Italy

In his notebooks and diaries, Frye often sets down his resolution to learn other languages, and then he berates himself for never being able to realize his dream.  But he did make an effort to learn Italian.  At the beginning of Notebook 4, most of which is devoted to his 1942 diary, are a series of Italian phrases that represent his earliest recorded effort to learn the language, and he appears to have known more Italian than his comments on language learning might suggest.  His notes on Dante, published in Northrop Frye’s Notebooks on the Bible and Other Religious Texts, derive, not from his use of an English translation, but from the Italian of the Temple Classics edition, ed. Wicksteed and Oelsner.  Italian words and phrases are sprinkled through the notebook.  Many of the papers presented at the 1987 Ritratto conference were in Italian, and when I asked Frye how much he understood from the oral presentations he replied, “About 85%.”  So while he was not altogether fluent, he could read Italian and understand spoken form with some facility.

Frye’s own writing on Italy and Italian literature include the extensive reports in his 1937 letters to Helen Kemp of his travels throughout the country (see The Correspondence of Northrop Frye and Helen Kemp, 2:717–20, 724–29, 734–46), his Dante notebook, and, the vignettes cited above, “Two Italian Sketches.”  His other Italian writings are:

 A review of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (1952).  In Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 318–20

 A review of Alberto Moravia’s Two Adolescents (1950), in Northrop Frye on Culture and Literature, 212–14; rpt. In Northrop Frye’s Writings on Twentieth‑Century Literature (forthcoming)

 “Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano.”  A 1979 lecture presented in Venice and published as Il “Cortegiano” in una società senza cortigiana, trans. Francesca Valente and Alfredo Rizzardi (Urbino: Universita degli studi di Urbino, 1979;) English trans. published in Quaderni d’italianistica, 1, no. 1 (1980): 1–14, and in Myth and Metaphor; rpt. in Northrop Frye’s Writings on Shakespeare and the Renaissance (forthcoming).

 “Vico, Bruno, and the Wake.”  A 1985 lecture at the University of California, Berkeley; revised form published as “Cycle and Apocalypse in Finnegans Wake” in Vico and Joyce, ed. Donald Phillip Verene (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987, 3–19), and in Myth and Metaphor; rpt. in Northrop Frye’s Writings on Twentieth‑Century Literature (forthcoming).

 The introductory paragraphs of Frye’s “Convocation Address: University of Bologna” (in Northrop Frye on Literature and Society, 340–6) point to the writings of F.T. Marinetti, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giosuè Carducci, Giuseppe Ungaretti, and Eugenio Montale.

 Giambattista Vico was, of course, one of Frye’s intellectual heroes.  References to his New Science appear in chapter 1 of The Great Code, in “The Responsibilities of the Critic,” in Frye’s comment on Peter Hughes’s essay in Yale Italian Studies 1 (Winter 1977): 91–2, and elsewhere.  See Nella Cotrupi’s chapter on Vico in Northrop Frye and the Poetics of Process.  Throughout Frye’s books, essays, and notebooks one runs across references to Boccaccio, Machiavelli, and Leopardi.

 Frye also wrote the “Introduction” to Giorgio Bassani’s Rolls Royce and Other Poems, trans. Francesca Valente (Toronto: Aya Press, 1982), 17–91, and the introduction to the Italian translation of Irving Layon’s The Cold Green Element: II freddo verde elemento by Irving Layton, trans. Amleto Lorenzini (Turin: Einaudi 1974), v–viii. 

 In short, there is a substantial body of Frye’s writing that it attentive to the Italian literary tradition.

 3. Italy on Frye

 The attention Frye has received internationally has been greater in Italy than in any other country.  First, fifteen of Frye’s books have been translated into Italian:

 Fearful SymmetryAgghiacciante simmetria: Uno studio su William Blake.  Trans. Carla Plevano Pezzini and Francesca Valente, with the assistance of Amleto Lorenzini.  Milan: Longanesi, 1976.  492 pp.  21.5 x 14.5 cm.  Contains, in addition to the preface of the 1947 English edition, another preface written in 1975 for this translation.  Illustrations follow p. 64.  Stiff paper wrappers.

 Anatomy of CriticismAnatomia della critica: Quattro saggi.  Trans. Paola Rosa-Clot and Sandro Stratta, revised with the help of Amleto Lorenzini.  Torino: Einaudi, [1972].  484 pp.  18.1 x 10.7 cm.  No index in this translation.  2nd (revised) ed. of a 1969 tranlation vy Rosa‑Clot and Stratta.  Reissued 2000.  Paperback.

 The Educated ImaginationL’immaginazione coltivata.  Trans. Amleto Lorenzini and Mario Manzari.  Milan: Longanesi, 1974.  125 pp.  18.4 x 11.8 cm.  Stiff paper wrappers. 

 Fables of IdentityFavole d’identità: Studi di mitologia poetica.  Trans. Ciro Monti.  Torino: Einaudi, 1973.  ix + 346 pp.  18 x 10.5 cm.  Paperback. 

 T.S. EliotEliot.  Trans. Gino Scatasta.  Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989.  126 pp.  20.4 x 12.3 cm.  Paperback. 

 The Well‑Tempered CriticIl critico ben temperato.  Trans. Amleto Lorenzini and Mario Manzari.  Milan: Longanesi, 1974.  141 pp.  18.4 x 11.7 cm.  Stiff paper wrappers. 

 Fools of TimeTempo che opprime, tempo che redime: Riflessioni sul teatro di Shakespeare.  Trans. Valentina Poggi and Maria Pia De Angelis.  Bologna: Il Mulino, 1986.  197 pp.  21.2 x 13.3 cm.  Part 1 (pp. 13–113) is a trans. by Valentina Poggi of Fools of Time.  Part 2 (pp. 115–197) is a trans. by Maria Pia De Angelis of The Myth of Deliverance.  Paperback. 

 The Modern CenturyCultura e miti del nostro tempo.  Trans. Vittorio Di Giuro.  Milano: Rizzoli, 1969.  120 pp.  20.6 x 14.8 cm.  Stiff paper wrappers. 

 The Stubborn StructureL’ostinata struttura: saggi su critica e società.  Trans. Leonardo Terzo and Anna Paschetto.  Rev. by Amleto Lorenzini.  Milano: Rizzoli, 1975.  267 pp.  21.7 x 13.9 cm.  Paperback. 

 The Secular ScriptureLa scrittura secolare: Studio sulla struttura “romance.  Trans. Amleto Lorenzini.  Bologna: Il Mulino, 1978.  191 pp.  21.3 x 13.1 cm.  Paperback. 

 The Great CodeIl grande codice: la Bibbia e la letteratura.  Trans. Giovanni Rizzoni.  Torino: Einaudi, 1986.  306 pp.  20.4 x 12.3 cm.   Paperback. 

 The Myth of DeliveranceTempo che opprime, tempo che redime: Riflessioni sul teatro di Shakespeare.  Trans. Valentina Poggi and Maria Pia De Angelis.  Bologna: Il Mulino, 1986.  197 pp.  21.2 x 13.3 cm.  Part 1 (pp. 13-113) is a trans. by Valentina Poggi of Fools of Time.  Part 2 (pp. 115-197) is a trans. by Maria Pia De Angelis of The Myth of Deliverance.  Paperback.  

 Northrop Frye on Shakespeare.  Shakespeare: Nove lezioni.  Trans. Andrea Carosso.  Torino: Einaudi, 1990.  x + 201 pp.  25 x 12.3 cm.  Paperback. 

 Words with PowerIl potere delle parole: Nuovi studi su Bibbia e letteratura.  Trans. Eleonora Zoratti.  Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1994.  viii + 355 pp.  21 x 12.7 cm.  Stiff paper wrappers. 

 The Double VisionLa duplice visione: linguaggio e significato nella religione.  Trans. Francesca Valente Gorjup and Carla Plevano Pezzini.  Preface by Agostino Lombardo.  Venice: Marsilio, 1993.  101 pp.  21.3 x 15.4 cm.  Paperback. 

 In addition, Carla Pezzini Plevano and Francesca Valente Gorjup have translated a selection of Frye’s essays from the 1980s, entitled Mito metafora simbolo.  Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1989.  218 pp.  21.5 x 14.4 cm.  Paperback.  This collection contains [English titles]: “The Mythical Approach to Creation” / “The Expanding World of Metaphor” / “Vision and Cosmos” / “The Symbol as a Medium of Exchange” / “The Stage Is All the World” / “The Survival of Eros in Poetry” / “The Bride from the Strange Land” / “Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano” / “The Tempest” / “Cycle and Apocalypse in Finnegans Wake” / “Blake’s Bible” / “The Meeting of Past and Future in William Morris”

 Carla Plevano Pezzini has translated another collection of Frye’s essays: La letteratura e le arti visive e altri saggi.  Catanzaro: Abramo, 1993.  198 pp.  18 x 10 cm.  Stiff paper wrappers.  This volume contains [English titles]:  “The Responsibilities of the Critic” / “Approaching the Lyric” / “The World as Music and Idea in Wagner’s Parsifal” / “Literature as a Critique of Pure Reason” / “Blake’s Biblical Illustrations” / “Literature and the Visual Arts”

 A third book‑length collection is Frammenti critici, ed. and trans. Stefano Calabrese and Daniela Feltracco.  Parma: Monte Università Parma Editore, 2005.  174 pp.  21.1 x 14 cm.  Paper wrappers, French fold.  This volume is a selection of entries from Frye’s notebooks. 

 Secondary sources

 The proceedings of the 1987 Rome conference, mentioned in the previous blog, were published as Ritratto de Northrop Frye, ed. Agostino Lombardi.  Rome: Bulzoni Editore, 1989.  This volume contains Northrop Frye, “Maps and Territories” / Remo Ceserani, “Primo approccio alla teoria critica di Frye: Riflessioni attorno al concetto di modo” / Sergio Perosa, “Incontri con Frye” / Roberto Cresti, “Critical Theory and Literary Experience in Northrop Frye” / Francesco Guardiani, “Le categorie di Frye dall’Anatomia della Critica al Grande Codice” / Dominico Pietropaolo, “Frye, Vico, and the Grounding of Literature and Criticism” / Frank Kermode, “Northrop Frye and the Bible” / Piero Boitani, “Codex Fryeanus 0–15–136903–X: A Medieval Reading of The Great Code” / Giorgio Mariani, “Northrop Frye and the Politics of the Bible” / Jan Ulrik Dyrkjøb, “Northrop Frye’s Visionary Protestantism” / Paolo Russo, “The Word as Event” / Paola Colaiacomo, “La lettératura come potere” / Keir Elam, “A Natural Perspective: Frye on Shakespearean Comedy” / Agostino Lombardo, “Northrop Frye e The Tempest” / Francesco Marroni, “Frye, Shakespeare e ‘la parola magica’” / Stefana d’Ottavi, “Frye e Blake” / Christina Bertea, “Frye e la fiaba” / Carlo Pagetti, “Frye cittadino di utopia” / Caterina Ricciardi, “Frye, l’America e le finzioni supreme” / Eleanor Cook, “Against Monism: The Canadian Anatomy of Northrop Frye” / Robert Kroetsch, “Learning the Hero from Northrop Frye” / Alessandro Gebbia, “L’idea di lettératura canadese in Frye” / Alfredo Rizzardi, “Northrop Fry e la poesia canadese” / Richard Ambrosini, “From Archetypes to National Specificity” / Maria Micarelli, “La visione sociale di Northrop Frye” / Francesca Valente, “Northrop Frye the Teacher: Education and Literary Criticism” / Robert D. Denham, “An Anatomy of Frye’s Influence” / Baldo Meo, “La Fortuna di Frye in Italia” / Alessandro Gebbia and Baldo Meo, “Bibliografia di Northrop Frye, con una appendice delle  traduzioni e dei contribute critica italiani”

 Italian books devoted in their entirety to Frye are:

             Ricciardi, Caterina.  Northrop Frye, o, delle finzioni supreme.  Rome: Empirìa, 1992.

             Feltracco, Daniela.  Northrop Frye: Anatomia di un metodo critico.  Udine: Forum, Editrice        Universitaria Udinese, 2005.

The hundreds of items in the additional secondary literature on Frye in Italian are too expansive to list here. The list would include separate essays on his work, interviews, reviews of his books (both the English editions and Italian translations), and newspaper accounts of his Italian lecture series.

 * * *

Northrop Frye, “Convocation Address: University of Bologna”:

Dante’s De Vulgari Eloquentia is unfinished and outdated by his own practice in the Commedia, but it deals with two questions of genuine critical concern, even if they seem at first contradictory questions.  He begins by dividing languages into the primary and secondary, those we learn in infancy and those we acquire by education.  One is natural speech, the other structured speech with a specialized vocabulary.  The former, Dante says, is the ‘nobler’ of the two, being one step closer to the speech that God gave Adam in Paradise.  But after making this distinction, his argument apparently goes in the opposite direction.  In Italy the ‘natural’ speech is some form of local dialect, and what is needed for first-rate literature, Dante feels, is a standard Italian, which is lacking because there is no imperial court in Rome to provide a place for it to develop.

Like everyone in his day, Dante assumed that the genres and dictions available in literature formed a hierarchy with an aristocracy at the top, and that the aristocratic forms were those most fitting for a discriminating audience.  The canzone, for example, is ‘nobler’ than the ballate, and the eleven-syllable line ‘nobler’ than the seven-syllable one [bk. 2, chap. 3].   By this time we seem a long way from the opening assertion that one’s native speech is ‘nobler’ than the more structured language taught us at school.  But if we turn to the Commedia we can see how completely that poem resolves the contradictions in Dante’s argument.  Nothing could be ‘nobler’ for Italian readers than having so gigantic a work immediately intelligible in their own language; yet it is of course a work that repays the most exhaustive and detailed study. 

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