In a letter to Annabella Millbanke dated 6 September 1813, Byron wrote that “The great object of life is Sensation - to feel that we exist – […] - it is this ‘craving void’ which drives us to gaming - to battle - to travel - to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment.” Three years later, when he embarked on his second European tour – in fact a voluntary exile –, Byron felt that urge to “sense” and experience life to the full during his 8-year Italian sojourn. From 1816 to 1823, especially in Venice, Ravenna, Pisa and Genoa, the poet realised first-hand what in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto I) he defined as “Toil and travel”, suggesting how his idea of travelling differed from the purposes of the 18th-century Grand Tour: as proved by the letters and works that he wrote in Italy, Byron appropriated and transformed the English aristocratic habit of visiting classical and Renaissance Italy from a general formative period into a total, empirical experience based on carpe-diem philosophy and on a full sensorial immersion in the host country’s cultural customs, traditions and usages. Already in 1808 Byron wrote to his mother that “it is from experience, not from books, we ought to judge of [mankind]. There is nothing like inspection, and trusting to our own senses”. And this is what he achieved in Italy, where, in order to satisfy his thirst of knowledge (experiential not theoretical), he assumed an attitude towards Italian people and cultural objects which may be defined as “ethnographic”: instead of travelling and living in Italy as a flâneur observing people and places from a foreigner’s perspective, Byron, at least for most of his Italian years, wears the mask of – as well as identifies himself with – the anthropologist who can understand the Other only by plunging entirely and intensely into it, or by observing it from an insider’s perspective. Starting from these premises, the aim of my essay is to show the idiosyncratic experiential quality of Byron’s life in Italy by looking at the ways in which his ethnographic and anthropological interests for Italian places, people and traditions emerge in his letters and works written between 1816 and 1823. In particular, the essay will focus on the following aspects: the poet’s personal relationship with and representation of Italian women and men; his absorption and usage of Italian language and the Venetian dialect; and his involvement and personal interpretation of Italian customs, traditions and behaviours (including sexuality) as opposed to English culture. The ultimate aim will be to identify and analyse textual evidence proving the author’s cosmopolitan conception of journeying abroad, which combines the capability of discarding original national habits with the tendency to embrace the new culture, merging and integrating in it instead of observing it from a distance. The essay will also show that it was thanks to his insider’s perspective that Byron could avoid idealising Italy and simplistically identifying it as the Bel Paese – an anti-Romantic stance which explains his final disenchantment with Italy and the Italians, yet at the same time allowing him to become “a portion of their hopes, and fears, and passions” (Letter to Thomas Moore, 1820) and to experience while there, as he writes in Beppo, “Love in full life, and length, not love ideal, / No, nor ideal beauty, that fine name, / But something better still, so very real”.

Byron’s ethnographic eye: the poet among the Italians / Angeletti, Gioia. - STAMPA. - (2017), pp. 44-60.

Byron’s ethnographic eye: the poet among the Italians

ANGELETTI, Gioia
2017

Abstract

In a letter to Annabella Millbanke dated 6 September 1813, Byron wrote that “The great object of life is Sensation - to feel that we exist – […] - it is this ‘craving void’ which drives us to gaming - to battle - to travel - to intemperate but keenly felt pursuits of every description whose principal attraction is the agitation inseparable from their accomplishment.” Three years later, when he embarked on his second European tour – in fact a voluntary exile –, Byron felt that urge to “sense” and experience life to the full during his 8-year Italian sojourn. From 1816 to 1823, especially in Venice, Ravenna, Pisa and Genoa, the poet realised first-hand what in Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (Canto I) he defined as “Toil and travel”, suggesting how his idea of travelling differed from the purposes of the 18th-century Grand Tour: as proved by the letters and works that he wrote in Italy, Byron appropriated and transformed the English aristocratic habit of visiting classical and Renaissance Italy from a general formative period into a total, empirical experience based on carpe-diem philosophy and on a full sensorial immersion in the host country’s cultural customs, traditions and usages. Already in 1808 Byron wrote to his mother that “it is from experience, not from books, we ought to judge of [mankind]. There is nothing like inspection, and trusting to our own senses”. And this is what he achieved in Italy, where, in order to satisfy his thirst of knowledge (experiential not theoretical), he assumed an attitude towards Italian people and cultural objects which may be defined as “ethnographic”: instead of travelling and living in Italy as a flâneur observing people and places from a foreigner’s perspective, Byron, at least for most of his Italian years, wears the mask of – as well as identifies himself with – the anthropologist who can understand the Other only by plunging entirely and intensely into it, or by observing it from an insider’s perspective. Starting from these premises, the aim of my essay is to show the idiosyncratic experiential quality of Byron’s life in Italy by looking at the ways in which his ethnographic and anthropological interests for Italian places, people and traditions emerge in his letters and works written between 1816 and 1823. In particular, the essay will focus on the following aspects: the poet’s personal relationship with and representation of Italian women and men; his absorption and usage of Italian language and the Venetian dialect; and his involvement and personal interpretation of Italian customs, traditions and behaviours (including sexuality) as opposed to English culture. The ultimate aim will be to identify and analyse textual evidence proving the author’s cosmopolitan conception of journeying abroad, which combines the capability of discarding original national habits with the tendency to embrace the new culture, merging and integrating in it instead of observing it from a distance. The essay will also show that it was thanks to his insider’s perspective that Byron could avoid idealising Italy and simplistically identifying it as the Bel Paese – an anti-Romantic stance which explains his final disenchantment with Italy and the Italians, yet at the same time allowing him to become “a portion of their hopes, and fears, and passions” (Letter to Thomas Moore, 1820) and to experience while there, as he writes in Beppo, “Love in full life, and length, not love ideal, / No, nor ideal beauty, that fine name, / But something better still, so very real”.
9781526100559
Byron’s ethnographic eye: the poet among the Italians / Angeletti, Gioia. - STAMPA. - (2017), pp. 44-60.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11381/2802932
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