“A MUCH MILDER MEDIUM”: ENGLISH AND GERMAN WOMEN WRITERS IN ITALY 1840-1880
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Travel writing is by definition an open and hybrid form that encompasses a variety of genres, styles, and modes of presentation. This study focuses on four little-known travel texts about Italy written between 1840 and 1880 by two English and two German women writers and shows how, by exploiting the openness of the form of travel writing, they broadened its scope beyond mere description to provide insight into national ideologies and identities while expanding the boundaries of the female sphere of influence. This study considers the following texts: Mary Shelley’s Rambles in Germany and Italy, in 1840, 1842, and 1843 (1844), Adele Schopenhauer’s Florenz: Ein Reiseführer mit Anekdoten und Erzählungen (1847/48) (2007), Frances Power Cobbe’s Italics: Brief Notes on Politics, People, and Places in Italy, in 1864 (1864), and Fanny Lewald’s Reisebriefe aus Deutschland, Italien und Frankreich 1877, 1878 (1880). In the first chapter, the four texts under consideration are presented against the backdrop of nineteenth-century sexual ideology of the ‘separate spheres’ and the conventions of women’s travel writing. A survey of the long tradition of English and German travellers to Italy and their writings is provided to establish the context in which the texts were produced. Also considered is the role they play in the narrative of Italian nation-building. In the second chapter, the discussion of Rambles in Germany and Italy examines how, by presenting herself as a mother and an educator, Shelley foregrounds the pedagogical purpose of the book, which aims at garnering the sympathy of her British audience for the oppressive political situation of the Italian people and their growing nationalism. The third chapter explores Schopenhauer’s attempt in Florenz to create her own gendered version of the guidebook for travellers in the style of Murray and Baedeker and to revive the memory of the democratic institutions of thirteenth-century Florence at a time when Italians were fighting for democratic reforms and independence. The fourth chapter shows how, in Italics, the representation of Italy in the wake of its partial unification in 1861 is closely intertwined with Cobbe’s own thinking on politics, religion, and women’s emancipation. The fifth chapter examines how, in Reisebriefe, the discussion of the social and political changes that had affected both Italy and Germany in the previous forty years allows Lewald to engage in a reflection on her own femininity and on the role of women in the newly formed German nation. Shelley, Schopenhauer, Cobbe and Lewald each used travel writing to explore their own identities as women and as writers. Pushing the form beyond exposition into the realm of social commentary, they used it to shape public opinion and to explore new roles for women in society.
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