Transnational Modernity and the Italian Reinvention of Walt Whitman, 1870–1945



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2021
276 pages, 6 × 9 inches
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“We have always known that Italian writers took an intense interest in Walt Whitman, but Caterina Bernardini’s exciting study now fully opens us up to the astonishing degree to which Italy is Whitmanland. Whitman’s reception in Italy, up to the breakdown of fascism in 1945, is not only a revealing story in itself but it also offers a history of transatlantic modernism in the context of the political and cultural distortions of the twentieth century. Bernardini’s book is a case study demonstrating Whitman’s place in Goethe’s ever-relevant formula of Weltliteratur.” —Walter Grünzweig, author, Constructing the German Walt Whitman

“A spirited look at the intercultural conversations sparked by Whitman in Italy. Familiar names like Gabriele D’Annunzio and Cesare Pavese are joined by socialist Ada Negri and feminist Sibilla Aleramo, giving us a vibrant new map of Italian writings. Translation and reinvention transform the very meaning of ‘literature’ itself.” —Wai Chee Dimock, author, Weak Planet: Literature and Assisted Survival

Caterina Bernardini gauges the effects that Walt Whitman’s poetry had in Italy from 1870 to 1945: the reactions it provoked, the aesthetic and political agendas it came to sponsor, and the creative responses it facilitated. Particular attention is given to women writers and noncanonical writers often excluded from previous discussions in this area of study. Bernardini also investigates the contexts and causes of Whitman’s success abroad through the lives, backgrounds, beliefs, and imaginations of the people who encountered his work.

Studying Whitman’s reception from a transnational perspective shows how many countries were simultaneously carving out a new modernity in literature and culture. In this sense, Bernardini not only shows the interconnectedness of various international agents in understanding and contributing to the spread of Whitman’s work, but, more largely, illustrates a constellation of similar pre-modernist and modernist sensibilities. This stands in contrast to the notion of sudden innovation: modernity was not easy to achieve, and it did not imply a complete refusal of tradition. Instead, a continuous and fruitful negotiation between tradition and innovation, not a sudden break with the literary past, is at the very heart of the Italian and transnational reception of Whitman. The book is grounded in archival studies and the examination of primary documents of noteworthy discovery.

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