19th Century (Ottocento)


Due to the rule of foreign powers, romanticism in Italy was strongly dominated by political goals. U. Foscolo showed his patriotic love of freedom – which was primarily directed against Napoleon, who dominated large parts of Italy at the beginning of the 19th century – initially in 1801 in his novel “Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis” (German: “Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis “), then in 1807 in the poem” I sepolcri “(German” The Graves “), which imitated T. Gray’s early romantic cemetery poetry. In 1816 an article by Madame de Staël appeared who suggested to the Italians to get to know foreign literatures through translations and to ban pedantic scholarship, mythology and rhetoric from poetry. The polemics that followed resulted in one of the basic theses of European Romanticism: art is autonomous. But it can only be this in a free society. Literature thus played an essential role in the intellectual upheaval that preceded the Risorgimento. For more articles about Italy and Europe, please follow Dentistrymyth.

The outstanding representative of Italian romanticism was A. Manzoni. His deeply religious poetry (“Inni sacri”, 1812-22; German “Holy Hymns”) also conveyed patriotic ideas – appealing to the “people’s soul” discovered at the time. The novel “I promessi sposi” (1st version 1827, final version, cleansed of Lombardism and based on Tuscan language, 1840-42; German “Die Verlobten”) is also determined by Christian ideals, and is still the model for Italian art prose to this day. Following the example of W. Scott Historically, he designed exactly a national material, the struggle against Spanish arbitrary rule in Lombardy in the 17th century, with clear allusions to the contemporary situation (whereby the hated foreign rulers were now the Austrians). With “Il Conte di Carmagnola” (1820; German “Der Graf von Carmagnola”) and “Adelchi” (1822; German “Adelgis”), Manzoni also wrote two dramas that break up the Aristotelian units and are decidedly romantic in aesthetic and ideological terms. In addition to A. Manzoni, the humanistically educated poet G. Leopardi appeared as the second important figure in Italian literature in the first half of the 19th century whose poems (most famous »L’infinito«, written in 1819 and published in 1825; German »Das Unendliche«) reflect individual suffering, despair, premonition of death and pessimism, but also patriotic feelings. The Milanese C. Porta came closest to the romantic ideal of popular, politically committed poetry; he continued the tradition of dialect poetry; he was followed by the completely apolitical Roman G. G. Belli, and later by the Neapolitan S. Di Giacomo. After the failure of the revolutionary movements of 1848, a second romantic generation tried to recapture and intensify the intentions of the first. Many writers and intellectuals were directly involved in the struggle for independence or held political offices in the liberal Sardinia-Piedmont (including I. Nievo , M. d’Azeglio , F. De Sanctis ). The genre of autobiography founded in Italy in 1803 by V. Alfieri’s “Vita” (following Rousseau’s “Confessions”, which was authoritative across Europe) found a worthy continuation in I. Nievos “Confessioni di un italiano” (published posthumously in 1867 as “Confessioni di un ottuagenario”; German “Confessions of an eighty year old”). The important Italian literary criticism has its origins in the Risorgimento. F. De Sanctis’ “Storia della letteratura italiana” (1870/71) connects the development of national consciousness with that literature.

Carducci occupies an exceptional position in Italian literature in the second half of the 19th century. With his classical language and the resumption of ancient forms of poetry (“Odi barbare”, 1877–89), he combines the political idealism of the Risorgimento with secular vitalism.


After 1860, for most of the younger authors, the romantic national ideals lost their charm. The Milanese group of the Scapigliatura – the name refers to the allegedly disheveled hair of its members, an expression of their non-conformism – orientated itself on the anti-bourgeois modern French literature (especially C. Baudelaire). Typical representatives included the poet E. Praga, the Verdi librettist A. Boito, the novelists C. Dossi and G. Rovani; Iginio Ugo Tarchetti’s novel “Fosca” (German “Die Düstere”), published in 1869, is characteristic of the Scapigliati’s aesthetics and worldview, which often end up in the register of the fantastic, with the description of a tragically ending passion in which the line between (night) dream and reality gradually blurs.

The model of French literature also shaped Italian literature towards the end of the 19th century: G. Verga (“I Malavoglia”, 1881, about a fishermen’s family of the same name from Sicily who are among the losers in the national unification process) and L. Capuana developed Suggestions of realism (H. de Balzac) and naturalism (É. Zola) with Verism an independent Italian style on an equally positivistic basis, but implemented less dogmatically. As a result of verism, the genre of the novel, which had been little developed in Italy until then, flourished with works by M. Seraos (“Il ventre di Napoli”, 1884; German “The belly of Naples”), F. De Robertos (“I Viceré”, 1894; German “Die Vizekönige”), G. Deledda (“Canne al vento”, 1913; German “Reed in the wind”). In poetry, verism brought linguistic innovations, such as the use of everyday language by O. Guerrini, Neapolitan or Roman dialect by S. Di Giacomo and C. Pascarella.

In the 1880s, two youth novels that are characteristic of the bourgeois zeitgeist of post-risorgimental society and that have been reissued over and over again were published: on the one hand, in 1883, “Le avventure di Pinocchio” by C. Collodi , on the other hand, in 1886, “Cuore” by E. De Amicis; the two works have a moralizing-didactic basic attitude in common, which E. De Amicis, however, persists in stiff seriousness and only with C. Collodi occasionally dares to take poetic flights of fancy into the realm of fantasy. In the same decade the veristic novel was pushed back by the psychological novels of A. Fogazzaro (“Malombra”, 1881; “Piccolo mondo antico”, 1895). The partially socialist poet G. Pascoli turned away from traditional literary language ; he designed the everyday world with impressive symbolism (“Canti di Castelvecchio”, 1903).

19th Century (Ottocento)