Through an examination
of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theoretical work and
novels, Della Coletta presents an authoritatively original
recasting of the notion of the historical novel.
Starting with Alessandro Manzoni's classic essay "On
the Historical Novel," she examines the aesthetic and
philosophical questions surrounding the genre of historical
fiction. Manzoni rejected the historical novel as a flawed
combination of two contradictory systems: fiction and history.
He also devised a new form of creative historiography that
attempts to textualize the historical referent by using narrative
techniques traditionally pertaining to the craft of fiction.
Della Coletta then demonstrates how Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's
The Leopard, Elsa Morante's History: A Novel,
and Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose took up Manzoni's
legacies, reshaped the genre, and embarked on a discussion
of the meaning of writing within a specific literary genre.
Transformative and revisionist, these novels overcome Manzoni’s
philosophical impasse by arguing that both fiction and history
exploit the forms of narrative to lend a comprehensible structure
to the historical past. They thus become self-conscious evaluations
of the ideological, aesthetic, and epistemological values
of their narrative discourses.
Della Coletta’s analysis of these novels suggests that
genres are ideological units molded by culture and history,
and that current ideologies shape the literary representation
of the historical past. This innovative case study thus illuminates
not just the twentieth-century Italian historical novel but
also the function of literary genres as a whole.
"...[a] well-researched and organized book... Plotting the
Past exhibits broad knowledge of the Italian literary tradition,
makes relevant theoretical claims concerning the history and development
of the historical novel, and is persuasively argued.... Della Colletta
demonstrates the paradox of Manzoni's legacy as the author of an historical
novel which defined and canonized the genre but who for the same reason
required of subsequent novelists that they violate or alter the genre
itself in specific, compelling manners.... As a worthy example of how
Italian studies in North America are revitalized, Della Colletta's Plotting
the Past is theoretically acute, textually rigorous, comparative
in approach, and informed by cutural criticism; it is aimed not at providing
readers with what is elsewhere often gratuitous canon-bashing but at
re-envisioning and thus refreshing the Italian and European literary
traditions, at making stimulating inroads into our Euroamerican cultural
unconscious." —Peter Carravetta, Modern Fiction Studies. For the full review see Modern Fiction Studies 43 (Winter 1997):
"...Della Coletta's study is a well-organized account of the fact
that what we see in the world is not nearly as important as how we negotiate
it through narrative means.... Della Coletta's study therefore... illustrates
the ethical function of literature, the purpose of which is to act 'as
a mediator between the real and the ideal, between humanity and truth,
thus contributing to the betterment of human nateure' (26)" —John
Mastrogianakos, Quaderni d'Italianistica. For the full review see Quaderni d'Italianistica 19.1 (Spring
"Della Coletta's mastery of modern Italian literature and its
theoretical underpinnings is everywhere in evidence. She is equally
at ease in the fields of historical analysis and literary theory. This
is a critical inquiry worth holding on to." —Virginia Quarterly
Review. For the full review, see Virginia Quarterly Review 73 (1997):
"A felicitous combination of broad contextual and detailed textual
analyses, these readings ... animate issues of genre, gender,
historiography, literary history, and epistemology, all
the while focusing on the construction of what might be
called an 'ethics of historical fiction.' ... This book
is a major achievement." —Rebecca West, University of
"… the book's combination of specificity and
wide-ranging speculation should make it welcome reading
for a much broader audience. … For its mature historical
sense and theoretical refinement, Plotting the Past
deserves high praise. … [the author] has given
us a book that is engaging, challenging, and astute."
— Sandra L. Bermann, Clio. For the full review, see Clio 27.2 (1998): 305-11.
For other reviews, see
MLN 113.1 (Jan. 1998): 253-57 (by Stefania Lucamante).
Annali d'Italianistica 16 (1998): 424-29 (by Massimo Maggiari).
Cristina Della Coletta, University of Virginia, has published
articles on contemporary Italian fiction in Studi novecenteschi,
MLN, Italica, and other journals.
1996. Vol. 12. x, 268 pp. Cloth $29.95 PRICE REDUCED