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Struttura e lingua: Le novelle del Malespini e altra letteratura fra Cinque e Seicento.

Struttura e lingua: Le novelle del Malespini e altra letteratura fra Cinque e Seicento. By BRUNO PORCELLI. Naples: Loffredo. 1995. 452 pp. 42,000 lire.

This collection of essays by one of the senior Italianists of the University of Pisa usefully gathers together in a single volume a series of articles and conference papers that have previously existed scattered, like the Sybil's leaves, in a number of different journals and conference proceedings, published both in Italy and abroad. The earliest of the contributions here dates from 1977, the most recent from 1992.

The volume is divided into two parts, respectively treating the Duecento Novelle of Celio Malespini, a central concern of Bruno Porcelli's research, and developments in a range of genres and authors in the late Cinquecento and early Seicento, including Tasso, Michelangelo Buonarroti il Giovane, Marino, and Basile. In gathering together these essays, originally conceived quite independently of each other, Porcelli has reflected upon the 'tematica' of each, the core preoccupations and implications, and here seeks to give an overall unity to the volume in the common unifying theme of structure and language, which, though arising for different reasons and viewed from different perspectives, is seen as the underlying thrust of each of the pieces collected here. More explicitly, as Porcelli outlines in the brief preface, he aims, where Malespini is concerned, to focus critical attention once more on literary and stylistic analysis, moving away from the autobiographical emphasis that has dominated previous scholarship on the late Cinquecento novellista. This unifying principle works reasonably well for the Malespini studies, which are also the more recent of the two parts, but seems to break down rather, as Porcelli himself appears to recognize, for the more disparate, earlier essays of the second part, many of which in fact deal with only one of the two poles represented by the title.

There are nine essays devoted to Malespini, of which the last two, 'Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles nelle Duecento Novelle' and 'Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles nel Cinquecento italiano' are as much concerned with the French novella collection and act as a bridge between Parts I and II of the volume. The essays devoted exclusively to Malespini include a study of the structure of the collection, the chronology of the composition both of the individual stories and of the collection as a whole, a study of the 'novelle autobiografiche', of words and phrases, and other linguistic particularities of Malespini's oeuvre, of the figure of the pedant (charmingly entitled 'Il pidocchio sulla veste'), and an analysis of two hitherto unexamined letters of Malespini dating from 1593. Of these the most interesting, particularly for the breadth of perspective and the useful information conveyed in respect of Malespini's place in the novella tradition and in the literary circles of his time, are the first three. In examining the structural principles of the Duecento Novelle, Porcelli reveals both the inconsistencies of Malespini's writing (due often to incomplete, even careless adaptation of novelle to an Italian context) and also, strikingly, the predominance of Venice and Florence as the preferred settings of the stories, giving rise to stimulating points of comparison and contrast in respect of choice of subject-matter and assumed interests of the readership. Porcelli's interest in the autobiographical nature of much of Malespini's writing is already evident here: as he points out, the settings and social classes of characters of the Venetian stories reflect Malespini's relatively lowly status in that city in contrast with the much higher social class of the characters of the Florentine stories, a city where his own social standing was much higher. Similarly Malespini's idiosyncratic and inventive, almost Rabelaisian approach to diction is already announced here in the section of this essay on the speech of foreigners in these tales.

Both the chapter on chronology and, self-evidently, that on the 'novelle auto-biografiche' continue to display, in spite of Porcelli's aims, a strongly autobiographical critical emphasis, but the first of these also reveals a cunning side to Malespini's nature, as Porcelli demonstrates how, when stories concern historical individuals, these were mostly dead by the time of the publication of the Duecento Novelle and thus unable to attack Malespini for libel!

Porcelli's studies of Malespini's language are of their nature of more specialist interest, but they reveal a fascinating and complex linguistics and metalinguistics in the Duecento Novelle and it is a pity, given the detail of these chapters, that the volume contains no linguistic index, and it is thus difficult for the student of late Cinquecento Italian to check quickly the topics treated here by Porcelli.

Among the essays of the second part, there is a full and rewarding study on Tasso, 'Dalla Liberata alla Conquistata ovvero la fine di un difficile equilibrio' on the relative influence of the Homeric and Vergilian epic models in the two versions of Tasso's poem. This is followed by two studies of Buonarroti il Giovane's Fiera, both in different ways concerned with the various editions of this work; a study of the little-known seventeenth-century novel Amorosa Clarice, by Ferdinando Donno; two essays on Marino's Adone, principally devoted to an analysis of Cantos 12 and 14 and analysing the sources and parallels for the subject-matter of these cantos, and in conclusion, a series of notes 'per un'edizione delle opere del Basile' urging a new edition of Lo cunto de li cunti, a more general study of the language and style of seventeenth-century Neapolitan writers, and a study of the sources, parallels, and influences on the collection of novelle produced by the Accademia degli Incogniti.

As the bulk of the essays makes clear, Porcelli's chief concern is the novella tradition in the late Renaissance and Baroque Italy. The dual thrust of this volume, to see the essays as the product of their times reflecting social reality and yet intimately linked to a long and prolific literary genre, not just Italian but also European, should commend this volume both to Italianists and also to students of European literature and to social historians.

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Author:Everson, Jane E.
Publication:The Modern Language Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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