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Marianna D'Ezio

Literary and cultural intersections between British and Italian women writers and salonnières during the eighteenth century: an overview

The phenomenon of the British Grand Tour during the eighteenth century took a vast number of travellers to both the heart of Europe as well as the “warm South.” Following a well-established “beaten track,” the travellers would then return to Britain in order to write a narrative documenting their adventures. Although initially an experience restricted predominantly to men, it very soon came to be enjoyed and exploited also by women.

First and foremost, during this period, learned eighteenth-century British women achieved a social status which had previously always been denied to them: that of intellectual leaders of their own literary coteries. They were soon emerging as distinguished salonnières who utilized their private circle of friends to “advertise” their own works through publication by subscription. Within these literary salons the exchange of books and the practice of writing comments and opinions in the margins (“marginalia”) were the norm. The result was a wide circulation not only of British novels, essays and volumes of prose and poetry, but also of translations and original versions of French, German and Italian works. The flourishing of literary circles was not a trend unique to Britain: men and women used to gather together to enjoy learned conversation all over Europe. These circles may have differed from one another in a number of aspects, but they all undoubtedly contributed towards the diffusion of new ideas in an age of radical social, political and cultural change and revolution.

My paper will look at intellectual British women travellers to the continent as a starting point. It will then move on to investigate their relationship and interaction with the Italian women writers they encountered on the Grand Tour. The purpose will be that of exploring the link established between British and Italian intellectuals during the eighteenth century in order to trace possible literary influences on their works from both directions and perspectives.

SvD, April 2008

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Chawton 2008 > D'Ezio

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