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Nancy Isenberg

Giustiniana Wynne and the invention of Eastern Europe


The Anglo-Venetian writer Giustiniana Wynne has been the subject of three papers delivered at WWIH meetings. Two of these papers examined her anthropological novel Les Morlaques (1788), one identifying it as an early (possibly the earliest) novel written by a woman in Italy (Irene Zanini-Cordi, Bochum 2009); the other discussing it as an early example of feminist sensitivity in literary writing in French (Véronique Church-Duplessis, Bochum, 2009).

This paper looks at Les Morlaques – a story of love, family bonds, and vengeful violence in a ‘primitive’ society - from the perspective of the initially Italian and then, more generally Western European Enlightenment’s invention of the ‘Eastern European’ Other. It considers the central place Wynne thus ocupies in the larger pan-European cultural context of writers that heralded the Romantic Movement’s demi-orientalism with their Rousseauian works about neighbouring peoples to the East, and more specifically, her role as a prime mover of the phenomenon of ‘Morlacchimania’ (a recently coined term), alongside Fortis, Goethe, Herder, Madame de Staël, Nodier, Mérimée. These writers collectively created an outsiders’ folkloric portrait of Slave society, mores and customs – a sentimental portrait that lived on well into the 20th century, conditioning the ‘Western’ popular imagination. Wynne’s work distinguishes itself for the special attention it pays to the condition of women in both Eastern and Western European societies. My contribution to the workshop will consider ways of visually organizing the information I have been gathering on my topic to track the development of the phenomena I am studying.

Les Morlaques, well received in its time, circulated not only in French but also in Italian and two different German translations. Its influence on other writers’ works (in Western Europe) and the critical attention it has been attracting among scholars in more recent times (in Eastern and Western Europe) are also among the aspects of my research that I will discuss in terms of how I need to visualize (i.e., map) my materials.

AsK, September 2012

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