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Trieste’s ‘Adventurers of Culture and Life’

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Literary Capitals in the Long Nineteenth Century

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Abstract

Keeping in mind Magris’s and Ferrini’s warning against a simplification of Trieste’s cosmopolitan character, and the pivotal role that commerce played in the development of the city, this chapter explores how Trieste’s financial drive, coupled with its mixed national identity and geopolitical situation, shaped the city’s cultural attitudes and pursuits throughout the nineteenth century, making it a unique cultural centre. Following current theories by Magris, Cornis-Pope and Casanova on border identity, the cultural potential of peripheral cities, and the role that literary capitals play in the construction of national identity, the chapter illustrates how Trieste’s writers, intellectuals and cultural patrons actively fostered an original culture that embraced the multinational financial power of the city and nurtured a sense of receptivity towards artistic and literary expressions from other countries and cultures. In this sense, Trieste can be understood as an alternative cultural capital to the established hegemony of Florence or Rome as the Italian cultural hubs of the nineteenth century. The article ends by showing how the nationalist and irredentist movements that will take hold of the city at the eve of World War I will put a dramatic end to the multicultural efforts envisioned by the writers active in Trieste before the war.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All translations are mine unless otherwise noted.

  2. 2.

    Trieste was granted the status of free port in 1719. Furthermore, large Austrian investments in its infrastructure, and the issuing of a series of edicts that permitted individuals from ‘any nation, social standing or religion’ to settle in the city to do business without any restrictions (Mainati 1818, 142), allowed the city to grow into a large commercial and financial centre. See also Ara and Magris (1982, 18–42).

  3. 3.

    On the history of the Casino and its cultural relevance, see (Cattaruzza (1995, 11–58). 

  4. 4.

    On La Favilla and its publishers, see also Kirchner Reill (2011, 3–15).

  5. 5.

    Trieste’s secular outlook can be linked to the city’s predominant business ethos, which replaced religion as the enforcer of public morality. See also Catalan (2011, 69–71).

  6. 6.

    Work on the railway began in 1839. It opened in 1857.

  7. 7.

    The importance of such a statement will be reiterated at the beginning of the twentieth century by Scipio Slataper, who declared in his Letters on Trieste (1909) that culture in Trieste should embrace its commercial soul. See Slataper (2020, 87-94).

  8. 8.

    On the important role of translation in Trieste, see also Adamo (2017) and Campanile (2006). The interest of La Favilla towards Slavic culture was a direct result of Niccolò Tommaseo’s friendship with and influence on the editors. Originally from Dalmatia, Tommaseo was an intellectual, politician and writer who embraced Trieste’s multilingual and multicultural identity. He also translated Slavic songs and ballads, published together in one volume in 1841. See Kirchner Reill (2012, 47–81).

  9. 9.

    Pascale Casanova has reiterated the French authority in the world republic of letters at the time: ‘In France […] the literary domination exerted all over Europe from the eighteenth century onward [was] so uncontested (and indeed uncontestable), that it became the most autonomous literary space of all’ (2004, 87).

  10. 10.

    A similar concern is expressed also by Goethe, whose work Valussi knew well. Goethe envisioned the possibility of a harmonious exchange between national cultures achieved through translations: ‘it is thus necessary to consider each translator as a mediator seeking to promote this universal spiritual commerce and setting himself the task of assisting its progress. Whatever one may say of the inadequacy of translation, this activity remains one of the most essential tasks and one of the worthiest of esteem in the universal market of world trade’ (quoted in Casanova 2004, 14). On the cultural value of translations, see Damrosch (2003).

  11. 11.

    For a detailed analysis of Svevo’s early reception, see Contini (1996, 77–96).

  12. 12.

    Fava Guzzetta (1991, 153–160) was the first critic to reflect on the meta-literary concerns of the novel.

  13. 13.

    ‘Schema Israel’ (‘Hear, O Israel’) is the name of a fundamental prayer of the Jewish liturgy.

  14. 14.

    From the beginning of the 1890s, when Jews started to participate more assiduously in all aspects of Trieste’s social, political and economic life, a strong anti-Semitic sentiment developed in Trieste, an attitude that the gentile Gervasio, born in 1865, could easily have witnessed (Catalan 2000, 251–300). Gervasio’s choice of San Giusto as her male pseudonym highlights her Triestine identity. San Giusto is the name of the hill in the centre of the old city where both the homonymous cathedral and castle are located. On Trieste’s ‘Italianness’, see Hametz (2005), Todero (2006) and Fabi (1996).

  15. 15.

    On the importance of Trieste’s Liceo Femminile, see De Rosa (2004).

  16. 16.

    Otto Bauer, one of the most important proponents of Austro-Marxism, envisioned the future role of the multinational Habsburg Empire as a federalist structure that ‘regulates matters relevant to all nations and that safeguards the interests shared by all nations’ (Bauer 2000, 259). Every national group within this federated structure would maintain ample autonomy to foster its own cultural and national identity (281).

  17. 17.

    Under her nom de plume, Gervasio translated into Italian the Niebelungenlied (1933), Goethe’s Roman Elegies (1893) and Journey to Italy (1924), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1901), and Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1912).

  18. 18.

    See the diary of Carmela Rossi Timeus, Attendiamo le navi (Waiting for the Ships, 1934, 56).

  19. 19.

    The myth of Trieste waiting for Italian warships became one of the topoi of unified Italy. See Rossi Timeus (1934).

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Coda, E. (2023). Trieste’s ‘Adventurers of Culture and Life’. In: Bhattacharya, A., Hibbitt, R., Scuriatti, L. (eds) Literary Capitals in the Long Nineteenth Century. Literary Urban Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-13060-1_8

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