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Reviews on Roberta Ricci’s book.

Our very own professor of Italian, Roberta Ricci, has been recommended by the Renaissance Quarterly for her new book: “Scrittura, riscrittura, autosegesi. Voci autoriali intorno all’epica in volgare.”

“I recommend this erudite book warmly not only to Boccaccio and Tasso specialists but also to scholars interested in the gamut of medieval and early modern autoexegesis,” says Madison Sowell in his review of a monograph by the Bryn Mawr Associate Professor and Chair of Italian Roberta Ricci in the latest issue of the Renaissance Quarterly,Vol. 64, No. 4 (Winter 2011), pp. 1256-1258.

Sowell, a distinguished scholar who now serves as the provost of Southern Virginia University, praises Ricci’s Scrittura, riscrittura, autoesegesi: Voci autoriali intorno all’epica in volgare: Boccaccio, Tasso as “an intriguing study of authorial commentary … [that] exemplifies the value of utilizing a blend of primary and secondary sources to accomplish serious research.”

link to BMC Insider: http://inside.blogs.brynmawr.edu/2012/01/12/roberta-ricci-book-review/

Other Reviews:
Reviewed work(s): Roberta Ricci. Scrittura, riscrittura, autoesegesi: Voci autoriali intorno all’epica in volgare: Boccaccio, Tasso. Letteratura Italiana 18. Pisa: Edizioni ETS, 2010. 258 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. €25. ISBN: 978–884672575–2.

Madison U. Sowell

Southern Virginia University

This intriguing study of authorial commentary surrounding Boccaccio’s Teseida and Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata exemplifies the value of utilizing a blend of primary and secondary sources to accomplish serious research. Roberta Ricci divides her learned book into a lengthy introduction (focusing on methodology and hermeneutics), two chapters (one on Boccaccio’s medieval poem and the other on Tasso’s Counter-Reformation epic), two appendices, tavole (color illustrations of consulted manuscripts), and an Index Nominum. Succinct but impressive bibliographies accompany the main sections.

From cultural and historical perspectives, the decision to pair Boccaccio and Tasso seems daring. Indeed, at first blush it would appear that a dual focus on such divergent authors constitutes an intellectual and bibliographical minefield through which less-confident scholars would fear to tread. Not only did the two poets live in different eras and write in different milieux, but their temperaments and personalities scarcely align. Boccaccio is remembered for his multiple alter egos, and Tasso is often adjudged (rightly or wrongly) a paranoid schizophrenic. In addition, their autoexegetical approaches to the texts in question follow different morphologies, described aptly by Ricci as “due diversificate tipologie di autocommento al testo epico” (“two differing genres of self-commentary on the epic text,” 16).

The diverse typologies comprise, on the one hand, the marginal glosses found in the earliest Teseida manuscripts (composed 1339–40) and, on the other hand, the epistolary corpus Tasso produced (1575–76) as the Gerusalemme liberata was being written and rewritten. Marginalia are, by nature, textually internal and public to the reader; letters, by contrast, are external to the text and private for the addressee.

Nevertheless, while living in court settings (Boccaccio in Naples and Tasso in Ferrara), the two poets elected to write vernacular epics in octaves, and the resulting poems dealing with love and death in martial venues represent the rise and the decline of the Italian epic tradition. While Ricci omits to analyze the vernacular epic as a genre, she does, while discussing two exemplars, adduce many insights into the possible intentio auctoris, intentio operis, and intentio lectoris of an epic poem. Furthermore, employing Gérard Genette’s terminology and distinctions, Ricci makes a convincing case that Boccaccio’s “paratextual” glosses, which publicly foster “un dialogo diretto ed esplicito fra autore e ‘lettore modello’” (“a direct and explicit dialogue between the author and his ‘model reader,’” 19), and Tasso’s “epitextual” letters, which privately question his own poetical practices, are worthy of comparison.

Chapter 1 argues that Boccaccio’s glosses to his epic are intended to ennoble the romance narrative and justify the eclectic author’s experimental inclination; they serve to “nobilitare la nuova narrazione romanza e dunque autogiustificare la tendenza implacabile allo sperimentalismo in un autore eclettico” (“give nobility to the new romance genre and so to justify the remorseless tendency to experiment in an eclectic author,” 38). The Certaldese poet aims to mirror in his Teseida manuscript the typical medieval presentation of a classical author’s text, surrounded not only by marginalia but also by “miniature, prefazioni, postille, glosse, didascalie, rubriche, [ed] illustrazioni” (“miniatures, prefaces, marginal notes, glosses, captions, rubrics, and illustrations,” 45).

The glosses also support didactic purposes, such as allegorical readings pointing to truth beneath the veil of fiction or, as Boccaccio writes, “verità nascosa sotto la favola” (Teseida 6.28). When the poem is viewed through the lens of Boccaccio’s public commentary, Ricci posits that the intended audience is not women in love but rather a well-read public capable of appreciating the author’s literary genius.

Chapter 2 on the Gerusalemme liberata focuses on a different type of authorial intervention, that of the epistle. Tasso’s epistolary commentaries dating from the two-year period Ricci highlights derive uniqueness from their being written before the epic was published, contemporary with the author’s revision of the poem. Relying on Mikhail Bakhtin’s theories, Ricci investigates how the letters shed light on the polyphonic or choral nature of Tasso’s oscillating response to his own work.

Unquestionably, the letters demonstrate how deeply the poet was influenced by the political exigencies of the Counter Reformation and his innate desires to create a modern epic in the classical (Aristotelian) tradition. Ricci’s conclusion, with which I agree, is that such epitextual autoexegesis reveals an author who has capitulated to ideological hegemony and is overly reliant on external suggestions.

I recommend this erudite book warmly not only to Boccaccio and Tasso specialists but also to scholars interested in the gamut of medieval and early modern autoexegesis.
© COPYRIGHT 2011 The Renaissance Society of America

 

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