LS 819: Landscape, Politics and Poetry – English Romantics in Italy

Summer 2012  |  May 20 to June 18  |  Dr. Stephen Duguid
A Simon Fraser University/Graduate Liberal Studies Travel-Study course

In the 18th century Switzerland and Italy were the primary destinations for English and European travelers seeking culture, the sublime, intellectual breadth and a taste of antiquity.  In the early years of the 19th century this lure of all things Italian continued, but with the added feature of Italy being a place of refuge and escape for those opposed to the new conservatism of post-Napoleonic Europe.  In this course we will focus on Goethe’s impressions of Italy during his two year visit (1786-88) and the writing of three dissident exiles in the early 19th century, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley.  Well known as “Romantic” writers, we will assess that dimension of their work but also look closely at the political and philosophic contributions they made to modern European thought. 

With the ‘value added’ dimension of ‘being there’ we will endeavour to, on the one hand, read their work as nearly as we can in the places where it was written or at least from whence it was inspired and, on the other, to explore the impact of the landscape and culture on each of us. Our subjects – Goethe, Byron, the Shelleys and others, were primarily interested in the Classical heritage embodied in Italy but they engaged as well with the artistic and cultural heritage of the Italian Renaissance and lived amidst the excesses of the Baroque and Rococo, and we will find ourselves in the same situation. Whether we find ourselves compelled to expand our perspectives to include the era of Mussolini and Berlusconi in our discussions is up to you.

Course Organization

Pre-Departure Classes

         During March, April and early May 2012, we will have three pre-departure seminars, giving us an opportunity to review some of the key events and personalities that contributed to the development of Romanticism.  Of special importance here are the increasing interest in classicism, the influence of Rousseau and the French Revolution, and the rise of radicalism in England with its attendant repression during the Napoleonic period.

         We also need to know something about the personal backgrounds of the writers we are following and it will be useful to review some of the many biographies available.  Since we aim to ‘travel light’, this kind of background reading should be done prior to departure. A course reader will be made available which will contain all the materials necessary to conduct our seminars while on the road.

Course Requirements

         Each person on the trip will lead us in a discussion of one of the readings.  These seminars will generally be held in the afternoon or evening and last about two hours.  Most of the seminars are based on the poetry or other writings of the major figures we are studying. Those travelers taking the course for credit will complete a written project, the nature of which is to be negotiated.  The completed project is not due until we return to Canada.

Background Reading (recommended)

  1. Richard Holmes, Shelley, The Pursuit (1974/1995)
  2. Claire Tomalin, Shelley and His World (1980/1992)
  3. Michael Foot, The Politics of Paradise: A Vindication of Byron (1988)
  4. Benita Eisler, Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame (1999)
  5. C.L. Cline, Byron, Shelley and their Pisan Circle (1952)

Required Texts

  1. Mary McCarthy, The Stones of Florence (1963)
  2. Mary McCarthy, Venice Observed (1963)
  3. Goethe, Italian Journey
  4. David Gauthier, Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence
  5. Daniel Hahn, Shelley: Poetic Lives

Pre-Departure Seminars – March/April/May 2012

  1. Renaissance and Neo-Classicism
  2. The Reformation and the Baroque
  3. Enlightenment and Romanticism

Seminars in Italy

Week 1 – Venice/Florence – Reflections on the Power of Place

  1. Rousseau in Venice - Book 7 of Rousseau’s Confessions; “Letter on Italian and French Opera” (1744); “Letter on French Music” (1752).
  2. Goethe, Italian Journey,  Part I Until arrival in Rome)
  3. Shelley, “Julian and Maddalo” (1818);  “Lines Written among the Euganean Hills” (1818).
  4. Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Cantos 3 & 4.

Week 2 – The Villa Poppi – Italy and the Politics of Exile

  1. Shelley, “The Mask of Anarchy” (1819); “Ode to the West Wind” (1819); “A Philosophical View of Reform” (1819)
  2. Byron, Don Juan, Cantos 6-10; Byron, “Extracts from A Diary”.
  3. Goethe, Italian Journey, Part I, “Rome”.
  4. Shelley, “The Triumph of Life” (1822).

 Week 3 – Villa Laiatico – A Culture of Sensibility

  1. Daniel Hahn, Shelley: Poetic Lives
  2. David Gauthier, Rousseau: The Sentiment of Existence; Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker, 3rd and 5th Walk.
  3. Shelley and Mary Shelley, Selected Letters
  4. Shelley, “The Cenci” (1819)

Week 4 – Orvieto – Aesthetics and Art

  1. Goethe, Italian Journey, Part III
  2. Shelley, “A Defence of Poetry” (1821); “Hymn to Intellectual Beauty” (1816)
  3. Jean Starobinski, The Invention of Liberty: 1700-1789
  4. The Neoclassical, Baroque and Rococo