Creating and Representing Nationalist Culture in the Risorgimento: the Historical Novel and Medievalism.

Bruno Grazioli

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis analyses the interaction between medievalism and historical novels in nineteenth-century Italian culture in relation to the identity formation process of the early Risorgimento period. The focus of my research is on the remarkable production of historical novels (nearly ninety) from the second quarter of the 1800s. These historical novels became nineteenth-century bestsellers because they popularised patriotic ideals and sentiments that were felt deeply at a time when a nationalistic movement was emerging in Italy, and also because they were largely based on the time’s most popular topic, the Middle Ages. Authors reformulated the concept of the Middle Ages so as to create a malleable category that could provide historical proof of Italian patriotism and whose chronological limits stretched beyond the medieval aeon and well into the early Renaissance. As such, these historical novels are examples of the rich ‘fenomeno del gusto’ that was nineteenth-century medievalism.

Narratively speaking, the novels present recurring patterns, such as character archetypes embodying universal human values. They also depict the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, and emphasise the importance of strong family and cultural bonds. As a consequence, they legitimise the existence of an ethnically and culturally homogenous community of people, which informed the national identity formation process.

I identify the four most successful novels that were written and published in the thriving Milanese cultural environment of 1820s, 30s and 40s, forming the medieval canon of Risorgimento historical novels. These literary works communicate a fundamental message, a universal statement about the plight of Italy and the imperative necessity to take action. To sustain this message, authors established a direct conversation with their readers by means of the literary medium and also introduced extra-diegetic elements (namely historical and geographical digressions) intended to educate the readers. In so doing, they shaped their cultural, local, and national, identity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Pieri, Giuliana, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2020
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020


  • Risorgimento
  • Historical novel
  • National Identity
  • medievalism

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