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Transnational Networks and the Italian Reinvention of Walt Whitman, 1870-1930

Caterina Bernardini, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This study aims to provide the most complete and multi-layered investigation of the Italian reception from 1870 to 1930 thus far, and it inaugurates a new multinational and networked approach to the study of Whitman’s reception around the world. I build comparisons and parallels with how Whitman’s reception occurred in other scenes and countries, and discuss the circulation of ideas and trace the connections among the people, events, texts and contexts that animated the transnational network of which Italy was a part. Studying how the active reinvention of Whitman’s poetry took place is an opportunity to explore a series of cross-cultural contacts and encounters. It is a way to investigate how and what readers and writers perceived and wanted to perceive in Whitman’s expression of “America”. For Italian literati, reading Whitman, echoing, “imitating” his poetry, or even criticizing it and opposing it, was always a way to go “beyond” their situated, present Italian-ness, and to confront and dialogue with their idea of otherness, of “America”, of modernity. Reading, translating, and responding to Whitman was a powerful way to question, redefine, innovate, and often attack Italian literature and culture. My methodological approach relies on a combination of techniques used in literary history studies, reception studies, comparative literature, translation studies, and on my multilingual skills. I investigate the history of publication and circulation of critical or creative writings related to Whitman’s poetry in Italy, and describe the cultural and cross-cultural, historical, social and political contexts in which they originated. I look for intertextual connections by reading literary texts in the original languages, and provide translations and comparative evaluations. I analyze the translations of Whitman’s poetry into Italian and discuss their peculiarities, and the role they played in the dissemination of interest in the American poet. I give particular relevance to existing manuscript materials, correspondence, translation drafts, and annotated copies of Whitman’s books, which have often gone unnoticed in previous studies and which I was able to find in Italian libraries, archives, and private collections.

Subject Area

American literature

Recommended Citation

Bernardini, Caterina, "Transnational Networks and the Italian Reinvention of Walt Whitman, 1870-1930" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI10603528.