By Andrew Thompson
This examine considers George Eliot's novels when it comes to Dante and to nineteenth-century Italian tradition through the Italian nationwide revival and exhibits how those contributed to shaping her fiction. Thompson argues that Eliot was once in a position to draw selectively on a strong Risorgimento mythology of nationwide regeneration and that her engagement with the paintings of Dante Alighieri raises gradually in her later novels, the place the Divine Comedy turns into a maintaining metaphor for Eliot's meliorist imaginative and prescient and for her subject matter of ethical development via discomfort.
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Extra info for George Eliot and Italy: Literary, Cultural and Political Influences from Dante to the Risorgimento
The Germans were all the more gluttonous for them because Dante had branded them so; Italy was all the more beautiful because Dante had said it was; the foreigner had to be pushed back to the other side of the Alps also because Dante had so defined Italian territory;38 The strong temptation among nineteenth-century exiles was to see parallels between their own condition and Dante's exile from Florence, when he was to learn 'how salt is the taste of another man's bread and how hard is the way up and down another man's stairs' (Paradiso XVII, 58-60).
33 Dante had discerned a true country in Italy and gone far towards uniting it linguistically. 34 Mazzini's Dante entered Risorgimento mythology as the exiled prophet, the guardian of a national culture and language. Mazzinians saw the Divine Comedy as bodying forth an irresistible spirit of 'Italianness' which required no further explanations. In particular, the sudden appearances of the character 'Italia' seemed to be an incarnate criticism of imperialism in the Divine Comedy. 35 These myths appealed to Eliot and, I shall argue, their influence can be felt in her later work.
The great interest in Dante in England after the Napoleonic wars is in part a consequence of German interest. In 1818 alone, in addition to the two essays by Foscolo published in the Edinburgh Review, Hazlitt and Coleridge both lectured on Dante, Henry Hallam published his View of the State of Europe during the Middle Ages and the Revd Francis Cary's translation of the Comedy, which was to become the most widely read translation of Dante, was relaunched after George Eliot and Italy 27 Coleridge's commendation of it.