Critics have long paid attention to the importance of Italy for German-language authors, from Goethe to W.G. Sebald, but the significance of German-language authors to Italian literature has been less frequently explored. This dissertation attempts to redress this imbalance by focusing on modern Trieste, which was Austria-Hungary's principal port for hundreds of years, as the point of Italian entry for many German-language works of literature and philosophy. Bilingual, and often multilingual, Italian Triestines read German works before they were translated, but wrote for an Italian audience. By examining the relationships between Italian Triestine authors and Austrian ones, this study both fills a lacuna in the European historiography of modernism and refines the critical view of the Italian literary landscape.
Each chapter examines the works of an Italian Triestine author in light of an Austrian writer. The historical and cultural grounds for the comparisons vary from chapter to chapter to reflect the numerous ways Austro-Hungarian literature affected Italian literature, but the central focus is always an analysis of the literary works. The first chapter foregrounds questions concerning fragmentation, alienation, and the self's relation to the modern city in the lyrical novels of Scipio Slataper and Rainer Maria Rilke and considers them in the context of the comparable cultural climates of their respective cities, Trieste and Prague. Chapter two investigates how Franz Kafka's and Italo Svevo's analogous backgrounds and biographies not only contributed to Svevo's admiration of Kafka, but also helps explain the striking similarities between their oeuvres. Their depictions of realistic, talking animals in Kafka's "Ein Bericht für eine Akademie" ["A Report to an Academy"] and Svevo's "Argo e it suo padrone," for instance, reflect each author's own complex linguistic situation. Critics and philosophers have often examined Kafka's tale as an interrogation of the boundaries between human and animal, but Svevo's innovative story has gone relatively unnoticed. My chapter aims to recover Svevo's work by taking into account the critical scholarship that has sprung up around Kafka's work.
Chapter three explores representations of nostalgia in novels by Joseph Roth and Pier Antonio Quarantotti Gambini, who cites the former as an influence. Both authors depict the experience of loss brought on by the fall of the empire in similar ways, although they do so from different lingustic and national sides. Chapter four addresses Robert Musil and Svevo's "men without qualities," a term that has been applied to Svevo's protagonists, despite the fact that they all predate Musil's Ulrich. Analyzing the characteristics that make Ulrich and Zeno "men without qualities," this chapter examines how these protagonists create the openness of La coscienza di Zeno and Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften [The Man without Qualities], and considers what Musil's titular expression underscores about Svevo's modernism. The dissertation concludes with a discussion of these Triestine authors' reception in the rest of the peninsula and their significance to Italian literature.
Although not as studied as English, French, German, Austrian or American modernism, Italian modernism has received increasing attention in the new millennium. If, as some critics have argued, Italian modernism began at the peripheries of Italy, with Svevo in Trieste and Pirandello in Sicily, my project traces a course of this modernist influence from Trieste back to fin-de-siècle and Austrian modernism. Despite the significance of Austria to the Italian cultural imaginary and the critical reception of Claudio Magris's groundbreaking work on Trieste as an Italian and Mitteleuropean city, comparisons of her Italian authors to German-language authors remain rare. The pairings of Italian and Austrian authors in this dissertation highlight less noticed features of modern Italian literature and suggest a different path of literary influence, which leads from the Austro-Hungarian Empire into the peninsula and can refine the critical conception of Italian modernism.