No country on the European Continent has captivated the English imagination so completely and for so long as Italy. As with two magnetic poles, unlikes attract. Italy has been said not to challenge the British at any of the pursuits they are best at.
For centuries the British have been susceptible to the charms of Italy – “il bel paese, là dove il sì suona”, “where things happen”, wrote E.M. Forster in his early draft of A Room with a View.
In his ‘Italian novels’ Forster invokes a long-established tradition of representing English travel to Southern Europe and the long-standing North-South dichotomy by sharply contrasting England with Italy – the chief topic focused on in this dissertation.
Using imagology as a methodological instrument, I explore the aspects that travel literature highlights as a major source of images of Italy in literary and ethnographic representations, while concentrating on the impact Italy had on Forster and how it grew on him, so providing material for his novels. The role the ‘Spirit of Place’ played in the interrelatedness between the historic Grand Tour, Forster’s version rooted in Tuscany, and his characters’ Italian experiences, is a second focus of attention.
A Room with a View and Where Angels Fear to Tread, which have been customarily called Forster’s ‘Italian novels’, invite a close examination of the intricate links that polarise images: of middle-upper class Englishness against what he saw represented in the Italian character – a unique capacity for spontaneity combined with warmth, sunshine, romance, adventure, violence, and sensual pleasure. In these two novels such features are found in conflict with features that Forster saw as centred on repressive proprieties and conventions that were heightened by adverse atmospheric and historic constraints.
Forster’s experience as a globetrotter allowed him to become a firm advocate of multiculturalism. He diagnosed the ailing England of his times and offered literary responses. I argue that Forster uses Italy, which works on his characters as an exhilarating, saving source of power, as a remedy for England’s malaise – a malaise that, he said, produced people “with well-developed bodies, fairly developed minds, and undeveloped hearts” (in his essay “Notes on the English Character”, 1936); these, when confronted by alterity/foreignness, need an education of the “heart”. Under the spell of Tuscan light and landscape, his more opened-minded protagonists are awakened by their exposure to Italy, a spiritual home where their hearts dwell and become developed.