Baudelairism and modernity in the poetry of Scapigliatura
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In the 1860s, the Italian Scapigliati (literally ‘the dishevelled ones’) promoted a systematic refusal of traditional literary and artistic values, coupled with a nonconformist and rebellious lifestyle. The Scapigliatura movement is still understudied, particularly outside Italy, but it plays a pivotal role in the transition from Italian Romanticism to Decadentism. One of the authors most frequently associated with Scapigliatura in terms of literary influence as well as eccentric Bohemianism is the French poet Charles Baudelaire, certainly amongst the most innovative and pioneering figures of nineteenth-century European poetry. Studies on the relationship between Baudelaire and Scapigliatura have commonly taken into account only the most explicit and superficial Baudelairian aspects of Scapigliatura’s poetry, such as the notion of aesthetic revolt against a conventional idea of beauty, which led the Scapigliati to introduce into their poetry morally shocking and unconventional subjects. Furthermore, these studies have not focused on drawing a detailed and systematic picture that portrays the connections not only between Baudelaire and the poets of Scapigliatura, but also among the Scapigliati themselves. As a result, the true extent of Baudelaire’s influence has not been acknowledged. This study strives to fill the gaps in the existing scholarship. My thesis posits that Baudelaire’s influence on the poetry of Scapigliatura, almost exclusively related to the first two editions of the verse collection Les Fleurs du Mal, is more profound and substantial than scholarship has heretofore recognised. The thesis consists of three chapters, each dedicated to one of the three most important poets of Scapigliatura, namely Arrigo Boito, Emilio Praga, and Giovanni Camerana. The investigation of Baudelaire’s influence on the Scapigliati is conducted both individually, searching for Baudelairian features in their work, and comparatively, contrasting differences and aiming to locate similarities. The main focus is on the major poetic works that are strictly related to the phases in these poets’ careers when they were associated with Scapigliatura: Boito’s Il libro dei versi and Re Orso; Praga’s Tavolozza and Penombre; and Camerana’s poems written between 1863 and 1869. My aim is to establish if there was what can be called a ‘Baudelairian school’ within Scapigliatura. Ultimately, I argue that the relationship between Baudelaire and the poetry of Scapigliatura is more complex than has previously been understood. I demonstrate a vast and wide-ranging influence – on a conceptual, lexical, and stylistic level – on the three poets discussed in this work, which can be traced back to the very beginning of their careers in the early 1860s. Far from being simply an element of aesthetic and moral rebellion in order to épater le bourgeois, the Baudelairism of Boito, Praga, and Camerana in their Scapigliatura years accomplished two ends: on the one hand, it preserved some of the more traditional aspects of Baudelaire’s poetry, which have been largely overlooked by Italian literary scholarship on Scapigliatura; on the other hand, it introduced a thematic and formal modernity into Italian poetry, paving the way for the Decadent movement as well as the twentieth-century avant-gardes.