Shafquat Towheed

Shafquat Towheed

Shafquat Towheed

 “Edith Wharton e Vernon Lee: idee e influenze”

Quando Edith Wharton (1862-1937) incontrò Vernon Lee a Firenze, nel 1894, doveva ancora scrivere la sua prima opera importante, mentre Lee godeva già di fama consolidata nei campi dell’estetica e della storia dell’arte. Vari studiosi si sono soffermati sull’impatto di Lee sulla formazione letteraria di Wharton e la biografa Hermione Lee l’ha descritta come uno dei tre mentori italiani della romanziera, per la quale fu “esempio e ispirazione intellettuale”. D’altra parte, i critici sostengono concordi che per diventare una scrittrice di successo, anche superiore alla maestra, Wharton si dovette liberare dell’influenza di Lee. Il mio paper riconsidera il rapporto tra le autrici seguendone i primi incontri, i serrati confronti e il distacco. Interpreterò il legame Wharton-Lee da tre prospettive. In principio analizzerò la loro corrispondenza, ricca d’informazioni sui circoli frequentati da entrambe. Esaminerò quindi la presenza delle opere dell’una nella biblioteca dell’altra, evidenziandone reciproche letture, note e commenti a margine e ponendo in rilievo il fitto scambio d’idee che intercorreva grazie all’abitudine di dedicare e donare libri agli amici. Mostrerò infine come il pensiero di Lee abbia trovato trasposizione in Wharton, il cui primo romanzo La valle della decisione (1903) fu influenzato dalla narrativa storica leeiana e i cui romanzi newyorkesi L’età dell’innocenza e L’usanza del paese ne ripropongono le teorie sull’estetica, l’attenzione, la memoria musicale. I contatti tra le scrittrici furono più intensi e prolungati di quanto si pensi. Sarebbe riduttivo sostenere che l’allieva superò la maestra, poiché il loro scambio d’opinioni, spesso mediato dalle opere, non fu affatto lineare. E’ certo però che le idee di Lee sull’estetica, la storia dell’arte, la musica e la psicologia rappresentano una delle influenze più capillari nella più giovane romanziera.

“Edith Wharton and Vernon Lee: Ideas and Influences”

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) met Vernon Lee in Florence in 1894, at a time when the latter was already an established name in the fields of aesthetics and art history, and the former still waiting to write her first full length work. Literary critics have commented upon the impact of Lee’s work and personality upon Wharton’s early literary development, with Wharton’s biographer Hermione Lee describing Lee as one of Wharton’s three Italian mentors and “an inspiring intellectual example”. However, most critics have assumed that Wharton “had to outgrow Lee” as she became a financially and critically acclaimed novelist, one whose fame overshadowed that of her erstwhile mentor. This paper will re-examine the relationship between these two remarkable women writers and intellectuals and will contest this simple trajectory of introduction, exchange and disengagement. In this paper, I will interpret the Wharton-Lee connection through three specific filters. First, I will look at the correspondence between the two, which offers an insight into their mutually intersecting social and literary networks. Second, I examine the material presence of their books in each other’s libraries, note evidence of reading and marginal commentary, and flesh out the transaction of books (and ideas) through the culture of dedicating books and giving books to one’s friends. Third, and most importantly, I offer some examples of how Lee’s ideas were transacted into Wharton’s fictional output. How might Lee’s historically inflected novels and short stories have influenced Wharton’s first novel, The Valley of Decision (1903)? How did Lee’s ideas about aesthetics, attention, and musical memory, for example, help shape episodes in Wharton’s New York novels, such as The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country? In summary, I aim to show that there was a far greater and longer intellectual and creative exchange of ideas between these two writers than is usually acknowledged. Far from Wharton simply outgrowing her precociously gifted ‘mentor’, there was often a complex traffic of ideas, often mediated obliquely through their writing. Indeed, Lee’s writing and ideas (in aesthetics, art history, music, and psychology) constitute one of the larger, unacknowledged influences on Wharton’s literary career.

Shafquat Towheed ha studiato alle università di Londra e Cambridge ed è ricercatore d’inglese alla Open University, dove dirige il progetto The Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945 (RED) e il Book History Research Group. Ha curato i volumi The Correspondence of Edith Wharton and Macmillan, 1901-1930 (2007), New Readings in the Literature of British India, c.1780-1947 (2007) e The Sign of Four di Arthur Conan Doyle (2010) e co-curato i volumi Publishing in the First World War: Essays in Book History (2007), The History of Reading: A Reader (2010); The History of Reading, Vol. 1: International Perspectives, c.1550-1990 (2011) e The History of Reading, Vol.3: Methods, Strategies, Tactics (2011). Il suo libro più recente, scritto a quattro mani con Nicola J. Watson, è Romantics and Victorians (2012). S’interessa di letteratura inglese e americana di fine Ottocento e inizio Novecento e di storia delle reading practices. Sta attualmente lavorando a un libro sulle letture di Vernon Lee e a un volume sulle pratiche della lettura durante la prima guerra mondiale.

Shafquat Towheed was educated at the universities of London and Cambridge, and is currently Lecturer in English at the Open University, where he also directs The Reading Experience Database, 1450-1945 (RED) project and the Book History Research Group. He is the editor of The Correspondence of Edith Wharton and Macmillan, 1901-1930 (2007), of New Readings in the Literature of British India, c.1780-1947 (2007), and the Broadview Edition of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Sign of Four (2010). He is co-editor of Publishing in the First World War: Essays in Book History (Palgrave, 2007); The History of Reading: A Reader (2010); The History of Reading, Vol. 1: International Perspectives, c.1550-1990 (2011) and The History of Reading, Vol.3: Methods, Strategies, Tactics (2011). His most recent book (co-written and co-edited with Nicola J. Watson) is Romantics and Victorians (2012). He is particularly interested in late nineteenth and early twentieth century British and American literature and in the history of reading practices. He is presently writing a book on Vernon Lee’s reading, and editing a volume on reading during the First World War.

One Response to Shafquat Towheed

  1. Emiliano says:

    Scrivi bene torno a leggerti grazie

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