The Genetic Essence of Houses and People: History as Idealization and Appropriation of an Imagined Timelessness

Open access


Marina Fiorato’s The Glassblower of Murano (2008) tells the story of Eleonora, a young woman who travels to Venice in search of her genealogical past and existential roots. Coming from London, Eleonora incarnates a “modern” outlook on what she assumes to be the timeless life and culture of Venice. At one point in the novel, admiring the old houses on the Canal Grande, Eleonora is “on fire with enthusiasm for this culture where the houses and the people kept their genetic essence so pure for millennia that they look the same now as in the Renaissance” (2008, 15). This discourse of pure origins and unbroken continuities is a fascinating fantasizing on characteristics that extend from the urban territory to the people who inhabit it. Within narratives centred on this notion, Italian culture, perceived as holding a privileged relation with history and the past, is often contrasted with the displacement and rootlessness that seem to characterize the modern places and people of England and North America. Through a discussion of two Anglo-American popular novels set in Italy, and several relocation narratives, this paper proposes an exploration of the notion according to which history is the force cementing the identities of societies perceived as less modern and frozen in a timeless dimension. From a point in time when the dialectics of history have been allegedly transcended, Anglo-American popular narratives observe Italy as a timeless, pre-modern other.

De Blasi, Marlena. 2007. The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story. Chapel Hill, NC and New York City: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

“A Conversation with Marina Fiorato.” (Last accessed 23 March 2016)

Fabian, Johannes. 1983. Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes its Object. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fiorato, Marina. 2008. The Glassblower of Murano. London: Beautiful Books.

Fortier, Anne. 2010. Juliet. London: Harper Collins.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. 1979. Truth and Method. Trans. William Glen-Doepel. London: Sheed and Ward.

Grisham, John. 2005. The Broker. London: Century.

Leavitt, David. 2002. Florence, a Delicate Case. New York and London: Bloomsbury.

Lee, Andrea. 2007. Lost Hearts in Italy. London: Harper Collins.

Marble, Joan. 2000. Notes from an Italian Garden. London: Doubleday.

Mayes, Frances. 2010. Every Day in Tuscany. New York: Random House.

Spurr, David. 1993. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing, and Imperial Administration. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press.

Yadgar, Yaacov. 2013. Tradition. Human Studies vol. 36 no. 4: 451–470.

Acta Universitatis Sapientiae, Philologica

The Journal of Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania

Journal Information


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 223 222 16
PDF Downloads 79 78 7