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In Vasto and in London: the Rossettis' Houses as Mirrors of Dislocated National Identities



The places where the Rossettis lived disclose a rich net of Italo-English connections. Focusing on the Rossettis’ houses in Vasto and in London involves the retrieval of writings --autobiographical and biographical -- in which various dwellings host multi-layered identities and memories. The house in Vasto where Gabriele Rossetti was born, the houses in London where his children were nurtured with Italian literature, and the house where Dante Gabriel lived as an Aesthete can be regarded as objects of narration mediated by memory. Gabriele’s sons never saw his native place, but William Michael’s narrations about the Rossettis’ houses in Vasto and in London are conscientious contributions to the construction of family memories. To such devoted acts of recollection Dante Gabriel opposed amnesia, which marked a cultural distance between their father’s Italian house and his own fin de siècle one.\ud Gabriele Rossetti’s native house in Vasto became a mental locus amœnus tinged with nostalgia; Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s historic house in London fostered a late-Romantic cult of personality. However, both the native house of an Italian exile and the eccentric house of an English poet-painter are places of memory. They are autobiographical and biographical repositories of a strong sense of national identity; both grow on textualisation. The house made into text explains why the material preservation of the place was not significant. Instead, ‘writing’ the place allows filling it with meaning, it activates signification, and the houses of the Rossettis proliferate signs of cultural dis-location and re-location. While transferring objects from one country to another, or from one house to another, the Rossettis construe them with deep intercultural significance.\ud Gabriele Rossetti, his two sons and two daughters created a cultural system of their own, rooted in Gabriele’s Italy but raised in Victorian London. It is true, as Domenico Ciàmpoli declared in 1911 with rhetorical emphasis, that the father transfused his strong temperament into his children, who became stronger; but it is also true that such strength nourished different temperaments.\ud Cheyne Walk, with its bric-à-brac and its menagerie, its sombre atmosphere and lively intellectual life was a ‘House of Life’, and Dante Gabriel, with his love for hospitality and need for seclusion, was its ideal Aesthetic dweller. Patriotism and Italian medieval literature, Gabriele Rossetti’s cultural legacy, were fundamental for the poet-painter’s self-fashioning as a 14th-century Italian artist. However, one can guess at what he meant in Dantis Tenebræ with “On thy bowed head, my father, fell the night”: he knew that he would not share his father’s darkness, that the memory of his own days and troubled nights would be left somewhere else, in a place of intellectual exchange, a secluded, elitist refuge inside, and outside, Victorian London

Topics: Memoria culturale, identità culturale, letteratura inglese, relazioni fra Inghilterra e Italia, Gabriele Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, XIX secolo
Publisher: Routledge
Year: 2007
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