An Italian Studies Scholarly Blog


Luigi Meneghello and Italian at the University of Reading

by Chris Wagstaff (University of Reading)

The Professor of Italian Studies at the University of Reading began publishing novels in 1963 with Libera nos a malo (a pun on a plea in the Lord’s Prayer and the name of his birthplace, Malo, near Vicenza), followed by I piccoli maestri in 1964. Other novels were to follow, but these two, together with the later Fiori italiani and Bau-sète, told the story of his youth and of an education in Italy which was brought to an end by the fall of Fascism in 1943, after which Luigi (‘Gigi’ to many) had joined the Partito d’Azione, and participated in the partisan resistance. Soon after the dissolution of the Partito d’Azione, in autumn 1947, he had won a one-year British Council scholarship to study the influence of Croce and Gentile on the British philosopher R. G. Collingwood under Professor H. A. Hodges in the Philosophy Department at the University of Reading. He felt more at home in what was at that time an immensely lively English Department, one of whose lecturers, Donald Gordon, arranged for Meneghello to extend his stay at Reading for a further two years in order to teach courses on the Renaissance and the Risorgimento to undergraduates and postgraduates of English. His success was such that by 1955 an Italian Section had been set up in the English Department, and in due course in 1961 had been raised to the level of an independent Department of Italian in its own right, in 1970 taking on the title of Italian Studies.

A modern languages department in the 1960s would consist of teachers of language, literature and the history of the language. Luigi Meneghello wanted something more than that; he wanted to create a sort of Italian facoltà di lettere to lay out the whole wealth of Italian culture and civilisation before British undergraduates, but – and this is an enormously important feature of his vision – respecting all those aspects of the British intellectual tradition that he felt had contributed to motivating his voluntary exile from Italy: its concreteness, its common sense, its transparency, its irony, and its distaste for solemnity and empty rhetoric. No other Department of Italian at the time had a historian on its staff when Reading appointed Stuart Woolf in 1965. But this was no isolated event, because in 1966 the Politics Department appointed an Italian specialist, Percy Allum, while George Lehmann, Dean of Faculty and head of the French Department, created the Graduate School of Contemporary European Studies, and Stuart Woolf himself founded the Centre for the Advanced Study of Italian Society, launching a series of seminars on Fascism in different European countries leading to the publication of European Fascism and The Nature of Fascism in 1968 in a new series of Reading University Studies on Contemporary Europe. Not just the History of the Italian Language, but the discipline of Linguistics itself was put at the heart of the Department by the appointment of Giulio Lepschy. Enid Falaschi was appointed to teach Renaissance Italian Art History, and Verina Jones to teach Italian philosophy, as well as literature. A young literary scholar from Padua, Lino Pertile, began courses on Italian cinema, and a fine scholar of Renaissance Italian madrigal-writing from Yugoslavia in the Music Department, Bojan Bujic, more or less made his home in the Italian Department. Some of the administration of this by now complex institution was taken on by a leading Dante scholar, John Scott. Many people have since written about Meneghello’s extraordinary ability to assemble a community of friends united in a shared intellectual pursuit: they talk about it not as an aspiration, but as an achievement.

Gradually, this Italian Studies model influenced other Italian departments around the country, partly as a result of Reading postgraduates securing posts at other universities, and partly because other modern language departments (particularly French) later started moving in the same direction. Gigi Meneghello, however, has always been regarded as a far-sighted pioneer.

Chris Wagstaff is Senior Lecturer at the University of Reading. He has researched and published, among others, on Italian Futurism and Neorealism.


One comment on “Memory

    June 6, 2012

    I can see what Chris says about Meneghello’s respect for the aspects of British intellectual tradition when studying Italian culture. The problem I have experienced in my work as a research student is that I often feel that the full meaning of what I try to understand can only be expressed by resorting to the opposite of concreteness, common sense and plain vocabulary. And it seems to me that this has to do with more than a language gap. There is always something in Italian culture that cannot be grasped if you use common sense as an analytical category.

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2012 by in Memory.
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