Geography of a Stereotype: A Computational Study on the Italian Presence in the British Nineteenth Century Novel

Federica Perazzini


Often chosen as the privileged setting for plays, poems, and novels, Italy has been one of the core English literary imageries from the Middle Ages to the late Victorian era and beyond. However, more than an actual geographical space, the presence of Italian locations within the corpus of British literature can be configured as a distinctive discursive practice disclosing a variety of literary possibilities or, as Roland Barthes would say, a situation d’écriture: a writing situation based on the construction of a fictive geography capable of conveying an inexhaustible basin of themes and conventions. But what are the features at the basis of the representation of Italy as a writing situation? And is there a relationship between the use of certain Italian locations and the development of specific sub-genres within the British novel?

Using innovative computer-based tools capable of macro analysis such as topic modelling and words-cohort correlation, in the discussion that follows I will give evidence of the occurrences and the transformations of the Italian stereotype in British 19thcentury fiction. The aim is to investigate the changes in the relative rendition of different geographical areas within the fictional horizon of the novel thus using new empirical tools to test the correlation between space and novelistic genres.


Italian studies; Nineteenth-century literature; British Literature

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