Covid-19 in literature

Published in May 2020

Telling stories has long been a way for humans to make sense of life’s many events. Little more than a year has passed since the beginning of the first UK lockdown, and we already know that huge amounts have been published about the current pandemic, chiefly online and prominently in the sciences and social sciences. In this blog post we present some of the stories authors are telling about and around COVID-19. 

In her book Viral Modernism: the Influenza Pandemic and interwar literature, Elizabeth Outka reveals that, even if the 1918-1919 pandemic ‘faded from historical and cultural memory […], [and was] overshadowed by World War One and the turmoil of the interwar period’, it in fact ‘shaped canonical works of fiction and poetry’, to the extent of framing modernism with its ‘hidden but widespread presence’. 

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Denis Mack Smith, 1920-2017

We were saddened to hear last week of the death of Denis Mack Smith, CBE FBA FRSL, considered to be the greatest English historian of modern Italy. Born on March 3, 1920, he wrote extensively on the history of Italy from the Risorgimento onwards and is best known for his works on Garibaldi, Cavour and Mussolini. He was honoured both in this country and abroad.  An emeritus fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and an honorary fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and of Peterhouse here in Cambridge, he was named Grand Official of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic in 1996.

Here at the UL, in addition to our extensive holdings of his works, we have numerous items that were part of his personal library and which have been very generously passed on to us by the Bodleian. It has been a pleasure and privilege to unpack, sort and catalogue these items, and I have endeavoured to highlight some of them in past blog posts. Very poignantly, I heard the news of his death, on July 11 2017, whilst unpacking the latest consignment to arrive from Oxford. I shall treasure the opportunity to add these to our collections, and remain extremely grateful both to the Bodleian and to Denis Mack Smith for passing these on.

Bettina Rex

The power of the image


Officiolum di Francesco da Barberino (Tab.b.932-933)

The Tuscan poet and lawyer Francesco da Barberino(1264-1348) may not be as familiar today as his Florentine contemporaries Dante and Giotto, but he occupies a unique position at the intersection of poetry and painting in Italy at the dawn of the fourteenth century. He knew Dante – indeed the earliest reference to the still incomplete Divine Comedy is in one of Francesco’s works of c.1313. He also collaborated with Giotto, providing him with visual ideas for the Arena Chapel in Padua. Francesco’s cultural experience stretched beyond Italy: he travelled widely in France to the court of Philip the Fair in Paris and the papal curia in Avignon, acquiring a deep familiarity with Provencal poetry during five years of exile.

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Our window onto 19th and early 20th century Italy opens wider

I wrote in January of a very generous donation of items that had belonged to Denis Mack Smith and had been passed on to us by the Bodleian. A couple of weeks ago we took delivery of a further nine boxes of material, the third instalment of what is proving to be a truly fascinating addition to our collections. The boxes keep arriving, and it is a real joy to browse through the items and to make them available to readers as swiftly as I can (these donated items can be found in Library search using the search terms Denis Mack Smith and former owner). Continue reading

Glimpses into early twentieth century Italy

Some months ago we were fortunate to receive in donation a large number of items that had belonged to the eminent historian of modern Italy, Denis Mack Smith. These were given initially to the Bodleian, but then generously passed on to us, and include a wealth of material about Italy in the early part of the twentieth century. There are works on Italy’s role in the First World War, military and naval Italian history, Italy between the wars, the rise of Fascism, etc.

Some of these are in a fascinating series published by Mondadori of Milan, entitled: Collezione italiana di diari, memorie, studi e documenti per servire alla storia della guerra del mondo. These titles deal specifically with the First World War. There are first-hand accounts and diaries, such as Gen. Eugenio De Rossi’s La vita di un ufficiale italiano sino alla Guerra (2013.8.4788); and Gen. Emilio De Bonos’s La guerra come e dove l’ho vista e combattuta io (2013.8.6007). Others in the series describe campaigns, for example Gen. Pompilio Schiarini on L’armata del Trentino (1915-1919) (2013.8.4757); and aspects of the war such as aerial operations: Le ali della Guerra, by Generale Giorgio Bompiani and Maggiore Clemente Prepositi (2013.8.4783), or naval operations: La Grande Guerra sul mare : fatti, insegnamenti, previsioni, by Ettore Bravetta (2013.9.4291-4292).
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