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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Venice Public Lecture - Edith Wharton's 'Venetian backgrounds'

22nd February 2010, 18:15 to 19:30, Room 201, Elvet Riverside, Dr Pamela Knights

This is the seventh Venice Public Lecture.

When she came to fame, as a best-selling satirist of the New York Social Register, Edith Wharton was already earning a name for herself as a cultural observer. Her travelogues of Italy - studies of villas, gardens, art and architecture - sought out the ‘background' beyond the vanishing points of tourist horizons. Searching for ‘another Venice', she looked back to the eighteenth century, to a vision she found in Robert Browning, the ‘glittering Venice of the "Toccata of Galuppi"'.

This lecture will trace some of the changing forms this vision takes, as it enters Wharton's writings, as background or foreground, from one of her first published poems, in 1889, to her magazine fictions of the 1920s and 1930s. Beginning with a glance outwards, the lecture will also sketch some of the cultural ‘backgrounds' against which Wharton defined herself: Venice glimpsed through the eyes of fellow artists and commentators, minor romancers, and, not least, the American tourist, guide-book in hand, the ‘mechanical sight-seer' Wharton so despised.

This lecture series focuses on the city's representation in painting, music and literature since 1800. The period is one in which Venice's trading heyday had long since vanished; a byword for lost liberty under Austrian rule, it becomes the subject of elegiac broodings on fallen greatness, but also a place in which masqued revelry, carnival, licence, and dissolutions of normal perspectives still abide as possibilities. In the period, Venice becomes a playground for the imagination, but one in which the playful and the serious, aesthetics and history, entwine.

For more information about this series please visit:

This public lecture is free and open to all to attend.

Contact m.s.o';; for more information about this event.