contributor.author: Sarah Dunnigan

title.none: Kennedy, The Site of Petrarchism (Sarah Dunnigan)

identifier.other: baj9928.0507.002 05.07.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Sarah Dunnigan, University of Edinburgh, sdunn81695@aol.com

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Kennedy, William J. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England. Series: Parallax. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 383. $45.00 0-8018-7144-1. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.07.02

Kennedy, William J. The Site of Petrarchism: Early Modern National Sentiment in Italy, France, and England. Series: Parallax. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003. Pp. xi, 383. $45.00 0-8018-7144-1. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Sarah Dunnigan
University of Edinburgh
sdunn81695@aol.com

In the popular critical imagination, Petrarch's Canzoniere, or Rime sparse, exists as the earliest, most innovative monument of lyrical love which newly portrays individual subjectivity, or the interior self: the meditation or endlessly introspective reflection of a lover increasingly tormented by theological guilt for loving not the Creator but a created thing, the golden-haired Laura, who represents both the apogee of poetic art (the laurel tree) and who is forever escaping beyond his desire and art. For some early Italian commentators, though, Petrarch was a resolutely public figure: the story of his love is that of the cultivation of moral virtue and probity, befitting a servant of the state. For Antonio da Tempo, Francesco Filelfo, and others, the Canzoniere is not rooted in an interior world of erotic and spiritual anguish, as we might think, but constitutes a publicly enacted drama about Petrarch's commitment to his Viscontian patrons which, above all else, negated his love for Laura: it represents "a call to sacrifice one's personal interests to a transcendent polity" (65). One of the many virtues of William J. Kennedy's most recent book is that it awakens us to a different 'version' of Petrarch's works and, in particular, to the artistic reception and transformation of the Canzoniere: a text which redefines the nature of erotic, political, and national relationships and which, in Kennedy's words, "offers a transitional space for freedom, play, and creation which permits access to sometimes discordant and discrepant dreams, exurient desires, and tractable realities" (18).

The history of Petrarchan interpretation has been an abiding concern of Kennedy's work, particularly in an earlier fine study, Authorizing Petrarch (Cornell University Press, 1994), which revealed the complex ideological 'appropriations' of Petrarch through the fifteenth and sixteenth century commentary traditions. In this new study, Kennedy's scholarship on that tradition, and his deep immersion within Italian, French and English Renaissance literatures, enable him to revisit, and reexamine, the familiar idea of Petrarchism as the locus of national sentiment. As Kennedy himself admits, this is not a novel idea: we are long familiar with the idea of a "Petrarch who could be anything and everything to all readers" (3). The Renaissance reimaginings of Petrarch range from the commentaries, which rapidly acquired what Kennedy calls a 'protonationalist density,' to the fully fledged rhetorical and conceptual imitations of both the sequence and of individual sonnets which appeared at different times in different European nations but with the same goal of vernacular revival and national artistic invention. Many readers will perhaps be familiar with the nature and currency of individual Petrarchan movements, and with the critical scholarship on each (for example, the French Pleiade or English Elizabethan sonneteers) but Kennedy's book is of immense value in going beyond separate Petrarchan national movements and in locating a broader intellectual and aesthetic context which synthesises these different national movements. The book creates a narrative of temporal and ideological progression from Italy, through France, and finally to England.

In the first chapter, Kennedy introduces readers perhaps unfamiliar with Petrarch's writings beyond the Canzoniere to the idea of perpetual 'displacement' in the Familiares and Seniles, and demonstrates how the experience of exile proves imaginatively fertile for his exploration of both his political and aesthetic identities. Kennedy's conceptual framework is in part a psychoanalytical one, largely derived from Freud's totemic theory, and he uses this model to explore Petrarch's relationship with cultural authority, inheritance, and natio. In Chapter Two, Kennedy sensitively examines the poet's difficult relationship with a faction-ridden Florence: "[r]elated to Florence by a bond of culture and ancestry, he nonetheless shuns it because of the crime it has committed against his family." The city becomes a totemic symbol for Petrarch, a paternal source and origin, which compels both love and hate. Kennedy's later discussion of canzone 128, the famous 'Italia mia,' is particularly fruitful as he traces the consonance between 'Amor' and 'Roma,' and analyzes the ways in which erotic love becomes transmuted into the fabric of cultural history and political activity. This concern with patria will be inherited by later national Petrarchist traditions. Kennedy examines the repercussions of the 'Amor/Roma' equivalence in the commentary traditions. This precise historical and cultural location of the concept of such erotic politics, or political eroticism is very valuable, especially since studies of, for example, later British Petrarchism frequently describe its manifestation in English culture without awareness of its status as a long-standing topos (Kennedy, in fact, locates its origin within Boccaccio). Kennedy proceeds to explain skilfully how early commentators saw the 'metaphorical possibilities' of this transposition, particularly in exploration of Lorenzo di Medici's poetry where "[t]hrough this topos Lorenzo represents his service to the beloved--and to his readership--as an act of sacrifice and abnegation which makes him as worthy of the republic as the republic is of him. When the Petrarchan mode acquires such thematic weight, it becomes a relativized unstable barometer of a relativized unstable history" (66). Throughout the chapters on Italian Petrarchism, Kennedy deftly shows how the image of Petrarch, the "poet and public servant ... a voice of conscience and moral authority" (71), influences the form and subject of subsequent erotic poetry; he is particularly interesting on Cariteo who adopts Petrarchan imitation as a way of negotiating the political conflict and imperialist struggle of early sixteenth century Naples.

In the second part of the book, Kennedy turns to Petrarchists of the French Renaissance, focusing his analysis on Du Bellay's importation of Petrarchan models, expertly demonstrating how "[s]ecular Petrarchism furnishes a poetic vehicle to express an incorporation of Italian values while managing a distance from them ... . For Du Bellay the totems of French cultural history deserve equal respect as guarantors of national sentiment among the clan, having gradually acquired the reflective varnish of patriotic devotion" (113-114). Du Bellay's desire to strengthen and consolidate the artistic and political vigour of the French language in the famous Deffence is analyzed by Kennedy as a work designed to appeal to a new courtly nobility and to serve as the embodiment of an 'imperalising Valois culture' (82). Kennedy's discussion of the importation of Italianate Petrarchism into French literary culture, intended to supplant the earlier totemic models of French poetry, is deft and insightful. Kennedy is also perceptive in his analyses of the Petrarchism peculiar to Marot and Sceve but I found that his interpretation of Du Bellay's emotional ambivalences towards the political past and present came out fully in his comparison of the poet with Ronsard. Kennedy's exposition of the Petrarchism of each sheds new light on their political differences in terms of each poet's identification with nation and patrie, and on the different aesthetic philosophy and practice which made for their 'conflicted relationship' (153).

In the third part of the book, Kennedy turns to that other well-known 'site' of Petrarchism, early modern England, and uses the literary work of the Sidney family nexus--by Mary Wroth, Philip Sidney, Mary Sidney, Robert Sidney, and William Herbert--to exemplify English Protestant Petrarchism and the particular notions of 'nation, state, and liberty' each perpetuates. Kennedy roots their particular politicisation of Petrarch within his Freudian totemic framework: "Their [the Sidneys] provide a stunning example for Freud's claim that in cultural life the totemic dead father becomes 'stronger than the living one had been. Having vanquished an older order by denouncing papal authority and destroying its vestiges in England, the new order takes upon itself the task of reconstituting the former's vestiges in a now changed social and political environment" (165). Kennedy's painstakingly detailed and nuanced analysis of the interaction between Petrarchan reimagining and Sidneian politics, founded on an "idealised vision of the nation which totemizes noble families and their allegiance to aristocratic values" (170) identifies political and social frustration as the particular catalysts their own peculiar literary family romance, as it were. I found Kennedy particularly perceptive in his reading of Wroth's work, and in his analysis of 'Astrophil and Stella' in the context of the commentary which reveals Astrophil as himself a decidedly imperfect and uninformed commentator. Despite the length and depth of the English chapters, I found them less compelling and absorbing than earlier ones; the collective Sidneian Petrarchan 'project' somehow seemed to constitute, for this reader at least, a parochializing of the complexities of political and national allegiances and conflicts previously demonstrated by Kennedy to be at work in Italy and France.

In conclusion, Kennedy's magisterial work is a hugely impressive, and deeply thought-provoking, contribution to the scholarship both on Petrarch himself and on European Petrarchism, which repays rereading, and reflection. As usual, in a work of such magnitude, there are points with which one can quibble. In a work partly devoted to exploring issues of literary and political nationhood in Renaissance Britain, there is no mention of Scotland and the distinctive vernacular Petrarchism which emerged in the late sixteenth century, deliberately modelled on the Pleiade; indeed James VI and I's treatise to that effect is briefly mentioned but misread by Kennedy (169). While the Freudian conceptual framework is useful and interesting for Kennedy's purpose, his adoption of a psychoanalytic and more generally theoretical idiom can, at times, create a jargonistic inelegance (all the punning on 'sites') within prose which is mostly elegant and taut. But overall it is a brilliant and genuinely illuminating book, and one only hopes that his brief closing reading of Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, and her fascinating constellation of erotic, political, and ethnic identities, will bear fruit in another study soon.