Under the Volcano: Visitors to Vesuvius in the Romantic Era

Supervisory team: Professor Catriona Seth (Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford) and Jeff Cowton MBE (Dove Cottage)

Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with Dove Cottage, Grasmere.

Wordsworth famously wrote ‘On the Departure of Sir Walter Scott from Abbotsford, for Naples’. Like the author of Ivanhoe, French-language writers, among them Staël, Lamartine, Chateaubriand, Bonstetten, Gautier… visited Naples and were inspired by the town and its surroundings. The environment drew them to evoke the sea and volcanic eruptions, to reflect on the inscription of history in the landscape, from Antiquity to contemporary upheavals. To many of them, setting foot on Neapolitan soil, things were both familiar and exotic. The port was a gateway to Africa, a hub for exchanges between North and South. The archaeological surveys in Pompeii and Herculaneum with the uncovering of frescoes and artefacts drew tourists back to their cultural heritage. The vedute painted by Volaire, John Warwick Smith and other (often less talented) painters graced many a wall throughout Northern Europe.

There is no study of Naples as viewed by late Enlightenment and Romantic French-language visitors. Noli’s 1928 Les romantiques français et l’Italie, Montègre’s massive 2011 La Rome des Français and the rich 2012 edited volume Dupaty et l’Italie des voyageurs sensibles (ed. Herman, Peeters and Pelckmans) give an indication of the importance of the French presence in Southern Italy, but also of the amount of work still to be done. There are considerable resources both in the form of ego-documents (travel notes, letters, memoirs etc.) and novels and poems. Many but by no means all have been published. Documents like letters held in Dove Cottage and the unpublished (and as yet never studied) visitors’ book kept between 1792 and 1804 by the ‘hermit’ who lived halfway up the slopes of Mount Vesuvius with its entries for hundreds of (famous and forgotten) visitors from throughout Europe offer considerable scope for research.

Under the supervision, in Oxford, of Professor Catriona Seth FBA, the student will transcribe and study these documents including the Album de l’hermite du Vésuve in order to gain invaluable elements for the thesis and to engage in a subsequent series of knowledge exchange events with Dove Cottage and the Maison de Chateaubriand, working with the curatorial and outreach teams.

There will be considerable scope for the student, who will have a good degree in French, possibly with another subject like Italian, English, Classics, History, Anthropology, Linguistics, Geography or History of Art, to shape the thesis subject according to their strengths and interests. Starting from the work on the Album, it might deal with depictions of the volcano in French and English texts of the period or look into French as a lingua franca for travellers in Italy at the time and at contemporary multilingualism. It could include prosopographical presentations of the visitors or reflect on the ‘Album’ format as a para-literary genre for instance.