A European Version of Victorian Fiction

The Novels of Giovanni Ruffini


In this first systematic assessment of Ruffini's literary achievement, the seven novels that are apparently so different from each other emerge as an aesthetically coherent and individualized contribution to the mid-Victorian fictional canon. Composed in English by an Italian exile resident in Paris, they describe interactions among men and women of many nationalities and trace interesting European journeys and pilgrimages during the early days of mass tourism. While thus documenting such phenomena as expanding rail networks, holiday resorts and health spas, the novels dramatize, more importantly, the inadequacy of narrowly local and intolerant perspectives. The protagonists must gain a broadly cosmopolitan vision and sense of mutuality as they pursue the common quest for self-integration and for a purpose in life. A patriotic commitment like that which had engaged Ruffini in his youthful Mazzinian phase cannot now offer that purpose, and the narratives convey strong scepticism about other ideals, such as romantic love, too. More positively the stories contain many dedicated physicians, who practice a holistic medicine and who thereby substitute for the often sinister priests of a corrupt religious establishment. Ministering to the humanity that Ruffini typically portrays as sick or wounded and tormented by misanthropy and guilt, they are the chief mitigators of the bleakness of the modern condition.

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