Inspiration is the key!
The word “Imperialism” is often (almost always) used in reference to the largest, most known Empire of recent times: the British Empire. It’s equally easy to connect the terms “British Empire” to the authors and novels of English literature which supported, described or simply mirrored a particular time in history. Few know or even approach a theoretical or critical analysis to what Imperialism meant in Italy. In comparison to other Empires, the Italian one was quite short-lived and hadn’t much of an extent in terms of area: officially proclaimed on 9th May 1936, the State was already dominating over the territories of Ethiopia, Somalia and Libya when Abyssinia was annexed and the King of Italy Victor Emmanuel III hailed as an Emperor.
However, to support any colonial action, any purpose of invasion of a foreign land, aswell as consolidating the concept of nation within the minds of people, governments and rulers often used culture. Literature has always been one of the important tools a nation can implement to build up an idealism. Rudyard Kipling‘s poem “The White Man’s Burden” is probably the best example of how Literature can be used to justify or label military enterprises as a duty, a necessity. In Italy, the strongest bond between political activism and literature is embodied by the author Gabriele D’Annunzio. After fighting in World War I, he opposed the decision not to make Rijeka Italian by invading it and ruling it under as a dictator, creating the Italian Regency of Carnaro: it is no wonder he is often seen as a precursor to Fascism. But his contribution to the national literature with a strong stress on national heroism had started way before then: “La canzone d’oltremare” (“Overseas Song“), “La canzone del sangue” (“Blood Song“) and “La canzone di Diana” (“Diana’s Song“) were all written and published in October and November 1911, as the country was invading Libya. They were included in the collection “Gesta d’oltremare” (in English, “Overseas Deeds“). The founder of Futurism Filippo Marinetti was also a key figure in this category, especially in the years when the Empire was founded and based its power on conquest and action: “Il poema africano della Divisione 28 ottobre” (“The African Poem of Army Unit 28th October“; 1937) clearly stands out as the most direct statement defining the connection between history and literature in the perspective of imperialist power.
But other authors, perhaps minor ones, need now to be seen under a new light. They were living, describing, picturing the build-up to the creation of an Italian Empire and, regardless of its political significance, they provided a picturesque and adventurous series of episodes that entertained generations of Italians during the years before World War II. Gino Mitrano Sani, who was labelled ‘colonial futurist‘ by Marinetti himself, published “E pei solchi millenari delle carovaniere” (“And on the Ancient Tracks of Caraveners“) in Libya. Life in Africa, from the perspective of a colonial eye, is here well-defined and raw and the same can be said of his other main publication, “La reclusa di Giarabùb” (translated, “The Recluse of Jarabube“), released in 1931. Born in 1890, Vittorio Tedesco Zammarano is another crucial author in the key of this research: he fought in Libya in the Italo-Turkish War of 1912 and started writing accounts of his explorations and impressions on Africa in the early 1920s, as he dedicated his life to drawing maps, writing, hunting. His novels “Auhertzee mio sogno” (“Auhertzee My Dream“; 1925) and “Azanagò non pianse” (“Azanagò Didn’t Cry“; 1934). In the latter, Lieutenant Forges’s relationships with Afnìl and Azanagò, native african women, mostly emphasises on the dominance of the conqueror rather than Africa’s exotic charms.
In this short and simple analysis of what is still too little known or studied in Italy, one can reflect on the colonial and imperialist perspective that we can have today. The most common mistake is to stigmatise these authors, who are still quite unknown or unread: thanks to them, critical studies can get a glimpse on that convulsive period in history, one which still holds a cultural role in defining the Italian literature of that time.