The volume is the result of the discovery of Eleonora Duse’s books in Cambridge by Anna Sica (now De Domenico Sica). It is written in English and includes a contribution by Alison Wilson. It illustrates and explains why the Duse Collection in Cambridge, which is housed at Murray Edwards College, is a remarkable resource that enables us to understand the erudition that Duse displayed throughout her acting career, and her artistic and intellectual profile which inspired some of the major poets (f. i. d’Annunzio, Rilke, Claudel) and poetesses of her time. The volume gathers Sica’s complex and long investigation to identify all Duse’s books housed at Murray Edwards College, and from it further more remarkable original information on Duse emerges: first, it explains why Duse’s Cambridge family had a fundamental role in her life and career; secondly, it throws light on some aspects of her acting that were still obscure. Eleonora Duse (1858–1924) is one of the actresses most representative of the nineteenth century theatre. In the early decades of the twentieth century, The Times reported that she was still considered ‘a distinguished genius and an unforgettable artist’. There is still plenty to be written about her. Biographers have not covered everything. In fact, her intellectual profile is not completely absorbed, though, since before her death to our contemporary days many biographies and monographs have been written about her. One of the reasons for the interest in Duse lies in her importance to Italian drama, particularly the role she played in resuscitating the Italian acting method of la drammatica. Her technical skills on stage have been neglected. The Duse Collection clearly discloses details of her ability to act la drammatica (see ‘Ex Libris Eleonora Duse’, section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress). Specifically, in letters and notes written to Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938), Arrigo Boito (1842–1918) and to her daughter Enrichetta Bullough (1882–1961), Duse referred to her books as her ‘artistic wardrobe’ and her most highly valued possessions. She made a point of reading extensively as part of her self-imposed discipline as an actress. So fine was the balance she achieved between study and technique, she researched every possible aspect of background that was available to her in preparing for all her theatrical roles. Nevertheless, scholars and biographers have insisted on neglecting her library and, what’s more, it had for years been considered lost forever. It was not true. Her library has been housed in Cambridge since 1919, and in Murray Edwards College since 1962, where in 2007 Anna Sica has managed to find it and reconstructed it entirely with the cooperation and expertise of Alison Wilson (see section 2. Enrichetta ‘s Legacy). As is evident, Duse’s biographers did not then go further than assembling a rough idea about her library (or her literary education, in consequence). And many believed that Eleonora Duse’s books were lost after the dismantlement of her women’s cultural club, in 1915. One of the most surprising facts to have emerged is that the preservation and the concealment of her library is strongly linked with the history of the University of Cambridge: specifically with the setting up the Serena Chair of Italian at Cambridge University in 1919, and particularly with the academic aims of Duse’s son-in-low, Edward Bullough, who was the third Serena Chair professor. On the basis of these data, it has been necessary to focus on the cultural and political events which the United Kingdom shared with Italy, because, step by step, several facts have persuaded us that Edward Bullough played a deliberate role in the concealment of his mother-in-law’s library. But what was that role? Although no overt evidence survives, there are clear indications that when Enrichetta asked Duse for the books she had presented to the Actresses’ House library, Edward Bullough was renegotiating his commitment to the British Secret Intelligence Service. (see section 2.2 ‘Cambridge Readings in Italian Literature’: the Watershed of Edward Bullough). Duse was an enlightened intellectual, too, and her acting took on an ideological character in post-1860 Italy (see section 3.1 Poetry and Politics). Her literary vocation was well-regarded by the most important Italian writers and intellectuals of the time, such as Giovanni Papini (1881–1956) and Matilde Serao (1856–1927). Duse’s acting, as well as her artistic assumptions, was strongly formed by the turn of her literary and intellectual emancipation. Playwrights and poets have had much to say about this unique acting ability. In The Seagull (1896), Anton Chekhov praised Duse as an incomparable actress. She is immortalised in Gabriele d’Annunzio’s verses and plays. D’Annunzio was so inspired by Duse’s acting that he always relayed how much she had inspired his art. After her death d’Annunzio confessed to Mussolini that she – Duse – had been a continual inspiration. Duse was a strong influence too on the circle of North American poetesses, having a particular impact on Sarah Teasdale and Amy Lowell. The young Teasdale wrote a collection of poems dedicated to Duse, which were published in 1907 as Sonnets To Duse and Other Poems (see my Ex libris Eleonora Duse, section 1. Duse-Deus). Herman Bahr (1863–1934) stated that her acting was undoubtedly ‘dialektischer Realismus’. William Archer also wrote that she was without exception the most absorbingly interesting actress he had ever seen. And Bernard Shaw particularly appreciated her accomplished literary training, which meant that she was able to achieve a separate creation for every part she acted; he described her as an ‘exquisitely sympathetic’ actress. Arthur Symons referred to her as the Duse-Deus. Her art, Symons reported, was of course a very conscious art; it was an art so perfect as to be almost literally deceptive, and proof of her intense literary and poetical education. (see section 1. Duse-Deus) The Murray Edwards Duse Collection includes many books (2000), which Duse read, and which still contain her marks throughout. They are a sort of knowledge-map of the accomplished erudition she promulgated in her acting. The Collection comes from the Mrs Edward Bullough’s bequest presented to New Hall by Eleonora Duse’s heirs in 1962. It was given to the College in 1962 by Duse’s grandchildren, Fr Sebastian Bullough (1910–1967) and Sister Mary Mark, Eleonora Ilaria Bullough (1912–2001). At that time New Hall (the later Murray Edwards College) was still based in the Hermitage in Silver Street, and the books it received from the Bulloughs were housed at 6 Huntingdon Road until the death of Eleonora Duse’s daughter, Enrichetta Angelica Marchetti Bullough (1882–1961) The book also shows how Duse was profoundly influenced by the English revolutionary movement of pre-Raphaelitism. She had a huge admiration for the British circle, some of whom were connected with the English Florentine cultural and artistic community. Duse’s house in via della Robbia was well-known by the British intelligentsia who lived in Florence. The British artists, who had lived for long periods in Florence since the second half of the eighteenth century, were instrumental in the Florentine avant-garde movement of which Duse was one of the most relevant exponents. She was inspired by the medieval mood of the pre-Raphaelites’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, which she used to inform her own stylized symbolic acting. Duse’s real acting was as allegoric as William Morris’s, Algernon Charles Swinburnes’s and Rossetti’s poems and paintings, as well as the late pre-Raphaelitism of Rupert Brook’s poetry (See section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress). The pre-Raphaelites found their main inspiration in biblical and literary models ̶ that is, mostly in Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats. The portraits of femme fatale figures in the paintings of Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt were the models that Duse followed in her Dannunzian roles, and she was also influenced when preparing for d’Annunzio’s plays by the medieval symbolic elements in the Austrian–Italian Giovanni Segantini’s (1858–1899) paintings. Undoubtedly, she managed to transform an artificial emotion into reality with subtlety. Her work was complex in its structure but had the virtue of appearing simple. Symons remarked that her acting was ‘a criticism’, and she managed to enrich the roles she played. In doing so she fulfilled the author’s intention as well as conveying the character’s tragic passion. Appendix I The Murray Edwards Duse Collection is a detailed documentation on Duse’s books, and includes comments on the annotations and notes by Eleonora Duse, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Arrigo Boito, which are still legible in the margins of Duse’s books. They illustrate how and why Duse amended the theatrical texts to which she acquired the rights. Some of those books are rare, and have in their own right a remarkable value for Italian Theatre Studies and Italian Studies in UK. This work aims to be the starting point for a more extended analysis of Duse’s intellectual evolution. Any attempt to understand how her reading may have influenced her acting and choice of roles would not be convincing without a reconstruction of what remains of her Library. This is the reason why, having first found a portion of what Duse referred as her artistic wardrobe, I have sought to unearth and revive it. The value of Duse's lost library is evident: her literary story must be considered as part of her artistic history. The Duse Collection affords sufficient evidence to show that the notion that Duse acted out her own personal life on stage was a premeditated misunderstanding, in all probability generated by Duse herself. But the complete reconstruction of her personal library is sufficient evidence to state that while it is a deceptively attractive theory, it is ultimately an incorrect one. (see section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress and 3.1 Poetry and Politics ).In reconstructing the Murray Edwards Duse Collection, it has become clear that it is the best record of Duse’s literary background. It puts before us three fundamental facts: first, her literary education began – or became active – around 1886; secondly, it assumed an nationalistic character in the early 1890s; thirdly, her intellectual evolution influenced her acting. So advanced was her artistic and literary emancipation that she was considered one of the foremost Italian aesthetes. The discovery and the reconstruction of The Collection changes in many ways the reception of her acting and of her intellectual profile, and sheds new light on her art. It could now be said there are two aspects to Duse’s acting. She is first and foremost a great actress, one of the greatest in the history of theatre; but she is also an incomparable intellectual of her time. She herself was fond of pointing out, how the ‘actress’ and the ‘intellectual’ closely (and perhaps indistinguishably) interacted.

Sica, A., Wlson, A. (2012). The Murray Edwards Duse Collection. Milano : Mimesis.

The Murray Edwards Duse Collection

SICA, Anna;
2012-01-01

Abstract

The volume is the result of the discovery of Eleonora Duse’s books in Cambridge by Anna Sica (now De Domenico Sica). It is written in English and includes a contribution by Alison Wilson. It illustrates and explains why the Duse Collection in Cambridge, which is housed at Murray Edwards College, is a remarkable resource that enables us to understand the erudition that Duse displayed throughout her acting career, and her artistic and intellectual profile which inspired some of the major poets (f. i. d’Annunzio, Rilke, Claudel) and poetesses of her time. The volume gathers Sica’s complex and long investigation to identify all Duse’s books housed at Murray Edwards College, and from it further more remarkable original information on Duse emerges: first, it explains why Duse’s Cambridge family had a fundamental role in her life and career; secondly, it throws light on some aspects of her acting that were still obscure. Eleonora Duse (1858–1924) is one of the actresses most representative of the nineteenth century theatre. In the early decades of the twentieth century, The Times reported that she was still considered ‘a distinguished genius and an unforgettable artist’. There is still plenty to be written about her. Biographers have not covered everything. In fact, her intellectual profile is not completely absorbed, though, since before her death to our contemporary days many biographies and monographs have been written about her. One of the reasons for the interest in Duse lies in her importance to Italian drama, particularly the role she played in resuscitating the Italian acting method of la drammatica. Her technical skills on stage have been neglected. The Duse Collection clearly discloses details of her ability to act la drammatica (see ‘Ex Libris Eleonora Duse’, section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress). Specifically, in letters and notes written to Gabriele d’Annunzio (1863–1938), Arrigo Boito (1842–1918) and to her daughter Enrichetta Bullough (1882–1961), Duse referred to her books as her ‘artistic wardrobe’ and her most highly valued possessions. She made a point of reading extensively as part of her self-imposed discipline as an actress. So fine was the balance she achieved between study and technique, she researched every possible aspect of background that was available to her in preparing for all her theatrical roles. Nevertheless, scholars and biographers have insisted on neglecting her library and, what’s more, it had for years been considered lost forever. It was not true. Her library has been housed in Cambridge since 1919, and in Murray Edwards College since 1962, where in 2007 Anna Sica has managed to find it and reconstructed it entirely with the cooperation and expertise of Alison Wilson (see section 2. Enrichetta ‘s Legacy). As is evident, Duse’s biographers did not then go further than assembling a rough idea about her library (or her literary education, in consequence). And many believed that Eleonora Duse’s books were lost after the dismantlement of her women’s cultural club, in 1915. One of the most surprising facts to have emerged is that the preservation and the concealment of her library is strongly linked with the history of the University of Cambridge: specifically with the setting up the Serena Chair of Italian at Cambridge University in 1919, and particularly with the academic aims of Duse’s son-in-low, Edward Bullough, who was the third Serena Chair professor. On the basis of these data, it has been necessary to focus on the cultural and political events which the United Kingdom shared with Italy, because, step by step, several facts have persuaded us that Edward Bullough played a deliberate role in the concealment of his mother-in-law’s library. But what was that role? Although no overt evidence survives, there are clear indications that when Enrichetta asked Duse for the books she had presented to the Actresses’ House library, Edward Bullough was renegotiating his commitment to the British Secret Intelligence Service. (see section 2.2 ‘Cambridge Readings in Italian Literature’: the Watershed of Edward Bullough). Duse was an enlightened intellectual, too, and her acting took on an ideological character in post-1860 Italy (see section 3.1 Poetry and Politics). Her literary vocation was well-regarded by the most important Italian writers and intellectuals of the time, such as Giovanni Papini (1881–1956) and Matilde Serao (1856–1927). Duse’s acting, as well as her artistic assumptions, was strongly formed by the turn of her literary and intellectual emancipation. Playwrights and poets have had much to say about this unique acting ability. In The Seagull (1896), Anton Chekhov praised Duse as an incomparable actress. She is immortalised in Gabriele d’Annunzio’s verses and plays. D’Annunzio was so inspired by Duse’s acting that he always relayed how much she had inspired his art. After her death d’Annunzio confessed to Mussolini that she – Duse – had been a continual inspiration. Duse was a strong influence too on the circle of North American poetesses, having a particular impact on Sarah Teasdale and Amy Lowell. The young Teasdale wrote a collection of poems dedicated to Duse, which were published in 1907 as Sonnets To Duse and Other Poems (see my Ex libris Eleonora Duse, section 1. Duse-Deus). Herman Bahr (1863–1934) stated that her acting was undoubtedly ‘dialektischer Realismus’. William Archer also wrote that she was without exception the most absorbingly interesting actress he had ever seen. And Bernard Shaw particularly appreciated her accomplished literary training, which meant that she was able to achieve a separate creation for every part she acted; he described her as an ‘exquisitely sympathetic’ actress. Arthur Symons referred to her as the Duse-Deus. Her art, Symons reported, was of course a very conscious art; it was an art so perfect as to be almost literally deceptive, and proof of her intense literary and poetical education. (see section 1. Duse-Deus) The Murray Edwards Duse Collection includes many books (2000), which Duse read, and which still contain her marks throughout. They are a sort of knowledge-map of the accomplished erudition she promulgated in her acting. The Collection comes from the Mrs Edward Bullough’s bequest presented to New Hall by Eleonora Duse’s heirs in 1962. It was given to the College in 1962 by Duse’s grandchildren, Fr Sebastian Bullough (1910–1967) and Sister Mary Mark, Eleonora Ilaria Bullough (1912–2001). At that time New Hall (the later Murray Edwards College) was still based in the Hermitage in Silver Street, and the books it received from the Bulloughs were housed at 6 Huntingdon Road until the death of Eleonora Duse’s daughter, Enrichetta Angelica Marchetti Bullough (1882–1961) The book also shows how Duse was profoundly influenced by the English revolutionary movement of pre-Raphaelitism. She had a huge admiration for the British circle, some of whom were connected with the English Florentine cultural and artistic community. Duse’s house in via della Robbia was well-known by the British intelligentsia who lived in Florence. The British artists, who had lived for long periods in Florence since the second half of the eighteenth century, were instrumental in the Florentine avant-garde movement of which Duse was one of the most relevant exponents. She was inspired by the medieval mood of the pre-Raphaelites’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, which she used to inform her own stylized symbolic acting. Duse’s real acting was as allegoric as William Morris’s, Algernon Charles Swinburnes’s and Rossetti’s poems and paintings, as well as the late pre-Raphaelitism of Rupert Brook’s poetry (See section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress). The pre-Raphaelites found their main inspiration in biblical and literary models ̶ that is, mostly in Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Keats. The portraits of femme fatale figures in the paintings of Rossetti, John Everett Millais and William Holman Hunt were the models that Duse followed in her Dannunzian roles, and she was also influenced when preparing for d’Annunzio’s plays by the medieval symbolic elements in the Austrian–Italian Giovanni Segantini’s (1858–1899) paintings. Undoubtedly, she managed to transform an artificial emotion into reality with subtlety. Her work was complex in its structure but had the virtue of appearing simple. Symons remarked that her acting was ‘a criticism’, and she managed to enrich the roles she played. In doing so she fulfilled the author’s intention as well as conveying the character’s tragic passion. Appendix I The Murray Edwards Duse Collection is a detailed documentation on Duse’s books, and includes comments on the annotations and notes by Eleonora Duse, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Arrigo Boito, which are still legible in the margins of Duse’s books. They illustrate how and why Duse amended the theatrical texts to which she acquired the rights. Some of those books are rare, and have in their own right a remarkable value for Italian Theatre Studies and Italian Studies in UK. This work aims to be the starting point for a more extended analysis of Duse’s intellectual evolution. Any attempt to understand how her reading may have influenced her acting and choice of roles would not be convincing without a reconstruction of what remains of her Library. This is the reason why, having first found a portion of what Duse referred as her artistic wardrobe, I have sought to unearth and revive it. The value of Duse's lost library is evident: her literary story must be considered as part of her artistic history. The Duse Collection affords sufficient evidence to show that the notion that Duse acted out her own personal life on stage was a premeditated misunderstanding, in all probability generated by Duse herself. But the complete reconstruction of her personal library is sufficient evidence to state that while it is a deceptively attractive theory, it is ultimately an incorrect one. (see section 3. Penetrating Dusianism: the Intellectual Routes of an Actress and 3.1 Poetry and Politics ).In reconstructing the Murray Edwards Duse Collection, it has become clear that it is the best record of Duse’s literary background. It puts before us three fundamental facts: first, her literary education began – or became active – around 1886; secondly, it assumed an nationalistic character in the early 1890s; thirdly, her intellectual evolution influenced her acting. So advanced was her artistic and literary emancipation that she was considered one of the foremost Italian aesthetes. The discovery and the reconstruction of The Collection changes in many ways the reception of her acting and of her intellectual profile, and sheds new light on her art. It could now be said there are two aspects to Duse’s acting. She is first and foremost a great actress, one of the greatest in the history of theatre; but she is also an incomparable intellectual of her time. She herself was fond of pointing out, how the ‘actress’ and the ‘intellectual’ closely (and perhaps indistinguishably) interacted.
Settore L-ART/05 - Discipline Dello Spettacolo
9788857512556
Sica, A., Wlson, A. (2012). The Murray Edwards Duse Collection. Milano : Mimesis.
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