Other Literary Forms
Ugo Foscolo is best known for his Ultime lettere di Jacopo Ortis (1802; Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis, 1970), an epistolary novel written after the Treaty of Campoformio (October 17, 1797), in which Napoleon Bonaparte ceded Venice to the Austrians. Napoleon’s action shocked Foscolo, who had previously written an ode entitled “A Bonaparte liberatore” (“To the Liberator Bonaparte”). In this autobiographical novel written in the form of letters from the student Jacopo Ortis to his friend Lorenzo Alderani, eroticism and politics (of a strong anti-Gallic strain) are merged. In the same year, Foscolo wrote a tragedy, Tieste (1797), in the style of Vittorio Alfieri, the success of which owed much to its revolutionary democratic spirit.
Between 1804 and 1805, while in France, Foscolo began work on an Italian translation of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey (1768). This translation was finished in 1813 in Pisa and was published concurrently with an autobiographical work, Notizie intorno a Didimo Chierico (1813; news about Didimo Chierico). On January 22, 1809, in support of his nomination for a professorship at Pavia University, Foscolo published an important work titled Dell’origine e dell’ufficio della letteratura (about the origin and function of literature), in which he promotes a sociohistorical approach to literature.
Among Foscolo’s most important nonlyric works are the tragedies Aiace (pr. 1811) and Ricciarda (pr. 1813). Aiace was not successful at its premiere but today is considered one of Foscolo’s best works. Foscolo’s Epistolario (1949-1970; letters) is outstanding, from both a literary and a political standpoint, and is characterized by sincerity even in the most intimate matters. In Switzerland, Foscolo published his speeches under the title Della servitu d’Italia (1823; on the servitude of Italy), a work which shows Foscolo’s pessimism concerning the then-fermenting Risorgimento, the movement for the unification of Italy.
From 1816 until his death in 1827, Foscolo lived in England and dedicated himself to producing scholarly, critical works such as Saggi sul Petrarca (1821; Essays on Petrarch, 1823) and Discorso sul testo e su le opinioni diverse prevalenti intorno alla storia e alla emendazione critica della “Commedia” di Dante (1825). Through these works, Foscolo helped to initiate in Italy a modern critical awareness of the psychological and sociohistorical background of literature.