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Maria Predelli

Research interests

Please refer to Professor Predelli's recent CV [.doc] for a complete list of her publications.

Prof Predelli's research interests cover the areas of Medieval and early Renaissance epic and romance narrative in Europe, focusing on the relations between French and Italian traditional narratives. After the organization of an international scholarly conference in 1980 on "Il Cantare italiano del Trecento" and the co-editing of its proceedings, she identified the antecedents of a 14th-century Italian narrative poem, "Il Bel Gherardino," in a number of French, German and Anglo-Norman "romans courtois" (Partonopeus, Ipomedon, Bel Inconnu, Lanzelet, and Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot). Her in-depth analysis of the relations between the French and Italian narratives led to a book-length study entitled Alle origini del "Bel Gherardino" which appeared in the prestigious Archivum romanicum series of the Florentine publisher Olschki (1990). She then turned her attention to a second, more intricate case of related narratives, the well-known and controversial cycle of the Wager Tale which includes "romans courtois," exempla, novellas, folktales and folk songs. She has collected all the material and completed the study that will allow her to publish in a book the known Medieval texts of the Wager Tale cycle and illustrate their relations in a substantial introduction. She has, in the meantime, communicated her findings in a number of papers and published essays and edited a little-known redaction of an Italian version of the Wager Tale, the "Cantare di Madonna Elena" (1992, 1993, 1995, 1999). In the essay "The Fier Baiser Motif Between Literature and Folklore" (1998) she explores the recurrence of a Medieval motif in romantic narratives as well as in travel books and chronicles, the geographic and linguistic distribution of which range from France, England and Germany to Italy and Catalonia.

Prof Predelli's familiarity with Medieval narratives allowed her to discover the meaning of certain painted scenes in late Medieval Italian Palazzo, the interpretation of which had remained unknown or was altogether mistaken. She thus revealed that a certain sequence on the painted ceiling of Palazzo Chiaramonte in Palermo (Italy) refers to the Romanesque story of Alexander the Great (1986, 1988), and provided narrative parallels for the frescoes of the Podestà's bedchamber in San Gimignano, Italy (1990). Her latest book, Cantari e dintorni, published in 1999, adds new dimensions to the study of the Italian cantari (a genre comparable to the Medieval English romance but which has not attracted in Italy as much interest as its English counterpart has attracted in Anglo-Saxon critical literature). The case-study essays gathered in this book are important for their methodological implications. Thus, some of the essays explicitly address the questions of the association between the texts and the social classes for which they were elaborated ("Il cantare del Trecento fra epica e romanzo," "Passato e presente nel discorso narrativo dei cantari") and of the relations between text and oral delivery, which was the typical communicative medium of the cantare genre ("Recitazione e mouvance nel cantare di Madonna Elena," "Oralitá, canto e scrittura del cantare italiano tardo-medievale"). Another essay traces the evolution of a figure destined to be very important in epic poems of the Renaissance - that of the woman warrior - through a series of late Medieval texts, identifies the narrative traditions that inspire the 8-canto poem "La Bella Camilla," and emphasizes the importance of a popular poem such as the Orlando in the evolution of the epic genre from early Carolingian cantari to the famous "Inamoramento de Orlando" by Boiardo.

A second research interest of Prof Predelli's has been the study of the "lowest" levels of literary expression, namely texts produced by and for the popular classes. She studied "sales talks" of Medieval mountebanks selling miraculous healing herbs ("L'Erberie del ms BN Fr 19152," 1984) and compared one of them with the talk of a contemporary charlatan ("La ciarlataneria nel Medioevo e al giorno d'oggi," 1980). More recently, she has edited a modern poem in which an Italian peasant narrates his experience as immigrant labourer for a US railway company in the years 1900-1901. In the 130-page-long introduction she provides the historical context of the experience described in the poem, discusses questions pertaining to the definition of popular literature and illustrates the style, language and culture of the poem. The book was published by the Accademia lucchese di Scienze Lettere e Arti (the peasant author was from the countryside near Lucca, Italy) and was the object of a special presentation at the Archivio Diaristico Nazionale (Pieve S. Stefano, Italy, 1998). Prof Predelli has also edited other writings - short poems, notes, memoranda - by the same author ("Il Quadernino e il Libretto di Antonio Andreoni, contadino lucchese," 1998) and is preparing for publication a diary covering approximately the years 1902-1935.

The need to historically situate the immigrant experience described in the poem prompted Prof Predelli to take an interest in parallel writings by Italian-American and Italian-Canadian authors. Thus, she organized a special session on Immigrant Writing at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society for Italian Studies, and the conference "The Uneasy Frontiers of Culture: Writers of Italian Origin in Canada" (November 27, 1999). The proceedings of the latter are about to appear in the journal Italian-Canadiana, a publication of the Frank Jacobucci Centre in Toronto.