Book (manuscript currently under submission)

Boccaccio's Arboretum: Prickly Humor, Flowering Fiction

by Sarah Luehrman Axelrod

Abstract:  Umorismo as Luigi Pirandello defines it is distinct from the general body of literary material meant to invoke laughter. It consciously turns rhetorical convention on its head: it creates unexpected oppositions through conscious and careful use of certain types of language in contexts where it is not expected. The aim of this study is to offer readers new ways to approach Giovanni Boccaccio’s lesser-known works as fundamentally humorous texts, among other things, and to observe how they are crafted and what sets them apart from other works to which one might compare them. The author argues that Boccaccio created the Amorosa visione, the Teseida delle nozze di Emilia, the Elegia di Madonna Fiammetta, and the De mulieribus claris with a sense of umorismo, that is to say, by playing with the conventions that each book’s respective genre invokes and then subverting expectations set up by those conventions.  The dissertation examines each of these four works in its own chapter, with special attention to authorial voice, fictionality, narrative strategies, and intertextual practices. It relies chiefly on close readings of the texts themselves, in the original language first and foremost, and it attempts to draw out the humor in the way they have been composed, often a result of play between their content and their structure and style. Ultimately, the umorismo in these works is, as Pirandello would agree it should be, not immediately evident: it takes patience and close reading to uncover. Boccaccio is staunchly in favor of critical and persistent reading as a necessary value that all poetry and fiction should require. His treatise in the Genealogia deorum gentilium on how readers should interact with books explicitly promotes the sort of reading required to perceive and parse the umorismo within his texts.

Revised and adapted from the doctoral dissertation: Umorismo and critical reading in Boccaccio's vernacular and Latin opere 'minori' by Sarah Luehrman Axelrod, May 2015