A. Manzoni and G. Leopardi. The most representative poets of the period, even if in no way simplistically ascribable to Romanticism, which indeed they do not spare their criticisms, are U. Foscolo and G. Leopardi, who denounce the human destiny of pain and the senselessness of life. However, while for Foscolo the redemption is realized in the cult of memory, in the affections, in the poetry and in whatever else it allows to momentarily forget the misfortunes and even the illusion of surviving after death, for Leopardi the redemption is in the exercise of reason and of human solidarity, even in the awareness that even this lucid pessimistic contemplation represents a further illusion. In Foscolo and Leopardi, and especially in the older of the two, in addition to the recent classicistic experience of a poem capable of emulating the ancient one, powerful Vichian reminiscences are at work, that is, of a thought that would have from then on corrected the legacy of the Enlightenment in a peculiarly Italian way and that had already reached a revision of the conventional image of the Greco-Roman world. Unheard in Cartesian and Enlightenment times, Vico’s teaching is now welcomed in a post-Kantian idealistic climate, mainly through V. Cuoco and his Historical essay on the Neapolitan revolution of 1799 (1801), which comes when the failure of the French Revolution itself has already been noted as an expression of the Enlightenment myth of reason: the advent of the latter in the political field did not give men the hoped for happiness, but Terror, and then Napoleon. Squeezed between the rationalistic conviction that beyond the grave there is nothing eternal and the recent historical disillusionment, the great poets of the early nineteenth century romantically see in life disorder, injustice, pain. Thus, rationalistic thought is defeated in the very act of imposing its validity, since it does not explain what purpose living has, if this is only long suffering.
According to answermba, U. Foscolo sets the problem in some of the sonnets and especially in Jacopo Ortis’s Last Letters, a convulsive indictment of life and the first demonstration of the anti-Romance destiny of Italian fiction, inevitably conceived close to poetry. But, renewing Alfieri’s Titanism in the light of a modern materialistic awareness, he finally comes to the conclusion that the higher impulse towards the good and the beautiful cannot remain without purpose, disappear with the last breath. This is the fundamental theme of the Sepulchres, which bend a now conventional idea to personal spiritual and poetic needs.
A similar animosity has inspired even G. Leopardi from the very beginning, who from the myth of the titanism of action arrives at the titanism of thought. All his work is traversed by a painful vein of piety that conditions his titanism, and it is to be emphasized that Leopardi’s youthful rejection of romantic poetics, of which he also shares the idea of a poem as an outpouring of the soul, pure lyricism. From his point of view, in order to express oneself with absolute purity there is no need to deny tradition, from which, on the contrary, one can derive the example of the native simplicity of a language not modeled on speech, but as ductile and universally intelligible speech, without sacrificing elegance or sustainability.
For A. Manzoni too, life is disorder and evil. However, if at the beginning, not only in external continuity with the classicism of Parini or Monti, the Enlightenment rationalism of the environment in which he was educated can delude him that the universal tragedy can still be remedied, the conversion to Catholicism, precisely while it allows him to find meaning and to conceive a compensation for the irrationality of history, it also persuades him definitively of the destiny of pain reserved for men. Thus, his further conversion from classicism to Romanticism, of which he will be the most authoritative exponent in Italy and the most acute supporter, seems to be the inevitable consequence of the voluntary mortification to which he subjects his own individuality and the literary ideals connected to it.
Realism and sentimentality in the early nineteenth century
The new ideas materialize in a poetic and in minors they give rise to an easy recipe book of situations and poetic motifs. For example, a medieval Christian mythology populated by stereotypes is immediately established, starting from an undue equation between Romanticism and the Middle Ages, even if it is immediately clear that the substitution of one mythology for another makes no sense. The main of the poetic myths is however that of the conflict between the individual and society, which is expressed either in the sense of a Titanism that in minor poets is configured essentially in byronism, or in the sense of a sentimentality that finds its expression in characters-victims, who know they are and secretly take pleasure in being so. And it is this sentimentality that prevailed in the early nineteenth century, so much so that Italian Romanticism was soon confused with it.