Postgraduate Lives: Christopher Thorpe, PhD at Aberdeen University

Why we are inspired by visions of Italy

Christopher Thorpe, 27, is writing a PhD thesis on British impressions of Italy from the 15th century to today, at the University of Aberdeen

When I was 18, I worked at a campsite at Lake Garda cleaning mobile homes and looking after British tourists. I'd grown up watching Football Italia and I'd imagined this wonderful place where people spent their time talking about football and eating ice cream. It was that facile.

Today, I'm fluent in Italian and enjoy Italian film and literature, especially the work of Pasolini and the Modernist writings of Pirandello, Moravia and Calvino. And now my PhD is provisionally entitled: "Imagining Italy: Britain and the vision of Italy from Chaucer to the present day." I'm looking at the way we think about Italians and their culture, art, fashion and food from a sociological perspective, and why the British have sought out Italy as a travel destination.

I've divided my research into five periods: Elizabethan, Classical, Romantic, Victorian and the present day. Since the 15th century, the British have turned to Italy as a source of inspiration - philosophical, literary or artistic. To begin with, it was the aristocrats, but in the Victorian period the upper bourgeoisie started going to Italy - professional classes like lawyers and bankers - much to the aristocrats' disgust. But the Victorians were often intimidated by Italy; it was traditionally a destination for self-styled connoisseurs with cultural capital (knowledge about "good" food, music, literature and so on).

On one level, little has changed. You still won't find low-income family packages to Italy. But what's interesting is that in the 21st century, as our class structure has changed and we don't have an aristocracy, Italy is marketed to different audiences. Lifestyle magazines such as Italia! are aimed at the middle classes; "Chiantishire" in Tuscany is for the affluent business set, and then there's the downgraded version, like the Italy promotions by McDonald's.

Italy has always been viewed as artistically better than us, and it is still venerated in lots of areas; put "Italian" on a pair of shoes and they are instantly desirable. We have inherited that Victorian legacy, although today Italy has less mass appeal to travellers and holidaymakers.

I hope one day to quit the gloom of Britain for the "Lydian laughter" of Tennyson's Lake Garda. But I want to be an academic, and academia in Italy is largely impenetrable for foreigners. For my PhD, I'm lucky because Aberdeen has original travelogues going back to the 1660s.

I'd like to turn my thesis into a book. What I'm saying is: here are the visions of Italy, but why do we have these ones?

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk