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?

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

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

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

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map