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From Notebook to Novel and from Diary to Dante: Reading Robert Dessaix’s Night Letters

Author(s): Roberta Trapè

Journal: Coolabah
ISSN 1988-5946

Volume: 3;
Start page: 129;
Date: 2009;
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Keywords: Australian travel in Italy. The representations of Italy in Robert Dessaix’s novel Night Letters (1996). The relationship between Dessaix’s notebooks recording his two journeys in Italy and the literary accomplishment of Night Letters.

This paper has developed out of a larger work in progress, which focuses onrepresentations of Italy in contemporary Australian fiction and non-fiction prose. Thislarger project aims to add to an established body of work on travel writing byconsidering Australian texts that describe Australian travel in Italy, Italian people andItalian places. In this paper, I will specifically focus on the representations of Italy inRobert Dessaix’s novel Night Letters (1996). My paper will explore the relationshipbetween the writer’s actual journey in Italy and that of the creative work’s maincharacter. The novel offers the protagonist’s account in the form of letters, whichdescribe his travel from Switzerland across Northern Italy to Venice. I will begin bybriefly outlining the Italian itinerary followed by Dessaix that would eventually inspirethe novel. I will then explore the relationship between Dessaix’s notebooks recordinghis two journeys in Italy and the literary accomplishment of Night Letters. My aim is toshow ways in which an itinerary becomes a story, a complex narrative. Reference willbe made to factual accounts and descriptions in the author’s own diaries with ananalysis of their generative role as key sources for the fictional work. This will be donethrough a close reading of particular passages, in the diaries and in the novel,concerning the same event. A comparative analysis of the notebooks and Night Letterscan show that Dessaix’s diary entries relating to Italian places are woven into thefictional fabric of the ‘night letters’ according to a unifying principle.
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