Theses Doctoral

The Stories We Tell: Novellas, News, and the Uses of Casuistry in Early Modern Europe

Burns, Raphaelle J.

This dissertation examines representations of legal, theological, and medical modes of case thinking and case narration in the novella collections of four early modern authors: Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375), Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549), Matteo Bandello (c.1485-1562), and Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616). It further investigates how these collections perform and problematize practices of narrating and interpreting cases while framing such practices within the context of the navigation of daily news. Indeed, keen observers of the capacity of informal and formal networks to circulate information and opinions in unpredictable ways and on scales unprecedented, these authors also used the novella genre—and the polysemy of the term “novella”—to intervene in contemporary debates on the value of novelty and on the merits of popularizing expert knowledge. I argue that the early modern novella’s role as a literary mediator between professional forms of the case and popular forms of the news report was instrumental to its durable transnational European success. Over the course of this dissertation, I show how these collections depict the art of storytelling qua case narration as an essential ethical component of professional casuistries and of everyday information exchanges. I draw attention to specific professional inflections of the case-novella-news nexus, in order to highlight how each author conceives—and makes the case for—the indispensability of storytelling to spiritual and civic life. I demonstrate that a juridical approach to cases and novelty takes precedence in Boccaccio’s Decameron. I show that, in contrast, Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptaméron relies on distinctly theological conceptions of cases and news. I proceed to compare the type of moral casuistry found in the Heptaméron to that found in Matteo Bandello’s Novelle. Finally, I investigate the consequences of Cervantes’ predilection for a medical approach to case analysis, novelty, and news in his Novelas ejemplares. The broader ambition of this investigation is twofold: first, to contribute a literary and historical perspective to contemporary methodological debates on the value of case thinking in the human sciences and in the liberal professions, and second, to pave the way for an exploration of the casuistical foundations of modern journalism at a time when its epistemological and ethical priorities are sorely in need of being reassessed.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Force, Pierre
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 30, 2020