An exploration of Boccaccio's Filocolo--its cultural and historical context--and a defense against modern criticism

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Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved. Posted July 2001.

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While still a university student of church law in Naples, Boccaccio completed his Filocolo, a monumental romance that retells the famous medieval legend of Florio and Biancifiore. To rescue his source tale from "the fabulous parlance of the ignorant," Boccaccio created a marvelous Gothic literary microcosm, an encyclopedia of vernacular poetics, and the most ambitious prose fiction at that time in any European language.
Fabulous Vernacular: Boccaccio's Filocolo and the Art of Medieval Fiction explores how Boccaccio transforms mere "fables" into a poet's high art of "confabulation," forging his own signature devices and pushing the Italian vernacular in imaginative new directions. The first book-length study of the Filocolo published outside of Italy, it argues against the older view of the Filocolo as a failed early work. It shows how the young author's "little book" is ordered by the principles of hierarchy, symmetry and analogy to echo in design the great medieval Book of the World. With a plot keyed to the liturgy of Pentecost, his romance directly reflects his immersion in canon law. Fabulous Vernacular is the first study of Boccaccio to demonstrate these connections and to suggest how his literary practice benefited from legal training, a more positive experience than he admits in his mythic self-portrait. With a range that reaches well beyond the Filocolo, Victoria Kirkham inquires into Boccaccio's notions of literary decorum, the creative continuities that unify his corpus, and the new "poetry" that emerges from his engagement with Latin and vernacular authority.
Victoria Kirkham is Professor of Romance Languages, University of Pennsylvania and a former President of the American Boccaccio Association.

Victoria Kirkham is Professor of Romance Languages, University of Pennsylvania and a former President of the American Boccaccio Association.

[The] cultural depth of the book is a witness to the amazing encyclopedic knowledge of Kirkham, who clearly has long meditated, studied, and carefully researched this work. . . . Fabulous Vernacular is to be considered an extraordinary book, a milestone for study and research on Boccaccio: a must-read work even for those who simply approach the Decameron for a pleasant reading."
---Mauda Bregoli-Russo, University of Illinois, Chicago, Renaissance Quarterly

- Mauda Bregoli-Russo, University of Illinois, Chicago

". . . an excellent and comprehensive overview of the Filocolo as a masterly narrative work. . . . Here one finds sound knowledge, a sensitive insight, and a refined methodology that make this book of interest not only to scholars of medieval literature but also to those already familiar with the major theoretical and literary issues surrounding Boccaccio's narrative art."

- Marga Cottino-Jones, Univ of California, Los Angeles

Winner: Modern Language Association's 2000 Aldo and Jeanne Scaglione Publication Award for a Manuscript in Italian Literary Studies

- Modern Language Association