The research subjects
• Dedication is a widespread practice. It can be found in works of very different nature, genres and forms. Whoever attempts a first survey of dedications, will immediately realise how ordinary and socially accepted, almost compulsory, this practice was in Italy throughout the 19th century. In fact, despite changes and metamorphoses, the practice of dedication continued successfully well into the 20th century. And yet, few readers would be able to say to whom even some of the most renowned works of Italian literature were dedicated. Dedications appear in the first edition of a work, but are progressively subject to deterioration, and are often suppressed in later editions: this may be due to an altered relationship between dedicator and dedicatee or to serious historical changes.
• However , even if the dedication survives public and private changes, and it is preserved in later editions, its reproduction in editions released after the death of its author is not guaranteed. In fact, it is almost normal for this part of the text, considered contingent and accessory, to be left out. This happens almost systematically with anthologies. Offered to the public in an abridged or unabridged version, these works may be deprived of the dedication that accompanied them when they were first published. They are thus mutilated of a part of the text that, by convention, belonged to it by birth, but which a short time-span has rendered superfluous, if not even pretentious.
• Nevertheless, in order to better understand the attitudes and habits of many writers, it may be instructive, and at times even illuminating, to investigate this ephemeral and little-known side of their production. Through their frailty and contingency, these liminal pages, that appear in a rather prominent part of the work, filter the historical, social and political conventions in which they were written in an almost unmediated way. In a frail balance between public writing and private confession, dedications sometimes entrust their readers with decisive and impressive statements: in some cases they seem to touch the very heart of the literary and cultural system.
• Either censorship of one form or another, of historical shyness has long hindered a systematic research on this significant part of a literary work. “Lying”, “flattering”, “humiliating” “dishonouring”, “blushing” are words that, especially since the 18th century, have accompanied with increasing persistence the yet lasting fortune of dedications. But are these dedications really so boring and dishonest, or rather, beyond their ritualized morphology, do they not help reveal aspects of a work and of its author that appear to be less obvious and blatant to whom will look at them carefully and without too much prejudice?