Eco archive bequest dubbed a 'snub' to US

January 7, 2000

Italy's superstar semiologist Umberto Eco has left one of his early manuscripts, a translation of Raymond Queneau in long-hand, to the manuscripts archive of the University of Pavia, Italy's most important collection of work and letters by modern authors.

According to the Italian popular media, by doing so Professor Eco has "snubbed" a host of American institutions, which for years have been after his original documents.

"This is journalistic nonsense," protested Maria Corti, the retired Pavia University linguist, who founded the archive in 1969 and is now its president.

"This does not mean he cannot leave other material to anyone else in the future. In any case, we already have Eco's manuscript of Foucault's Pendulum and of The Name of the Rose. Pavia has a long tradition in the study of philology and this may have influenced Eco in his decision."

The archive, the Centro di Ricerca sulla Tradizione Manoscritta di Autori Moderni e Contemporanei, is generally known as the "Manuscript Fund". It is an offshoot of the university, one of Italy's most venerable and prestigious higher education institutions, which traces its history back to a school founded in 825 by the Emperor Lothair. It is unique in Italy in being organised around 15 colleges, many of which are several centuries old.

The collection started with manuscripts and letters by poet Eugenio Montale, who received the Nobel prize for literature in 1975. It has probably become Italy's most important archive of its kind, surpassing the much older Gabinetto Vieusseux in Florence. Treasures are kept in 30 strongrooms and include material by Quasimodo, Moravia, Carlo Levi and many modern Italian authors. There are also collections of letters by James Joyce, Ezra Pound and Paul Valery.

Scholars from all over the world use the archive to research material, which, according to Professor Corti, is valued at E8 million (Pounds 5 million).

"The irony is that an archive of such importance and value does not get a penny from the state," she complained. "We have lost some important material by Italian writers."

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