Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Language Centre


The North-South divide in Europe represents a cultural as well as geographical boundary that has influenced individual nations’ understanding of their history and identity. This divide is particularly prominent in the cultural dialogue between Germany and Italy, and has impacted the construction of German identity. This thesis explores German representations of Italy by examining the Italian travel writings of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Heinrich Heine. Goethe’s Italienische Reise, which relates his travels in Italy in 1786-88, transformed the image of the South in the German literary imagination of the early 19th century. Goethe established Italy’s classical heritage as the source of German cultural traditions and as an essential element of German identity. Due to Goethe’s preeminence in the literary scene, the journey to Italy was used as a vehicle by a later generation of writers to simultaneously challenge Goethe’s authority and distance themselves from his influence. Amongst these writers, Heine, in his Italian Reisebilder, arguably subverts the Goethean experience of Italy most overtly. Heine critically engages with the North-South divide in the German imagination and challenges the privileged position assigned to Italy by German writers like Goethe, who in his encounter with antiquity in Italy, constructed a narrative of ideal origins and belonging for Germans rooted in Roman heritage. However, claiming Italy – particularly Rome – as the source of one’s own cultural tradition was a right reserved only for members of mainstream Western culture, consequently excluding Jews from that version of German history. Heine aspires to be Goethe’s legitimate heir and uses Italienische Reise as his point of departure. However, he deconstructs Goethe’s Italy, thus simultaneously signalling his difference as a Jew to his predecessor while asserting his place in the tradition that excludes him.

My textual analysis of Goethe’s and Heine's accounts of their travels to Italy in Italienische Reise and the Italian Reisebilder focuses on the negotiation of cultural identity through representations of the North-South divide. My study analyses Goethe’s complex attitudes towards Germany during this period and Heine’s wrestling with his place in German culture. My investigation of the cultural dialogue between Germany and Italy also briefly explores the history of the North-South divide and the ways in which this dialogue was influenced by the changing modes of travel, evident in Goethe’s and Heine’s journeys, from the Grand Tour to modern tourism.