The present study "A journey along a lifetime: the Albania of Edith Durham, pioneer of land ethnography in the early twentieth century", of which we publish today the first episode, is part of the research project "The image of the Albanie à partir des récits de voyage des XIXe and XXe siècles, notamment à travers les œuvres of Edith Durham (High Albania, 1909), Alexandre Degrand (Souvenirs de la Haute Albanie, 1901), Ugo Ojetti (Albania, 1902) » in progress at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (France).
The text, published exclusively for AlbaniaNews, translates and integrates the report "A voyage qui dure toute un vie: the Albanie d'Edith Durham, pionnière de l'ethnologie de terrain au début du XXe siècle" presented 3 December 2011 a Brussels in the conference "Voyages d'antan en terres albanaises".
The quotations from the works of Edith Durham reported in the text are translated for the first time in Italian. The following episodes will be published Saturday 11, 18, 25 February and 3 March.
1. From Childe Harold to High Albania: 1809 - 1909
In the English language literature, the history of the image of Albania is marked by two fundamental dates, including a whole century, from 1809 to 1909, that is from Lord Byron's journey to the publication of High Albania1) by Edith Durham, the traveler - ethnographer to whom this study is dedicated.
It was in the last months of the 1809 that the English poet George Gordon Byron visited the south of Albania. He had 21 years and, like many young European intellectuals of his time, had undertaken the Grand Tour, the journey of cultural formation in the Mediterranean countries. Having left England in July, he had traveled between Portugal, Spain and Malta.
At the end of September, the small Albanian city that was conquered by Greece during the first Balkan war landed in Prevesa. As told by Sir John Cam Hobhouse, the politician and memorialist who was his traveling companion, it was the case to lead them to the shores of those places to which Byron dedicated some of the most famous rooms of the Childe Harold, the poem that marked the entry of the author and of Albania into the great European literature. At the beginning of the first chapter of the Travels in Albania and other provinces of Turkey in 1809 & 1810, Hobhouse writes:
Travels in Albania and other provinces of Turkey in 1809 & 1810
"Lord Byron and I, after a three-week stay in Malta, and having long hesitated whether we should go to Smyrna or some port in European Turkey, we were eventually led to choose the second chance, for one of those cases that often , in spite of the plans already drawn up, they decide the behavior of the travelers. A war schooner, the Spider, had been ordered to escort fifty small merchant ships to Patras, the main port on the western side of the Morea, and to Prevesa, a town on the coast of Albania. [...] The 19 September 1809 set sail from Malta " 2).
Nine days later, on an evening of torrential rain, Byron and Hobhouse landed at Prevesa. From there they went to Janina, capital of the homonymous pasturata (one of the provinces subjected to Turkish domination) to the powerful Alì of Tepelena, and visited the whole region, which Byron celebrated in verses and prose overflowing with enthusiasm. The first two songs of the Childe Harold Pilgrimage, published in the 1812, they had immediate success: as soon as they were put into circulation, they were sold out within a few days.
"I woke up one morning and found myself famous," the poet noted in his memoirs. Byron's work paved the way for countless other European writers - travelers, who arrived in Albania in the footsteps of the English poet, seeking in the small Balkan country an "elsewhere", so to speak, domestic, in the heart of Europe, physically accessible in times past relatively short, and at the same time sufficiently exotic to set literary fantasies.
A hundred years after the Childe Harold, it was still an English book to call the attention of European readers to the Country of the Eagles. This time it was an entire volume, the result of years of study, travel and research in the field of one of the most passionate British women travelers of the twentieth century. Published in the 1909, one of the fundamental texts on the subject of Albania, its spirit and its cultural heritage remains: we are talking about High Albania by Edith Durham.
The two representations, namely the image of Albania offered by Byron and the one that emerges from Durham's work, could not be more different from each other. Beyond the obvious differences related to the personality of the two authors, their formation and specific interests, the most obvious "distance" already emerges in territorial terms.
Where the young poet was inspired by the southern Albanian atmospheres and environments, on the border with Greece, the 37-year-old Edith Durham (born in 1863, it was in 1900 that, following a trip to Montenegro, began to take an interest in Albania) dedicated to the northern mountains, the region which to this day remains in some respects impenetrable, the most strongly conservative of centuries-old traditions, which made it the ideal substratum for an ethnological research.
Another substantial difference is linked to the two different historical-literary phases: while the Byron poem was composed in full romantic era, with all that derives from it in terms of fascination for the Orientalizing exoticism and for classical antiquity, whose historical and archaeological evidence abounds in particular in southern Albania, the work of Durham is placed at the beginning of the twentieth century, in a phase characterized by a new perspective, thanks to which places and populations were observed within the framework of their socio-cultural context : it was the typical method of the ethnographic approach, which constitutes what, in our opinion, represents, as we shall see, one of the most characteristic and innovative features of the work of Edith Durham.
And it can be reasonably assumed that the same author, who also occasionally in the course of her books (written both before and after High Albania) willingly quotes the Childe Harold, claimed with legitimate awareness the novelty of his work compared to that of the many epigones of Byron, when, already in the first lines of High Albania, claims to have specifically chosen to visit the northern regions "because the conditions that prevail there are very different from those in southern Albania, and it is precisely to the most primitive territories of Upper Albania that this book is dedicated" 3).
- Edith DURHAM, High Albania, London, Edward Arnold, 1909
- Baron John Cam HOBHOUSE, Travels in Albania and other provinces of Turkey in 1809 & 1810, London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1858, Vol. I, p. 2 (personal translation)
- Edith DURHAM, High Albania, London, Edward Arnold, 1909, p. 9 (personal translation)
- Illustrations taken from: Edith DURHAM, "High Albania and Its Customs in 1908", in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. XL, July-December, 1910, London, Harrison and Sons, 1910
- PHOTO: "An Albanian", from: John Cam HOBHOUSE, Baron Broughton, A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809 and 1810, London, James Cawthorn, 1813
- Figure 1: In the first line, from 1 to 7: Tribal tattoos of Malsia e Madhe, Upper Albania. In the following three lines, tribal tattoos of Bosnian populations
- Figure 2: Burial stones in a Catholic cemetery in Dushmani, Upper Albania, depicting variations of cross, crescent and sun - all recent
Albania by Edith Durham
A journey along a lifetime: the Albania of Edith Durham, pioneer of land ethnography in the early twentieth century.
Of Olimpia Gargano
- From Childe Harold to High Albania
- Miss Durham, from London to the Balkans
- From Cettigne to Scutari
- Sound Archive: the first recordings of folk songs from Upper Albania in the British Library (1905)
- From Tirana to London (1921)
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