Campus & Community

Franco Fido, 88

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Memorial Minute — Faculty of Arts and Sciences

At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on Nov. 7, 2023, the following tribute to the life and service of the late Franco Fido was spread upon the permanent records of the Faculty.

Born in Venice, Franco Fido spent his early youth under the Fascist regime before beginning advanced studies upon conclusion of the Second World War.  Working under Luigi Russo (who was mentored by the legendary Benedetto Croce) and inspired by Antonio Gramsci, with “Bourgeois Spirit and Venetian Reality in the Theater of Carlo Goldoni,” he obtained his Laurea in Lettere from the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in 1953.  From 1954 to 1958 he taught at the Université de Dijon, where he met and married Marie-Josephe (Josie) Rolin.  The couple later parented daughters Silvia and Anne-Claire (who bears the feline nickname “Minou”).  From 1958 to 1961 Fido taught his first classes at the University of California, Berkeley.  In his last year as an instructor, he began a two-year appointment in the Faculté des Lettres at the Université de Grenoble.  In 1963, moving with his family to North America, he filled an assistant professorship at the University of California, Los Angeles.  Quickly tenured, Fido arose to become departmental chair in the years 1966 to 1969.  With the exception of an appointment as the Rosina Pierotti Chair of Italian Literature at Stanford University in 1978–79, Fido spent the majority of his career at Brown University (1969–1990), where, developing an immensely successful program in Italian culture, he became University Professor.  He filled professorships at McGill University (1971 and 1976), the University of Venice (1973), Middlebury College (1973 and 1974), Queens College, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (1975), and Yale University (also 1975).  A visiting professor at Harvard in 1989–90 and then Professor of Romance Languages and Literature from 1990, Fido was appointed the Carl A. Pescosolido Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures in 1993 and shaped two generations of scholars in Italian literature until he retired in 2005.

Bearing a commanding knowledge of Italian studies that included medieval poetry, Renaissance prose, and literature of the 17th and 18th centuries, Fido also ventured into French and Iberian studies.  An inveterate book collector, he took special pleasure in analysis and performance of theater, for which his monographs on Goldoni are an enduring benchmark.  “Guida a Goldoni: Teatro e società nel Settecento” (A Guide to Goldoni: Theater and Society in the 1700s, 1977), a book that won the Howard R. Marraro Prize from the Modern Language Association in 1976–1978, bore the promise of others to come: “Da Venezia all’Europa: prospettive sull’ ultimo Goldoni” (1984); “Il paradiso dei buoni compagni: Capitoli di storia letteraria veneta: Ruzante, Calmo, Giancarli, Parabosco, Baretti, Chiari, Casanova, Goldoni, Noventa, Marin, Giotti, Pasolini” (1988), on literature, critical theory, and film, included a chapter on Goldoni; “Le inquietudini di Goldoni: Saggi e letture” (1995); “Viaggi in Italia di don Chisciotte e Sancio e altri studi sul Settecento” (2006); the “Nuova Guida a Goldoni: Teatro e società nel Settecento” (2000), capped by “L’avvocato di buon gusto: Nuovi studi goldoniani” (2008); and a critical edition of Goldoni’s “La Guerra e Il Quartiere Fortunato” (1988), that was succeeded by a critical edition of the same author’s “Trilogia della villeggiatura” (2005).  Other editions under his direction included the “Opere” of Giuseppe Baretti (1719–1789) (1967) and the same author’s “Scritti teatrali” (1977).  Fittingly, from 1993 to 1994, Fido offered students and colleagues an exhibition, “Carlo Goldoni on a European Stage,” that displayed treasures in the Harvard Houghton Library.  Anglophone readers recall his pellucid introduction to Goldoni’s “The Coffee House” (1998).

Possessed by a love of literature, its social relations, and its art of contradiction, beyond Goldoni, Fido published a timely “Machiavelli” (1965) and, later, “Machiavelli, Guicciardini e storici minori del primo Cinquecento” (1994).  In line with the early “Le metamorfosi del centauro: Studi e letture da Boccaccio a Pirandello” (1977), the broad reach of his “I desideri e la morte: Studi di letteratura italiana da Dante ai moderni” (2007) attested to an extraordinary range of  knowledge.  Impassioned by the give-and-take of structure and diversion, his “Il regime delle simmetrie imperfette: Studi sul ‘Decameron’” (1988) examined Boccaccio’s collection of 100 tales and its 10 tellers from the angle of difference and repetition, an innovative — even “deconstructive” — approach that also informed “La serietà del gioco: Svaghi letterari e teatrali nel Settecento” (1998).  Synchronously, with Rena A. Syska-Lamparska and Pamela D. Stewart, he co-edited a 500-page Festschrift, “Studies for Dante: Essays in honor of Dante Della Terza” (1998).  After retirement, looking backward and forward, he published “Nell’alveare della memoria: Ultimi incontri letterari” (2012).  In 2006, under editors and authors Syska-Lamparska, Anthony Oldcorn, and Lino Pertile, 23 students and colleagues offered him a copious Festschrift, “La Scena del mondo: Studi sul teatro per Franco Fido” (2006).

Fido’s scholarly awards included a Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation fellowship in 1977, the Luigi Russo prize from Italy in 1978, and an ACLS Fellowship in 1979.  Fido was twice recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1979 and 1986).

Nephew of his maternal uncle, Francesco (Cesco) Baseggio, a famous Venetian actor, Fido turned the classroom into an atelier and a stage.  Held in admiration by all of his students, he is especially remembered for a thespian style of reading and teaching.  In classes on “The Decameron,” he took careful note of the frame, structure, and especially the staging of the tales, whereas in teaching Goldoni, through vivacious performance of the theater and prose, he appealed to wit and “sprezzatura” while also requiring of himself and students scholarly rigor in close, careful, and protracted readings of different idioms and styles.  Above all, as the experience of the authors of this Minute can affirm, Fido brought an incredibly generous and welcoming presence to Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures.  Giving inordinate time and energy to one and all, he generated warmth and collegiality within the department until his departure in 2005.

Respectfully submitted,

Francesco Erspamer
Lino Pertile
Tom Conley, Chair