Dr Olivia Santovetti

Dr Olivia Santovetti


After a degree in Philosophy from the University of Rome ‘La Sapienza’ (1990), I worked as a translator from English into Italian (I edited and translated a selection of Laurence Sterne’s: Dieci sermoni di Mr Yorick, Rome, Angelo Signorelli Editore, 1993). In 1995 I was awarded a grant from the Accademia dei Lincei to work at the Cambridge University Library on the first Italian translations of Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey. At the University of Cambridge I later completed an MPhil in European Literature (1997) and a PhD in Italian Literature (2000).

In 2005 I was awarded an Early Career Leverhulme Fellowship, Department of Italian, University of Cambridge. In 2006, I was appointed Lecturer in Italian at the University of Leeds. In 2017, I became Associate Professor of Italian.


  • Director of Italian

Research interests

My main interest is in the novel: its structure, history and culture. My first monograph: Digression: A Narrative Strategy in the Italian Novel (Bern: Lang, 2007) examined the workings of digression in Italian literature from the birth of the modern novel in the early nineteenth century to the era of post-modernist experimentation. My aim was to explore the tensions digression engenders in the novel, by creating extra time within narration, disrupting the readers' expectations, and generating an act of reflection upon the narrative process itself.

My current research investigates the representation of reading and readers from the nineteenth-century to the digital age. My last project, 'The woman reader in Italian literature and visual arts in the fin de siècle period', explored the woman reader theme, popular in the literature and iconography of the nineteenth century, in an interdisciplinary way which contemplated together literature and visual arts. It was a collaborative project (the co-investigator was Professor Giovanna Capitelli, History of Art, Università degli Studi Roma Tre) and was funded by a BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grant. The main outcome was the volume Lettrici italiane tra arte e letteratura. Dall’Ottocento al modernismo (Rome: Campisano, 2021). The promotion for the volume included a live interview on the programme ‘Radio 3 Suite’ on Rai Radio 3 (27 December 2021) and a book presentation at the Fondazione Ernesta Besso in Rome (5 April 2022).

I have published on Manzoni, Tarchetti, Dossi, De Roberto, Fogazzaro, Neera, Pirandello, Gadda,  Calvino and Elena Ferrante. The outreach events on Elena Ferrante in collaboration with the Ilkley Literature Festival include the 'Ferrante Fever in Leeds' (13 October 2016) and, more recently with Leeds colleague Sarah Hudspith, ‘“Illuminating the chaos and obscurity”: Ferrante and Dostoevsky in dialogue’, Settee Seminars (24 November 2021). See also my contribution to the podcast 'Language versus dialect, or why we're obsessed with Elena Ferrante', The World in Words, Public Radio International, USA, 11 April 2017).

Selected Publications

  • Lettrici italiane tra arte e letteratura. Dall'Ottocento al modernismo, co-edited with Giovanna Capitelli (Rome: Campisano Editore, 2021)
  • “Being in the mind of a teenager”: Ann Goldstein on Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults. In conversation with Olivia Santovetti’, Delos: A Journal of Translation and World Literature, 36, 1 (2021), pp.1–14.
  • ‘Künstlerroman of "Late Modernity": Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet’, in Elena Ferrante in a Global Context, special issue of MLN, edited by Tiziana De Rogatis, Stiliana Milkova and Katrin Wehling-Giorgi, 136, 1 (2021), pp.186–208.
  • ‘Madame Bovary in Italy: Forms of realism in the late nineteenth-century Italian novel’, in Landscapes of Realism: Rethinking Realism in Global Comparative Perspective, vol. 1: Mapping Realism, edited by Dirk Göttsche, Rosa Mucignat, Robert Weninger (Amsterdam: John Benjamins 2021). pp.531–49.
  • «Io non ci sto». Elena Ferrante, the theme of erasure and the Smarginatura as poetics of resistance’, in Resistance in Italian culture: from Dante to the 21st century, edited by Ambra Moroncini, Darrow Schecter and Fabio Vighi (Rome: Franco Cesati Editore, 2019), pp. 281–294.
  • 'Melodrama or Metafiction? On Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels', Modern Language Review, 113–3 (2018), pp.527–545.
  • 'Lettura e lettrici dentro il romanzo: il tema dell'identificazione letteraria nel romanzo italiano di fine ottocento', in C'è un lettore in questo testo? Rappresentazioni letterarie della lettura in Italia, edited by Giovanna Rizzarelli and Cristina Savettieri (Bologna: il Mulino, 2016), pp.183–202.
  • 'Lettura, scrittura e autoriflessione nel ciclo de L'amica geniale’ (2011–2014) di Elena Ferrante, Allegoria, 73 (2016), pp.179–92. Republished in ARCADE. Literature, the Humanities, & the World.
  • Self-reflection in Italian Literature, (ed.) theme issue of The Italianist, 35, 3 (2015)
  • Digression. A Narrative Strategy in the Italian Novel (Bern: Peter Lang, 2007)

Research Supervision

I am happy to consider candidatures for postgraduate studies (MAR and PhD) on Italian literature and culture from 19th Century to today. Among the topics: theory of the novel; metanarration, metafiction; history of reading; literary representation of reading and readers; the theme of writing; women's writing (in particular the works of Elena Ferrante).

At present, I act as supervisor for the following projects:

  • Hannah Burton, Women, Postcolonialism and italianità: Exploring Female Subaltern Voices in 21st Century Italian Literature (post–2010) (MAR, University of Leeds)

In the past, I have supervised the following postgraduate students in their PhD theses in Leeds:

  • Alice Franzon, Retorica dell’antiretorica nel romanzo della Resistenza: Pavese, Calvino, Fenoglio, Meneghello (PhD, 2019)
  • Laura Lucia Rossi, Poetics of indeterminacy in the Italian Novel. Landolfi, Gadda, Vittorini, Tozzi, Ortese (PhD, 2018)
  • Nuru Ikhlas Abdul Hadi, Mothers, Lovers Others: An Evolutionary Analysis of Womanhood in Western Malayo-Polynesian Oral Traditions (PhD 2017)
  • Natale Filice, La doppia identità di Ascanio Celestini: il profilo cangiante dell’impegno, tra ibridismo macrotestuale e transmedialità (PhD, 2016)
<h4>Research projects</h4> <p>Any research projects I'm currently working on will be listed below. Our list of all <a href="https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/dir/research-projects">research projects</a> allows you to view and search the full list of projects in the faculty.</p>


  • PhD in Italian Literature (Universitry of Cambridge)
  • PhD in Italian Literature (Universitry of Cambridge)
  • PhD in Italian Literature (Universitry of Cambridge)

Professional memberships

  • Society for Italian Studies
  • Advisory board of The Italianist
  • Advisory board of Italian Studies

Student education

I teach Italian literature and culture from 19th Century to today (including Italo Calvino and Elena Ferrante).

Office hours

Tuesday 5–6pm; Wednesday 10–11am.

Research groups and institutes

  • Italian
  • Centre for World Literatures
  • Literary studies
<h4>Postgraduate research opportunities</h4> <p>We welcome enquiries from motivated and qualified applicants from all around the world who are interested in PhD study. Our <a href="https://phd.leeds.ac.uk">research opportunities</a> allow you to search for projects and scholarships.</p>