From Notebook to Novel and from Diary to Dante: Reading Robert Dessaix’s Night Letters


  • Roberta Trapè



Australian travel in Italy, the representations of Italy in Robert Dessaix’s novel, Night Letters, relationship between Dessaix’s notebooks recording his two journeys in Italy, literary accomplishment of night letters


This paper has developed out of a larger work in progress, which focuses on representations of Italy in contemporary Australian fiction and non-fiction prose. This larger project aims to add to an established body of work on travel writing by considering Australian texts that describe Australian travel in Italy, Italian people and Italian places. In this paper, I will specifically focus on the representations of Italy in Robert Dessaix’s novel Night Letters (1996). My paper will explore the relationship between the writer’s actual journey in Italy and that of the creative work’s main character. The novel offers the protagonist’s account in the form of letters, which describe his travel from Switzerland across Northern Italy to Venice. I will begin by briefly outlining the Italian itinerary followed by Dessaix that would eventually inspire the novel. I will then explore the relationship between Dessaix’s notebooks recording his two journeys in Italy and the literary accomplishment of Night Letters. My aim is to show ways in which an itinerary becomes a story, a complex narrative. Reference will be made to factual accounts and descriptions in the author’s own diaries with an analysis of their generative role as key sources for the fictional work. This will be done through a close reading of particular passages, in the diaries and in the novel, concerning the same event. A comparative analysis of the notebooks and Night Letters can show that Dessaix’s diary entries relating to Italian places are woven into the fictional fabric of the ‘night letters’ according to a unifying principle.