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The View from Vesuvius

Italian Culture and the Southern Question

Nelson J. Moe (Author)


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The vexed relationship between the two parts of Italy, often referred to as the Southern Question, has shaped that nation's political, social, and cultural life throughout the twentieth century. But how did southern Italy become "the south," a place and people seen as different from and inferior to the rest of the nation? Writing at the rich juncture of literature, history, and cultural theory, Nelson Moe explores how Italy's Mezzogiorno became both backward and picturesque, an alternately troubling and fascinating borderland between Europe and its others. This finely crafted book shows that the Southern Question is far from just an Italian issue, for its origins are deeply connected to the formation of European cultural identity between the mid-eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries.

Moe examines an exciting range of unfamiliar texts and visual representations including travel writing, political discourse, literary texts, and etchings to illuminate the imaginative geography that shaped the divide between north and south. His narrative moves from a broad examination of the representation of the south in European culture to close readings of the literary works of Leopardi and Giovanni Verga. This groundbreaking investigation into the origins of the modern vision of the Mezzogiorno is made all the more urgent by the emergence of separatism in Italy in the 1990s.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Introduction: How Did Southern Italy Become "the South"?
Part One: Imagining the South, c. 1750–1850
Part Two: Representing the South in the Risorgimento, c. 1825–1861
Part Three: Representing the South in Postunification Italy, c. 1870–1885
Conclusion: What the South Enables us to Say
Bibliography
Index
Nelson Moe is Associate Professor of Italian at Barnard College, Columbia University.
“This book is a major contribution to the history of the image of the Italian South from ca. 1750 to 1885 but has broader implications . . . [It] is a well-written and challenging book.”—Mediterranean Historical Review
“Of interest to anyone studying the formation of modern states and national identities.”—John Davis American Historical Review
"This may well be the most complete and fascinating historical investigation of the myths and stereotypes through which European elites have observed and judged the south of Italy in the modern era."—Piero Bevilacqua, University of Rome

"A tour de force exploration of how the idea of the south of Italy – the Southern question – developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe and Italy. Nelson Moe’s book is a provocative reassessment of an old question, newly conceived and dictated by larger ideological and political needs that extend far beyond the geographic borders of the Italian nation."—Judge, Scaglione Publication Award , Italian Literary Series

Introduction

How Did Southern Italy Become "the South"?

The central chapter of The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa contains a memorable encounter between the Sicilian prince, Don Fabrizio, and a Piedmontese official named Aimone Chevalley di Monterzuolo. Chevalley has just arrived in Sicily, his head filled with tales of brigands, and can be immediately recognized as a visitor from the north by his alarmed expression. While waiting to be picked up at a postal station near the prince's villa, Chevalley is momentarily reassured by the words Corso Vittorio Emanuele painted in blue letters on the side of a house before him. But this sign of his king's authority on the island is ultimately "not enough to convince him that he was in a place which was, after all, part of his own nation" (195).

In the 140 years since the unification of northern and southern Italy, many have felt similar doubts. The vexed relationship between the two parts of the country, often referred to as the Southern Question, has shaped Italy's political, social, and cultural life during the past century. The emergence of Umberto Bossi's separatist Northern League during the 1990s has lent a new urgency to this question, providing millions of voters with a political channel through which to vent their discontent with the unified state formed from Italy's various regions in 1860.

How and when did southern Italy become "the south," a place and people imagined to be different from and inferior to the rest of the country? My book explores this question through the analysis of a wide range of textual and visual representations of the south produced in Italy and elsewhere in Europe between the mid-eighteenth and late-nineteenth centuries. I argue that a modern vision of the Italian south, or Mezzogiorno, took form in the middle decades of the nineteenth century under the combined pressures of western Eurocentrism, nationalism, and bourgeoisification.

In the decades before 1860, liberal elites in Italy set their sights on the formation of an independent nation that would take its place in the constellation of leading European states; they imagined their future nation in the image of modern Europe. At the same time they were haunted by a sense of their country's backwardness. Italian civilization had triumphed in the Renaissance; in the intervening centuries, however, it had been politically dominated and culturally upstaged by countries to the north of the Alps. Simply put, Italy was a southern country in a century when the superiority of "the north" was virtually beyond dispute.

One of the central ironies of the Risorgimento, or the movement to revitalize Italy and free it from foreign rule, is that unification split the nation in two, accentuating the northernness of one part and the southernness of the other. To be sure, Italians had always recognized significant differences among the various peoples and lands on the peninsula. But in the middle decades of the nineteenth century the forces of Eurocentrism and nationalism converged to produce a nation committed to participating in the civilization of western Europe. In the context of the drive to make Italy a more northern nation, the southern part of the country was identified as different. When, in the fall of 1860, a northern general reported back to Count Cavour in Piedmont about the conditions in the south, he put it quite succinctly: "This is not Italy! This is Africa" (Carteggi di Camillo Cavour: La liberazione del Mezzogiorno 3: 208).

The bulk of this study examines the way the south was represented in the decades before and after unification, with special attention to the crucial phase of the 1870s. I also emphasize how visions of the south were produced within a broader geographical and historical context, shaped, in particular, by the accentuation of western Eurocentricism after the mid-eighteenth century. Around 1750, the south was first marked as backward in relation to that part of Europe that was increasingly identified as leading the way of progress: England, France, and somewhat later, Germany as well. A new sense both of the south's distance from western European civilization and of its liminal position with respect to Africa and the Orient emerged. Foreign travelers in particular, but southerners too, denounced the barbarism of life in southern Italy.

New positive modes of appreciating the south, however, also developed. While the rise of bourgeois civilization in Western Europe fueled a new emphasis on the barbarism of other parts of the continent and the world beyond, it also generated new forms of interest in those very backward areas and peoples. Travelers and artists looked south in search of a more natural, untamed world to find, in a word, the picturesque. From the late-eighteenth century on, the picturesque becomes the main prism through which the south's status as a source of interest and delectation for the civilized observer is viewed. The south therefore became both "Africa" and terra vergine, a reservoir of feudal residues, sloth, and squalor on the one hand and of quaint peasants, rustic traditions, and exotica on the other.

The first two chapters survey from two different angles the deployment of these imaginative patterns in the century before unification. Chapter 1, "Italy as Europe's South," highlights the elasticity of the south as a category, exploring some of the ways in which Italy was represented in toto as a southern country. Through readings of texts by Montesquieu, Charles-Victor Bonstetten, Melchiorre Gioia, and Giacomo Leopardi, I investigate how the conceptualization of Italy as Europe's south informed the representation of Italian identity in the nineteenth century. Chapter 2, "L'Europe finit à Naples," examines the imaginative patterns that characterized the representation of southern Italy in particular and discusses the conditions that contributed to their ascendancy in Italian and European culture more generally. Through readings of texts by Casanova, Sade, Stendhal, and Renan, among others, I explore the recurrent motif of southern Italy as a liminal space between Europe, Africa, and the Orient. Both chapters highlight the importance of foreign perspectives.

The remaining chapters of the book address the representation of the south in the context of the Risorgimento and unification, moving chronologically from the mid-1820s to the mid-1880s and shifting geographically from Europe to Italy. My readings of selected texts and visual representations explore not only the interactions between conceptualizations of national unity and visions of southern difference, but also the importance of the specific geographical positions and perspectives from which these representations were produced. I broadly emphasize the difference between the perspectives of southern insiders and central-northern outsiders, while also exploring the exchanges and overlaps between them.

Chapter 3, "The North Looks South, 1825-1848," investigates how the growth of Italian nationalism helped to foster a new interest in the south among elites of the center-north. As the Lombard writer Carlo Cattaneo put it in 1845, the time had come "to illustrate the bel paese piece by piece" ("Annuario" 80), and the largest of these pieces was the southern Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Through readings of texts by Cattaneo and other central-northern political thinkers, and through the analysis of the Milanese illustrated weekly magazine Cosmorama pittorico, I highlight the tendency to represent the south as alternately backward and picturesque vis-à-vis a civilized and modern center-north. I conclude with an analysis of "La ginestra," the great final poem by Giacomo Leopardi, set on the desolate slope of Mount Vesuvius. "La ginestra," I argue, critically redeploys the topos of a natural and picturesque south in order to mount an attack on the progressive vision of modern European civilization promoted by nationalists of the center-north.

Chapter 4, "Of Bourbons and Barbarism, 1848-60," examines how concerns over the formation of a European Italy inform the anti-Bourbon propaganda campaign in the decade before unification. I focus especially on the conceptual slippage evident in a series of political texts between denigrations of the Bourbon regime and of the southern Italian people themselves. If, in the noted words of William Gladstone, the Bourbons were "the negation of God erected into a system of Government" (Gleanings 7), southerners were no angels either. The accentuation of a negative image of the south at this time plays a crucial role in the construction of an image of Italy divided between north and south.

Chapter 5, "'This is Not Italy!': Ruling and Representing the South, 1860-61," focuses on the letters exchanged among the political and military leaders associated with the predominantly northern political tendency known as the Moderates, who conquered and annexed the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in the fall of 1860. In the context of a virtual civil war between north and south, imaginative patterns that had developed over the previous century were redeployed by northern Italians with a new divisive force. By bringing the two parts of the country into contact for the first time, the process of unification paradoxically accentuated their differences.

The last three chapters of the book investigate the explosion of interest in the south that took place in Italian bourgeois culture during the 1870s. Over the course of that decade, representations of the south proliferated in a variety of fields, and the dual vision of an alternately picturesque and backward south established itself in the consciousness of Italy's middle and upper classes. Chapter 6, "Terra vergine: Picturing the South in Illustrazione italiana," begins by outlining the political and cultural coordinates of this trend and then focuses on the best-selling illustrated weekly magazine of the day, Illustrazione italiana, which helped to popularize picturesque images of the south among the country's middle and upper classes. Chapter 7, "The Emergence of the Southern Question in Pasquale Villari and Leopoldo Franchetti," examines texts by the first Meridionalists, the social and political thinkers who inaugurated the Southern Question and helped to make the problem of southern backwardness a key point of reference in the political discourse of the nation's elites.

Finally, Chapter 8 investigates the fiction of Giovanni Verga, the Sicilian writer who discovered the symbolic power of the south while residing in Milan during the 1870s and early 1880s. I emphasize the significance of geographical position and perspective in his work while relating the evolution of his art to his involvement in other fields of cultural practice that produced representations of the south. I argue that Verga's shift of focus to Sicily in 1874-78 was partly enabled by his engagement with the discourse of picturesque Sicily as it was elaborated in the journal Illustrazione italiana. The Sicilian fishing village of Aci-Trezza is a "pretty little picture" to the bourgeois lady from the north described in the story "Fantasticheria" (Tutte le novelle 1: 122). Yet the emergence of the Southern Question and the writings of Leopoldo Franchetti and Sidney Sonnino in particular prompted Verga to subject that picturesque vision to a powerful critique. Verga's representation of Sicily is characterized by a continuous experimentation with these alternative perspectives on the south, as well as by an ongoing engagement with the question of perspective itself. Verga not only created the first great poetic evocation of southern Italy in modern Italian literature but also elaborated what I term a geographical poetics, a sustained reflection on the role that geographical and cultural distance play in the production of cultural representations.

I thus move from a broad examination of the representation of the south as a category in European culture to a close reading of how one part of the south is represented in the work of an Italian novelist. This move from the general to the specific is paradigmatic of my critical approach and of the interventions I seek to make in the two fields of cultural theory and Italian studies. In both I am interested in troubling general assumptions with specific cases. With regard to recent discussions of geography and identity in cultural theory, I shift attention from the cultural construction of west vs. east to that of north vs. south. With regard to Italian studies, I turn away from the socioeconomic aspects of the Southern Question and focus on the modalities of the south's representation in literature and culture.

The identity of Europe and its relation to the world beyond it has been at the center of discussions in cultural theory during the 1990s. Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), offered a major reevaluation of European civilization from a global perspective. His study highlighted the interconnections between Europe's vision of an "Other"ñthe Orientñand the expression and exercise of its global supremacy. Orientalism was a study in what Said termed "imaginative geography" (49-73), an exploration of the myriad ways in which one part of the world imagined another in the process of dominating it. Said's study was thus not only a major reexamination of Europe but a pathbreaking example of cultural analysis in a geographical key, inviting further research into the relations between cultural representations and geography, territory, place.

While Said's book emphasized the dichotomy between Europe and its Other, the Orient, a number of more recent studies have highlighted the extent to which European identity is itself inconsistent and fractured, its boundaries fluid and variable. In Inventing Eastern Europe, Larry Wolff explores the conceptual division between western and eastern Europe, tracing the origins of this split back to the eighteenth century. In Imagining the Balkans, Maria Todorova offers a wide-ranging investigation into the representation of the Balkans as the Other of Europe in the modern era. The View from Vesuvius joins these studies in showing how the consolidation of Eurocentrism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries not only helped to accentuate the divide between Europe and its Others but also redefined the contours of civilization on the continent itself. The south's imaginative destiny at the margins of Europe can be usefully understood in relation to that of eastern Europe which, as Balzac wrote, constitutes "a link between Europe and Asia, between civilization and barbarism" (quoted in Wolff 13). Like eastern Europe and the Balkans, Italy's Mezzogiorno constitutes an alternately fascinating and troubling border zone between Europe and its others.

What is interesting to me, however, is that these and many other studies dealing with imaginative geography since Orientalism conceive of Europe's internal fragmentation, and of the world more broadly, primarily in terms of a division between east and west. The division between north and south, which structured the European imagination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, has instead received remarkably little attention. Thus, while countless studies have contributed to our understanding of the significance of the Orient or "East" in modern European culture, our historical understanding of the south is sketchy, as is our awareness of the ways the categories of north, south, west, and east have interacted and evolved in the modern era.1

I aim to illuminate the workings of imaginative geography in a southern mode with a focus on Italy. As I argue in Chapter 1, Italy was a crucial figure for the south in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. But what makes Italy a particularly rich site for such an investigation is the way in which north and south have been articulated within Italy itself. North and south have been structuring terms in Italian culture since the ascendancy of nationalism in the 1850s. A preoccupation with the differences between north and south has shaped diverse areas of Italian culture up to the present day, reflected most significantly, perhaps, in the tradition of political thought and social analysis known as Meridionalism (meridionalismo). As Piero Bevilacqua has written, the "'Southern Question' is an Italian speciality" ("Vecchio e nuovo" 251).

The 1990s were a particularly rich decade for the discussion and analysis of the Southern Question in Italian studies. At the end of the 1980s a number of historians, many associated with the journal Meridiana, began to question the dualistic model of an Italy divided between north and south. They challenged in particular the traditional representation of the Mezzogiorno as a unified bloc conceived as different, lacking, backward. The south, they argued, was more than just a "question" or "problem"; it was a "piece of the world" that required analysis on its own terms.2 The category of the south and the notion of the Southern Question itself needed to be reassessed and new ways of writing the history of southern Italy explored.3

The new way of thinking about the south advanced by these historians went hand in hand with a new way of thinking about Italy as a whole. In both cases the unity and identity of Italy was at issue. Scholars had begun to turn their attention to the question of national identity at the beginning of the nineties.4 The challenge to national unity spearheaded by the Northern League helped to galvanize interest in the question of Italian identity and in the Southern Question among both scholars and the public at large. Over the past decade, countless essays, books, and newspaper articles concerning both Italian identity and the relations between north and south have appeared.

My book has taken shape at the intersection of these discussions in Italian studies, both drawing upon and seeking to contribute to them.5 It nonetheless offers a novel approach, above all its focus on cultural representations of the south and the workings of texts in particular. Historians were the first to insist upon the need to address the problem of representation, but their primary aim has been to correct misrepresentations of the south and to rewrite its history more accurately. The cultural representations themselves have received relatively little attention. If, as Carmine Donzelli wrote, the image of north and south has taken shape in the consciousness of Italians through a "long and often subterranean process of cultural, ideological, and political elaboration" ("Mezzogiorno" 23), then it is essential for us to analyze this process in its cultural and textual specificity. I aim through the eyes of a literary critic to scrutinize some of the key cultural and specifically textual forms that make up that process. Much of my analysis is in the form of close readings that examine specific rhetorical strategies and figures of speech. At the same time, my use of a broad range of texts and a selection of visual representations reflects my cultural studies approach. Imaginative geography, and the representation of the south in particular, cuts across a wide variety of discourses and cultural practices: travel accounts, political discourse, ethnographic studies, literary texts, visual illustrations. I explore the range of domains and energies that concerned themselves with the south in nineteenth-century Italianñand not only Italianñculture.

Research into representations of the south over the past decade has been mainly conducted by historians and cultural critics who have focused on texts and documents other than literature.6 There has, moreover, been relatively little exchange among literary critics and historians, and little discussion of the relation between literary representations of the south and other kinds of representations. A key exception is the earlier work of the literary critic Romano Luperini, who showed the interconnections between Verga's fiction and the southernist investigations of Franchetti and Sonnino.7 But on the whole, literary critics have not sought to situate literature within this field of concerns, and historians have not looked to literature to illuminate issues relating to the representation of the south. Placing Verga within this field of concerns helps us to see the extent to which the problem of representing the south, and the cultural practices that give expression to it, inform Verga's work and in the process become integral to modern Italian literature. At the same time, Verga's literary engagement with the problem of the south helps us to read this problem differently, brings into focus crucial questions of perspective, and of the picturesque in particular, of cultural and geographical distance, which prove to be key aspects of the representation of the south in nineteenth-century Italy.

By closely examining the fiction of Verga along with a range of other texts and visual materials in light of recent discussions in cultural theory and Italian studies, I show that the south is a crucial category for analyzing the construction of Italian and European identity in the nineteenth century. The Piedmontese official in Lampedusa's Leopard wondered whether Sicily was a part of Italy. Again and again in this study, the south offers an occasion for posing the question, What is Italy? and often, at the same time, What is modern Europe and Italy's relation to it? Whatever its actual contours and real conditions, the south's capacity to provoke these questions is crucial to what this "piece of the world" became in the nineteenth century and is part of what still defines Italy today.

 

1  Both Wolff and Todorova, for example, make the questionable assertion that the opposition between north and south is simply displaced by the opposition between east and west in the eighteenth century (see Inventing Eastern Europe 5; Imagining the Balkans 11). As I aim to show in Chapter 1, the opposition between north and south had a powerful hold on the European imagination well into the 1800s.

2  See Donzelli, "Pezzo di mondo," written as the opening statement for the first issue of Meridiana in 1987, and "Mezzogiorno."

3  John Davis reviews this new scholarship in "Casting Off the 'Southern Problem'" and "Changing Perspectives on Italy's 'Southern Problem.'" See as well Morris,; Lyttelton, "New Past for the Mezzogiorno"; Riall, Sicily 17-19.

4  The Italian Society for the Study of Contemporary History significantly chose "The Cultural Nationalization of Italians" as the topic of its inaugural symposium in 1991. See Romanelli, "Nazione debole" for an early assessment of the question in the Italian context.

5  Earlier versions of Chapter 5 originally appeared in Meridiana in 1992 and subsequently in a recent collection of essays on Italian national identity. Versions of Chapters 7 and 8 first appeared in essay collections dedicated to new perspectives on the Southern Question.

6 See, for example, John Dickie's important study, Darkest Italy.

7 In particular, Verga e le strutture narrative, published in 1976, and the chapter titled "Simbolo e 'ricostruzione intellettuale' nei 'Malavoglia'" in Simbolo e costruzione allegorica in Verga published in 1989. Luperini's contributions are fundamental to my interpretation of Verga in Chapter 8.

Part I: Imagining the South,
c. 1750-1850

  1. Italy as Europe's South

In the years around 1825, two Italian writers working independently of one another took up the question of Italy's character as a "southern" country. Each was responding in some way to what foreigners had written about Italy, but their views were dramatically opposed. The economist Melchiorre Gioia argued that the categories of northern and southern said little about the character of a people. Whether to the north or the south of the Alps, the laws governing human society are essentially the same. The poet and essayist Giacomo Leopardi, on the other hand, asserted that Italy's southern nature provided the key to its supremacy in the past and its decadence in the present. "It would seem that the north's time has come," he writes (Discorso 83). Establishing an equation between modernity and the north, Leopardi assigned Italy the status of southern has-been.

Between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, north and south became charged moral categories in the cultural imagination of Europe. In the work of philosophers and poets, historians and novelists, the idea that Europe was divided between northern and southern peoples and countries acquired a new evocative power and explanatory force. For many, Italy was the southern country par excellence. The lands and peoples of Italy were central to the elaboration of the idea of the south, while the south played an important role in the representation of Italy and Italianness. I begin my study by situating the image of the south within this broader geopolitical and conceptual framework, examining the representation of Italy as Europe's south in a set of texts written both by Italians and foreigners in the century before unification. This expanded perspective will enable us in subsequent chapters to highlight that which is specific to representations of the Italian Mezzogiorno as well as to appreciate the overarching geographical division of which it forms a part. In my readings of texts ranging from Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws to Giacomo Leopardi's Discourse on the Current Customs of Italians, I shall pay special attention to Italy's place in the cultural construction of modern Europe and to Europe's place in the cultural construction of modern Italy. For it is precisely the question of Italy's relation to, and its difference from, western European civilization that will play a decisive role in accentuating visions of southern difference from the mid-nineteenth century on.

"L'Italie, c'est rien": Foreign Views of Italy

The discursive construction of Italian identity in the century before unification was deeply enmeshed in the geopolitical and cultural context of Europe. To be sure, every national identity has taken shape in a comparative frame of reference and through cultural exchange with foreigners. But in the Italian case, these international aspects of national identity formation were especially pronounced owing to the particular history of the relations between Italy and western Europe in the modern era. Over the course of the seventeenth century, a radical inversion in the relations of force and cultural prestige between Italy and western Europe took place. Model to and "master" of Europe since the fourteenth century (Le Goff, 2,074), during the 1600s, Italy was dramatically upstaged by countries to the north and west of the Alps: Holland, England, and France.1 What was taking place in fact was a massive shift of geopolitical and economic power away from the Mediterranean world as a whole.2 As Fernand Braudel writes, from the mid-1600s on "the Mediterranean lay firmly outside the mainstream of history which it had almost exclusively dominated for centuries on end" (Perspective 79). Henceforth the north would dominate the south, within Europe and across the globe.3

Italy marked this epochal shift in a special way. The Italians had lorded their economic power and cultural supremacy over the rest of Europe since the fourteenth century. Italian intellectuals referred to those beyond the Alps as barbarians, using a conceit dating back to the days of Petrarch and central to the consciousness of Italian elites right through the Risorgimento.4 Now the tables were turning. Italian civilization was certainly not eclipsed overnight; in the visual arts and music, for example, Italy remained preeminent even as its political influence and economic power declined.5 But by the end of the 1600s a new vision of western Europe's superiority vis-à-vis Italy had clearly emerged.6 As Franco Venturi notes in his classic study of foreign views of Italy in the modern era, over the course of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, western European charges of Italian "decadence, corruption, weakness, political and moral passivity" became "ever more frequent and severe" ("Italia" 999). English politicians, men of letters, and travelers increasingly insisted upon the "extreme misery and poverty that are in most of the Italian states" ("Italia" 1,012). Montesquieu, writing of Italy's "entirely deserted and depopulated" towns in the late 1720s, reflected, "it seems that their only reason for existence is to mark the spot where those great cities once stood of which history has spoken so profusely" ("Italia" 1,026). Fifteen years later an English traveler noted that the cities of Italy are "now thin of Inhabitants, their soil barren and uncultivated, and themselves a pusillanimous, enervated, lazy people" (quoted in Mead 270). The most succinct expression of this claim to northern superiority and Italian inferiority was penned by a Frenchman around 1670: "l'Italie, c'est rien."7

The tendency to denigrate contemporary Italy and the Italians had thus become commonplace in the culture of western Europe by the mid-1700s and would continue well through the next century. These accusations, repeatedly voiced by the English, French, and increasingly by the Germans as well, would have a significant impact on Italian representations of Italy in the Risorgimento. Foreign views of Italy after 1700 tended to have a contrastive structure. In the first place, foreigners repeatedly contrasted the glory of Italy's past with its decadent present. Their visions of the greatness of Roman and Renaissance civilization transformed contemporary Italy into the "shadow of a nation," as Goethe put it in his Italian Journey, or in the famous verses of Lamartine, a "land of the past . . . where everything sleeps."8 Elizabeth Barrett Browning was no less succinct when she wrote that "it is well that they have great memories—nothing else lives" (quoted in Pemble 229). Secondly, foreigners tended, with increasing frequency after 1750, to contrast Italy's beautiful natural surroundings and Mediterranean climate with its human failings. These two contrasts would structure foreign perspectives on Italy throughout the century before unification.

From the last decades of the eighteenth century on, however, some significant changes in the representation of Italy took place. Foreign visions of Italy were refocused in the context of the ascendancy of bourgeois civilization in western and central Europe. The contrasts described above would remain insistent, but they would increasingly interact with a new vision of time and space that placed western and central Europe at the head of the movement of human progress.9 Progress, which was understood to have reached the highest levels in western and central Europe, was increasingly measured in terms of the material well-being and technological development of society. Italy had not simply fallen from its previous heights; it was backward with respect to the most advanced, modern societies in Europe. Thus Goethe, who conceived of his journey to Italy as a form of pilgrimage, nevertheless observed that "this Italy, which enjoys nature's richest favor, has lagged very badly behind other countries with respect to mechanics and technology, which after all are the basis of a more modern and comfortable way of life" (99).

In German, English, and French culture from the late eighteenth century on, contemporary Italy became a key point of reference against which intellectuals and travelers measured the superiority and modernity of their own countries. Yet as the example from Goethe suggests, western Europeans did not take the measure of their own modernity only by denigrating Italy. With the ascendancy of bourgeois civilization after the mid-eighteenth century, a heightened appreciation for Italy's very decadence, its lack of civilization, and its natural qualities emerged. Italy's very lack of civilization and Mediterranean climate could delight, entertain, regenerate. From the perspective of the bourgeois subject's needs and desires for recreation and restoration, Italy's perceived lack of contemporary civilization was appreciated and celebrated as "picturesque."

The vision of Italy that takes form between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries thus alternates between denunciations of backwardness and exaltations of picturesqueness. In the former case, a more or less explicit comparison is made, and Italy is found to be inferior. In the latter case, Italy in its decadence and backwardness offers the bourgeois subject an encounter with remnants of an ancient past and the experience of a warm, verdant natural world that cannot be found north of the Alps.

Madame de Staël's 1807 novel, Corinne, or Italy, offers an important example of the relation between these two perspectives. One of the most influential representations of Italy produced in the nineteenth century, Corinne is in fact a sustained exploration of the significance of the encounter between the northern subject and the southern land that is Italy.10 Through the figures of Oswald, the protagonist, and his traveling companion, Count d'Erfeuil, Staël rehearses at the outset the comparative and evaluative perspectives, in their English and French variants respectively, introducing both men as "prejudiced against Italy and the Italians" (19). She uses their approach to Rome in one of the opening chapters as an occasion to stage their negative evaluations. The passage is worth citing at some length:

The Italians are much more outstanding for what they have been and by what they might be than by what they are now. The wasteland surrounding the city of Rome, a land weary of glory, which seems to despise being productive, is only an uncultivated, neglected area to anyone who judges it by standards of utility. Oswald, accustomed from childhood to a love of order and public prosperity, was, at first, unfavourably impressed as he crossed the deserted lands that herald the approach of the city that was once queen of the world. He blamed the indolence of the inhabitants and their leaders. Lord Nevil judged Italy as an enlightened administrator, Count d'Erfeuil as a man of the world. So the one because of reason, and the other because of frivolity, did not experience the impression which the Roman Campagna makes on the imaginations of those who are steeped in the memories and sorrows, in the natural beauties and the celebrated misfortunes, which imbue the land with an indefinable charm.

Count d'Erfeuil made amusing laments on the environs of Rome, 'What! No country houses, no carriages, nothing which suggests the proximity of a big city!' he said. 'Oh, my goodness, isn't it dreary!' (19)

This passage outlines two overarching perspectives on Italy: one condemns its differences from England and France; the other represents the same scene as a source of aesthetic pleasure. The book as a whole champions this second perspective, showing the spiritual enrichment that Oswald experiences through his encounter with both Corinne and Italy, the woman and the country being symbolically interconnected, as the title suggests.11 Yet Oswald ultimately returns to the north to find a wife, whereas Corinne dies. And upon returning to England, Oswald is immediately "struck by the order and prosperity, by the wealth and industry, that greeted his eyes" (304). He thinks of Italy now only "to pity it. It seemed to him that in his native land human reason had left its noble imprint everywhere, while in Italy, in many respects, the institutions and social conditions only reflected confusion, weakness, and ignorance" (304). As the land of the dead, ruins, and nature, Italy provides the north with memories and rejuvenation. But the same qualities that "delight the mind and imagination" of the northerner also mark Italy as inferior to and distinct from the civilized core of Europe (13). It may be true that the south is the land of the spirit, as Stendhal put it under the influence of Staël a decade later, but the north is the land of force.12

Perhaps the most succinct expression of this ensemble of problems, in particular the link between the backward and the picturesque perspectives, can be found in two passages from the travel journal of the English writer Anna Jameson published in 1826 as Diary of an Ennuyée. In the first passage Jameson makes clear that her interest in Italy is exclusively restricted to its past and the natural surroundings:

Let the modern Italians be what they may,—what I hear them styled six times a day at least,—a dirty, demoralized, degraded, unprincipled race,—centuries behind our thrice-blessed, prosperous, and comfort-loving nation in civilization and morals: . . . it concerns me not. I am not come to spy out the nakedness of the land, but to implore from her healing airs and lucid skies the health and peace I have lost, and to worship as a pilgrim at the tomb of her departed glories. (277-78)

Whether or not she agrees with the way the Italians are "styled," Jameson makes it clear that she has not come to Italy to evaluate and thus condemn its level of contemporary civilization but rather to take advantage of its natural attractions and remnants of the past. In the second passage she makes clear that this very difference with respect to her "prosperous and comfort-loving nation" constitutes the condition of possibility for the picturesque. "Civilization, cleanliness, and comfort, are excellent things," she admits,

but they are sworn enemies to the picturesque: they have banished it gradually from our towns, and habitations, into remote countries, and little nooks and corners, where we are obliged to hunt after it to find it; but in Italy the picturesque is every where, in every variety of form; it meets us at every turn, in town and in country, at all times and seasons; the commonest object of every-day life here becomes picturesque, and assumes from a thousand causes a certain character of poetical interest it cannot have elsewhere. (321-22)

Backwardness and the picturesque are two sides of the same coin. "Civilization, cleanliness, and comfort" are invoked here as prime bourgeois values, and Jameson makes clear that England's superiority to Italy lies precisely in modern achievements like these. Yet such modernity also generates a longing for those picturesque aspects of the world that are being destroyed. In contrast to England, where one is "obliged to hunt after it" in "little nooks and corners," Italy is picturesque in its entirety. As Henry James, one of the most passionate seekers of the picturesque, wrote after his first day in Rome, "for the first time I know what the picturesque is" (quoted in Buzard 192). Yet James, too, was well aware that "the picturesque is measured by its hostility to our modern notions of convenience" (quoted in Buzard 196).

"The Abomination of All Nations": Italian Views of Italy

If foreigners both condemned Italy for its difference from the rest of Europe and praised it for its lack of modernity, what were the views of Italians themselves? Between the mid-seventeenth and mid-eighteenth centuries, Italians had developed a keen awareness of the massive shift in geopolitical power and cultural prestige taking place around them. The evolution of their relations with the French during this period is particularly illuminating. As Françoise Waquet notes in her study of the "imperfect dialogue" between French and Italian intellectuals:

The relationship between French and Italian culture between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries cannot be understood without taking into account the phenomenon of amplification through which the unequal positions of the two cultures were accentuated. The French, sustained by formidable self-confidence, exalted and placed themselves at the head of civilization; the Italians, assailed by anxiety and doubt, depreciated and weakened themselves.13

A century and more of French, English, and other denigrations of Italy and the Italians thus took their toll on Italian perceptions of themselves. Although the Italians continued to label these foreign peoples barbarians, that attitude, based on the recollection of past glories, could not hide the fact that Italy was no longer the center of civilization but, rather, as Montesquieu put it, a "corner of the world" (Romano, "Storia economica" 1,919; cf. also Venturi, "Italia" 1,025-30).14 In 1670 a Florentine diplomat in Paris had no doubt that the tables had been turned: "the arts [le belle arti] have crossed the Alps and have gone to settle in those lands that we used to call barbaric, but which are now the most refined" (Waquet, Le modèle français et l'Italie savante 361). Four decades later a Parmesan diplomat in Madrid took an even darker view, writing that "the effeminacy of our nation has reached such a level of filthy sloth that we are today the abomination of all nations" (quoted in Venturi, "Italia" 1,007).15

In the middle decades of the eighteenth century, however, the situation changed. As Franco Venturi notes, the 1730s mark the "low point of the political fragmentation, economic depression and intellectual disillusionment in Italy," but are also the moment when the political, economic, and intellectual situation in Italy begins to improve (Settecento riformatore, 1:3). By midcentury, Italian intellectuals "shared a strong sense of rejoining the intellectual community in Europe, after a period of isolation" (Woolf, History of Italy 81). Yet this very reconnection with the mainstream of European civilization, this reconceptualization of Italy's place in the European community, "implied a recognition of Italian backwardness." As Ludovico Muratori wrote in 1749, "If one compares Italy to France, England, Flanders, Holland and some German lands, a good part of Italy remains inferior in industry and trade to those countries beyond the mountains" (quoted in Woolf, History of Italy 81-82). Nor was Italy's inferiority only economic. In politics it remained the pawn of European diplomacy (Woolf, History of Italy 29-42), and it was only through music that Italians continued to exercise a dominant influence in European culture. One of the key aspects of the national consciousness that developed in Italy in the century before unification was the necessity of confronting its inferiority vis-à-vis western Europe, both as it was expressed in foreign denunciations and as it manifested itself in the political, economic, and cultural domains more generally. As Rosario Romeo notes, "an exasperated will to vindicate the nation's dignity" was "one of the most resonant chords of Risorgimento feeling and thought, common to men of extremely diverse political orientations" (Piemonte, 74). In the words of Giulio Bollati, the Italians of the Risorgimento harbored "a permanent suspicion of calumny, fostered by the sense of frustration and revenge at seeing political servitude, miserable living conditions, and southern variations of social customs seen by peoples of the north . . . as indecent symptoms of decadence and barbarism" ("Italiano" 963).

Whether or not in direct response to foreign calumny, Italian representations of Italy tended to be written from a comparative and often competitive perspective. Some writers laid claim to one form or another of Italian primacy.16 In the most famous formulation of this position, Vincenzo Gioberti's Of the Moral and Civil Primacy of the Italians (Del primato morale e civile degli italiani, 1843), Italy's privileged position as birthplace and home to Catholicism made it supreme. Both England and France might possess "glory, riches, power," but the Christian and Mediterranean civilization of Italy retained its spiritual dignity.17 Another strategy was to argue that Italy was, either in toto or in part, economically and culturally on par with the most advanced nations of Europe. Three years after the publication of Gioberti's text, Giuseppe Ricciardi began his call to arms for Italian independence by declaring that the sciences, arts, and letters were as advanced in Italy as they were "on the other side of the Alps, and certainly much better than in Portugal, in Spain, and in many countries of northern and eastern Europe" (Conforti all'Italia 1).

But throughout the century before unification, and especially in the decades leading up to 1860, the dominant emphasis was nevertheless on Italy's need to rise to the economic and cultural levels attained by western Europe.18 The problem of political independence could itself be posed in comparative terms. As Cesare Balbo noted in response to Gioberti, "before attaining primacy we would like to attain parity; and . . . the first form of parity with independent nations is independence" (quoted in Romeo, Piemonte 73). In the dozen years leading up to unification in particular, as the Moderate political tendency asserted its leadership over the national movement, Italian nationalism assumed what could be termed a more Eurocentric, imitative cast. According to one historian, the Moderates aimed "to raise Italy to the level of the other European nations by a rapid assimilation of the most vital elements in their culture and political institutions" (Ruggiero 299). As the Moderate leader Camillo Cavour stated in 1848: "We are preparing ourselves for a new life, with the assiduous examination of events taking place in countries that are most advanced in the ways of civilization, with close attention to the great lessons proclaimed from the stages of England and France" (quoted in De Francesco 317-18). Notwithstanding Italian claims to parity, if not primacy, it would not be the Mediterranean models that prevailed in the making of modern Italy but rather those of western Europe. As we shall see later in this study, this pressure to conform mounted in the middle of the nineteenth century, helping to split Italy into two parts, a European north and a south that deviated from the European model.

The Empire of Climate

Let us now turn to a set of texts in which Italy as a whole is cast as southern, paying special attention to a key aspect of the north-south distinction, the discourse of climate. Between the mid-eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries, the discourse of climate occupied an important place in European social thought and helped to consolidate the distinction between north and south. Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws (1748) constitutes the most influential formulation of the view that climate has a determinant role in human society, helping to establish the framework for climatological thinking in modern European culture. Montesquieu was by no means the first to emphasize the influence of climate on culture. First formulated in the writings of Hippocrates, the idea that climate affects society was revived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by thinkers in England and France, most notably Jean Bodin.19 But it was finally Montesquieu's famous formulation of the influence of climate on social customs and forms of government in books 14-17 of The Spirit of the Laws that gave this view wider currency. Despite the criticisms it drew from Helvétius, Voltaire and others, well into the next century the discourse of climate associated with the name of Montesquieu would retain considerable force.20 If, as J. W. Johnson notes, "the advent of nineteenth-century pragmatism and scientific empiricism did much to diminish the dignity of classic ideas of climatic influence on men and nations," it did not, however, succeed in "annihilating it."21

The specific aspects of The Spirit of the Laws I wish to explore here relate to the role played by climate in the conceptualization of European identity and Italy's place within it. It has been noted that Montesquieu's writings, and The Spirit of the Laws in particular, make an important contribution to the definition of Europe "as a geographical, cultural, political, and intellectual entity with its own history and its own distinctive features" (Yapp 147; Chabod, Storia dell'idea dell'Europa 99-106). In The Spirit of the Laws Montesquieu elaborates a vision of European identity and superiority through an extended set of contrasts between Europe and the rest of the world. The opposition between Europe and Asia is fundamental, and Montesquieu's discussion of climate in books 14-17 serves to establish a natural basis for that opposition. As he succinctly puts it at the end of book 17, climate "is the major reason for the weakness of Asia and the strength of Europe, for the liberty of Europe and the servitude of Asia" (280).22 The stakes in this classic discussion of climate are thus nothing less than the identity and superiority of Europe (see Ehrard 722).

How specifically does climate account for the superiority of Europe over Asia? How does the difference between northern and southern climates figure in Montesquieu's discussion? What role does Italy play in the articulation of these various oppositions? Montesquieu outlines the basic effects of climate on human society at the beginning of book 14, in a chapter titled "How much men differ in the various climates." He begins with the basics: cold and hot air affect bodies in different ways. Cold air increases the strength of what he calls "the body's surface fibers," hot air decreases it (231). The result, he writes, is that "men are more vigorous in cold climates," and "this greater strength should produce many effects: for example, more confidence in oneself, that is, more courage; better knowledge of one's superiority" (231, 232). Different climates, indeed, "make very different characters" (232). Toward the end of the chapter he broadly distinguishes between two types: "In northern climates, you shall find peoples who have few vices, a sufficient number of virtues, and a lot of frankness and sincerity. Draw near the southern countries, and you will think you have left morality itself far behind: the liveliest passions proliferate crimes; each person seeks to take advantage of everyone else in ways that favor these same passions" (234). In subsequent chapters he will identify other features that distinguish northerners from southerners, emphasizing in particular the contrast between industriousness and laziness, love of freedom and an inclination toward servitude. The key differences between northerners and southerners, and the moral superiority of the former over the latter, however, are clearly established by the end of the first chapter.

The first aspect of Montesquieu's opening discussion to bear in mind is that no mention has been made thus far of the distinction between Europe and Asia. The discussion is cast, instead, in terms of north and south. Equally important, the geographical dimensions of this discussion are not global but intra-European. Most of the opening chapter is couched in the general terms of cold and hot countries, northern and southern countries, northern peoples and southern peoples. Spain is the first example of a southern country, briefly cited in a footnote (232). Montesquieu singles out England and Italy, however, to exemplify the different ways people behave in cold and hot countries:

In cold countries, one will have little sensitivity to pleasures; one will have more of it in temperate countries; in hot countries, sensitivity will be extreme . . . . I have seen operas in England and Italy; they are the same plays with the same actors: but the same music produces such different effects in the people of the two nations that it seems inconceivable, the one so calm and the other so transported. (233)

It is through this example that Montesquieu situates the contrast in intra-European terms, and through this example that he marks Italy as a southern country.

In the following two chapters we find a major shift of perspective. The next chapter takes "peoples of the south" as its subject, citing "Indians" as its example, a people Montesquieu describes as "by nature without courage" (234). The climate of the Indies is contrasted with "the European climate." The contrast within Europe has been replaced by the contrast between Europe and a southern country, Europe now serving as the northern term of the opposition. In Montesquieu's next chapter, we find a second shift. He now addresses the character of "the peoples of the East" (235). The subject has changed, but only nominally, as the "laziness of spirit" of the eastern peoples is clearly linked to the laziness of the southerners mentioned at the end of the opening chapter. A double transposition has taken place: the opening opposition within Europe has been replaced by an opposition between Europe and another part of the world defined first as south and then east. And the north-south opposition has been transposed into an opposition between Europe and other parts of the world. Montesquieu will shift back and forth between these geographical frameworks in these and other books in The Spirit of the Laws, alternately stressing the differences within Europe and the differences between Europe and the rest of the world.23

Italy in all this occupies an ambiguous position. It is certainly part of Europe. But being, along with Spain, one of the main components of southern Europe, it has affinities with Asia. The southern qualities that it exemplified in the opening chapter also were associated with Asia. In a few other places, the link to Asia is made explicit. In the seventh chapter of book 14, for example, Montesquieu writes that monasticism "was born in the hot eastern countries" (237). Further, "In Asia the number of dervishes, or monks, seems to increase with the heat of the climate; the Indies, where it is extremely hot, are full of them; one finds the same difference in Europe." The rest of the chapter attacks the political and religious institutions of southern Europe (237).

Book 11, which contains a noted discussion of the doctrine of the separation of powers and an encomium of the constitution of England, creates an even more explicit link between Italy and Asia. Here Montesquieu uses the example of Turkey, where "an atrocious despotism reigns," to describe what is wrong with the Italian republics (157). In most kingdoms in Europe, the government is moderate because the prince exercises only two of the three powers, the legislative and executive, leaving the exercise of judicial matters to the people. In Italy, as in Turkey, "the three powers are united. . . . Thus, in order to maintain itself, the government needs means as violent as in the government of the Turks." Montesquieu adds that the exercise of power in the Italian republics "is not precisely like the despotism of Asia," yet what he has done, in effect, is to describe the governance of a European country on the model of Asiatic despotism (158).24

In sum, the theory of climate in Montesquieu serves to establish the intrinsic superiority of Europe over the rest of the world, Asia in particular. At the same time, it provides the basis for Montesquieu's assertions of the superiority of one part of Europe over another. Strikingly, this intra-European division is the point of departure and conceptual basis for articulating the much more noted division between Europe and Asia. Within this overlapping set of oppositions between Europe and Asia, northern and southern Europe, Italy occupies a liminal position. As part of southern Europe, it belongs to Europe yet has affinities with Europe's Other. Italy thus marks the part of Europe that deviates from the models of civilization embodied, above all, by England but by Holland and France as well.

Southern Man and Northern Man in Bonstetten and Gioia

After the appearance of The Spirit of the Laws, the theory of climate circulated widely and helped to provide the conceptual framework for thinking about north and south in European culture between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.25 In the remainder of this chapter I consider a set of texts from the mid-1820s that focus on the specific question of Italy's southernness. The first few decades of the nineteenth century constitute a particularly intense phase in the elaboration of an imaginative geography of north and south in European culture. Inspired in part by the reflections of Madame de Stäel, north and south were theorized, discussed, and represented as never before.26 And for Stäel and many others, Italy was the particular prism through which they imagined the south.

Charles-Victor de Bonstetten's Man of the South and Man of the North, or the Influence of Climate is the clearest expression of the convergent interests in climate and in the distinction between north and south during this period. It is also one of the most sustained discussions of Italy as a southern country. Born in Berne in 1745 and educated in Geneva, Bonstetten was a childhood friend of Madame de Stäel and regular member of her circle at Coppet.27 Although published in 1824, much of The Man of the South and Man of the North had in fact been written a dozen years earlier with Staël's encouragement.28 If the book's comparative framework of south and north is indebted to Staël, the emphasis on the influence of climate inevitably harks back to Montesquieu. In the opening pages, Bonstetten mentions the author of The Spirit of the Laws but also marks his distance from him. "The direct influence of climate on man has, perhaps, been exaggerated by Montesquieu," he writes at the beginning of chapter 1 (21; 28).29 In the introduction he similarly notes that "climate is but one of the causes which influence man" (9; 15). Bonstetten is clearly aware of the objections previously lodged against Montesquieu's theory and of the risks of appearing a geographical determinist. He nevertheless appears to want to have it both ways, to give climate a determining role yet to free himself of the obligation of specifying the nature of its influence. Soon enough it becomes clear that his aim is not to provide a focused investigation into the connection between climate and character but rather to construct an overarching sociocultural dichotomy between the man of the north and south (Rosso, Illuminismo 223). Taking the Alps as the border between the two zones, he outlines a schematic series of contrasts that can be summed up thus:

Man of the North Man of the South

lives in a monotonous environment lives in an abundant and varied environment

reason, reflection imagination, feeling

industry effortless subsistence off the earth

lives indoors lives outdoors

fixed routines no fixed routines

planning no thought for future

banks no banks

social opinion egotism

can be educated/reformed cannot be educated/reformed

Bonstetten has done little more than provide a catalog of the commonplaces about north and south that had been circulating in European culture for about a century. His stated preference is for a balance between the two climates and forms of human civilization, giving priority to neither (see Rosso, Illuminismo 216-17). The ideal situation is when the two forms coexist, and this is conveniently the case with Bonstetten's beloved France: "Situated between the glowing sky of the South and the dreamy regions of the North, France seems to present a happy fusion of the two ways of living in these two climates" (44; 54). Yet even within the context of such a balance, the existence of an overarching hierarchy between civilized and natural man is unmistakable. If, as he suggests, both forms of civilization are necessary, Italy's particular role in this international division is also clear: to play southern nature to northern civilization, the unquestioned subject of modernity. At the same time, the temporal dimension is self-evident. Being more natural, Italians also live in the past. The hierarchical implications of his balance sheet, no doubt, were what caught the attention of readers in the United States a few decades later: in 1864 a Yankee editor published Bonstetten's treatise as The Man of the North, and the Man of the South, just as the North asserted its supremacy over the South in the Civil War.

Melchiorre Gioia published his "Reflections" on Bonstetten's text in September 1825 in the Annali universali di statistica, "the most important journal of the liberal and rationalist-oriented Lombard intelligentsia."30 Considered the leading Italian economist of his day, Gioia was also a statistician, entrepreneur, and patriot.31 As an economist and statistician, he was committed to promoting and measuring the civic and economic progress of his native Lombardy; as an entrepreneur he was committed to industry and private enterprise; and as a patriot he was devoted to Italy. He was, in short, committed to the idea of Italy as a modern bourgeois nation, writing for a journal that aimed at affirming the common links between Italy and the rest of Europe.32 For Gioia, it was therefore imperative "to destroy the unfavorable comparison that Bonstetten establishes . . . between Italy and other nations" (98) and, more generally, to dismantle Bonstetten's stark contrast between southern and northern man, which he sums up at the outset in the following terms: "The man of the south is the little fly that lives from day to day gathering the nectar from the flowers strewn across the land he inhabits; the man of the north is the diligent bee who preserves what he has gathered in the harvest season" (86).33

Gioia takes on Bonstetten from a number of different angles. His main point is that the basic conditions of life are the same on both sides of the Alps. In both the north and south, city dwellers work for a wage in order to feed themselves; "artisans in all countries work with the same materials, the same forms and more or less the same tools . . . . A man who hammers a leaf of gold or silver for twelve hours a day is a mole in both the north and south" (88). In other cases Gioia acknowledges certain differences described by Bonstetten but challenges the climatological explanation with a sociohistorical one: "The sparseness of the churches in the north," Gioia writes, "is not to be attributed to climate but to the ideas introduced by the reforms of Luther and Calvin. Before that epoch the same pomp, splendor, and ceremony reigned in churches of both the north and south" (94).

Finally for our purposes, it is important to note that while Gioia's is a holistic response that defends the integrity, and we might well add, modernity, of Italy as a whole, on a number of occasions he also counters Bonstetten by adopting a more differentiated perspective. He challenges certain of Bonstetten's statements about "Italy" by pointing out that they are generalizations, applicable only to certain parts of the country. In response to Bonstetten's observations that Italians do not make provisions for the future, Gioia writes: "In brief, the author attributes to all of Italy a custom which he observed in the noble houses of Rome and Naples" (91; emphasis in original). This happens again when Gioia refutes Bonstetten's claims about the lack of banks in Italy by vaunting the success of banks in the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia (92). He proudly observes that the banks in Milan are so crowded with people who want to deposit their money that some must return the next day. In contrast to his overarching patriotic emphasis on commonality, here he associates northern Italy with the north. At issue in both the examples cited are particular forms of social life and behavior associated more with modern bourgeois civilization. He thereby acknowledges within the traditional north-south framework that southern Italy is, in certain respects, more "southern."

But this is by no means the main thrust of Gioia's argument. His primary concern is to invalidate and dismantle the opposition between north and south itself. His is a patriotic response to a northern characterization of Italy as southern. Indeed, much of his text is taken up with one of the standard forms of patriotic defense, a catalog of egregious Italian writers and thinkers, aimed at disproving Bonstetten's claim that Italians lack a strong rational, critical faculty.34 In sum, Gioia lays claim to the commonality between the societies on the north and south sides of the Alps, asserting the lack of significant differences in the forms and levels of civilization between northern man and southern man. In his view, Italians and other Europeans are clearly akin in their ways of experiencing the conditions of the modern world.

The Triumph of the North in Leopardi's Discorso

Melchiorre Gioia had little patience for musings about the sociocultural differences between north and south and the southern character of the Italians. In the Discourse on the Current State of the Customs of Italians, Giacomo Leopardi addresses a similar set of problems but from a radically different perspective. More than any other Italian thinker perhaps, Giacomo Leopardi reflected upon the notion of southernness and upon Italy's condition as a southern country. His work is the fruit of almost a century of thinking about climate in Italian and European culture more generally, and constitutes the last great extended reflection on Italy as a southern country. The monumental book of meditations that Leopardi composed between 1817 and 1832, Lo Zibaldone di Pensieri, contains frequent references both to climate and to the distinction between north and south, usually in relation to one another (Placanica, Leopardi e il Mezzogiorno 61). His most focussed discussion of these issues appears, however, in his Discourse on the Current State of the Customs of Italians, written between 1824 and 1827, at the midpoint of his elaboration of the Zibaldone.35 Leopardi's analyses of Italy as a southern country in the Discourse and the Zibaldone are closely interwoven (Bellucci, "Note in margine al Discorso" 83-87; Placanica, Leopardi e il Mezzogiorno 152). The Discourse, however, allows us best to see the question of southernness under the particular pressure of imagining Italy in the context of modern Europe.36 In it Leopardi revisits some of the commonplaces regarding Italy as a southern country and gives them an original twist. He begins his reflections on the national character of the Italians by calling attention to the strength of foreigners' interest in Italy. Italy, he writes in the opening pages, "has become the object of universal curiosity and travel, much more than any time before, and more than any other country" (47). He thus inscribes his text in a tradition of Italian responses to foreign representations of Italy. But he turns that tradition on its head, signaling the reversal of perspective that will inform his view of the division between north and south. Unlike Gioia and many other contemporary commentators, Leopardi considers these foreign portraits of Italy, if anything, too flattering (48). Ever since the publication of Corinne, he writes, more favorable views of Italy have circulated in Europe, views "that I daresay exceed our merits, and that in many areas are contrary to the truth" (48).

Leopardi's reading of Corinne had a massive influence on the development of his thought, and it is not surprising that Corinne is the one text by a foreigner that Leopardi mentions in the Discourse.37 It has been argued in fact that "an ensemble of themes and motifs in the Discourse" are derived from Staël's novel (Rigoni 158; Damiani, "Leopardi e Madame de Staël" 559). One of these themes is the proposition that Italy lacks "society," but Leopardi's vision of north and south, both here and in the Zibaldone, clearly bears the imprint of Staël's distinction between northern and southern peoples as well (see Ravasi 90-99). Leopardi, however, attributes a different significance to this opposition.

Let us briefly review Leopardi's argument about the nature of society, which occupies the main body of the Discourse, before turning to his discussion of north and south in its conclusion. From the outset Leopardi stresses that the Italian nation is in many respects "at about the same level as any of the more civil and educated nations of Europe and America" (55-56). Ever since the French Revolution, he writes, "the Italians have been, in terms of their moral world view, as philosophical, reasonable, and geometrical as the French or any other nation" (55). There is, however, a major difference. In contrast to the more advanced nations of Europe and America, in Italy there is no "society." To wit, Italy lacks what Leopardi calls "intimate society": communal association and exchange, social intercourse and involvement, "public opinion." In the case of the Italians, this lack produces disastrous effects (64-65).

The problem for Leopardi is the following. The bourgeoisie in all the civil nations of Europe and America have lost their illusions. Life is meaningless. Italians share this basic world view with others. But in the other nations "society" helps them to forget the ultimate futility of existence. It helps them to think about the future, to care about themselves and each other. It is not much, Leopardi stresses, but in the modern era it is all we have. Italians, on the other hand, lack both the illusions of former times and the social distractions of the present. They are therefore exceptionally cynical, pessimistic, cruel, egotistical. But that is not all. A second difference compounds the problem and aggravates this lack of society. This second problem is at the center of his concluding remarks. He writes:

Up to this point we have considered the lack of society among Italians. But the effects we have just described are not to be attributed to this alone. Another cause is the nature of the climate and of the national character that depends upon and results from it. However astonishing and paradoxical it may seem, it is nevertheless true that no individual or people is so cold, indifferent, and insensitive . . . as those who are by nature most vivacious, sensitive, and warm. (79)

It is a question of climate and national character, then, of northern and southern man, but at first glance, Leopardi's perspective on it seems paradoxical indeed. For the naturally vivacious, sensitive, warm Italians, the combined lack of illusions and society is even more damaging than it would be for the Germans, English, and French. For just as "northern peoples are less heated in their illusions, so they are less chilly in their disillusionment" (79). For the Italians, instead, "the resulting indifference is complete, ingrown, constant; their inactivity, if one can say it, is most effective, their indifference consummate, their coldness is true ice" (79). Conversely, just as the hot Italians are the coldest, the cold northerners are today "the most animated, the most effectively imaginative, the most mobile and governed by illusions, the most sentimental in both character and behavior, the most poetic both in their actions and life and in their writings and literature" (81). This, he writes, "is the factual truth that leaps to our attention, however singular and monstrous it may seem" (81).

Leopardi has adopted the traditional distinction between northerners and southerners but in a sense turned it upside down. What enables this paradoxical perspective is a historical view of the problem, which he makes explicit in the concluding pages. Up to this point Leopardi has focused on the distinction between northern and southern peoples, and thus on the contrast between the Italians on the one hand and the English, French, and Germans on the other. He now insinuates another distinction between ancient and modern, which he fuses to the former. Together they provide the conceptual framework for his final observations on the relation between Italy and the rest of Europe:

In ancient times the southern peoples surpassed all others in their imaginative capacities and therefore in every endeavor; in modern times the northern peoples have surpassed by far the southern because of the same imaginative capacities. The reason for this is that in ancient times the actual state of things and of cultured opinion favored the imagination to the same extent that in modern times it goes against it. And thus in effect the imagination of the southern peoples was so much more active than that of the northern peoples, just as the opposite is true today—for the chill of reality has a much more powerful effect on imaginations and characters that are warmer and more spirited. And certainly northern nations, and especially the masses, are today more comparable and similar to the ancient nations than the southern nations, and especially the masses. Thus it is certain that if one had to choose from amongst the climates and natural character of peoples an image for antiquity one would certainly choose the southern peoples, and vice versa the northern peoples for an image of the modern. (82-83)

It is to this superior imaginative capacity, finally, that is to be attributed "the decisive and obvious present superiority of the northern nations over the southern, in politics, in literature, and in all else." In sum, "it appears that the north's time has come" (sembra che il tempo del settentrione sia venuto).

This passage, and the Discourse as a whole, constitutes the most sustained and resounding affirmation of the north and thus of modern European civilization in Leopardi's oeuvre. By the same token, the Discourse offers one of Leopardi's most scathing critiques of the contemporary Italians, and of "southern peoples" more broadly, within the framework of modernity. Yet the final footnote in his text, significantly attached to the phrase, "it appears that the north's time has come," suggests that the victory of the north may be qualified significantly. In this note he elaborates further on the idea that peoples with superior imaginations are superior to other peoples in every other domain of human activity. The extraordinary fact about the northern peoples today is that they "preserve the faculty of the imagination in the midst of an increasingly civilized society" (84). He concludes, however, not by emphasizing the greatness of the modern north but of the ancient south: "The union of civilization with imagination is the condition of the ancients, and there is no need to say what greatness this produced." This comment evokes the perspective of the Zibaldone, where the basic terms—northern and southern, modern and ancient—are invested with the same meaning but where the overarching valorization of the ancient south over the modern north is apparent.38 Modern northerners are superior today because their condition most closely resembles that of the ancient southerners, but, as we read in numerous passages of the Zibaldone, it is still the ancient south that constitutes mankind's supreme moment of happiness and greatness. Reading the Discourse in relation to the Zibaldone thus helps us to see that for Leopardi the victory of the north and modern civilization is somewhat more hollow than it might seem at first.39 This is the dimension of his thought that will develop during the 1830s, when, as I shall argue in Chapter 3, Leopardi valorizes the south in a new way and articulates its critical relation to modernity in his last great poem, "La ginestra."

It would be hard to find two readings of Italy's relation to modernity and Europe that contrast more dramatically than those of Gioia and Leopardi. Needless to say, Gioia's "patriotic" response to Bonstetten was more in line with the views of leading Italian liberals who sought to emphasize their country's common links to the progress taking place on the rest of the continent. A keen concern with being typed as a southern country—and thus with the notion that Italy's southern climate made it unsuitable for proper modernity—generally characterized the attitudes of liberal elites for the rest of the nineteenth century and beyond. In 1843 Cesare Balbo attacked the idea that Italy's problems were "the irremediable fault of the soft climate, of the soft races" (Speranze d'Italia 138). Similarly, in an 1877 essay dedicated to the topic of foreign prejudices about Italy, Pasquale Villari bitterly rehearsed the standard view that "'the Latin peoples are in decline. The warm climate saps the strength of men and renders them incapable of liberty' (and sometimes they add the compliment: incapable of morality as well)" (Lettere meridionali 229). More than a century and a quarter after The Spirit of the Laws, the Montesquieuan equation between southern climate and lack of liberty and morality continued to circulate and posed a problem for the construction of Italian national identity. Both in the nineteenth century and after, Italy's Southern Question needs to be construed not only in terms of the country's internal division but also in terms of its identity as a southern country within Europe. How then did the image of a south within the south develop? What characterized the specific southernness of the Mezzogiorno? These are the questions we shall take up in the following chapter.



1  On the economic crisis in Italy during the seventeenth century, see Aymard, "Fragilità," especially 5-18; Malanima; Sella 23-49; Marcello Verga; as well as Zamagni 2-10.

2  See Wallerstein, Modern World-System I, especially 216-21 with reference to Italy; Cipolla, "Changing Balance."

3  See Landes, 134-44.

4  See Chabod, Storia dell'idea dell'Europa 45-46; Waquet, "Penser l'histoire inter-culturelle" 4-5, and Le modèle français et l'Italie savante 367-68.

5  See Braudel "Italia" 2,246-48. But on the more general crisis of the Italian cultural "model" in the late-sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, see Romano, Paese Italia 73-108, as well as the following observations by Braudel: "The Italy that we see around the middle of the seventeenth century is clearly bereft of most of its privileges and prerogatives. . . . Its commercial networks, though not entirely vanished, no longer dominate the Mediterranean, which has lost much of its importance, nor the rest of the world now linked to Europe, which continues to grow economically and increase its weight and importance. . . . The Italian banks also no longer have their ancient prestige: Genovese money remains in Genova, and Venice counts as a school for banker-apprentices, not as an important financial center. The University of Padova is no longer the meeting point for European intellectualdom. And finally, male clothing with vivid colors, powdered wigs, women's styles announced via the export of mannequins from Paris—the 'French doll'—impose themselves upon Italian taste" (2,227-28).

6  Paul Hazard discusses this new awareness in terms of the broader shift in cultural prestige "from south to north" in his European Mind 53-79.

7  See Waquet, Le modèle français et l'Italie savante 1. Waquet's rich study is an essential resource for the study of the shifting perceptions of Italy and France between the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

8  Goethe 60. On Lamartine, see Venturi, "Italia" 1,200-02.

9 Fabian investigates this new conceptualization of time and space in relation to the emergent discourse of anthropology in Time and the Other.

10  Michael O'Brien explores the significance of the counterpoint between north and south in Corinne in his chapter on "Italy and the Southern Romantics" in Rethinking the South 92-97.

11  On the symbolic links between Corinne and Italy, see Kadish 117-18, and Dejean 129-34.

12  On Stendhal's debt to Staël's vision of north and south, see Crouzet 26-42. I will return to Stendhal's conception of the south, and the Mezzogiorno in particular, in the following chapter.

13  Le modèle français et l'Italie savante 389. See Waquet's further comments in "Penser l'histoire inter-culturelle," especially 9.

14  Already in 1535, a Spaniard put his finger on the contradiction inherent in the Italian claim to superiority, observing that the Italians' description of others as barbarians flies in the face of the fact that they themselves are "now plundered, in turns, by the Spaniards, the French, the Germans" (cf., Vivanti, "Storia politica" 346-47).

As Bollati has argued, the awareness of this contradiction on the part of the Italians resulted in a form of schizophrenia, or "dissociation" between objective conditions and subjective representation that constituted an enduring "complex" in the Italian national consciousness. He writes, "Classical civilization had expressed an ethnocentrism of enormous historical proportions with the establishment of a neat separation between those that belonged to the Greco-Latin area and the dubious humanity that remained outside of it, the 'barbarians.' Once this legacy was bequeathed to Italian culture after the fall of the Empire, this form of self-privileging perpetuated itself over time, heedless of the repeated refutation of historical facts. The primacy of a classical heritage . . . , the privilege of belonging to the nucleus of 'civilization,' not only flew in the face of the evidence of Italy's decadence but in the immensity of the fall found the confirmation of its very height, in the magnitude of the calamity found the sign of election and the legitimation of pride. A form of dissociation [occurred] . . . particularly acute in the vortex of the most dramatic identity crises: during invasions, or when the second fall took place in the sixteenth century—the crisis of 'Italian liberty'—once again the fault of 'barbarians.' Today the extreme effects of this pathological form of Italian consciousness still survive. . . . In the simultaneity of primacy and decadence, of an objective inferiority over-compensated by a sense of invincible superiority, one of the most characteristic and stable schemes of all Italian history is established" ("Italiano" 956).

15 The same diplomat wrote six years later that "this is a miserable and lazy nation, that deserves to be treated like a slave and covered with infamy and misfortune" (Venturi, "Italia" 1,007). See as well the catalog of lamentations from the pen of Ludovico Muratori in the same decades (i.e., "noi miseri italiani") in Waquet, Le modèle français et l'Italie savante 332 n. 131.

16  On the idea of an Italian primacy before Gioberti, see Natali. On this problem more generally, see Bollati's classic essay cited above, "Italiano."

17  I will return to Gioberti in Chapter 3 to discuss his representation of the south in this text.

18  On this Europeanism, see Salvatorelli, Pensiero e azione 123-24, and La Salvia, "Moderatismo" 177; with respect to the Lombards, see Greenfield 150, 203.

19  For discussions of the antecedents to Montesquieu's theory of climates, see Ehrard 691-717; Mercier, Shackleton, "Evolution of Montesquieu's Theory of Climate"; and, with reference to Bodin in particular, Fournol 117-73. Pinna and Johnson offer more general surveys of climate theory from antiquity through the eighteenth century.

20  On the criticisms of Montesquieu, see Abbattista, Benrekassa, Ehrard 722-24, Merquiol 139-41, Hervé 345.

21  "Of Differing Ages and Climes" 480. In Ernest Renan's 1855 Histoire, for example, the pitiless sun of the Orient was one of the factors behind the inferiority of the Semites with respect to the Indo-Europeans living in temperate zones (see Bernal 345). Cesare Lombroso, on the other hand, seriously questioned the influence of climate with respect to historical and cultural factors in his 1871 L'uomo bianco e l'uomo di colore (White Man and Colored Man) 83-118. In the same decades, however, climate was being redeployed in the context of imperialism to assert the link between "races" and "places" (see Stepan). On the uses of the "moral discourse of climate" more generally in the nineteenth century, see Livingstone, "Moral Discourse of Climate." The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson offer a striking example of how the discourse of climate was creatively reelaborated in the mid-1800s, as Eduardo Cadava shows in his Emerson and the Climates of History.

22  On the discourse of the "natural" in relation to European liberty and Asiatic despotism in The Spirit of the Laws, see Courtois 310-16.

23  One of the most sharply defined formulations of the north-south division within Europe appears in book 21: "There is a kind of balance in Europe between the nations of the South and those of the North. The first have all sorts of the comforts of life and few needs; the second have many needs and few of the comforts of life. To the former, nature has given much, and they ask but little of it; to the others nature gives little, and they ask much of it. Equilibrium is maintained by the laziness it has given to the southern nations and by the industry and activity it has given to those of the north" (355).

24  Domenico Felice stresses that this depiction of the Venetian state, appearing as it does in the context of a noted discussion of the separation of powers, played no small role in further tarnishing the image of Venice in the minds of contemporaries (78-79). On Montesquieu's depiction of the political institutions of Italy, see also Desgraves.

25  Montesquieu's theory of climate was enthusiastically received by some (most notably Rousseau and Herder) and, as mentioned above, criticized by others. Not surprisingly, some of his Italian critics were sensitive to the special implications of his theory for their country. In his letter "On the Influence of Climates on Human Societies" published in 1758, the Tuscan Vincenzio Martinelli contested Montesquieu's proposition that "northern peoples are most fit for conquest and above all most suited to freedom" (Bonora 886). In the first place, he argued, the vaunted Germans were barbarians; secondly, Greece and Italy, "where the weather is so hot," were the very places where political freedom first flourished (Bonora 889). In conclusion, he writes, "education much more than climate determines the thought and action of men" (Bonora 889). Others steered a middle course, recognizing climate's influence as one among many. As Francesco Algarotti wrote, "both physical and moral causes influence the character and spirit of nations" (240).

26 The distinction between north and south is central to De la littérature (1800), Corinne (1807), and De l'Allemagne (1813). On this aspect of Stäel's thought, see Blaeschke lx-lxiv; Larg 201-07; Pellandra 130-31.

27 Herold provides a biographical sketch of Bonstetten, with specific reference to his relation to Staël, in Mistress to an Age (291-93). See Howald for a more recent, book-length treatment of his life and work.

28  After Stael's departure from Coppet in May 1812, Bonstetten wrote in a letter: "I have written a little work on the influence of climate on men, and in the preface I have put the description of the south compared to the north that Mme. de Staël often encouraged me to do" (quoted in Pellegrini 40).

29 I cite from the English translation, titled The Man of the North and the Man of the South, and from the 1826 Swiss edition. Here and in further citations, references to these editions appear respectively in parentheses.

30  Patriarca, Numbers and Nationhood 24. In Chapter 3 I shall discuss the significance of the Annali universali di statistica in relation to the article on the Kingdom of the Two Sicilys that Carlo Cattaneo published there.

31  Melchiorre Gioia contains a wide-ranging set of discussions of his life and work. In his introduction to the volume, Capra emphasizes Gioia's position at the vanguard of the bourgeois revolution in Italy (21-24). Patriarca dedicates considerable attention to Gioia in relation to statistics and nation building in Numbers and Nationhood. More briefly, see Lanaro, "Élites settentrionali" 28-29.

32  In his study of the Annali, La Salvia situates Gioia's response to Bonstetten within this broader tendency (Giornalismo lombardo 167-69). Modona goes a step further, arguing that Gioia's response to Bonstetten is entirely motivated—and vitiated—by patriotic fervor (101).

33  I cite from the edition in Gioia's Opere minori, published in 1834.

34  One critic writing for the Florentine Antologia in March 1826 in fact took issue with Gioia's refutation of Bonstetten's claims to northern superiority: "Our patriotism, which rightly takes pride in our merits, also obliges us to recognize our defects and the merits of other peoples, for our progress depends on this very impartiality" ("Riflessioni" 126).

35  On the problem of dating the text and the circumstances of its composition, see Dondero 13-67 and Savarese 209-32. Dondero argues for 1824 as the date of composition, while Savarese dates at least part of the composition to 1826-27.

36  This concern with Italy vis-à-vis Europe no doubt explains the unprecedented interest in the text during the 1990s in Italy, both among Leopardi scholars and a broader readership. Originally published in 1906, the Discourse was of interest only to a few specialists until the late 1980s. Since then at least five editions have appeared: Bellucci (1988), Placanica (1989), Moncagatta (1991), Ferrucci (1993), and Rigoni (1998). During the second half of 2000 a popular edition of the Discourse, titled "Sui costumi degli italiani," was on sale at newstands in Italy. My analysis is informed by the introductions by Bellucci, Placanica, and Rigoni, and by the chapters by Savarese in Eremita osservatore 209-50. Ezio Raimondi also dedicates a chapter to the Discourse in his Letteratura e identità nazionale 30-66. I cite from the Rigoni edition.

37  See Damiani, "Leopardi e Madame de Staël"; Ravasi.

38  See, for example, the passage in which Leopardi speaks of "the true and innate preeminence of the southern nature over the northern" (Zibaldone 1,026-27, 10 May 1821).

39  Savarese characterizes the concluding pages of the Discourse as a "provisional and apparent expression of admiration for the northern nations" (Eremita osservatore 226; my emphasis). See also Placanica, Leopardi e il Mezzogiorno 48-49, 89-90; and Dondero 76-77.

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