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The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 364
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    The View from Vesuvius
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93982-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction: How Did Southern Italy Become ″the South″?
    (pp. 1-10)

    The central chapter ofThe Leopardby 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 the alarmed expression on his face. While waiting to be picked up at a postal station near the prince′s villa, Chevalley is momentarily reassured by the wordsCorso Vittorio Emanuelepainted in blue letters on the side of a house before him. But this sign...

  6. I. IMAGINING THE SOUTH, c. 1750–1850

    • 1 Italy as Europe′s South
      (pp. 13-36)

      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...

    • 2 ″L′Europe finit à Naples″: Representations of the Mezzogiorno in the Century before Unification
      (pp. 37-82)

      The modern image of the Mezzogiorno forms part of the broader vision of Italy and the south considered in the previous chapter. The two overarching contrasts between nature and society and between a glorious past and a decadent present also structure many representations of the Mezzogiorno. How was the Mezzogiorno seen as different? To begin, it was often thought to possess qualities associated with the whole of Italy but to a greater degree. The south was on the one hand more backward and uncivilized, on the other more natural and picturesque. Writers expressed the contrasts between nature and society and...


    • 3 The North Looks South, 1825–1848
      (pp. 85-125)

      In the decades before 1848, elites from the Alps to Sicily became increasingly interested in ″Italy.″ For the first time statisticians, historians, painters, novelists, composers, political thinkers, and others made a substantial effort to conceive of Italy as a nation. Their works were variously animated by the desire both to represent the diverse regional realities on the peninsula and to imagine a common bond among them. As the Lombard writer Carlo Cattaneo put it in 1845, the time had come ″to illustrate thebel paesepiece by piece″ (″Annuario″ 80). For elites of the center-north, the largest and most distant...

    • 4 Of Bourbons and Barbarism, 1848–1860
      (pp. 126-155)

      The years between 1848 and 1860 constitute a distinct and decisive phase in the history of imagining the south. After Ferdinand II turned against the liberal movement in Naples in May 1848, imprisoning and exiling thousands, an intense propaganda campaign was mounted against the Bourbon regime. This campaign, and widespread anti-Bourbon sentiment more generally, helped to delegitimize the regime within Italy and beyond, preparing the symbolic terrain for its growing political isolation and final military defeat in 1860–61. It was not just the Bourbon regime that was damaged by this decade of disaffection and denunciations. Though anti-Bourbon discourse had...

    • 5 ″This Is Not Italy!″: Ruling and Representing the South, 1860–1861
      (pp. 156-184)

      In May 1860, Garibaldi′s ″Thousand″ landed in Sicily, defeating the Bourbon troops on the island by late July and from there moving up through the mainland south to enter Naples triumphantly in early September. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was thus conquered and, with the plebiscite of 21 October, united to the northern provinces under the rule of King Victor Emmanuel to form the Kingdom of Italy. The dream of a unified nation, excepting Rome and Venice, was at last a political reality. Nevertheless, for the Piedmontese who orchestrated this union, governing the ex-Bourbon provinces of southern Italy in...


    • 6 Terra Vergine: Picturing the South in Illustrazione italiana
      (pp. 187-223)

      The year 1860 constitutes a pivotal moment both in the history of the south and in the history of representations of the south. At the beginning of the year the southern part of the peninsula together with Sicily formed a sovereign state under the rule of the Neapolitan king Francis II; a year later this area had been absorbed into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy under the rule of the Piedmontese king Victor Emmanuel II. The ″Neapolitan provinces″ and Sicily were now a part of ″Italy,″ yet many viewed them as distinct from the more ″Italian Italy″ of the...

    • 7 The Emergence of the Southern Question in Pasquale Villari and Leopoldo Franchetti
      (pp. 224-249)

      During the mid-1870s, a new vision of southern Italy appeared in the writings of two Italian political thinkers. Pasquale Villari and Leopoldo Franchetti articulated for the first time the regional specificity of the social, political, and economic conditions of the Mezzogiorno. Their work, together with that of Franchetti′s collaborator Sidney Sonnino, announced the existence of the Southern Question and, at the same time, inaugurated the rich tradition of inquiry and debate subsequently known as Meridionalism (meridionalismo).¹ In this chapter I analyze the major texts Villari and Franchetti wrote and published between 1874 and 1878, exploring the figures and rhetorical strategies...

    • 8 The Geographical Poetics of Giovanni Verga
      (pp. 250-296)

      The fiction of Giovanni Verga is a prime manifestation of the keen interest in the south that emerged in Italian bourgeois culture during the second half of the 1870s. Verga′s Sicilian stories and novel,I Malavoglia, helped to create one of the great imaginative geographies in modern Italian literature. A striking feature of Verga′s literary representations of Sicily is their engagement with the areas of cultural practice and modes of representing the south considered in the previous two chapters:Illustrazione italianaand Franchetti′s and Sonnino′s writings, in particular, as well as folklore studies. Reading Verga in relation to these other...

  9. Conclusion: What the South Enables Us to Say
    (pp. 297-300)

    The Southern Question has been, in the words of the historian Piero Bevilacqua, the ″critical consciousness of the nation-building process in Italy.″ Bevilacqua continues, ″to look at the whole of Italy from the south—from the place where the foundations of the new state, for a variety of reasons, had been most fragile—has in fact offered a sort of cognitive advantage for assessing with greater realism and sensitivity the solidity of the unitary framework, for singling out the weak points in its formation, for reflecting upon the problems of the future″ (″Questione settentrionale″ 9). What I have attempted to...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-336)
  11. Index
    (pp. 337-349)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 350-352)