Till Death Do Them Part? The Church-State Struggle over Marriage and Divorce, 1860–1914



The historical peculiarities of marriage law in modern Italy have been sufficiently interesting to provide the inspiration for several feature films, the most famous of which is undoubtedly ‘Divorce Italian Style’. Released in 1960 to great acclaim, the film’s plot satirises the absence of a divorce law in Italy (a fact which to many was proof that the nation of the ‘economic miracle’ still harboured vestiges of medieval Church law deep within the mechanisms regulating private life). The film’s narrative follows various amusing schemes hatched by a Sicilian baron, Fefe Cefalu, to murder his wife of many years so that he can marry a nubile sixteen-year-old. Fefe knows Italian civil law is absolutely rigid about the indissolubility of marriage, but he also knows that if he can contrive to have his exceedingly faithful wife commit adultery and make his subsequent murder of her appear to be a crime of passion, the criminal law will be indulgent and he will soon be free to marry again.1


Civil Code Private Sphere Civil Marriage Parliamentary Commission Italian Court 
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  1. 2.
    See, for example, Alessandro Coletti, II divorzio in Italia. Storia di una battaglia civile e democratica, 2nd edn (Rome: Edizioni Savelli, 1974); Roderick Philips, Putting Asunder: A History of Divorce in Western Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 5 72–6; Paul Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics, 1943–1988 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), pp. 348–51.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Carlo Francesco Gabba, Studi di legislazione civile comparata in servizio della nuova codificazione italiana (Milan: Tipi di Alessandro Lombardi, 1862); Carlo Coscioni, I prolegomeni al nuovo codice civile italiano (Naples: Tipografia dell’Amo, 1863). In this early work Gabba declared divorce to be the logical and desirable next step after the introduction of civil marriage. Later, however, he became one of the most prestigious voices to argue against the introduction of divorce, considering it inappropriate for Italy.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    In his innovative and imaginative study of the symbols of the Risorgimento, Alberto Banti discusses the importance of notions such as family ties in the campaign to unify Italians: A.M. Banti, La nazione del Risorgimento. Parentela, santitd e onore alle origini dellItalia unita (Turin: Einaudi, 2000).Google Scholar
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    Maria Alimonda Serafini, Matrimonio e divorzio. Pensieri (Salerno: Tipografia Nazionale, 1873).Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    Salvatore Morelli, La donna e la scienza, o la soluzione del problema sociale, 3rd edn (Naples: Societa Tipografico-Editrice, 1869), p. 10. Given his prescient views, Morelli has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. The only secondary work is Ginevra Conti Odorisio (ed.), Salvatore Morelli (1824–1880). Ernancipazionismo e democrazia nellOttocento europeo (Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Francis Ronsin, Les divorciaires. Affrontements politiques et conceptions du mariage dans la France du XIXe siecle (Paris: Aubier, 1992), p. 199.Google Scholar
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    For example, ‘II matrimonio di Garibaldi’, Corriere della sera (Milan), 15–16 January 1880, p. 2.Google Scholar
  8. 14.
    ‘II Vaticano ed il divorzio’, La Capitale (Rome), 6 January 1880, p. 1. There is little published research on the history of annulments by ecclesiastical courts, but while it is quite probable that different standards were applied in different cases, it is evident that annulments were not the sole preserve of the rich, since many cases heard at no charge appear in case summaries. See, for example, Analecta Juris Pontificiae. Dissertations sur differents sujets de droit canonique, liturgie, théologie et histoire (Rome: Librairie de la Propagande, 1871–82).Google Scholar
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    According to the most authoritative catalogue of Italian published works, there was an exponential increase in the number of works on divorce from the early 1880s. See Attilio Pagliaini, Catalogo generale della libreria italiana dallanno 1847 a 1899 (Milan: Associazione Tipografico-Libraria Italiana, 1901).Google Scholar
  11. 21.
    The proposals for divorce submitted to Parliament between 1881 and 1893 were as follows: Villa, 1881 (failed due to early closure of parliamentary session); Zanardelli, 1883 (failed for the same reason); Villa, 1892 (failed due to the fall of the government); Villa, 1893 (failed due to closure of parliamentary session).Google Scholar
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    Such cases also divided the judiciary, best exemplified by the judicial review of four cases where Italian courts had given executive recognition to divorcesobtained abroad. The procuratore generale of the Turin Court of Cassation wrote a 100-page review, criticising what he regarded as an increasing tendency of the Italian magistracy to see divorce as a desideratum of an advanced society. See Court of Cassation, II regime matrimoniale italiano e il divorzio (Turin: Unione Tipografico-Editrice, 1900).Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    Notably Teresa Labriola, Del divorzio: discussione etica (Rome: E. Loescher, 1901), a philosophical treatise in favour of divorce, based on the idea that a marriage that has gone wrong no longer exercises its social function of helping individuals subordinate their passions to inward reflection. Two significant contributions from women came in the form of novels: Grazia Deledda, Dopo il divorzio (Turin-Rome: Roux e Viarengo, 1902), and Anna Franchi, Avanti il divorzio (Milan: Remo Sandron, 1902). The former took a noncommittal position. The latter (whose title engages with Deledda’s and makes a reference to the Socialist newspaper, Avanti!), is an impassioned semiautobiographical plea for a divorce law.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    Fiorenza Taricone, Lassociazionismo femminile italiano dalUnita al fascismo (Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 1996), p. 8.Google Scholar
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    Luisa Anzoletti, 11 divorzio e la donna italiana, 2nd edn (Milan: L.F. Cogliati, 1902), p. 6.Google Scholar
  16. 29.
    Anna Kuliscioff, ‘Il sentimentalismo nella questione femminile’, Critica sociale (1892), p. 142.Google Scholar
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    Antonio Salandra, II divorzio in Italia (Rome: Forzani, 1882).Google Scholar
  18. 31.
    Atti del Parlamento Italiano. Camera dei Deputati. Raccolta degli atti stampati per ordine della Camera, Session of 1902–4, Vol. IV: nos. 151–212 (Rome: Camera dei Deputati, 1904), Document n. 207-A, ‘Relazione’ by Antonio Salandra.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Giovanni Spadolini, Giolitti e i cattolici (1901–1914) (Florence: Le Monnier, 1971), p. ix.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2004

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