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Conversion and National Identity

A Reading of Bresciani’s L’Ebreo di Verona
  • Ariella Lang
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Part of the Studies in European Culture and History book series (SECH)

Abstract

In the last chapter, I argued that Manzoni’s novel advocated conversion to Catholicism as a means of establishing a modern Italian nationstate that retained its Catholic identity. It may seem surprising to suggest that a liberal Catholic like Manzoni would vigorously pursue conversion. And yet this was not unusual among neo-Guelph and liberal Catholic thinkers. Vincenzo Gioberti advocated conversion with his vision of an Italian nation-state based on Christian principles. Carlo Maria Curci, a Jesuit opponent of Gioberti, criticized the Giobertian conflation of Catholicism and nationhood, stating that Giobertian ideology was one in which “in the name of the Gospel, Parliament is proclaimed, in the name of the Pope, the Italian confederation, and in the name of Christian morals, the expulsion of the Germans from Lombard-Veneto.”1 While Gioberti condemned the persecution of religious minorities, his argument for open-mindedness was itself aimed at conversion. That is, rather than be persecuted, he argued that Jews be treated with Christian charity, since such kindness would lead them to convert of their own accord. Similarly, the liberal Catholic Giovanni Vicini criticized the Church for its excessive force in dealing with the Jewish community.

Keywords

National Identity Jewish Community Post Office Papal State Papal Supporter 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cited in Alberto Banti, La nazione del Risorgimento (Turin: Einaudi, 2000), 136.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Giovanni Vicini, Giovanni Vicini: memorie biografiche e storiche (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1897), 211. Vicini was appointed secretary general of the Cisalpine government after serving as president of the provisional government of the Cispadane Republic in 1796. For further discussion of his work, see Lynn Gunzberg, Strangers at Home: Jews in the Italian Literary Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 42–45. Even many anticlerical liberals, while not advocating religious conversion per se, did strive toward assimilating Jews into the greater community, and in so doing of eliminating the difference between Jew and Christian. For further discussion, see Andrew M. Canepa, “Emancipation and Jewish Response in Mid- Nineteenth-Century Italy,” European History Quarterly 16. 4 (1986): 403–39.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    The English citations are from Antonio Bresciani, The Jew of Verona: An Historical Tale of the Italian Revolutions of 1846–9, vols. 1–2 (Baltimore: John Murphy & Co., 1854) (translator unnamed).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Cultural Writings, ed. David Forgacs and Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, trans. William Boelhower (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1985), 339. Gramsci cites Manzoni’s supposed reaction to Bresciani’s novel as further proof of Bresciani’s terrible writing, attributing the citation to the diary of Margherita di Collegno. It should be noted, however, that in the biographical notes on Bresciani released by Civiltà Cattolica, a more positive response is attributed to Manzoni. Bresciani’s memoirs state that when a woman asked Manzoni what he thought of the work, Manzoni responded, “The author of the Jew of Verona is the best writer in Italy.” Della vita e delle opere del p. Antonio Bresciani della C.d.G. Commentario (Rome: Office of Civilta Cattolica, 1869), CXI.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bresciani’s title is an ironic reference to the anti-Jesuit novel by Eugene Sue, Le Juif errant. The work, a favorite among Italian liberals, recounts the story of a Jesuit agent who schemes against the descendants of a persecuted Protestant to stop them from inheriting the latter’s fortune. See A. Di Ricco, “Padre Bresciani: populismo e reazione,” Studi Storici 22 (1981): 848.Google Scholar
  6. 10.
    Curci was the same Jesuit clergyman whom Pius chose, along with Father Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, brother of the statesman Massimo, to publicly defend his decision not to support unification. In addition, Bresciani dedicates EV to him. As discussed in an earlier chapter, Pius VII had restored the Society of Jesus in 1814 as part of his effort toward rebuilding a religious presence on the continent after the collapse of the Napoleonic Empire. During the two hundred years that the Jesuits had been banned in the Papal States, they had nonetheless become well entrenched in the society of Catholic Europe and among Catholic colonies. For Leo XII, the Jesuits embodied a kind of Catholic internationalism that held great appeal. In addition, their Society represented values associated with the world prior to the French Revolution, a world to which Leo strove to return. Jesuits were particularly hated by many liberal thinkers because they represented the epitome of conservatism: “The general tendency of the Italian Jesuits toward a conservative kind of political thinking made them, in the eyes of many patriots, allies of Austria and enemies of national unity. No one wrote with more venom than Vincenzo Gioberti, who denounced the Society as the chief obstacle to the civic and religious salvation of Italy and to the harmonious fusion of religion and modern civilization.” William V. Bangert S. J., A History of the Society of Jesus (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1972), 442.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    The two had met at Pius’ papal inauguration, which Bresciani attended in Rome. At that time, the pope reportedly complimented Bresciani’s writing, saying, “Know that I read all of your works and I like them very much. You write quite well and with thegreat advantage of youth. Continue to write, because you will make yourself very useful to Italy.” Bresciani, Opere del P. Antonio Bresciani della compagnia di Gesit, Vol. 2 (Rome: Ufficio della Civilta Cattolica, 1865), 152.Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    Owen Chadwick, The Popes and European Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 549.Google Scholar
  9. 25.
    Filippo Aminta, Lebraismo senza replica e sconfitto colle stesse sue armi (Rome, 1823), VI.Google Scholar
  10. 26.
    “Charitate Christi,” in The Papal Encyclicals, 1740–1878, ed. Claudia Carlen Ihm (Raleigh: The Pierian Press, 1990), 213.Google Scholar
  11. 29.
    Cited in Michael P. Riccards, Vicars of Christ: Popes, Power and Politics in the Modern World (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1998), 5.Google Scholar
  12. 31.
    “Academies and universities resound with new and monstrous opinions,” he writes, “and no longer secretly or obscurely do they attack the Catholic faith. … The lessons and examples of the masters thus pervert the youth … and the most frightful immorality gains and spreads.” Cited in Anne Fremantle, ed., The Papal Encyclicals in their Historical Context (New York: New American Library, 1956) 128. In addition, among the notes of poet Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, an undated reference to Pope Gregory (most likely from 1846, after the pope’s death) was discovered that reiterates how unpopular this pope was: “A Papa Gregorio je volevo bene perche’ me dava er gusto de potenne di’ male.” Belli employs similarly sarcastic language in a poem dedicated to the recently deceased pope, entitled Er Papa bbonanima, Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, Sonetti, ed. Giorgio Vigolo and Pietro Gibellini (Milan: Mondadori, 2000), LXXXVIII.Google Scholar
  13. 32.
    One only has to look, for example, at Eugen Weber’s well-known work Peasants into Frenchmen: the modernization of rural France, 1870–1914 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1976), in which the author discusses the development of these different elements that coincided with the emergence of modern nationhood, to see the idea of circulation employed in another context. That is, in his discussion of statehood, Weber examines precisely the issues that I have mentioned above: young men gathering from all corners of the country to form the military; roads that connect different parts of the country, allowing for postal routes and for a greater number of people to travel; trains that allowed for more extensive traveling to other cities.Google Scholar
  14. 33.
    Benedict Anderson coined this phrase in his work, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1991).Google Scholar
  15. 35.
    For one example, see Gianfranco Legitimo, “Il padre Bresciani cento anni dopo,” Dialoghi: Rivista Bimestrale di Letteratura Arti Scienze 10 (1962): 155–70.Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    Gunzberg, 68. Aser embodies the qualities of the Wandering Jew and of the wealthy, internationally known Rothschild family, whose wealth Bresciani undoubtedly disliked in particular, as one branch of the family had even bankrolled the bankrupt Vatican. For an excellent discussion of this relationship, see Francesco Barbagallo, “The Rothschilds in Naples,” Journal ofModern Italian Studies 5, no. 3 (2001): 294–309.Google Scholar
  17. 42.
    For further discussion, see Silvio Furlani, La politica postale di Metternich e lItctlict, Quaderni di storia postale, vol. 8 (Prato: Istituto di studi storici postali, 1987).Google Scholar
  18. 45.
    Cited in Bernhard Siegert, Relays: Literature as an epoch of the postal system, trans. Kevin Repp (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 165.Google Scholar
  19. 47.
    Richard R. John, Spreading the News: the American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 57.Google Scholar
  20. 50.
    For a detailed discussion of Ciceruacchio, see Fedele Clemente and Mario Gallenga, Per servizio di nostro signore: strade, corrieri e poste dei papi dal medioevo al I870, Quaderni di Storia Postale 10 (Modena: Mucchi Editore, 1988). He is also mentioned in Attilio Milano, Storia degli ebrei Storia degli ebrei in Italia (Turin: Einaudi, 1992), 360.Google Scholar
  21. 56.
    Janet Gurkin Altman, Epistolarity: Approaches to a Form (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1982), 185.Google Scholar
  22. 69.
    Jessica Lang, “Circulating Bodies: Reading Charlotte Temple and Susannah Rowson,” Unpublished essay, 2003.Google Scholar
  23. 77.
    For further discussion of this theme in the Bildungsroman, see Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel (London: Verso, 1999).Google Scholar

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© Ariella Lang 2008

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