The ‘Italian Vice’: Male Homosexuality and British Tourism in Southern Italy
Recent studies have shown how, from the mid-eighteenth century, foreign travellers played a key role in constructing the stereotype of southern Italy as a backward and dissolute place.1 Ever since the hey-day of the Grand Tour, contrasting views on Italy had multiplied: the south came to be seen as a zone dominated by brigandage, corruption and violence, and, at the same time, as a place of overwhelming natural beauty, the cradle of European civilisation and a site beguilingly Oriental in its essential characteristics.2 These perspectives developed under the pressure of imperialistic, racist and, later in the nineteenth century, nationalistic discourses, and eventually were internalised by Italians themselves.3 Among the tropes that circulated in Europe and Italy even prior to the mid-eighteenth century was that of a sodomy endemic to the Italian peninsula, just as it purportedly was among ‘inferior’ peoples outside Europe. Reinforced by stereotypes of national character, this association between male same-sex practices and Italy persisted in the nineteenth century and was taken up by a wide range of Italian commentators, including criminal anthropologists, journalists and even the political elite. It was also embraced by British homosexuals, some of whom were travellers, while others had opted to live in exile in Italy as social outcasts.
KeywordsNineteenth Century Homosexual Community Male Homosexuality Sexual Mores Italian Culture
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