After Respectability: Women, Sexuality and the Circus in Pre-Sexology Italy

  • Mark Seymour
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History Series book series (GSX)


In May 1871, Raffaella Saraceni, at the nubile age of 18, married Captain Giovanni Fadda, a respectable army officer in the prime of life at 29. The wedding took place after a brief courtship in Naples, where the groom was posted. Both parties to the marriage represented the borghesia of southern Italy. Saraceni was from Cassano, a provincial town in Calabria of about 9,000 inhabitants; her mother came from a prominent family and her stepfather was director of the region’s railways. Fadda, first-born son of a notary from Cagliari, Sardinia, had signed up for the army in 1859 in order to participate in the unification of Italy. By 1871, he was a decorated soldier-functionary of the state he had helped to forge.1 The era in which the marriage took place had special significance for modern Italy: recently established as a unified nation, the first decade of nationhood had concluded with Rome finally becoming Italy’s capital in 1870, the year before the wedding. In this historical context, it is tempting to see Raffaella and Giovanni’s marriage as a symbolic union not just between two families, but between two major and distinctive components of the Italian polity. In the same vein, since one of the principal social functions of marriage was to provide the sole respectable context for expressions of sexuality, particularly in a deeply Catholic country, it was likely to be only a matter of time before Raffaella and Giovanni consolidated their joint role in the unification of Italy by making more Italians.


Italian Woman Symbolic Union Catholic Country Provincial Town Chief Prosecutor 
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© Mark Seymour 2015

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  • Mark Seymour

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