The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question

The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question

The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question

The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question


"This may well be the most complete and fascinating historical investigation of the myths and stereotypes through which European elites have observed and judged the south of Italy in the modern era."--Piero Bevilacqua, University of Rome

"A tour de force exploration of how the idea of the south of Italy - the Southern question - developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe and Italy. Nelson Moe's book is a provocative reassessment of an old question, newly conceived and dictated by larger ideological and political needs that extend far beyond the geographic borders of the Italian nation."--Judge, Scaglione Publication Award, Italian Literary Series


The central chapter of The Leopard by 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 words Corso Vittorio Emanuele painted in blue letters on the side of a house before him. But this sign of his king's authority on the island is ultimately “not enough to convince him that he was in a place which was, after all, part of his own nation” (195).

In the 140 years since the unification of northern and southern Italy, many have felt similar doubts. the vexed relationship between the two parts of the country, often referred to as the Southern Question, has shaped Italy's political, social, and cultural life during the past century. the emergence of Umberto Bossi's separatist Northern League during the 1990s has lent a new urgency to this question, providing millions of voters with a political channel through which to vent their discontent with the unified state formed from Italy's various regions in 1860.

How and when did southern Italy become “the south, ” a place and people imagined to be different from and inferior to the rest of the country? My book explores this question through the analysis of a wide range of textual and visual representations of the south produced in Italy and elsewhere in Europe between the mid-eighteenth and late-nineteenth centuries. I argue that a modern vision of the Italian south, or Mezzogiorno, took form in the middle decades of the nineteenth century under the combined pressures of western Eurocentrism, nationalism, and bourgeoisification.

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