Academic journal article Italica

Beyond Good and Evil: Pisana and the Birth of the Italian Nation

Academic journal article Italica

Beyond Good and Evil: Pisana and the Birth of the Italian Nation

Article excerpt

Oh tu sei ancora con me, tu sarai sempre con me; perche la tua morte ebbe affatto la sembianza d'un sublime ridestarsi a vita piu alta e serena. Sperammo ed amammo insieme, insieme dovremo trovarci la dove si raccolgono gli amori dell'umanita passata e le speranze della futura (Nievo 328).

In 1872, five years after the posthumous publication of Ippolito Nievo's Le confessioni di un italiano, Luigina Codemo, a respectable Venetian writer, whose rigidly conservative views aimed at promoting renewed nationalism, warned readers against the dangers of Nievo's novel.

Una letteratura di quel genere, perdette la Francia. Il ritegno dei nostri autori ha invece preservato fino adesso l'Italia. Se la letteratura della presente democrazia non ha ideale, essa e senza avvenire. Della Pisana come ideale e meglio tacere. Carlino e libero di amarla svisceratamente e descrivere la sua passione con versi soavissimi, e con una trasparenza che innamora, e in cui si sente animo di poeta. Ma un affetto per una tal femmina ... e cosa da non mostrarsi con troppa evidenza al pubblico [...] perche esercita un male ascendente sui lettori (qtd. in Gorra ix).

Two years later, Niccolo Tommaseo, who was working for a newly founded "Italian Society Against Unethical Literature," placed Nievo's novel on a list of texts to be excluded from Italian libraries, since these texts threatened the well-being of ethical families (Gorra ix).

Six months after completing his novel (1858) the disappointed and resigned Nievo wrote the following to his friend Arnaldo Fusinato, "Il mio romanzo non va per ora perche non incontrerebbe alla censura" (Milanini xxi). Nievo was right. In fact, after numerous attempts at finding a publisher, Nievo abandoned his novel in the bottom of a drawer that was not opened until after his death. He died on March 4, 1861 only 13 days shy of the proclamation of Italy's unification on a return trip from Sicily, where he was serving as viceintendente under Garibaldi (Luperini, Cataldi, Marchiani 713; 938). Nievo had not yet reached the age of thirty.

Le Confessioni was published posthumously in 1867 thanks to the efforts of Erminia Fua Frusinato, the curator of two of the volumes of Nievo's work for La Biblioteca Nazionale and of the critic Eugenio Checchi, who persuaded Felice Le Monnier to publish the novel. Oddly, even though Le Monnier requested that changes be made to the text prior to its publication, the corrections he singled out were not aimed at a refashioning of the heroine. What Le Monnier changed was the title from Le confessioni di un italiano to Le confessioni di un ottuagenario, because according to him Nievo's title was too politically charged for the times. In addition to this change, he deleted some derogatory remarks aimed at the ruling class, which Nievo called "a society of eunuchs, egoists ... and bastards ... to which I belong" (Milanini xxi).

In light of these changes and in light of the criticism that ensued the novel's publication, one has to wonder what exactly rendered this novel so transgressive. Was it the heroine's ethical inclination, or was it the novel's political implication, or maybe a little of both? A closer analysis suggests that what was so transgressive about Nievo's title is that by uniting confession with Italian, Nievo was aligning himself with some of the more progressive Catholics, who were trying to reconcile a commitment to Italian independence with loyalty to the church, by promoting a more progressive view of religion. Such a position placed Nievo right at the center of a heated debate that was fought between more conservative forces, who sided with the monarchy and the church; and more liberal forces, who were fighting for an independent nation free of any alliance to either. Nievo does not appear to privilege either side. He, instead, tries to mitigate the differences between the two. He begins by showing his readers how an ultra-conservative position can be detrimental because it renders the individual incapable of thinking on his own. …

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