Revolutions of 1848:
The Great Shakeout
Priscilla Robertson, author of a classic work on the 1848 revolutions in Europe, writes about the Italians: "In habit and attitude . . . they were the most democratic people in Europe, except possibly for the Swiss." Behavior in two areas bolster Robertson’s argument: relationship among the classes and the position of women.
With regard to the first, she notes the courtesy and respect with which the aristocracy treated the lower classes, contrasting this behavior with that in other parts of Europe. Robertson believes that ownership of property by the common people and the great economic strides that had been made in the North accounted for this relationship. The remarkable influence of women in Italian life complemented this "easy friendliness and self-respect" of the workers. Robertson emphasizes the political commitment and the prominence of women in Italian society, which exceeded that of women in France, Germany, and England.
Among the major European revolutionaries, Mazzini alone denounced any qualifications tending to limit women’s equality with men. Women not only participated in the Risorgimento, they were its "fiercer patriots." They included Giuditta Sidoli, Mazzini’s lover and his "intellectual passion," and Anita Garibaldi, who fought alongside her husband and died in the field. The fictional heroine of Camillo Boito’s Senso—subject of a film by Luchino Visconti—was caught up in the passions of sex and Risorgimento wars and was able to exact a terrible price for her betrayal by an Austrian soldier. The London Times correspondent observed that "it was hard for Englishmen to allow for the freedom of manners which Italian women enjoyed, coupled with perfect respectability."
These aspects of Italian society illustrate the democratic climate of the 1848 revolutions that attempted to put Mazzini’s preaching into action.