Printer Friendly
The Free Library
23,403,340 articles and books


A room with a view: interpreting the Ottocento through the literary salon.

Recent studies, conducted mainly in the field of cultural history, have identified the Italian literary salon as a primary center of nineteenth-century cultural productions. (1) As the formation of the Italian Nation--and of modern Italian identities--constituted the result of not only economic and political developments but also of cultural interventions, the salon, centered on the figure of the salonniere, provides insights for a literary investigation on a period--the nineteenth century--traditionally accounted for either through a few canonic literary figures or by way of sketchy and anecdotic stories. As Mariuccia Salvati has pointed out, the salon represents a major locus of historical and cultural memory that needs to be analyzed not only from an historical perspective but also by way of a literary study (Salvati 177). Far from telling stories of mere mundane life and soirees, salon life sheds light into a crucial phase in the development of modern Italy: the passage from the pre- to the post-unitary period with the unfolding of Italy's program of modernization, envisioned first and foremost within a system of cultural transformation. In addition to this, the salon--with a woman as a main promoter and mediator of the cultural enterprise--anticipated the role that several female writers would play in the production of popular fiction with the rise of the printed industry in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Situated at the intersection between the public sphere of the intellectual debate and the private realm of the domestic space, the salon lends itself to both a discussion on women's participation to the Risorgimento movements as well as on the role that culture, understood in its broader sense, played in the formation of a national consciousness. As pointed out by cultural historians and literary critics, when dealing with the promotion of ideas and cultural activities at the national level, one has to consider the role that institutions have played in such efforts. (2) My main argument with this paper is that it is possible to trace a connection, if not a genealogy, between the culture produced by salon life in the first half of the Ottocento and the one promoted on a larger scale by the printed industry, namely popular fiction and literary journalism, in the second half of the century. Both the literary salon and popular fiction constituted two significant cultural institutions in nineteenth-century Italy for the crucial role they played in the creation of a national public opinion and in the democratization of the process of cultural production and consumption.

Already at the beginning of the century with the Romantic writers who gravitated around the Conciliatore, the question of the educational value of literature had been brought to the fore. (3) Giovanni Berchet, Ludovico di Breme and Ermes Visconti, for instance, responding in 1818 on the pages of the blue periodical to Mme de Stael's call for a work of literature that was "piu perfetto e utile alla pubblica educazione," had launched polemically an anti-academic argument based on the belief that culture could not just be a matter of aesthetics and that, as Visconti put it, "i poeti devono essere uomini, cittadini e filantropi, non meri dotti, ne retori." (4) And a few years later, with Alessandro Manzoni's I promessi sposi, the Italian Romantic movement reaffirmed such democratizing efforts by envisioning for the historical novel a larger reading public, identified with the rising bourgeoisie, which promoted itself as a main agent in the development of modern Italy. (5)

The salons of the nineteenth century and the newspapers, on which most popular fiction was published in the second half of the century, were imbued with similar Romantic aspirations, (6) and, influenced by new imported--mainly from France--modalities of cultural production, redefined the boundaries of the cultural discourse by widening the range of possible interlocutors in terms of gender and class identities. (7) Middle-class women and men, previously excluded by academic circles, found in the nineteenth-century salon, as well as in journalism, a more favorable terrain for their initiation into the world of culture until then inhabited mainly by members of the aristocracy. And while the salonnieres themselves were often, though not always, of aristocratic descent, the social background of the attendees spanned a wider gamut of class representation. True, the salon imposed a code, often implicit, of conduct to which individuals had to dutifully abide, and, further, the integration of new members was basically limited to the middle-classes, but under the current pressure of upward social mobility of the bourgeoisie and the shifting notion of nobility--no longer based exclusively on lineage--the salon flourished on the presence of a socially wide-ranging group of attendees, who had earned access to it thanks to their intellectual merit, social notoriety, or potential for a promising career in politics or the arts. (8) A letter from Olimpia Savio Rossi to Emilia Peruzzi, both prominent salonnieres from, respectively, Turin and Florence, elucidates this point:
 Il suo salon cosi gentilemente tenuto,
 amica mia, ha fatto un gran bene
 tra noi dal lato sociale: in quel
 trovarsi li di tutti i partiti, di tutte le classi,
 dalla D'Arrillay alla Todirof, da Mons. De
 Stackelbert a Nardini, ha fatto
 si che si sono diminuite molte antipatie,
 e rimosse certe barriere fino a
 tempi nostri quasi insuperabili salvo per
 pochi eletti, tra le varie caste
 sociali, le femminili in specie. (9)


The Italian salon derives historically from the French tradition of worldly soirees, and came to prominence ata time when in France salon life was already in decline. Nevertheless, the practice of intellectual sociability had a life of its own in Italy, one specifically connected to the political and cultural events of the nineteenth century. Unlike the French salon, the Italian one was not in competition with an absolutist courtly power, since such centralized political authority did not exist on a national scale in Italy. As a consequence of the absence of national cultural institutions, the Italian salon posed until the political unification of the country as a main center of cultural production around which the main intellectual figures of Italy gravitated. A center, further, whose cultural life though produced within the walls of private dwellings, inevitably spilled over into the public arena of national politics, because of the prominence of its attendees in the political and cultural life of the country. Thus, while the salon existed in Italy already in the eighteenth century (i.e., Bianca Laura Saibante, the founder of the Accademia degli Agiati in Rovereto, and Elisabetta Caminer Turra in Vicenza, editor of the Europa Letteraria), it is in the Ottocento that it became particularly relevant to the local Italian cultural and political environment. It became representative of a community in the making--an ideal that according to cultural historians played a major role in the rhetoric of unification. (l0) Ata time when national cultural institutions were still scarce and inaccessible to those who operated outside of strictly canonic and traditional forms of cultural productions, the salon provided a space actual and imagined for the community of Italian intellectuals to come together in a modern and unprecedented way. The modernity of salon life may be identified in the simple fact that attendees brought with them ideas and news which were immediately circulated among the others members of the salon, and, by way of a ripple effect, among the vaster community of friends, colleagues and acquaintances, with whom they further shared the ideas discussed at the salon. The immediacy of these exchanges cannot be undervalued if one thinks that at that time letters and newspapers were still delivered by way of a very slow, often unreliable, and still fragmented regional postal system, and that women and men of different social backgrounds did not dispose of too many opportunities to gather together in an environment conducive to intellectual exchanges. Edmondo De Amicis' description of Emilia Peruzzi's salon in Florence eloquently summarizes the uniqueness of salon life:
 Con l'indole e con le maniere dei
 padroni di casa era in armonia la casa
 stessa, ampla e decorosa senza sfarzo,
 dove pareva di respirar l'aria di
 Firenze antica. Al modo come v'erano
 ricevuti non si sarebbe distinto il
 patrizio illustre dal borghese oscuro,
 il ministro dal capo sezione, il generale
 famoso dal modesto professore di ginnasio.
 La societa che vi si raccoglieva
 era delle piu varie che si possan
 dare fra le pareti d'una casa privata
 [...] A vecchi amici della famiglia,
 di nomi ignoti, si mescolavano i
 personaggi piu eminenti del partito
 moderato; ad allegri signori che baz
 zicavano tutti i salotti della capitale,
 vecchi uomini di scienza e di governo,
 ritirati dal mondo [...] a giovani
 esordienti nelle arti e nelle lettere,
 magnati dell'arte e della letteratura,
 che non avevan pio alcun gradino da
 salire sulla scala della celebrita e
 degli onori [...] vi passavano uomini
 cospicui di tutte le citta italiane e
 di tutti i paesi d'Europa. (65--66)


The salon, in other words, materialized with flesh and bones the idea that Italy as a nation with its body of intellectuals already existed, it was just a matter of creating the national infrastructure that would officially represent that reality. In this sense, it is helpful to look at the salon as part of nineteenth-century nationalist discourse, as part of the ideal of a nation envisioned as a "community of sentiments" in the sense formulated by Max Weber. For Weber, main nationalist claims are always based upon sentiments of prestige, and the groups who hold or aim to hold power identify themselves with the ideal of power prestige, as bearers of the idea of the nation. (11) Salon life with its selected members and tacit, and, yet, understood, code of polite behavior enhanced the idea that in order to be part of the Italian elite, one had to earn access to the prestige of the group by adhering to the rules sanctified by the supervision of the salonniere. As a consequence of this dynamic each salon had slightly different rules, and therefore different reputations and levels of prestige.

There were naturally many salons throughout Italy in the nineteenth century. For the purpose of this study however only three salons, held around the middle of the century, will be taken in consideration, mainly for their pronounced political character and representative nature in terms of national reputation. I am referring to the salons of Olimpia Rossi Savio in Turin, Clara Maffei in Milan, and Emilia Peruzzi in Florence. The political salons, also defined "salotti di conversazione" (Mori 17-20), unlike other more mundane salons, shared a spirit of sociability with a distinctly political objective in the sense that these social gatherings influenced and were influenced by the national or city politics, because they were frequented by political and intellectual figures of public prominence, and because the attendees favored specific political trends or actions. An example of how the mundane aspect of the salon was integrated into the political agenda of the time may be found in an event recounted by Olimpia Savio Rossi in her memoir. In 1848 in collaboration with Costanza D'Azeglio, sister in law of Massimo D'Azeglio, the baroness Savio convened a group of women at her salon in Turin to discuss the promotion of an Italian dress code. The French fashion was pervasive at that time among the upper-classes, and the growing fashion publications were inundated with dress patterns copied from French magazines. In reaction to this influence, these women thought that it was rime to give more visibility to their commitment to the Italian cause and promote the return "all'antico nostro carattere nazionale, affrancandoci dalle mode francesi e tornando [...] alla fiera eleganza delle nostre bisnonne." It became a matter of opting for velvet instead of tulle, satin instead of lace, of creating "a vestiario quieto ed economico," accompanied by the use of a hat with a feather called "alia calabrese" (Ricci 46). The use of a "cappello alla calabrese" was adopted by northern patriots after the bloody outcome of the 1847 insurrections in Calabria, when a popular uprising against the government of Ferdinand II was brutally stifled. The summary execution of five southern patriots who had organized the insurrection sparked a series of reactions in northern Italy among which the adoption of the traditional calabrese hat as a symbol of freedom and in commemoration of the lost lives. (12) In those same years, after the memorable "cinque giornate di Milano," this hat was dubbed "il cappello all'italiana" on the pages of the Corriere delle dame, a women's fashion magazine. The picture with the hat was commented by the director of the periodical, Giuditta Lampugnani, with the following words: "la novita sembrera forse un po' azzardata in riguardo al bel sesso, ma noi vogliamo raccomandarla siccome un principio di liberta e di emancipazione dalle mode straniere" (Pisetzky 45). The suggestion, however, for a specifically Italian dress code did not translate at least for the moment in a lasting trend and remained a symbolic expression of the patriotic fervor with which these women supported the Italian cause of unification. As Silvia Franchini has illustrated in her study on the Italian "stampa di moda," the creation of a local fashion mode turned out to be expensive and impractical. Italy was commercially and culturally still unprepared to create and sustain a local market for an Italian fashion (cfr. Franchini). And yet, it was also through this kind of initiatives that the public opinion was influenced and the salon, with its debates and conversations, functioned as a center of information and elaboration of ideas.

A main function of the nineteenth-century Italian salon was indeed that of providing space and opportunities, especially for young male attendees, to come in contact with other, more established, figures of the city, and sometimes national, public life. (13) Suffice to mention the case of Edmondo De Amicis, whom Emilia Peruzzi helped substantially at the beginning of his literary career, by facilitating his acquaintance to several prominent intellectuals of the time: Pasquale Villari, Ruggero Bonghi, Carlo Tenca, Marco Tabarrini, and Silvio Spaventa. Because of the social or political prominence of the senior attendees, the salon had a reputation of constituting a world (le monde, as the salon was called in French society) of its own, understood to represent a parallel center of power to official institutions (cfr. Landes). In Italy before the political unification, this meant for some salonnieres to keep a distance from the authority of the foreign forces of occupation (as the countess Maffei did from the Austrian government in Milan). As Joan Landis pointed out, "The salon offered one way of getting around the problem of censorship, by holding public discussion in private" (57). And even during the first years after the unification, with Italy still a mainly agrarian society, and lacking a truly urban environment, the salon offered Italians a unique opportunity of intellectual exchange with a cosmopolitan flavor. Emilia Peruzzi's salon, for instance, held during the years when Florence was the capital of Italy (1865-1870), and frequented by many foreign travelers, became known as the "succursale" [branch house] of the Italian Parliament. (14)

Salon life thrived all over Italy in the nineteenth century, but only a few of them, mainly in the cities of Turin, Milan, and Florence, left a durable mark in the cultural memory of Italian salon history. The baroness Olimpia Rossi Savio (1816-1889) gathered at her house in Turin and in her summer estate in Millerose, on the hills outside of the city, the political intellectual elite of Northern Italy from 1848 to 1865, when the capital of Italy was transferred to Florence. Many patriots, writers and politicians met regularly at her salon: Giovanni Prati, Massimo d'Azeglio, Cesare Balbo, Niccolo Tommaseo, the poets Giannina Milli and Giulia Molino Colombini. The baroness Savio became also known in the patriotic hagiography of those years for being the living symbol of the sacrifice that Italians were making for the patria, as she had lost two of her children, Alfredo and Emilio Savio, to the cause of Italian unification during the second war of independence in 1859-1860.

Another prominent salon was that of the countess Clara Maffei (1814-1886). Held in Milan and called "cavouriano," this salon was particularly active in the period from 1848 to 1859, when it became a main point of reference for the moderate intellectuals of Northern Italy. Giovanni Visconti Venosta describes these gatherings as rare moments of public life under the tight censorship of the Austrian government. "La vita intima e confidente nei piccoli crocchi di amici" wrote Venosta "era resa tanto piu preziosa e direi necessaria dalla durezza stessa dei tempi e degli incredibili rigori di un governo militare che rendeva impossibile ogni piu piccola manifestazione di vita pubblica." (15) Many prominent figures, who lived in or passed through the city, gravitated around this salon: Giuseppe Verdi, who was a close friend of the countess, the Romantic painter Francesco Hayez, the writers of the Italian naturalism, Giovanni Verga, Luigi Capuana, Neera, Matilde Serao, Bruno Sperani, Emma, the writers of the Crepuscolo, in particular Carlo Tenca, with whom, after the countess's separation from her husband, Clara Maffei became sentimentally involved, Giovanni Prati, and the Scapigliati, who, though, critized Maffei's conservatism, and, soon, moved to Vittoria Cima's salon, considered more open to less conventional artistic trends. Several attendees of the Maffei's salon left a testimony of these gatherings, although the most comprehensive account of the salon remains still today Il salotto della contessa Maffei published in 1914 by Raffaello Barbiera.

Florence's most prominent political salon was the one held at the residence of Ubaldino and Emilia Peruzzi from 1850 to 1871. Edmondo De Amicis, who regularly attended this salon, left usa series of portrays, first serialized in Illustrazione Italiana and then collected in 1902 in a volume titled Un salotto fiorentino. Paolo Fambri, Renato Fucini, Carlo Tenca, Gabrio Casati, Pasquale Villari, Giannina Milli convened regularly at this salon.

A main role of the salonnieres was of facilitating the flow of witty and entertaining conversations among her guests. Some of them left a written testimony of their activity through letters, diaries and memoirs. Emilia Peruzzi (1826-1900) left a diary, titled Vita di me, published in 1934 by her niece, Angiolina Toscanelli Altoviti Avila, and a large number of letters, of which only a few have as of today been published. Her diary is filled with minute descriptions of current events, and, paradoxically, contains very sparse information of her personal life.

Olimpia Rossi Savio also left usa diary, several letters, and a memoir, which have been compiled in a volume published in 1911. These texts, though heavily edited by Raffaello Ricci, offer precious insights into the salon hosted by the baroness and, more in general, into the time in which she lived. They exemplify the rare literary representations of salon life, which, because of the verbal nature of the conversational exchanges, can only be traced in autobiographical and epistolary writings.

One aspect of Olimpia Savio's salon, emphasized in the diary, is the mediating role played by the hostess, who presents her salon as a community in which different generations and social strata of Italians came together. She wrote:
 Nelle riunioni di casa nostra [...] i
 miei figli sentirono discusse le piu
 gravi questioni, che giorno per
 giorno fossero mosse in Parlamento,
 udendo i piu assennati commenti
 sulle notizie estere ed interne.

 Anche all'infuori della politica
 erano continue le discussioni sull'arte,
 la drammatica, le scienze e la
 letteratura; i temi piu svariati avevano
 i loro interpreti: valenti discussioni,
 divergenze d'idee, maestrevolmente
 e cortesemente combattute da uomini
 competenti nei vari rami,
 e con parola castigata, elegante,
 saporosa; scintillio d'ingegni diversi,
 che sapevano bene e molto.

 Un simile ambiente certo era favorevole
 allo sviluppo dei miei figlioli,
 avidi come sempre a quell'eta di cose
 nuove, imparando senza avvedersene
 un mondo di nozioni utili, necessarie,
 piacevoli che li addrestravano
 alla ginnastica del pensiero, al
 misurar prontamente le idee piu
 opposte. (74)


Olimpia Rossi Savio does not provide, however, too many details of the actual events and conversations that took place in her salon; she seemed to focus more on the personalities gravitating around her salon, starting with herself, whom she described with the following paragraph:
 Pronta d'intelletto e d'ispirazione, la
 mente fortissima d'idee, avvalorate
 da continue letture, per lo piu serie,
 ma variatissime, perche
 estese ad ogni argomento, purche
 trattato con criterio e con spirito; dato
 un concetto, ho facilita massima a
 vestirlo di parole, a metterlo chiaramente
 in vista, a quella prima esposizione
 mi vien giu d'impeto, cosi che
 spesso in quel ricco affollarsi
 d'idee, mentre la mano traccia un'idea, la
 mente ne manda un cumulo che per non
 essere tosto registrate, sfumano
 qua e la perdendosi nel vuoto [...] Di
 quel tanto che e traccia si potrebbe
 levarne qualcosa di buono, se avessi poi
 pazienza a rivedere, a correggere;
 ma quest'indispensabile virtu mi manca. (v-vi)


Savio's self description points to a trait shared by all salonnieres: the oral nature of their work as cultural purveyors. Although cultured and well versed in many disciplines of human knowledge, these women usually shied from the written word and left only few signs of their versatility, often by way of a personal note through letters and memoirs. The lack of a written testimony of their intellectual activities is indeed problematic for scholars who seek relevant information on the salon. Studies, however, conducted on the various aspects of conversation may be of help in understanding the cultural import of the salonniere. Based on the premise that conversation constitutes a means rather than an end in itself, these studies demonstrated the transformative and generative force of dialogue. In other words, dialogue may be seen as a significant means of production of cultural creativity and social change. Based on the principle that the crystallization of culture is related to the development of form and awareness, these studies purport a notion of conversation as
 transformative in relation to the
 creative actions of individuais through
 collective communications, the sharing
 of thought and knowledge of
 individuals as the generative
 materiais to transform existing beliefs as
 well as create new innovations and
 cultural artifacts. (Banathy and
 Jenlink 3-5)


In light of these theories, the conversational nature of salon life may be interpreted as a significant factor in the process of production rather than dispersion of culture in a given community. If, therefore, one looks at conversation within a system of cause and effect, that is, within a process of transformation of ideas into events, one may rethink the seemingly volatile nature of salonnieres' cultural contribution. Further if one looks at their choice not to write as a conscious decision made by these women to enhance the performing/creative aspect of the cultural activity and to keep the intellectual exchange outside of the rigid grid of grammatical and syntactic rules imposed by the written language, with which they might have felt little familiarity, due to their lack of a formal education, then what appears to be a limit becomes a style. Each salonniere had her own style, reflecting her personal character and her own guiding principles in terms of proper conduct, but a general disposition toward a verbal, rather than a written, performance may be assumed to represent for all these women a trade mark of their cultural activities.

The golden age of the Italian salon may be said to coincide with the pre-unification period. Although one may find salonnieres in the twentieth century (i.e., Margherita Sarfatti and Maria Bellonci) salon life as a meaningful phenomenon of political import ends in Italy around the 1870s with the rise of the newspaper. With the development of the print industry, and thanks also to the nationalization of the postal service, the newspaper replaced the salon as the place, actual and symbolic, where to engage a conversation among the members of the Italian public. The salon was no longer a main venue for cultural exchanges, the "luogo di conversazione" per excellence. The newspaper assumed now the role that the salon had played until then as producer of public opinion. The salon continued to exist as a historical referent but as a social event it maintained little political resonance.

The interrelation between salon life and journalism is made apparent by the work of three late nineteenth-century women writers, Matilde Serao, Marchesa Colombi, and Neera, who attended the main literary salons of their time and incorporated both thematically and stylistically the salon into their journalistic and literary writings.

Like the salonnieres, late nineteenth-century female writers excelled in producing non-academic culture and in the use of a conversational style and a lexicon that eluded restrictive norms of the written language. Their writing style has traditionally been explained by critics with a simplified analysis of the writers' lack of formal education (most of them did not in fact receive a classical education) and ignored the very explanations given by the authors themselves, which outlined a poetics for an experimental narrative that responded to the still vexing "questione della lingua" in nineteenth-century Italy: what language should a writer use in the creation of a literature which was supposed to be educational and entertaining at the same time? In this regard, Matilde Serao wrote:
 Io che sono stata accusata di
 scrivere una lingua cattiva, imperfettissima,
 io che anzi confesso di non saper
 scrivere bene, ammiro chi scrive bene.
 Ma se la mia lingua e scorretta, se io
 non so scrivere, seio ammiro chi
 scrive bene, vi confesso che se per
 caso imparassi a farlo, non lo farei. Io
 credo che la vivacita del linguaggio
 incerto e di quello stile rotto di
 infondere calore nelle mie opere. (Banti 215)


The vitality of the form, understood as an inevitable corre s p o ndernee to the topic addressed, represents the central point of the poetics of another author of the Ottocento, Neera, who said:
 La forma, dico il vero, non e mai
 stata la mia maggiore preoccupazione.
 Vi diro ancora, a completamento del
 mio pensiero, che giudico la forma
 come il processo di imbalsamazione,
 ma occorre avere un corpo da
 imbalsamare. Rispettabili pedanti,
 grammatici, filologi, cercatori del pelo
 nell'uovo, rispetto le vostre
 imabalsamazioni, non posso tuttavia mettermi
 in adorazione davanti a un vaso
 d'acido fenico. Sarebbe un gusto
 da farmacista. (26)


Both writers make a point in adopting a linguistic tool that reflects specific artistic objectives but also that expresses a fundamental desire to create an effective communication, a correspondence, one might add, with the public of readers. At a time of unprecedented growth of the printed media, female writers paid special attention to those aspects of their work that made their profession successful. They were professional writers and used their skills to maximize their profit, both in terms of financial gain and cultural visibility.

As journalists and authors they were very popular among the female public of readers. They all run regularly newspapers columns, published fiction and wrote conduct books, some of which became true bestsellers. (16) Like the domestic novel, the modern conduct book, or galateo, published toward the end of the nineteenth century, articulated the complex current shifting of social patterns under a seemingly simple narrative addressing domestic affairs. (17) These books were written with the objective of offering specific guidelines on how to behave in society to the readers (implicitly of ascending bourgeois status), who, being new to the world of proper social conduct, needed help to navigate the still uncharted waters of modern sociability.

The writers of the modern galateo like the salonniere of the middle of the nineteenth century aimed at educating the public that revolved intellectually around them. And they used the model of the salon as a still valid currency of proper conviviality, presented, though, for the exclusive purpose of gaining or maintaining social visibility. Matilde Serao for example writes in her Saper vivere:
 E inutile dimostrare che, malgrado i suoi
 difetti, il giorno e la migliore
 forma mondana, che ha una signora,
 per raccogliere, insieme, attorno a
 se, tutte le sue relazioni mundane,
 siano basate sulla grande intimita,
 sull'amicizia o su semplici ragioni
 di riguardo [...] La scelta del giorno
 deve essere fatta con molta cura, con
 molta riflessione, con molta prudenza,
 con gli studi piu profondi: non
 bisogna scegliere la domenica,
 perche e un giorno in cui si va a
 conferenze e concerti, in cui i ragazzi
 escono dal collegio, in cui vi sono altri
 doveri da compiere: non il venerdi,
 che e un cattivo giorno per ricevere,
 sebbene molti lo considerino
 come un giorno eccellente, per non
 muoversi di casa: non il giorno in cui
 riceve la propria madre, o la propria
 suocera o la nostra migliore amica,
 o una dama di grande condizione,
 presso cui si tiene ad andare. Scelto
 una volta il giorno, dopo un lavoro
 mentale lunghissimo, bisogna tenerlo
 fisso, perche nulla e peggio che cambiare
 il giorno e nulla piu disastroso
 che cambiarlo spesso. Si finisce per
 perdere a poco a poco ogni propria
 relazione [...] poiche il giorno di
 una signora elegante e intelligente,
 deve diventare una istituzione fissa
 e inamovibile, con una tradizione di
 spirito e di cortesia. (56-57)


Thematically the salon appears prominently in the writings of these authors. Matilde Serao for example had at the beginning of the 1880s a regular column on Cronaca Bizantina, the controversial and popular newspaper founded by Angelo Sommaruga, titled "Salotti romani" [Roman salons], with which the writer under the pseudonym of "L'Imbianchino" introduced her readers to the ritzy like of the Roman aristocracy and upper classes. Unlike previous political salons, the aristocratic gatherings in Rome, organized around extravagant parties and exclusive membership, were rigidly enclosed within strict confines of hierarchical distinction. Culturally centered mainly on musical entertainment and on stultified forms of lyrical recitation, these salons projected an air of cosmopolitanism that validated the prestige of the status quo. As Serao described:
 Il salotto Mancini e piu, diro cosi europeo
 che diplomatico. Si passa
 dalla stranezza esotica di certi tipi,
 da certe figure forestiere e silenzionse,
 a uno strato di burocrazia superiore,
 da questo a uno strato di
 vecchi amici napoletani, romani,
 toscani come un gruppo di sigari scelti.
 E ancora gl'infiltramenti letterari,
 per memoria degli antichi gusti di
 casa: e quelli artistici, per memoria
 della vecchia ospitalita torinese: e
 infine la parte vocale e strumentale,
 l'elemento lirico-musicale-filodrammatico-concertistico.
 (Ghidetti 121)


The topos of the salon, thus, acquired a symbolic value of escape into a world which women of the lower-middle classes could access only on the imaginative plane, as a fantastic projection of their desire of social mobility. If the salon itself could no longer in the late nineteenth century be a player in the social redefinition of class-boundaries, it still functioned as a symbol of past nobility, of proper conduct to which, at least on the level of social prestige, the rising social forces were aspiring. In this scenario, the female journalist became the mediator between the old and new worlds of proper sociability. As Mariuccia Salvati noted: "Negli anni dopo l'Unita su uno sfondo di sostanziale depressione dei valore e del posto della nobilta nella societa italiana, i titoli e i simboli esercitavano ancora una forte attrazione sul mondo borg hese" (186). The bourgeoisie's fascination towards the life style of the upper classes explains in part how the salon or, as it came to be better known, the "salotto" became an important space in the domestic realm as a sign of distinction from other classes.

In the mediocrity of the petit bourgeois dwelling, with the salottino of the provincial life, marked by small but significant signs of respectability, the sofa, the curtains, the laces, the many paintings on the wall, the dusty knick-knacks displayed on the table, the salotto remains a memory of a fantasy time, of the vivid and visionary evenings of the aristocratic salon. It is a world that no longer exists at the end of the '800 but that remains in the collective memory of the Italians.

NOTES

(1) See Mori, La sociabilita delle elite nell'Italia dell'Oltocento; Elena Musiani, Circoli e salotti femrninili nell'Ottocento: le donne bolognesi tra politica e sociabilita (Bologna: CLUEB, 2003); Maria Iolanda Palazzolo, I salotti di cultura nell'Italia dell'Ottocento. Scene e modelli (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1985); Salotti e ruolo femminile in Italia Ira fine Settecento e primo Novecento, ed. Maria Luisa Betri and Elena Brambilla (Venice: Marsilio, 2004).

(2) See Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: The Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994); Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham: Duke UP, 1991); Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1989).

(3) See Mario Apollonio, Il Gruppo del Concilialore e la cultura dell'Ottocento (Milano: CELUC, 1969); Vittore Branca ed., Il Conciliatore: foglio scientifico-letterario (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1953); Carlo Calcaterra, I manifesti romantici del 1816 e gli scritti principali del Conciliatore sul Romanticisimo (Turin: UTET, 1968).

(4) Ermes Visconti, "Idee elementari sulla poesia romantica," Discussioni e polemiche sul Romanticismo, ed. Egidio Bellorini (Bati: Laterza, 1943) 437.

(5) See Vittorio Spinazzola, "I destinatari del 'Promessi sposi," Letteratura e Societa: scritti di italianistica e di critica letteraria per il XXV anniversario dell'insegnarnento di Giuseppe Petronio (Palermo: Palumbo, 1980) 341-57; and his "'I promessi sposi' e il mondo moderno," Belfagor 32.3 (1917): 245-60. Spinazzola interprets Manzoni's novel as a literary work embedded in the current bourgeois aspirations for cultural hegemony. For a different interpretation, see Mirto Golo Stone's "Contro la modernita e la cultura borghese: I promessi sposi e l'aseesa del romanzo italiano," MLN 107.1 (1992): 112-31. For Mirto Golo Stone instead, Manzoni's work remains fundamentally consistent with the tenets of the progressive and Catholic aristocracy, and in favor of its program of repression of any social changes in society. For a general discussion on Italian Romanticism see: Joseph Luzzi, "Did Italian Romanticism Exist?" Comparative Literature 56.2 (2004) 168-91.

(6) In his description of Emilia Peruzzi, Edmondo De Amicis offers a literary reference imbued with Romantic overtones when he compares his "literary muse" to Ermengarda, the female protagonist of Manzoni's tragedy, Adelchi. De Amicis wrote of Emilia Peruzzi: "Era, per merito proprio principalmente, una donna felice; si poteva dire di lei quello che dice di se l'Ermengarda dell'Adelchi, ricordando il suo viaggio di sposa, che ad ogni aurora le cresceva la gioia del destarsi; e cosi essendo, voleva veder felici tutti attorno a se e faceva quanto le era possible per trasfondere in altri la benevolenza, lo spirito attivo, l'umor del bene, la fede nella vita, in cui ella sentiva la felicita propria,'" Un salotto fiorentino del secolo scorso (Pisa: ETS, 2002) 66. De Amicis' choice of Ermengarda over Lucia as a Manzonian literary figure emphasizes his reading of Ermengarda as a positive character, one epitomizing values such as fidelity, courage, exceptionality, which he also found in Emilia Peruzzi.

(7) I am aware, as Maria Teresa Mori points out, that it is arbitrary to consider all nineteenth-century salons as a uniformed phenomenon, as salons differed notably depending on their historical, geographic and social context. For my study, however, I am concentrating on three specific salons held in the middle of the nineteenth-century that demonstrate several common features. See Mori 18.

(8) Although run by a woman, the salon was mainly frequented by men. As noted by the French historian Jules Michelet, the salon offered 'segregated' conversations: "Tutti vedono ogni sera come un salotto si divida in due salotti, uno degli uomini e uno delle donne," quoted in Simonetta Soldani's preface "Emilia Toscanelli Peruzzi, o la passione della politica," Edmondo De Amicis, Un salotto fiorentino del secolo scorso 12. Soldani points out how the nineteenth-century bourgeois norms of gender behavior implied and imposed a de facto segregated social life for the sexes, which was reflected also in salon life. De Amicis, however, in his recollections of the Florentine's salon, notes that while women were not regular attendees as men were, with some exceptions like the poetess Giannina Milli and Massimo D'Azeglio's widow, there were special occasions, as on holidays, in which women attended more numerously. See Edmondo De Amicis 95-97. For a further discussion on women's inclusion or exclusion from nineteenth-century public life see Nancy Fraser's "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy," The Cultural Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 1993) 518-36, in which the author criticizes Jurgen Habermas' notion of the public sphere for his failure to acknowledge other competing forms of public sphere, existing outside of a bourgeois and male environment.

(9) Unpublished letter, written by Olimpia Savio Rossi to Emilia Peruzzi, and dated October 18, 1864. The letter is contained in the "Carteggio Emilia Peruzzi" held at the Biblioteca Nazionale of Florence.

(10) See Alberto M. Banti, La nazione del Risorgimento (Turin: Einaudi, 2000).

(11) Max Weber wrote: "The idea of the nation for its advocates stands in very intimate relation to 'prestige' interest [...] The significance of the nation is usually anchored in the superiority, or at least the irreplaceability, of the cultural values that are to be preserved and developed only through the cultivation of the peculiarity of the group," From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans, and eds. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford UP, 1946) 176.

(12) The tive patriots were Michele Bello, Pietro Mazzoni, Gaetano Ruffo, Domenico Salvadori, and Rocco Verduci; they were executed in the town of Gerace, near Reggio Calabria. See: http://www.comune.gerace.rc.it/index.php?module=subjects& func=viewpage&pageid=58. The use of the hat with the feather (alla calabrese) in the North of ltaly is mentioned by Edmondo De Amicis in Cuore: "Ci sono anche due fratelli, vestiti uguali, che si somigliano a pennello, e portano tutti e due un cappello alla calabrese, con una penna di fagiano" (Turin: Einaudi, 2001) 16-17.

(13) Maria Teresa Mori identifies in the presence of many young members a main characteristic of specifically the nineteenth-century salon. See her essay, "Maschile, femminile: l'identita di genere hei salotti di conversazione," Salotti e ruolo femminili in Italia 3.

(14) See Tommaso Giancalone-Monaco's introduction to Vilfredo Pareto, Lettere ai Peruzzi 1872-1900 (Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1968) xvii, and Edmondo De Amicis 72-73.

(15) Quoted in Daniela Maldini Chiarito, "Due salotti del Risorgimento," Salotti e ruolo femminle in Italia 299.

(16) La Gente per bene by Marchesa Colombi, for instance, had twenty-seven editions between its first publication in 1877 and 1901.

(17) See also my essay: "Saper vivere: How to Become a Good Italian According to Nineteenth-Century Conduct Books," Italian Cultural Studies, eds. Anthony Julian Tamburri, Myriam Swennen Ruthenberg, Graziella Parati, and Ben Lawton (Boca Raton, FL: Bordighera P, 2004) 129-45.

WORKS CITED

Banathy, Bela H., and Patrick M. Jenlink. Dialogue as a Means of Collective Communication. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2005.

Banti, Anna. Malilde Serao. Turin: UTET, 1965.

Berri, Maria Luisa, and Elena Brambilla, eds. Salotti e ruolo yemminile in Italia. Venice: Marsilio, 2004.

De Amicis, Edmondo. Un salotto fiorenlino del recolo scorso. Pisa: ETS, 2002. Franchini, Silvia. Edilori, Leltrici e Slampa di Moda. Milan: Franco Angeli, 2002.

Ghidetti, Enrico, ed. Roma Bizantina. Milan: Longanesi, 1979.

Landes, Joan B. Women and the Public Sphere in lhe Age of the French Revolution. Ithaca: Comell UP, 1988.

Mori, Maria Teresa. La sociabilira delle elite nell'llalia dell'Otlocento. Rome: Carocci, 2000.

Neera. Le idee di una donna e Confessioni letterarie. Florence: Vallecchi, 1977.

Pisetzky, Rosita Levi. Sloria del Costume Italiano. Milan: Istituto Editoriale Italiano, 1964.

Ricci, Raffaello. Le Memorie della Baronessa Olimpia Savio. Milan: Treves, 1911.

Salvati, Mariuccia. "Il Salotto." I luoghi della memoria: simboli emiti dell'Ilalia unita. Ed. Mario Isnenghi. Bari: Laterza, 1996. 173-95.

Serao, Matilde. Saper vivere: norme di buona creanza. Florence: Passigli, 1989.

GABRIELLA ROMANI

Seton Hall University
COPYRIGHT 2007 American Association of Teachers of Italian
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

 Reader Opinion

Title:

Comment:



 

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Space, Politics, and Identity from the Ottocento to Postmodernism
Author:Romani, Gabriella
Publication:Italica
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jun 22, 2007
Words:6595
Previous Article:"Patria'-otic Incarnations and Italian Character: discourses of nationalism in Ippolito Nievo's Confessioni d'un Italiano.
Next Article:Of miracles and catastrophes: the new avantgarde at the dawn of the economic boom.
Topics:



Related Articles
Reading Race in American Poetry: "An Area of Act".
Janet Levarie Smarr and Daria Valentini, eds. Italian Women and the City.
Tactical Readings: Feminist Postmodernism in the Novels of Kathy Acker and Angela Carter.
Cultural identity and postmodern writing.
Zadie Smith; critical essays.
Anthony Julian Tamburri, Graziella Parati, Ben Lawton, and Myriam Swennen Ruthenberg, eds. Italian Cultural Studies (2001). Selected Essays.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2014 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters