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Rome 1870: O mammina o la morte! The Breach of Porta Pia according to Edmondo De Amicis.

L'unita italiana e fatta nei cuori, e quando e fatta la, si fa presto a tradurla nelle leggi, nelle abitudini, nelle convinzioni, nella vita. (Italian unification is made in one's heart, and once it is made there, it becomes easy to translate it into laws, habits, beliefs, life.)

(Doctor Veritas) (1)

Remembered primarily for his best-selling children's novel Cuore (1886)--for which he gained the reputation of a sentimental and moralist writer ("Edmondo da i languori," or "languourous Edmondo," as Carducci famously put it [Poesie 196])--Edmondo De Amicis has lately been rehabilitated by critics for his other works, in particular his travel writings. (2) Some critics argued that De Amicis's articles as a foreign correspondent first for La Nazione in Florence, and later for L'Illustrazione Italiana in Milan, represented an essential component of the author's civic pedagogy, centered on the notion that culture was, during the post-unification period, a major catalyst in the process of Italian nation-building. (3) By focusing primarily on De Amicis's production as a foreign correspondent, however, this interpretation neglected to take into account fully his early reportage, Impressioni di Roma, a series of articles written during the campaign for Rome's annexation in September of 1870. (4) Published in Florence in 1870, Impressioni di Roma consisted of twelve articles, anticipating some of the themes and ideas developed by the author in his later writings and providing insights into what has been defined as De Amicis's "progetto utopico": the author's attempt to represent a unified image of national identity through a narrative synthesis that was supposed to be instrumental to the formation of Italians. Resolved to illustrate the magnificence of the Eternal City, De Amicis created a travelogue that reveals, when read against other writings produced during the same period, an ambivalent relationship between the author's utopian project and the current dominant ideologies. These articles convey the traveler's sense of marvel when trying to reconcile the sight of Rome's grandiose antiquity with a vision of modernity extended to Rome as the designated new capital city of Italy. If it is true that the full bloom of De Amicis's travel writings may be located in his correspondence from Spain, the seeds for this turning point in his literary career are to be found in his Impressioni, written two years earlier in Rome.

Not part of the Italian State until 1870, Rome nevertheless represented for De Amicis the quintessential Italian city, the ideal finish line for the aspirations of Italy's Risorgimento movement towards political and cultural unification. When De Amicis became aware, during the summer of 1870, that a military campaign was being organized against the Papal State, he decided to leave Florence, where he was living at the time, and headed towards Rome. During the months of August and September he wrote his reportage, published first as articles in various newspapers such as La Gazzetta d'Italia, L'Opinione and La Gazzetta del popolo, and then as a volume, Impressioni di Roma. (5) Impressioni marked the beginning, not only of the author's long and successful career as a writer of travel literature, but also of a season of celebratory cultural activities focused on the event known in history as the Breach of Porta Pia--a season culminating in 1905 with the screening of Filoteo Alberini's La presa di Roma, considered by critics the very first film in the history of Italian cinema. (6) On September 20, 1905, near Porta Pia, in front of a hundred thousand people from all over Italy, with a spectacular cinematic rendition of the events that led to Italy's annexation of Rome, Alberini synthesized the last thirty-five years of Italian cultural representations, which, starting with De Amicis's Impressioni di Roma, symbolically conferred on Rome a central place in the post-Unification mythmaking process of the Italian nation.

De Amicis was a fervent proponent of Rome as the new capital of Italy and wrote about the Italian takeover of the papal city not only in his journalistic reportage but also in an exchange of letters with his literary muse, Emilia Peruzzi. In one of these letters, on the eve of Rome's annexation, De Amicis stated unambiguously his support for Rome as the new Italian capital: "E discorsi di Roma con Homberger, la pensa perfettamente come me, con questa differenza: che lui non vorrebbe la la capitale, ed io si e subito" ("I spoke of Rome with Homberger, who thinks exactly like me, with this difference: he does not want the capital there; and I do, right away"), echoing the enthusiasm which animated the democratic patriots. (7) De Amicis focused primarily on the symbolic value of this transformation in the geo-political scenario of Italy and on the cultural ideal of national unity with Rome as the embodiment of an Italian citizenry yet to be realized. All of this remained the main inspiring principle for De Amicis's civic pedagogy and artistic representations of the notion of Italian national identity in many of his subsequent novels (from Cuore [The Heart of a Boy], to Sull'Oceano [On the ocean] and Una carrozza per tutti [A carriage for everyone]). Traditionally, such pedagogy has been interpreted as the formalistic and ideological expression of the author's adherence to the prevailing bourgeois system of moral and social values. More recently, however, critics have challenged the idea that De Amicis represented the mere voice of a post-unification medieta (bourgeoisie) of Italian society. Andrea Giardina, for instance, focusing on De Amicis's readership, emphasized the diverse composition of his readers, who belonged to a much wider spectrum of society than is usually acknowledged (22-23). Antonio Faeti identified in Una carrozza per tutti a poetics that reveals denunciation rather than subservience to the dominant ideological and social forces (19). An awareness of this growing and diversified readership emerges from De Amicis's early writings as well, as does a conscious desire to effect the process of democratization of a culture still fundamentally elitist and essentially inaccessible to the majority of the population. De Amicis was obviously not alone in these efforts, as Bruno Tobia pointed out in his description of Italian post-unification culture:

Quella cultura era interessata, infatti, per una profonda istanza etico-politica, a definire, non soltanto in modo meramente accademico, l'ambito del suo dispiegarsi, ma anche a raggiungere pervasivamente, almeno come tendenza, ceti e strati sociali da conquistare a una prospettiva di piU ampio coinvolgimento intellettuale.


(Because of its profound ethical and political commitment, that culture wanted to be influential not only in a merely academic way. It strove to create a mode of intellectual involvement that would pervasively reach different social strata and classes.)

With Impressioni di Roma, and therefore still at the beginning of his career as a writer, De Amicis demonstrated a strong commitment to engage and redefine the readership of the time according to principles related to his ethical and ideological beliefs as well as to his professional aspirations. One of the first (or, at least, one of the most successful) professional writers of post-unification Italy, De Amicis understood the bond between writer and reader and cultivated it in order to advance but also differentiate himself in a literary world that, according to him, existed in isolation: "i letterati si ritirano in eremi, lontani dal romore del mondo, e il mondo non li sa e non li vedi" ("the literati live like hermits far from the noise of the world, and the world does not know and does not see them," Ojetti 125).

When Edmondo De Amicis arrived in Rome in 1870 as a correspondent for L'Italia militare, he was already well known to the general public for his Bozzetti militari, published by Treves in 1868 in a volume titled La vita militare. Wider national and international fame came later, but by 1870 he was already writing for some of the main periodicals of the time, such as Nuova Antologia, La Nazione, L'Opinione, La Gazzetta d'Italia, and La Gazzetta del Popolo. The main publishers of the period (Treves, Barbera, Le Monnier, etc.) all tried to lure him into becoming one of their exclusive authors. (8) In 1867 De Amicis moved to Florence where he began to build a literary reputation that brought him to leave his military career in 1871. Introduced to one of the oldest and most prominent families of Florence, the Peruzzis, De Amicis became a regular attendee of Emilia Peruzzi's salon, around which all the main national literary and political figures gravitated when Florence was the capital of Italy. Throughout their longstanding friendship which lasted more than thirty years, Edmondo De Amicis and Emilia Peruzzi exchanged over seven hundred letters, written between 1868 and 1896. De Amicis wrote frequently to Peruzzi even when he lived in Florence and attended her literary salon held during the winter months in the city in Via Borgo de' Greci and, for the rest of the year, in the Peruzzis' country estate in Antella, not far from Florence. The letters written in 1870, filled like all the others with romantic passion, provide a testimony to the months in which De Amicis conceived the project of writing about Rome--an experience that opened the doors to his later successful career as a foreign correspondent from Spain, Morocco, and Constantinople. With a mix of self-analysis and euphoric outbursts of support for the cause of Rome, however, De Amicis's epistolary exchange with Emilia Peruzzi, who strongly opposed Rome's annexation to Italy, reveals more about his "ego of anxiety" than his "ego of desire," to use the rationale presented by Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg in her narrative analysis of the formation of a national subjectivity in post-Unification Italy (4). According to Stewart-Steinberg, "anxiety does in fact describe the post-1860 moment," to the extent that it became a fundamental feature of the formation process of Italian modernity (2). In other words, fears and anxieties about the political, social or economic transformation of the country after 1860 were an instrument rather than an impediment to the cultural modernization of Italy. Read in connection with his articles about Rome, De Amicis's letters to Emilia Peruzzi are indeed filled with anxieties which unveil the ambiguities and internal struggles the young author must have experienced while he was negotiating, both within himself and in his close relationship with Peruzzi, the gulf between the ideal he endorsed of a "Terza Roma"--symbolic of a modern, secular, and monarchic Italy--and the reality of a country still culturally and ideologically divided. De Amicis fully articulated this conflict in an article, published on October 24, 1870, in La Nazione, in which he expressed doubts about the applicability of the Roman solution to the question of national unity. Oscillating between an idealistic cultural representation of Rome and a realistic journalistic testimony "dal vero" ("from reality") of the events of the Breach of Porta Pia, De Amicis's Roman writings reveal the author's struggle with, rather than total acceptance of, a prevailing and hegemonic nationalistic rhetoric. Idealistic and realistic at once, De Amicis's travelogue about Rome lacked the certainties of a well thought-out political scheme and accompanied the reader through a journey whose final destination seemed a mystery to the author himself.

De Amicis began to write about the questione romana that is, whether or not the newly unified Italy should pursue the annexation of Rome--in his correspondence with Emilia Peruzzi. "O mammina o la morte" ("Either mommy or death"), he declared in one of his letters, evoking Garibaldi's famous dictum "O Roma o la morte" when his muse, whom he began to address around this period as "mamma" or "mammina," maintained the position endorsed by moderate and Catholic forces of no intervention in Rome:

No, no, no, cento volte no. Gli e colla Convenzione di Settembre ch'io l'ho; credo che sia stato uno scellerato errore rimetterla in vigore; perche in quest'occasione il Governo non poteva pretendere qualcosa di piU? Cosa faremo noi con questa convenzione? Che passo verso Roma? Che progresso? Ce la intenderemo coi Romani. Come? Quando? Quando il Papa dira di si, che non lo dira mai? Perche pretendere che i Romani si facciano sacrificare per liberar Roma?

(Fondo Emilia Perruzzi, cassetta 52, inserto 18)

(No, no, a hundred times no. It is with the September Convention that I am upset. I believe it was a terrible mistake to ratify it; why, on that occasion, didn't the government demand more? What will we do with this convention? What step towards Rome? What progress? Will we and the Romans understand each other? How? When? When the Pope says yes, which he will never do? Why expect the Romans to sacrifice themselves to liberate Rome?)

De Amicis vehemently affirmed the above statements in a letter written at the beginning of August 1870, probably soon after returning to his apartment one evening from one of Peruzzi's soirees at her summer residence in Antella. Not uncharacteristically, De Amicis wrote to Peruzzi moments after seeing her. On February 8, 1869, for instance, only a few hours after leaving her house, he wrote in a letter:

Prima di tutto le diro che lei e il mio angelo tutelare come glielo dissi oggi e glielo diro sempre [...]. Poi le diro che sono le otto e mezzo di sera e ch'io son qui in casa solo, venuto assai per tempo, com'ella vede, col solo proposito di rimandare alla mente tutto cio ch'ella m'ha detto oggi e cio ch'io le dissi, e di rappresentarmi l'immagine di tutti i suoi atti, anche i recriminatorii^ di tutti i suoi sorrisi, di tutti i suoi sguardi, che oggi erano improntati di un affetto cosi caro e soave! Oh signora Emilia, come mi sento migliore uscendo da lei!

(cassetta 52, inserto 9; emphasis De Amicis)

(First, I will tell you that you are my guardian angel as I have told you today and will always tell you [...]. Then I will tell you that it is 8:30 in the evening, and that I am here alone in this house, where I returned early, as you see, with the only purpose to remember all that you have said to me today and all I have said to you, and to formulate the images of all your actions, even the recriminative ones, of all your smiles, of all your glances, which today were infused with an affection so dear and gentle. Oh signora Emilia, how much better I feel when I leave your place!)

Conceived since ancient times as a conversation in absentia--"amicorum colloquia absentium," as Cicero put it--letters are written in order to fill the absence of the other, to create a deferred dialogue with a correspondent who by definition can only be reached by way of writing. (9) Through writing alone, therefore, can the epistolary subject surface. For De Amicis, letter-writing represented a formidable medium, not only for the purpose of extending his conversations with Emilia during her absence, but also in order to create a written testimony to an otherwise ephemeral oral exchange, the soirees, through which he hoped to realize the literary persona he was aspiring to become. When on June 15, 1868, De Amicis sent Emilia Peruzzi a letter he had received from Aleardo Aleardi, he asked her:

Vuol farmi un gran favore, o signora Emilia? Accetti questa proposta; tenga lei le lettere di riguardo che io ricevo man mano; io son tanto disordinato che temo di perderle. Accetta? E poi, creda, signora, che custodite da lei mi sembra che quelle lettere acquistino un gran valore di piU.

(cassetta 52, inserto 6)

(Would you do me a great favor, dear signora Emilia? Accept my proposal: you keep the important letters that I gradually receive. I am so disorganized that I am afraid of losing them. Do you agree? Believe me, signora, those letters, when kept by you, seem to gain a greater value.)

Through his correspondence with Peruzzi and other prominent literary figures of the time, De Amicis was strategically attempting to construct an image of himself as a main actor in the literary arena of post-Unification Italy. By the time he was ready to leave for Rome in 1870, De Amicis had already created a notable corpus of letters, which he considered essentially an appendix to his literary activities. Because he filled his letters with comments and information about his literary work and revised his narrative texts according to the comments that Peruzzi would send him through correspondence, De Amicis regarded his writings as the implicit text that underpinned his epistolary communications. When, in fact, during his travels to Rome, Peruzzi complained that she was not receiving news from him, De Amicis justified himself by suggesting that his articles were his current mode of not only public but also personal communication: "Ma come lei mi dice d'aver ricevuto una sola lettera! Tre gliene scrissi, tre, tre; e poi o che i giornali non sono lettere? Nei giornali aprivo l'animo mio a tutti, lei compresa" ("Why do you say that you have only received one letter! I wrote you three letters, three, three; and then, aren't newspapers a form of letter? In newspapers I open my soul to everyone, including you," cassetta 52, insert 18).

On August 21, 1870, De Amicis announced that he was going to Rome, and that, anticipating the invasion of the city, he had begun to study the topography of the area. His letters overflowed with enthusiasm: fatto dell'entrata dell'esercito nella citta eterna e troppo solenne e poetico per non farne soggetto di descrizione e di osanna" ("the army's entrance in the Eternal City is too solemn and poetic not to make it the subject of a descriptive celebration," Dillon Wanke, "De Amicis" 142). On September 7, he was ready to leave and wrote to Peruzzi again in response to a letter in which she must have reproached him for going to Rome:

Signora Emilia,

Perche ha voluto mitigare la contentezza pel suo ritorno scrivendomi quelle parole su Roma? Quelle parole che pur troppo rivelano un'ostinazione da parte sua e dei suoi amici, la cui opinione, la maggioranza del paese ha condannato? Ma dunque neanche dinanzi allo spettacolo dell'Italia armata e risoluta di entrare in Roma loro potranno e vorranno far sacrifizio delle loro opinioni, colle quali non avremmo fatto e non faremo mai nulla? [...] Lei mi dice di venire all'Antella. Senta, Signora Emilia: e impossibile; si verrebbe a parlare di Roma e si direbbero delle parole spiacevoli: io sono in uno stato di eccitamento che non saprei contenere con nessuno. Lei mi domanda perche vado a Roma; perche sono italiano e amo la capitale del mio paese.

(qtd. in Dillon Wanke, "De Amicis" 143-44)

(Signora Emilia,

Why did you choose to diminish my joyfulness for your return by writing me those words about Rome? Those words unfortunately reveal a stubbornness on your part and on that of your friends, whose opinion the majority of the country has condemned. Not even, then, before the spectacular and resolute entrance in Rome of the Italian army, are they able or willing to sacrifice their opinions, with which we would never have accomplished nor would we ever accomplish anything? [...] You ask me to come to Antella. Listen, signora Emilia: it is impossible; there would be talk about Rome and unpleasant words would be said. I am in a state of excitement that I wouldn't be able to hold back with anyone. You ask me why I am going to Rome; because I am Italian and I love my nation's capital.)

Despite the fact that De Amicis felt a strong sense of gratitude towards Peruzzi, whose influence determined his early literary successes and whom he had on several occasions unambiguously defined as the ultimate authority in his life--"Grazie, o cara signora Emilia [...]. Ella e la mia vita intellettuale, il mio presente, il mio avvenire, il mio mondo" ("Thank you, dear signora Emilia ...You are my intellectual life, my present, my future, my whole world," qtd. in Dillon Wanke, "De Amicis" 110)--he decided, perhaps sadly but willingly, to go against her advice. He left for Rome on September 9, determined to witness such a defining moment in the history of modern Italy. Unable to sever ties with Peruzzi, he continued to write to her, although more sporadically, given the limited postal service available because of the war. On September 11, on his way to Rome, De Amicis wrote to her once again, saying: "Sono due ore che passano soldati [...]. Questa mattina, all'annuncio della partenza, tutto il 57[degrees] e il 58[degrees] hanno mandato un grido solo:--A Roma!--Qui si sente italianamente" ("For two hours, soldiers have been passing by [...]. This morning when leaving, the 57th and 58th battalions yelled together: to Rome! Here one feels Italian," qtd. in Dillon Wanke, "De Amicis" 144-45). De Amicis finally entered Rome on September 20 and began to write, jotting down his impressions of Rome for readers eager to learn about the events that only a few months before would have been thought impossible.

De Amicis's travelogue on the capital city presented a postcard-like image of Rome: the artistic patrimony of the city appears as an emblem of national cultural heritage. Anticlerical in his ideological stance, De Amicis emphasized antiquity over religion, i.e., the Roman rather than the Catholic tradition of the city. In the first story of Impressioni di Roma, for instance, titled "Roma e l'esercito" and written while he was still in Florence on August 27, 1870, De Amicis wrote:

Ecco un'altra volta i soldati italiani schierati da Fara ad Orvieto, e dietro a loro la voce della moltitudine che grida:--Andate--e dinanzi il vecchio Tevere, rapido e sonoro, che sembra dire fuggendo:--Seguitemi.

Un'altra volta per quelle quiete campagne, sui taciti laghi incoronati di colli, nelle ville famose, tra i rottami delle mura ciclopiche e le mozze colonne delle necropoli etnische, si spande un soffio di vita libera e un suono di libere spade. Si ripete un'altra volta, sperando, codesto gran nome di Roma, che non si puo profferire [.] senza che il pensiero, sospinto di secolo in secolo, s'immerga e si fissi, con una specie di immobilita estatica, in quel meraviglioso passato, un'altra volta l'Italia sente tutta la vita rifluir precipitosa e possente al suo cuore.


(Here again the Italian soldiers are lined up from Fara to Orvieto, and behind them the voices of the multitudes that utter: "Go!"--and before the aged Tiber, swift and noisy that seems to say hurriedly, "Follow me".

Once more along those tranquil countrysides, upon quiet lakes crowned by hills, in the famous villas, between the wreckage of the cyclopean walls and the truncated columns of the Etruscan necropolises, spreads a breath of free life and a sound of free swords. The grand name of Rome is repeated once more with hope: Rome! And it would be impossible to say it without first [.] having our thoughts, driven century by century, immerged and fixated, with a type of ecstatic immobility, in that marvelous past, once again Italy feels its entire life flow again, hasty and strong, towards its heart.)

Written with hyperbolic style full of rhetorical tropes, sustained by the anaphoric repetition of "senza che," De Amicis's exaltation of Rome invokes the power of feelings emblematically represented by Rome, a city portrayed as the heart of the country that, juxtaposed to reasoning, constituted for De Amicis the main organ of italianita and offered the only viable means for the creation of consent among a divided and diversified Italian population.

Roma che ci pareva tanto lontana, assuefatti come s'era a misurarne la distanza a misura di tempo, non ci par possibile che si sia cosi in un subito avvicinata, tanto da farci sentire il suo fremito e da sentir essa quello dei nostri soldati. Il cuore s'avventerebbe con affetto infinito verso di lei, ma la ragione lo frena e costringe a tacere. Questo segue nella parte piU grande del popolo, e pero l'Italia par quieta e si dice che a Roma non pensa. Ma il fuoco serpeggia occulto [...]. L'Italia ha bisogno di questa scossa [...] ha bisogno di riabbracciare la sua Primogenita immortale per sentirsi qualche cosa di caldo nel cuore.


(Rome, which to us seemed so far away--used as we were to measure its distance in terms of time--suddenly appeared closer, so much so as to have us feel its excitement and to have her feel that of our soldiers. Our heart would thrust itself with unending affection towards her, but our reason stops it and forces it to remain silent. Most people follow this, but Italy seems quiet and they say that it does not think of Rome. But the fire slithers, like a snake, secretly [...]. Italy needs this jolt, [...] it needs to re-embrace its immortal first born to feel something warm in its heart.)

While De Amicis's notion of "cuore" ("heart") reflects, as critics have pointed out, the author's use of "la commozione come strumento persuasivo" ("emotions as a means of persuasion," Portinari xlviii), his representation of human feelings belongs to the realm of pathos (an expression aimed at affecting or influencing character) rather than the pathetic (a style of sad and sentimental expression). (10) This is an important distinction to keep in mind, particularly in light of recent studies on the role of emotions in the making of social, economic and cultural patterns, insofar as it attributes a less negative connotation to De Amicis's sentimentality. Thomas Dixon, for instance, in his historical examination of emotions, argues that "the category of emotions, conceived as a set of morally disengaged, bodily, non-cognitive and involuntary feelings, is a recent invention" (3). Patrizia Lombardo, in a recent issue of Critical Inquiry devoted to the subject of "Emotions," points out how contributions especially in analytical philosophy have in the last twenty years demonstrated that emotions "influence the rational pattern of decision-making," and that "affective rationality and irrationality interact" (1 -2). For Lombardo, emotions are inherent in, rather than opposed to, the process of reasoning. Other critics who wrote on sentimentalism and sentimental theories suggest that "the sentimental text is a rhetorical construct whose aim it is to affect the reader, to move the reader--movere in the classical terminology--by means of pathos" (Herget 4), and that "sentimentalism declares its project to be the valorization of feeling, and of the communicability of feeling, as the basis of a regeneration of human society" (Denby 83). Given De Amicis's emphasis on affecting his readers, it should not be surprising that he infused his writings with rhetorical discourse, with the understanding, however, that rhetoric in this context was perhaps the unavoidable stylistic choice for someone who aimed at making his texts available to a public of readers as large as possible. Rhetoric, Ezio Raimondi observes, is "l'arte di parlar bene, di dar prova di eloquenza davanti a un pubblico per guadagnarlo alla propria causa" ("the art of speaking well, of proving one's eloquence in front of a public," 96)--a definition emphasizing the dialogical aspect of rhetorical expression and its persuasive nature. As Margherita Mesirca puts it, "la retorica puo diventare una teoria della lettura [...] perche e proprio il concetto di 'presa sul lettore' a definire il dominio peculiare dell'ars bene dicendi" ("Rhetoric can become of theory of reading [...] because it is precisely the concept of 'catching the audience's attention' that defines the specific realm of public speaking," 97). De Amicis was an author keenly aware of his audience, mindful of the expectations expressed by an evolving public of readers, and determined to make his narrative an organic part of the reading process for a newly educated audience that was only then becoming part of a presumably national cultural experience. In Impressioni di Roma, he began to elaborate such a pedagogy of cultural unity, expressed through a narrative at times highly rhetorical and conventional, but also refreshingly modern in the way the author conceived the role of the reader in the text; for this audience De Amicis created stories that, however hastily they might have been written, were supposed to retain the sense of immediacy and veracity of history in the making. In his Roman travelogue, De Amicis presented himself as literally a "correspondent" for his readers, an author who wrote "per divertire e istruire i suoi lettori" ("to entertain and instruct his readers") in the words of one of his contemporaries, Leone Fortis, founder of Il pungolo and writer of one of the most popular columns of the time, "Conversazioni" (L'illustrazione italiana 3.25, 16 aprile 1876). In terms of De Amicis's civic pedagogy, feelings therefore play a major role. Conceived as a rationalized set of normalized reactions, feelings prevail over the irrational outpouring of emotions. In this sense, the reader is made to "feel" the validity of the proposition and made to "act"--whether in terms of personal conduct or collective consciousness. Feelings are thematically and rhetorically the primary channel through which De Amicis communicates with and attempts to influence his readers, who can all relate to the power of feelings, to a "sentimental attachment" to Rome.

According to De Amicis, the Eternal City was the only city that could culturally overhaul the regional and ideological divide hovering over the national debate on the final stage of the political unification of the country. However, this national "sentimental attachment" towards Rome, for De Amicis , could not be solely based in a historical or literary context, but had to be viewed through the spirit animating people's feelings towards the capital. As he wrote in "Roma e l'Esercito:"

V'e una gioventU in Italia la quale non crede che codesta Roma sia una tradizione di letterati, e porta il suo grande nome nel petto e non lo lasciera cader mai [...]. Essa non trascinera l'Italia ad una Guerra civile, non tradira lo stato con imprese dissennate, ma terra viva la fiamma sacra, l'alimentera di speranze e di fede, aspettando ed amando. L'avvenire e suo, non d'altri che suo. In questa gioventU confidiamo. E nel nostro Re."


(There are young people in Italy who do not believe that this Rome is merely a tradition of the literati; they carry its great name in their heart and will never let it fall.... They will not drag Italy into civil war, will not betray the nation with irresponsible actions, but will keep alive the sacred flame, will feed it with hope and faith, waiting and loving. The future is theirs, and no one else's. In this youth we trust. And in our King.)

By divesting Rome of a purely academic value, De Amicis wanted to appeal to the sentimental aspect of historic Rome, aiming thus at widening the scope of the city's cultural fruition;--it is presented as the main symbol of a cultural patrimony shared across the social, ideological, and, most importantly for De Amicis, generational divide.

When the Italian troops entered Rome in 1870, the city had a population of about 170,000 people, with a landscape--rural more than urban--that differed remarkably from that of any other European capital (Caracciolo 47). Valued principally for its association to antiquity, Rome as a modern capital had to be ideologically invented and culturally constructed. Since the beginning of the Risorgimento movement, Rome had been designated as the natural conclusion to the national efforts towards unification. However, in spite of the stark contrast existing between the imagined modern capital and the reality of Rome as a rather provincial and isolated city--or, perhaps, in light of it--intellectuals in the late 1860s intensified their cultural promotion of Rome. De Amicis's Roman travelogue should therefore be understood within these efforts of the "reinvention" of Rome for a readership that by 1870 comprised not only committed patriots from the upper middle-classes, but also people from the lower middle-classes, who formed the larger public opinion: "tra coloro insomma che accorsero in massa al grido garibaldino di 'Roma o morte' nel '62 e di nuovo nel '67 [...] che emergevano negli appelli e nei meeting indetti per 'l''Italia una con Roma capitale'" ("among those who responded in mass to Garibaldi's call for 'Rome or death' in 1862 and again in 1867 [...] who would appear at meetings and appeals organized for 'One Italy with Rome as its capital,'" Caracciolo 71). In Impressioni di Roma De Amicis carefully orchestrated the narrative performance of this one Italy with Rome at its heart. For instance, in the story titled "L'entrata delle truppe in Roma" ("The army's entrance in Rome"), he not only presented the figure of the Italian soldier (and by extension the Italian army) as symbolic of the national character (an idea already promoted in his bozzetti), but Romans themselves--until then excluded from modern Italian history--became the centralizing force of the national efforts of modern political formation. De Amicis presented here a unifying message that could appeal to both the skeptical observers and the embattled protagonists of the divisive questione romana.

Il popolo accompagna col canto la musica delle fanfare. Sui terrazzini si vedono gli stemmi di Casa Savoia [...]. Centinaia di bandiere sventolano sopra le teste. L'entusiasmo e al colmo [...] mi trovo fuori della folla; incontro operai, donne del popolo, vecchi, ragazzi: tutti hanno la coccarda tricolore, tutti accorrono gridando: 'I nostri soldati! I nostri fratelli! ' E commovente; e l'affetto compresso da tanti anni che prorompe tutto in un'ora; e il grido della liberta di Roma che si sprigiona da centomila petti; e il primo giorno d'una nuova vita; e sublime.


(The people sing along to the fanfare of the band. On the little terraces one sees the coat-of-arms of the House of Savoy [...]. Hundreds of flags fly overhead. The enthusiasm is at its peak [.] I find myself outside the crowd; I run into workers, common women, the elderly, and the young: all of them wearing the tricolored cockade. All come running, yelling--"Our soldiers!--"Our brothers!" It is quite touching; the affection that has been stifled for many years bursts forth all in one hour; it is the exclamation of Rome's liberty gushing out of one hundred thousand chests; it is the first day of a new life and it is sublime.)

Contemporaries like De Amicis or Ugo Pesci (a reporter for Il Fanfulla who wrote a reportage on the campaign of annexation of Rome titled "Come siamo entrati in Roma") (11) emphasized the enthusiasm of the local population when the Italian soldiers entered the city, in contrast to what some historical documents revealed as a perhaps more apathetic and apolitical crowd. The constructed image of Rome and Romans that emerged from these semi-fictional renditions of the annexation of Rome served to create a collective memory of national identity, similar to that described by Mario Isnenghi in his "luoghi della memoria" ("places of memory"). While this collective memory, on the one hand, was supposed to awaken a sense of national pride, on the other it responded to the negative reputation of being an archeological relic, a mausoleum to a long-gone glory--a reputation that was established by the early nineteenth century and was popular among the travelers of the Gran Tour as well as among Italians (Isnenghi viii). (12) In "L'entrata delle truppe in Roma," dated September 21, De Amicis aptly evoked the glorious past of Rome--but only to present it as an essential element of the living present history of Italy:

Queste grandi piazze, queste fontane enormi, questi giganteschi monumenti, queste rovine, queste memorie, questo terreno, questo nome di Roma, i bersaglieri, le bandiere tricolori, i prigionieri, il popolo, le grida, le musiche, quella secolare maesta, questa nuova gioia, questo ravvicinamento che ci fa la memoria di tempi, di casi, di trionfi antichissimi e vivi, tutto quest'insieme e qualcosa che affascina, che percuote qui, in mezzo alla fronte, e pare che faccia vacillare la ragione; si direbbe che e un sogno, non si puo quasi credere agli occhi; e una felicita che soverchia le forze del cuore. Roma! Si esclama.


(These vast squares, these enormous fountains, these gigantic monuments, these ruins, these memories, this soil, this name of Rome, the bersaglieri, the tricolored flag, the prisoners, the people, the shouts, the music, the secular majesty, this new joy, this moving closer that reminds us of times, cases, and triumphs past and alive, all these things together are something that fascinates us and strikes here, in the middle of our forehead, and seems to make our reason quiver; it could be said that it is a dream and that we cannot believe our eyes; it is a joy that surpasses the strength of our heart. Rome! We exclaim.)

And in another story titled "Un'adunanza popolare nel Colosseo" (A people's gathering at the Colosseum), focusing on the monument that still today constitutes one of the main symbols of Roman antiquity, De Amicis translated the cultural value of ancient glory into the modern currency of Italian history as a nation:

Il Bonghi dice che qui ci sentiremo piccoli. Perche? Piccolo si sentira chi si vorra misurare con chi fu grande. Ma qui non veniamo a misurarci; ma ad ispirarci, ad attingere forza e coraggio, a meditare e ad ammirare. Il Colosseo!--ho sentito dire;--che vi puo dire il Colosseo? Vi narrera le glorie dei gladiatori e i supplizi dei cristiani? Ed io vi rispondo: Si.... [...]. Si....ecco cosa mi dice il Colosseo. Mi dice che dove gli uomini schiavi si sgozzavano per ricreare un tiranno, ora convengono cittadini a salutare un re eletto ed amato [...] e vi par poco codesto? Vi par che si possa dire che il Colosseo e muto?


(Bonghi says that here we will feel small. Why? He who tries to compare himself with those who were once grandiose, will feel small. But here we do not come to compare ourselves, but to inspire ourselves, to draw on strength and courage, to meditate and to admire. The Colosseum!--I heard someone say--What can the Colosseum say? Will it narrate to you the glory of the gladiators and the torment of the Christians? Yes... [...]. Yes--this is what the Colosseum tells me, I would respond. It tells me that where the slaves' throats were once cut to please a tyrant, now citizens gather to greet an elected and beloved king [...] and does this seem little to you? Does it seem to you that it can be said the Colosseum is mute?)

Such an enthusiastic and idealistic vision of Rome, and especially of Romans, assumed completely different tones and conclusions during a second trip that De Amicis made to Rome a month after the annexation that resulted in an article appeared in La Nazione on October 24, 1870. The article was not signed, but De Amicis probably wrote it. In a letter dated October 12, 1870, he announced to Emilia Peruzzi that he was leaving for Rome to work as a correspondent (Fondo Emilia Peruzzi cassetta 52, insert 19). Furthermore, he already had an on-going professional relationship with La Nazione, for which he began the following year to work as a correspondent from Spain; finally, the language and style of the article are reminiscent of his own writings. Did De Amicis omit his name because of the critical tone and the doubts he was expressing towards the Italian government which had yet to move to Rome, and which, most importantly, he responded to as a correspondent for L'Italia militare? Was he concerned about the seemingly contradictory nature of the content of this article compared to what he had written in Impressioni di Roma, now widely circulating all over Italy? Both hypotheses are plausible. What is evident here is De Amicis's disappointment at the realization that the ideals of Rome as a modern capital were trampled by the reality of a city struggling to reconcile the initial idealistic enthusiasm with the reality of the political establishment. "Comincio con una dichiarazione" ("I begin with a declaration"), De Amicis warned at the opening of the article: "Chi viene in questi giorni per la prima volta a Roma con le idee cercate solo nello studio della storia o acquistate nella lettura di molti giornali, e costretto a guardarsi dattorno meravigliato e confuso" ("Those who come to Rome for the first time, with ideas taken only from history books or through reading newspapers, will be forced to look around themselves with surprise and confusion"). (13) For De Amicis, speaking from his own personal experience and observation "dal vero," this Rome was neither the eternal city invoked by the Risorgimento patriots, nor the modern capital imagined by those who entered the city on September 20, 1870. Only a month later, Rome appeared to be an inscrutable territory of political machination, the chaotic outcome of a failed civics lesson in modern Italian history. The article insisted that the problem was not, as many Italians might have thought, the pope:

Il cervello di certi uomini politici sognava e forse sogna tuttavia che a Roma si pensi molto al papa, al suo potere, alla sua influenza [...]. Che cosa fa Pio IX? Nessuno se ne occupa: le notizie che lo riguardano si ricevono da Firenze, ma quasi non si raccolgono. Ecco una prima meraviglia e non lieve. La vita politica della citta si traduce in una sola parola: entusiasmo: cieco, veramente febbrile. Il solo aspetto continuo permanente di Roma e la dimostrazione [...]. Ecco Roma. Ma debbo aggiungere che qua si sente molto, e si pensa poco.

(Naldini 182-83)

(The brain of certain political men dreamed and perhaps still dreams that in Rome one thinks much and often about the pope, about his power, about his influence [...]. What does Pius IX do? Nobody is concerned with it: news regarding him is sent from Florence, but it is almost not noticed here. This is the first surprise, and not a small one. The political life of the city can be expressed in a single word: blind, truly feverish enthusiasm. The only permanent aspect of Rome is exhibition [...]. This is Rome. But I must add that here people feel much but think little.)

The problem was, rather, the seemingly static atmosphere reigning in the city and the lack of initiatives that were necessary in order to establish what De Amicis called the "fusione dei Romani negl'Italiani" ("fusion of the Roman into the Italian"). Ten years earlier it was said that after making Italy it was necessary to make Italians. (14) In 1870, once Rome was made Italian, De Amicis invoked this notion to encourage the assimilation of Romans into the national project of cultural unification. "Occorre che dopo l'estensione delle leggi italiane [...] si applichino non solo materialmente colla percezione delle imposte, ma con lo spirito nuovo che animi tutte le istituzioni, tutte le consuetudini, ed accomuni la vita romana alla vita italiana" ("Once the laws are passed ... it is important that they are applied not only materially through the creation of taxes, but with a new spirit that can revitalize all institutions, all customs, and bring together the life of Rome with that of Italy," Naldini 184). Far from being resolved, the questione romana became, in De Amicis's Roman narratives, an early warning to another thorny issue afflicting the process of national unification: the questione meridionale, which only a few years later Pasquale Villari would address in his Lettere meridionali. Whether De Amicis intended truly to denounce the status quo involved in the creation of the Roman capital, or simply continued to write as an observer, a chronicler of history in the making, his writings about Rome in 1870 illustrate the contradictory, complex nature of his cultural utopian project, and offer insights into Italy's post-Unification mythmaking process of nation formation.

Seton Hall University

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Bacchetti, Flavia. I viaggi "en touriste" di De Amicis: raccontare ai borghesi. Pisa: Edizioni del Cerro, 2001.

Brizzi, Valentina. Nell'officina di un reporter di fine Ottocento: gli appunti di viaggio di Edmondo De Amicis. Padova: Il Poligrafo, 2007.

Canosa, Mario, ed. 1905. La presa di Roma. Alle origini del cinema italiano. Beginnings of Italian Cinema. Bologna: Le Mani, 2006.

Caracciolo, Alberto. Roma capitale: dal Risorgimento alla crisi dello stato liberale. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1999.

Carducci, Giosue. Poesie. Ed. Giorgio Barberi Squarotti. Milano: Garzanti, 1978.

Chemello, Adriana, ed. Alla lettera: teorie e pratiche epistolari dai Greci al Novecento. Padova: Guerini Studio, 1998.

Danna, Bianca. Dal taccuino alla lanterna magica, De Amicis reporter e scrittore di viaggi. Firenze: Leo S. Olshki, 2000.

De Amicis, Edmondo. Impressioni di Roma. Firenze: Faverio, 1870.

--. Se un di un viaggiatore. Ed. Bruno Rombi. Alessandria: Piemme, 1994.

De Guglielmi, Ada. "Alleporte d'Italia: De Amicis tra Sommaruga e Treves." Edmondo De Amicis. Atti del convegno nazionale di studi. Ed. Furio Contorbia. Milano: Garzanti: 1981. 473-88.

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(1) Doctor Veritas, Leone Fortis's pen name, was the founder of Il pungolo and the author of "La conversazione," a successful column that appeared in L'illustrazione italiana from 1873 to 1883, in Il pungolo della domenica from 1883 to 1886 and in Conversazioni della domenica from 1886 to 1990.The above quotation was published in L'illustrazione italiana 27.5 (July 7, 1878): 11.

(2) See, for instance, Stewart-Steinberg for her analysis of De Amicis's Amore e ginnastica; on De Amicis's travel literature see Rombi, Danna, Bacchetti, and Brizzi.

(3) Cambi refers to the complexity of De Amicis's pedagogy as "una pedagogia consapevolmente ideologica, ma che, conformando, vuole emancipare, nel senso di modernizzare, laicizzare, secolarizzare" (in Bacchetti 11).

(4) Despite the renewed interest for De Amicis, little has been written on Impressioni di Roma. Dillon Wanke devoted a few pages to it in "I primi viaggiatori dell'Italia unita," Le ragioni di Corinna, 282-87; see also Danna 19-29.

(5) Impressioni di Roma was an immediate success with the readers: in a letter dated November 18, 1870 (addressed to Emilia Peruzzi) De Amicis announced that a third edition of the book was in preparation; this initial commercial success was undoubtedly one of the reasons behind the editorial "speculation" developed around this text. Already in 1870, a selection of articles from Impressioni di Roma was included in Vittorio Bersezio's Roma capitale d'Italia (published by Treves in Milan), and two years later some of the articles appeared in Ricordi del 1870-1871 (Barbera Editore); finally a revised selection was included in a 1897 volume titled Le tre capitali: Torino, Firenze, Roma published by Giannotta in Catania.

(6) I would like to thank John Welle, who brought this film to my attention; only a small portion of the original 250-meter reel of La presa di Roma is available today; the surviving footage has recently been restored and released on a DVD; see Musumeci and Toffetti; Canosa.

(7) Only a few letters contained in the Emilia Peruzzi's Collection (Fondo Emilia Peruzzi) at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (BNCF) are available in print. To my knowledge, this letter has never been published. It is conserved at the BNCF in the "Fondo Emilia Peruzzi," cassetta 52, inserto 18. It is dated September 9, 1870, the day when De Amicis announced to Emilia Peruzzi that he was leaving for Terni. Heinreich Homberger was a German correspondent living in Italy and a regular attendee of Emilia Peruzzi's salon. All translations of excerpts from De Amicis's letters are mine.

(8) An example of such casus belli was the publication of Alle porte d 'Italia, which was contended by Treves and Sommaruga but published by the latter in 1884 (De Guglielmi).

(9) For the notion of deferred conversation in epistolary writing, see Chemello viii and Derrida 3-6.

(10) I am using here the definitions provided by the Oxford English Dictionary.

(11) "Come siamo entrati in Roma," introduced by Carducci, was originally published by Treves in 1895 for the 25th anniversary of the annexation of Rome.

(12) For an analysis of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century emergence, especially in Northern Europe, of an image of Italy as a cemetery or land of "death," see Agnew and Luzzi.

(13) I would like to thank Naldini, a journalist for La Nazione and editor of the recently published volume La Nazione 150 anni, for bringing this article to my attention and providing me with an initial copy of it. The article was published in Naldini and Listri 182.

(14) According to Soldani and Turi, the oft-quoted sentence "Fatta l'Italia bisogna fare gli italiani" ["Once Italy is made we need to make Italians"] was wrongly attributed to Massimo D'Azeglio and was actually pronounced by Ferdinando Martini (17).
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Author:Romani, Gabriella
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Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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