The Unpopular Realism of Vincenzo Padula provides a microhistory of life in a Southern Italian province in the decade following Unification and of Vincenzo Padula, who wrote single-handedly from March 1864 to July 1865 — a period when pro-Bourbon loyalists were attempting to exploit the discontent of the Region’s poor masses by fomenting brigantry and reverse the Unification — Il Bruzio, a pro-Government periodical published in Cosenza. The pro-government reformist Padula pointed out not only the successes but also the shortcomings and failures of the Savoy regime, so as to consolidate their rule. He gave particular attention to the problems of daily life through the correspondence of a literary creation, Mariuzza Sbrìffiti. The difficult integration of the South, in Padula’s view, was often exacerbated by the unwillingness of the “piemontesi” to learn the social, political, and economic realities of the South. Padula enables us to view from multiple angles both macroscopic issues, such as the relationship between the Church and the New Italy, and the dire state of the infrastructure and economy, and microscopic ones, such as the peasantry’s misplaced hopes in Garibaldi, clerical obscurantism, popular beliefs and culture, contradictions in the structure of the new liberal regime, and the status and role of women in such a society. He views his subjects from a unique perspective, one is defined by its empathy for and identification with the marginalized “persons of Calabria.”
Joseph Francese is professor and University Distinguished Faculty emeritus at Michigan State University.
II. His Life
III. Padula’s ‘obscurity’
IV. Padula Demopsicologo
V. De Sanctis and Croce
VI. Padula’s (Un)Popular Realism
VII. Il Bruzio
VIII. Lo Stato delle persone in Calabria
IX. Women Correspond with “Il Bruzio”
X. Mariuzza Bis
XI. Prelude and End of Il Bruzio
Padula is a fascinating figure, and Francese has done a wonderful job of bringing him to life and of making the case for [. . .] Il Bruzio as bearer of a previously unheard voice of the South. [. . .] Francese is careful not to underestimate the paternalism of Padula’s strategy, at the same time he underscores the rarity of such a device, and the respect it confers onto the woman’s voice, however ventriloquized it might be.
Francese’s work is an important contribution to Italian studies, specifically to the study of the cultural and social structures of the Mezzogiorno as represented in its Calabrian historical context. It is especially significant in the way it concretely details, through the study of Vincenzo Padula’s work, the intricate and complex problems attendant upon Italian unification. Padula’s work underlines the inherent contradictions of a state that asserts liberalism—equal rights and due process of law—while simultaneously buttressing the parasitic preeminence of Southern elites.
The Unpopular Realism of Vincenzo Padula: Il Bruzio and Mariuzza Sbrìffiti offers an effective and precious portrait of a still relatively understudied reality of the South in post-Unification Italy through the voice of Vincenzo Padula and his short-lived periodical, Il Bruzio. Published in Cosenza from March 1864 to July 1865, this publication, founded and almost entirely written by Vincenzo Padula, traces a powerful picture of the dynamics in place within the Southern social structure (old nobility, “galantuomini,” and peasants), as well as between this society and the new “Piedmontese” administration. Joseph Francese’s book, thanks also to a lively prose and the engaged voice of its author, offers a rich and enjoyable study of Vincenzo Padula’s work, pointing out its denunciation of exploitation of the peasantry and of corruption on the part of the higher classes and its call for social reform.