In the 1880s an English anthropologist travelling in the Mediterranean observed that the “people of Southern Italy seem born brigands […] very different are they from their grave, thoughtful brethren of the north. They form the element of national discord, the Irish of Italy.”Footnote 1 Ireland and southern Italy, or the mezzogiorno, regularly provided reverse images of modernity for an array of commentators in the nineteenth century. Stereotypes about indolence, violence, and dependency in geographically peripheral regions were widespread in British and Italian cities and contributed to how the national self-image and the other were imagined. Cartoons contributed significantly to this imaginary. From the 1840s, satirical magazines developed within the growing European media industry as a means of communication with a fresh immediacy, and peasants were often the subjects of ruthless ridicule. A key characteristic of processes of modernity, Eisenstadt argued, is “the redefinition of center and periphery”,Footnote 2 and satirical cartoons shaped a liberal version of what was modern by identifying what was not: the peasant who engaged in cowardly acts of violence, lacked self-reliance, avoided work, and was in thrall to Catholic clergymen.Footnote 3
Humorous magazines in nineteenth-century Italy and the United Kingdom were not universally hostile to rural dwellers, who were often held up as salt-of-the-earth figures. Farmers could often be gently mocked as old-fashioned, but they were also portrayed as nobly upholding traditional virtues that were untainted by the ills of industrialization. Comic dialogues between law-abiding Irish farmers and English travellers and sportsmen were often accompanied by images with no negative connotations. In many Italian cartoons, peasants’ physical characteristics were not discernibly different from urban or elite figures. It was the rebels and brigands who were the cartoonists’ principal targets.
At the same time, distinctions between these politicized groups and the rural populations as a whole in Ireland and southern Italy were not always clear. During times of political upheaval, caricatures of rebellious peasants came to embody the worst aspects of the regions they inhabited, combining traits of laziness and dependency with “unmanly” violence. These images reveal important aspects of social and political attitudes toward the rural lower classes in southern Italy and Ireland; at the same time, they were constitutive of these attitudes amongst an urban middle-class readership. By visually articulating undesirable characteristics, cartoons of brigands and rebels contributed to the invention of a bourgeois image of nationhood in Italy and the United Kingdom, which asserted the superiority of liberal capitalism and the industrious, urban citizen.
Over the past decade or so the historiography of Italian unification has been transformed by research that has moved away from traditional politics toward understanding the Risorgimento as a cultural revolution. The work of Alberto Banti has been to the forefront of a cultural turn, which has brought a focus on language, representations, and the imaginary of the Risorgimento.Footnote 4 Transnational and comparative perspectives have had a limited influence on the historiography of nineteenth-century Italy, and Ireland, relative to their popularity in North America and central European countries. Yet, new approaches, Maurizio Isabella has pointed out, are starting to “locate Italy's nation-building at the centre of European-wide processes of change, such as the media revolution of the nineteenth century […] most of the peculiarities of the Risorgimento now seem to be local variants of European or global trends”.Footnote 5 This article seeks to contribute to these developments by comparing cartoons of Italian brigands and Irish agrarian agitators.
Distorted images of peasants came to the fore particularly during times of trauma. Following unification in 1861, the so-called grande brigantaggio [“great brigandage”] spread in the south of continental Italy. Brigand violence was not new in the region, but in the context of regime change it developed into a brutal conflict. Brigand gangs employed murder, kidnapping, theft, and property destruction and were strongly linked to legitimist forces that sought to restore the Bourbon Francis II to the throne of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The new Italian army, equipped with exceptional powers, repressed brigandage with ferocity and by 1865 the unrest had effectively ended in most regions in the south of the peninsula.Footnote 6 In Ireland, the 1860s witnessed a limited outbreak of agrarian violence and also the rise of the republican separatist movement, the Fenians, who attempted rebellion in 1867. In the years 1879–1882, agrarian protest broke out on an endemic scale, prompted by the European crisis in agricultural prices and coordinated by nationalists. The organization for land reform that emerged – the Land League – became one of the most formidable and effective social movements in modern Irish history.Footnote 7 In satirical cartoons, Italian brigands and Irish agrarian agitators were portrayed as internal enemies of the state and, reminiscent of the perceptions described in Weber's classic account of rural France, the regions they inhabited were seen as seditious and backward, and required thorough reform through the introduction of civilizing values.Footnote 8
The advantages of a comparative approach to satirical cartoons of peasants are twofold. First, as Eugenio Biagini has suggested,Footnote 9 comparing how peripheral regions were portrayed in satirical magazines produced in metropolitan cities demonstrates difference, but also similarities in how societies responded to social unrest and how stereotyped images were packaged.Footnote 10 Second, the comparative cases interplay and inform each other. I argue that cartoonists in Britain and Italy drew from a shared transnational repository of stereotypes regarding poverty, indolence, violence, and Catholicism when depicting unrest in Ireland and the mezzogiorno. In her study of Risorgimento literature and correspondence, Silvana Patriarca has demonstrated how patriots’ attitudes toward the south represented a form of internalizing negative stereotypes about Italian national character that circulated in northern Europe, particularly England, in the nineteenth century.Footnote 11 Cartoons of brigands also had an important function in this. At the same time, the strategies they employed held comparable details to depictions of Irish agitators in London-based satirical magazines. Cartoons were used to articulate visually social prejudices that held some national peculiarities, but were significantly rooted in a broader European context.
London-based satirical magazines have generated an extensive historical debate that has centred on questions of racialization and the ape-like features that were frequently attributed to Irish people in cartoons. In the most comprehensive study, Michael de Nie has contended that anti-Irish feeling was rife in political cartoons, but this prejudice was based on varied factors including religion and class, as well as ethnicity.Footnote 12 In contrast, Italian satirical magazines from the era of brigandage remain neglected, but they provide an important, additional perspective on Italy's “southern question” that complements research on how pejorative attitudes toward the south developed in illustrated newspapers after 1870.Footnote 13
Cartoons do not provide a transparent view of contemporary attitudes and could be shaped by artists’ personal prejudices and the conventions of the time. Yet, as Peter Burke has maintained, “conventions filter information about the outside world but do not exclude it”.Footnote 14 For the humour in cartoons to work, De Nie has argued, the artist and reader must share common cultural preconceptions. And since they were “only joking”, cartoonists could “publicly express anxieties and animosities that were often frowned upon”.Footnote 15 This article focuses on a select number of representative cartoons, by a variety of artists and from a number of magazines, to identify similarities and differences. Comparing images of rural rebels demonstrates the significance of gender and class prejudices and how they were interconnected in understandings of “manhood” and its opposite: dependency.
Certain characteristics made peasants suitable only for minor roles in the modern nation and liberal capitalism. The rural inhabitants of both Ireland and the mezzogiorno were members of powerful European states, the United Kingdom and Italy, yet they simultaneously lived in circumstances with colonial aspects. The Irish case was more explicitly colonial, but aspects of Italian unification arguably resembled a northern conquest of the continental mezzogiorno, which was subsequently administered by policies determined in distant cities by officials with little understanding of the region.Footnote 16 Both Ireland and southern Italy held characteristics of what has been termed internal colonialism, the subordination of one region in a larger state dominated by people from another region.Footnote 17 By comparison, however, derogatory portrayals of ethnic difference featured more explicitly in London-based cartoons of the Irish.
CARTOONS AND THE “GREAT BRIGANDAGE”, 1861–1865
Satirical magazines began to circulate in Europe in the 1830s. The Parisian Le Charivari started in 1832 and the London-based Punch in 1841, and the following decades saw the emergence of several more titles in London such as Fun (1861), Judy (1867), and Funny Folks (1874). In Italy, the main satirical magazines were established in 1848 and filled a clearly polemical function. Il Fischietto, Turin (“The Whistle”), Il Lampione, Florence (“The Lamppost”), L'Arlecchino, Naples, (“The Harlequin”), Lo Spirito Folletto, Milan (“The Elfin Spirit”) and Il Cassandrino, Rome were all established in that year and, despite some interruptions, most survived to continue publishing during the following decades. Little is accurately known about their sales and circulation, though in this period Italian newspapers generally held lower readerships relative to English and French ones.Footnote 18 Geographical disparities in Italian literacy rates, particularly between northern and southern regions, indicate that the circulation of these magazines, as with the press more generally, was regionally biased. Their readers belonged to the well-educated, urban middle classes. At the same time, the high number of titles indicates that satirical magazines were popular and improvements in reproduction technology and mass communication allowed them to reach a growing and significant readership. Increased circulation was facilitated by the dismantling of borders and the easing of censorship that came with unification.Footnote 19
The proliferation of pejorative images of the mezzogiorno intensified following the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 and the spread of brigandage. This was a decisive period in the shaping of relations, the “first massive encounter between north and south”, and one where stereotypes about the mezzogiorno shaded the views of political and military officials.Footnote 20 Perceptions of brigandage, John Dickie has argued, “influenced the construction of a barbaric, irrational South”, where violence was always a form of criminality, an expression of personal vendettas rather than of political grievances.Footnote 21 Italian officials saw brigandage as a symptom of social deprivation and backwardness and, empowered by emergency legislation, they employed severe strategies of repression during the years 1861–1865 that brought brutal consequences.Footnote 22 In one notorious case, the army retaliated to the killing of forty-one soldiers in the village of Pontelandolfo in Campania by indiscriminately massacring several hundred villagers.Footnote 23 The description of an infectious disease being treated by a surgeon constituted a common metaphor for visualizing the intervention of the Italian army in the south.Footnote 24 When martial law was proposed for southern regions in 1863, the Florence-based Nazione declared that opposing the legislation “would be the same as wanting to cure an illness without removing the cause that nourishes it, therefore ultimately maintaining it”.Footnote 25
After unification the circulation of satirical magazines grew and they were increasingly used as overt instruments to communicate national cohesion and shape public opinion among urban middle-class readerships.Footnote 26 If Punch was the “London Charivari”, Il Fischietto was the Italian version. The leading satirical magazine in the country, its artists included some of the most celebrated of the period, particularly the Turin-born Casimiro Teja and the editor, Francesco Redenti, from Emilia-Romagna. In the 1850s Il Fischietto claimed a circulation of about 3,000, but the readership increased in the 1860s. The magazine took aim at a wide variety of targets, including government ministers, yet it was decidedly liberal and anti-clerical in tone and generally depicted Cavour, Ricasoli, and often Garibaldi in a positive light.Footnote 27
In Il Fischietto brigands were far removed from any ideal Robin Hood-type figure, and distorted images became part of an exaggerated narrative of a south characterized by Bourbon reactionaries, criminal violence, and clerical power. In Figure 1, Francesco Redenti portrayed the allegorical “Italia” leading a stream of brigands out of the Kingdom of Italy. Italia's physical form resembles the geographical outline of the new nation-state. The brigands are infantilized, resembling characters from a fairy tale, or children, who offer no resistance as she pulls them out of the country and away from the manipulating Pope Pius IX and Francis II, who are escaping on horseback. The brigands are also drawn with hunched bodies and deformed features, which one study found to “border on racism”.Footnote 28 Ultimately they are passive beings; without Italia, the Pope, or Francis to lead them they would be lost, and the image draws on Bruegel's renaissance painting, The Blind Leading the Blind.Footnote 29 The idea of moral failure is central to their predicament. The caption states: “Away from here, wretches! Your masters trot along on one side and you on the other side, both you and they no longer have the right to call yourselves sons of Italy!”. The brigands’ unmanly violence and dependency on the Papacy and Francis II have ultimately excluded them from membership of the new nation.
Brigandage assumed different characteristics in different regions of the south, and often entailed small-scale civil wars between localized political and economic interest groups. Brigands did not directly agitate for land redistribution or revolutionary goals, but the pervasive violence was unquestionably an expression of profound dissatisfaction with rural hardship, food shortages, and opposition to a perceived illegitimate state.Footnote 30 Cartoonists, however, focused mainly on brigands’ links to the papacy and legitimist elements. In 1861 the Catalan general Josep Borges landed in Calabria, planning to reclaim the throne for Francis II with the help of the famed brigand leader, Carmine Crocco. By the end of the year, however, Crocco had separated from Borges, and the latter was ultimately discovered and executed by the Italian army. This and similar episodes fed cartoonists’ visualizations of brigands as the dupes of Bourbon legitimists, their foreign supporters, and the Papacy – the troika determined to weaken the new nation.
Brigands’ dependency on conniving clerics regularly featured in cartoons. In Figure 2, by Turin-born artist Ippolito Virginio, five brigands play around the feet and lap of an opulent and overfed Pius IX. Armed with miniature shotguns, they appear as mythological dwarves or mischievous children, but also as naïve cat's paws about to be manipulated by a patriarchal Pope for his own self-interest. A fairy-tale-like quality is again present, evoking an infantile atmosphere in the scene. The caption accompanying the image quotes a verse from the illustrious Tuscan poet Vincenzo da Filicaja about motherhood, offering a reminder of high Italian culture, and also reinforcing the paternal relationship between Pope and brigand: “Like a mother, he [i.e. the Pope] looks at his children with merciful eyes, and is consumed with love at the sight of them. And kisses one on the forehead, and embraces one to the chest […]’.Footnote 31 This image, similar to the others included here, accentuated the brigands’ lack of manhood.
In her biography of Garibaldi, Lucy Riall has observed how “conflict in the Italian peninsula was re-narrativised as popular melodrama” in literature and theatre.Footnote 32 Similarly, these artists’ cartoons represented a visual narrative in which heroes and villains of brigandage entered and exited the stage at different intervals. Cartoons rarely, if ever, depicted the brigand alone, and typically revolved around a variation of three characters: first, the brigand; second; a representative of the Catholic Church or Pope Pius IX himself; and third, a Bourbon loyalist, whether Francis II, or one of his external supporters, such as General Borges or Napoleon III. Interestingly, Pius IX appeared far more frequently than Francis II, suggesting that the Papacy was perceived as the greater threat to the political stability of a united Italy.
Similar to Il Fischietto, the Pope was a central character in Il Lampione's cartoons. Figure 3 – entitled “Here is the only way the Pope-King can enter paradise!” – was drawn by Adolfo Matarelli and demonstrates the differing, and richer, artistic style of the Florentine Il Lampione when compared to Il Fischietto. The former magazine was of a similar moderate-liberal direction, though held a somewhat more well-heeled readership. It employed the well-known Tuscan artists Matarelli and Angiolo Tricca, and was edited by Collodi, the pen-name of Carlo Lorenzini, who later found international fame with his fairy tale Pinocchio.Footnote 33 In the cartoon, Pius IX stands with a torch alongside four brigands outside the gates of heaven, and they struggle to open the door. With a wry smirk the Pope whispers that he sold the original golden keys to maintain their actions, and now urges them to quietly break the lock so they may enter. In the caption, St Peter shouts to God that thieves are at the gates, who responds, “I know them”. Unlike Figures 1 and 2, the brigands have regular, adult physical features. At the same time, they again lack agency and are merely doing the bidding of the wily Pope.
Cartoons represented a direct means of mass communication and contributed much to the visual idea of the south. In satirical magazines brigandage came to represent all that was bad about the south and focused broader stereotypes about southerners as violent and subservient people who required comprehensive reform before they could be included in the Italian nation. Cartoons in northern periodicals, one study has contended, were designed to “satisfy a certain type of educated bourgeoisie and their stereotypes” and they demonstrated “open disdain for the southern population, casually equated ‘in toto’ with brigands”.Footnote 34
True, there was not a single, monolithic south or a generic north: different worldviews and political programmes coexisted and competed across the peninsula.Footnote 35 Neither were derogatory images of the south confined to publications in Turin or Florence, even though cartoonists there undoubtedly contributed more than others to homogenizing the views of a previously disparate northern readership toward events in which they played no part and in regions they were unlikely to visit. Satirical magazines were designed for the middle classes in large cities, primarily in the north, but also in the ex-Bourbon kingdom. After unification, many southern democrats, exiled in the north since 1848, returned to the mezzogiorno and Marta Petrusewicz has demonstrated how during their exile, they had actively participated in the construction of negative stereotypes of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.Footnote 36 After unification, the southern liberal press continued to advance pejorative images of the region and, in Naples, L'Arlecchino and the Abruzzo-born artist Melchiorre Delfico were enthusiastic caricaturists of brigands and clerics.
Along with Collodi and Teja, Delfico was one of the most vaunted caricaturists of nineteenth-century Italy and the principal artist for L'Arlecchino. In the 1870s, he was recruited by Punch and temporarily relocated to London. He considered himself a narrator as well as an illustrator and his work was unmistakably didactic and liberal, presenting a resolute argument that brigandage must be suppressed.Footnote 37 Delfico's illustrations drew from a similar array of characters as those of his peers, albeit in more imaginative ways. In Figure 4, the brigand is depicted as a type of mythological giant or monster, yet he is also tethered to the authoritative figure of Napoleon III by a bag of money. At the centre of the image, the French emperor is caught between some priests who are collecting for Peter's Pence, and the brigand at his back who is chomping on a bag of 500,000 lira. The brigand's political sympathies are clearly marked by the image of Francis II tied to his cap. On the right, two priests are distinguished by their collection boxes and their ponytails, or codini, a word that also signifies conservative. The caption suggests Napoleon's role in the conflict is primarily to be taxed by reactionary elements in the south.
In each of the cartoons included above, drawn by four different artists in three magazines, the brigands are subservient to a padrone figure. Cartoons produced emasculated images of brigands where they represented the opposite of manhood, which was not simply cowardice or effeminacy, but dependency and lack of agency. They hold no sovereignty or control of their own circumstances and actions, but are the pliant instruments of manipulating clerics or interfering foreign rulers.
Post-1861 the Risorgimento was not over, hence Italian patriots were sharply conscious of the work of regeneration and making citizens. Across nineteenth-century Europe “national character was a cornerstone of social thought” and Italian statesmen were acutely conscious of Italy's international image.Footnote 38 Patriarca has demonstrated how Risorgimento nationalists internalized negative external stereotypes about Italian national character and reproduced them for the south. Virtuous characteristics were defined in large part by contrasting them with “Italian vice”, primarily identified as ozio (indolence), subservience and cowardliness.Footnote 39 Political cartoons reinforced the perception that, as Italian patriots had now decisively taken control of their own destiny, these vices were to be found only in the south among brigands and the people who supported or tolerated them.
Bourgeois concepts of manhood were central to ideas of the regeneration of national character. Lucy Riall has revealed how bold assertions of virilità [manhood] by Risorgimento nationalists sought to overcome stereotypes of Italian weakness, to halt moral decline, and revive national honour. Volunteering to fight and risk death for a democratic nation was particularly symbolic, as it constituted the “living proof that Italians were neither ‘lazy’ nor ‘feminine’ nor ‘cowards’, but strong and brave men, whose heroism, ‘manhood’ and success on the battlefield confirmed that national decline was caused by monarchs and not by their subjects”.Footnote 40 By contrast, the “great brigandage” was an asymmetrical conflict and brigands did not engage in face-to-face fighting on the battlefield. Instead, they relied on guerrilla tactics and shelter from local populations, a form of war judged to be unmanly. Coming so soon after the regular, dynastic wars of unification, the irregular nature of the brigandage wars intensified hostility and generated images of brigands as barbaric and violent, but also as cowards who had forfeited their right to manhood and national membership through fighting a war with dishonourable, uncivilized tactics.Footnote 41
Caricaturists and magazines produced cartoons that were designed to connect with their readership's sense of humour and they reflect the sense of superiority and antipathy of the educated, urban bourgeoisie for the lower classes in the rural south. Perceptions of brigandage as a form of criminality was indicative of a class prejudice which viewed violence as a social phenomenon when employed by peasants, but a political one when employed by the middle classes. Images of the south as a place dominated by criminal violence, backwardness, and corruption, Antonino de Francesco has contended, fed the perception that the bourgeoisie's preferred version of modernity had only arrived in one part of Italy, the north, while “the weight of the other part (the south) hindered forward momentum: in other words, a ball and chain” that impeded Italy's economic and civic development.Footnote 42
Cartoons indicated that a firm, paternalistic approach was necessary in the south to end the unrest and bring recalcitrant children into line, but also to rescue southerners from papal control and traditional superstitious beliefs. In 1861, one northern official described southerners as “those wretched peoples without morals, without courage, without knowledge”. Their character was a “mixture of credulousness and cunning that always delivers them into the hands of the greatest crooks”.Footnote 43 Such representations held paternalist, colonial aspects and gave moral justification to the exceptional legislation and brutal repression employed against brigands. The war became part of a mission to bring a subservient people out from under clerical influence and authoritarian rule and to regenerate a backward, violent region and incorporate it into the Italian nation.
SOUTHERN ITALY, IRELAND, AND TRANSNATIONAL STEREOTYPES
Ideas of national character and manhood advanced during the Risorgimento strongly echoed bourgeois ideals in Victorian England, which were highly gendered and which at times intersected with colonial attitudes. In 1882, both the class and colonial aspects of these gendered ideals were sharply visible in The Times's obituary of Garibaldi, when it asserted that “Italians of the lower classes before 1849 were like Asiatics in their absence of manliness and self-respect. They could drive a stiletto home. They could scarcely look a superior in the face.” Garibaldi, however, “set a fashion of masculine tenacity”.Footnote 44 Within Italian satirical magazines, similar suggestions were made about the lack of manhood among the lower classes in the south.
Italian patriots’ self-conscious cultivation of national character was particularly sensitive to the views of English writers, statesmen, and travellers who toured the peninsula.Footnote 45 In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the English middle classes held considerable affinity for Italy. A romanticized image of the country was shaped by long visits on the Grand Tour and a passion for classical antiquity and the Renaissance. Post-1848, enthusiasm for Italian independence grew substantially in England along with the view that a new generation of nationalists could overcome Italy's ills and develop a Piedmont-led liberal capitalist economy. The swell in support also reflected radical sympathies with oppressed nations and the appeal of the magnetic figures of Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, particularly after the former established himself as an exile in London in 1837.Footnote 46 This support was reinforced by hostility toward the Papacy and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which was stoked by Gladstone's widely read and damning report on Neapolitan prisons, and also driven by anti-Catholicism, intensified by massive Irish immigration to Britain after the Great Famine in the mid-nineteenth century.Footnote 47
The views of Italy expressed in Victorian newspapers and travel literature reached beyond an English audience and Maura O'Connor has identified a cross-border dialogue that “serviced the cause of the Risorgimento in important ways”. Risorgimento nationalists, and especially Garibaldi, were invested with all the “traits of a manly bourgeois Englishman”, while southern Italians were stereotyped as “bandits and strumpets”.Footnote 48 Enthusiasm for northern Italian nationalism in English travel writing was shaded by uncomfortable descriptions of poverty, indolence, and corruption in southern regions. Such were the ills of the south, in fact, that comparisons with Ireland were regularly evoked.
The Irish, Roberto Romani has observed, were often considered by Victorians to have a “distinctive character” that marked them out from other European peasantries.Footnote 49 Yet in Italy, travellers found many parallels that chimed with John Stuart Mill's assertion that it was “on the continent, and not in England, that we find anything like similarity of circumstances” with Ireland.Footnote 50 In 1853 the English Catholic academic John Henry Newman wrote to a friend, “If you don't like the Irish, much less will you like the Italians”, contending that anyone fond of “cleanliness” would not be at home there.Footnote 51 The art critic and reformer John Ruskin found “the misery of Dublin” when he stayed in Naples, but thought the latter city to be “certainly the most disgusting place in Europe”.Footnote 52 When the American planter John Quitman toured Ireland on his way to Liverpool in 1839, he found that “the most contented class of people” he encountered “were the beggars. They rival the lazaroni [layabouts] of Naples in idleness and the enjoyment of mere animal existence.”Footnote 53 In 1857 the Irish-born social reformer and women's suffrage campaigner Francis Power Cobbe was disturbed by the poverty she encountered in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, contending that people there resembled “in ignorance, in squalor and in degradation the most wretched Irish who dwell in mud cabins amid the bogs, than any other people in Europe”.Footnote 54 In the 1860s the Anglo-Irish writer Charles Lever worked in Italy as a British consul. His 1865 novel Tony Butler featured a fictional legion of 5,000 to 6,000 Irishmen who enlisted to fight against the new Kingdom of Italy and for the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the south. The legion soon broke up, however, with some joining Garibaldi and others becoming brigands in “the wilds of Calabria”, which the protagonist compared to the “equally barbarous north of Ireland”.Footnote 55 Interestingly, the west was typically portrayed as the most brutal part of the island in the nineteenth century, but Lever evidently did not see it that way.
Irish parallels were not generally drawn with northern Italy; it was in the south that travellers found most similarities. Images of Italy in Victorian literature, but also in diplomatic reports and political discourse, regularly engaged in a process of “romantically recasting Italy as both self and other”.Footnote 56 On the one hand, northern Italian regions shook off repressive monarchical control, demonstrating determination, self-reliance, and a commitment to liberal capitalism, resembling England. On the other hand, the south was inhabited by dependent and lazy peasants who blindly followed Catholic clergymen – in short, a place that much resembled Ireland. When she travelled to the mezzogiorno the English travel writer and anthropologist Anne Buckland considered it to be the Ireland of Italy, and asserted that the residents of Campania, like in Ireland, were “quick, gay, careless, noisy and impulsive” in character, but they were also “vindictive, cruel, discontented, indolent; a people always ready to give trouble to their rulers, but never likely to improve their own condition”.Footnote 57 The rural working class in Ireland and Italy, then, contrasted strikingly with the industry, self-reliance, and thoughtfulness that many Victorians associated with the middle classes in England and northern Italy. The contrast combined class, as well as ethnic, prejudices, suggesting that traditional occupations and regional cultures rendered them ill-equipped to become productive contributors to the liberal capitalist economy.
English travellers’ accounts of Italy frequently separated a deserving and undeserving poor. Southerners usually fell into the latter category and were considered to be responsible for their own miserable condition, views that strongly echoed political and media interpretations of the relationship between poverty and indolence in rural Ireland. During the Great Famine 1845–1852 and in the following decades, assumptions about indolence and passivity became explanatory factors for distress and poverty.Footnote 58 Indeed, images of the mezzogiorno in Victorian travellers’ accounts can tell us more about their preconceptions than their actual impressions. The comparisons cited above suggest that some travellers already arrived in Italy with a predetermined picture of what their experience would be like, based on their assumptions about backwardness, dependence, and Catholicism in Ireland: they transferred negative traits from one rural region to another. In this view, the characteristics of the inhabitants in both places demonstrated their inability to improve economic circumstances and incapacity for self-government, justifying the British and Piedmontese presence in each region and attempts to modernize and maintain law and order.
As mentioned above, among Risorgimento patriots widespread interest in affairs in the United Kingdom existed, not least in the Irish question. In the 1840s Camillo Cavour, who later became Italy's first Prime Minister, used the phrase “Italy's Irelands” when referring to the regions of the peninsula that presented the most difficulties in assimilation. In 1844 Cavour wrote a long essay entitled Thoughts on Ireland that advocated economic and agricultural reform. Similarly to Giuseppe Mazzini, however, Cavour believed that Irish problems would be best resolved within the United Kingdom.Footnote 59 The republican federalist Carlo Cattaneo studied Irish agrarian reform extensively and sympathized with the Irish peasantry, but his writings also reflected his interest in the best means of assimilating Ireland into the United Kingdom; he did not think that the island was predestined for nationhood.Footnote 60 Beyond intellectual interest in Irish reform, however, Irish stereotypes travelled and cartoons of Irishmen occasionally appeared in Italian magazines, along with people from other trouble spots of the British Empire, when artists sought to satirize British imperial problems.
In 1865, a cartoon in Il Fischietto attributed to the Fenians – the Irish republican movement established in 1858 – the same vices that the magazine associated with southern Italians: indolence and violence. Hostility toward Irish republicans was likely stirred by the “Irish Papal Brigade” of 1860, which comprised of 800 to 1,300 Catholic volunteers who were recruited in Ireland to defend the Papacy during the wars of unification in 1860. Some of the brigade later became Irish nationalists.Footnote 61 The caricature in Figure 5, by Virginio, represents something of an Italianized version of English humour. Several bayonets point at a somewhat ragged, yet relaxed Fenian, who is slouched against a wall, smoking a pipe, with his hands in his pockets. It certainly does not appear that he is about to start a rebellion. The caption reads “the English are sending a batch of toy guns to Ireland to remove the indolence of the ‘Fainéants’”. The final word – Fainéants – is a French translation of the Italian word fannullone, which means idler, deadbeat, or literally, “do-nothing”, and was chosen as a homophone for Fenians: such is the threat from this Fenian, the government need only send toy guns to Ireland. The cartoon indicates that stereotypes of the Irish travelled to Italy, via English literature and magazines, but also that these stereotypes drew from the same repository of characteristics as Il Fischietto's images of brigands.
These similarities are indicative of the transnational circulation of gendered stereotypes about class, indolence, and so-called moral failure in peripheral regions of Europe, and how they were applied to social and cultural situations that often differed considerably from each other. In mid-nineteenth century France, for example, homogenizing ideas of national character resulted in the country being divided into spheres of north and south, “one of which [the south] seemed inimical to social and economic progress”. Stereotypes of indolent, undisciplined, and temperamental “troublemakers” in the southern Midi region were regularly found in reports written by French officials, echoing the qualities attributed to the mezzogiorno and Ireland.Footnote 62 It is in this transnational context that cartoons of rebellious peasants are best understood.
CARTOONS OF IRISH REBELS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
Contemporary comparisons between Ireland and southern Italy came to the fore in the London press during times of unrest and instability. When brigandage intensified in the 1860s, The Times, an influential newspaper that viewed the Irish as inferior, commented that “the difficulty of suppressing the Brigandage of Southern Italy arises from the sympathy it finds among the honest and half-honest part of the population”. This was a familiar scenario, or so the editorial claimed, as the ways in which communities in southern Italy sheltered the perpetrators of violent acts mirrored the situation in rural Ireland. From the 1760s secret societies in Ireland employed intimidation, property destruction, and murder to regulate matters relating to land occupation, rents, and jobs. With names like Whiteboys and Ribbonmen, these underground rural societies saw themselves as the upholders of unwritten law in the face of transgressors.Footnote 63 The authorities were frequently frustrated when they attempted to apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators, and often resorted to emergency legislation. The difficulties in policing violent crime in the wild Irish countryside led one editorial to declare,
[…] we have scarcely any right to censure the Italian government for its apparent inability to grapple with this enormous evil, when the strong arm of our own long established government has so often been defied in Ireland by an opinion that protects the most atrocious criminals […]. The Italian peasant will take to the mountains as a brigand; the Irishman will plan an assassination, and both will be sure to find sympathy. It is this perverted public opinion that creates for two governments so different as those of Italy and England a difficulty of the same kind.Footnote 64
What was comparable in Ireland and Italy was not just the types of violence, but the character of the people who inhabited rural regions, who were perceived as having no inclination to comply with law and order. Rather, they sought to frustrate it. Indeed, Italy's work was only beginning: “Five centuries’ rule have not yet assimilated or even tamed Ireland; it is no wonder if the Italians, after less than three years union, find the Two Sicilies such a hard uphill work for them.”Footnote 65 In 1871 Punch suggested that the authorities in Ireland should learn from how the new Italian government repressed brigandage when considering solutions for unrest in Ireland.Footnote 66 Articles in both The Times and Punch asserted that unrest in the south provided the moral justification for Italian unification and the firm stance taken by the new Turin government, and suggested that similar conditions in Ireland legitimized the Union. Ireland and the mezzogiorno were obstacles on the road to national modernity, and the challenge facing the governments of Turin and London was to effect painful but necessary policies to maintain law and order and reform society.
Parallels between violence in rural Ireland and Italy were also drawn in political debate. In 1861, when discussing Irish agrarian violence in parliament, the Earl of Leitrim declared that “there was only one other country in Europe where such a system prevailed, and that was Naples [sic]”.Footnote 67 When parliament debated the upturn in agrarian murders in the late 1860s, the Anglo-Irish member William Gregory greatly exaggerated that the “reign of terror […] was only equalled by the condition of Southern Italy a few years ago”.Footnote 68 Regional newspapers also observed how Irish agrarian violence was “a form of brigandage […] the Italian banditti are, however, infinitely more respectable in numbers and in purpose than the Ribbonmen in Ireland”.Footnote 69 Some Irish nationalists drew parallels between the repressive measures employed in southern Italy and the use of emergency legislation in Ireland: When debating the 1881 Coercion Act in parliament A.M. Sullivan remarked, “any man could govern with a state of siege, whether in Italy, in Ireland, or the House of Commons”.Footnote 70
In the 1860s emergency powers (suspension of habeas corpus) were partially introduced in Ireland in reaction to the Fenian movement's plans for rebellion and also to a limited outbreak of agrarian violence. Later, during the Land War of 1879–1882, rural violence erupted on a nationwide scale and resulted in two wide-ranging Coercion Acts in 1881 and 1882. In 1879 the Irish Land League was established as an alliance of Fenians and moderate nationalists for the redistribution of land and political reform. Against the backdrop of severe distress, particularly in the west and north-west, the league swiftly developed into a mass movement that entailed civil disobedience such as boycotting, but also violence that targeted landlords, their agents, and tenants who rented land from which others had been evicted. Outbreaks of Irish agrarian violence were many times less deadly than the brigandage wars in Italy, yet these cases provide interesting comparators, not least for the ways in which the conflicts were imagined in satirical cartoons.
There were numerous similarities in the conventions of style used in London-based and Italian magazines. For example, the mythological many-headed hydra was frequently used to represent the dangers posed in each place: whether a Herculean figure fighting a hydra representing the Papacy, Bourbon loyalism, and brigandage, or an heroic Gladstone defending Ireland against the triple evils of “anarchy”, “terrorism”, and “sedition”.Footnote 71 Cartoons frequently depicted women or allegorical female figures, such as Hibernia, Italia, or Britannia, in need of protection from violent peasants or political agitators.Footnote 72 There were also similarities in how republican nationalists were portrayed. Giuseppe Mazzini opposed the new constitutional monarchy in Italy and one cartoon in Il Lampione rendered him with a human head but a serpentine body, looking on at Garibaldi, Cavour, and Victor Emmanuel concluding a historic agreement to “make Italy”. The image held clear similarities with the snake-like caricatures of Fenians in London magazines.Footnote 73
In both countries, not all cartoons engaged in explicit negative stereotyping and satirical magazines generally expressed hopes for reform in Ireland and southern Italy, rather than considering them beyond civilizing, as was the case with some non-European peoples. London-based magazines often supported reforms in Ireland and acknowledged past injustices. Nonetheless, a number of historians have argued that the Irish peasantry was consistently constructed as the other, even in sympathetic London accounts.Footnote 74
One of the most striking similarities to emerge from comparison between cartoons of brigands and Irish agitators is how frequently both were found wanting in many qualities of Victorian manhood, particularly self-reliance and individual sovereignty.Footnote 75 In Figure 6, by the artist William Boucher, the law-abiding Farmer Hodge, “who has never dreamt of shooting a landlord”, looks on empty handed at a simianized Irish farmer receiving welfare in the form of the traditional medicinal drink caudle. As indicated on the bowl, the drink represents the 1881 Land Act, which aimed to address some of the Land League's demands for reform. Leaving his rifle on the ground, the farmer crouches down to take his spoonful of medicine from Gladstone, who is dressed as a peasant woman. The image evokes a mother–child relationship, and also plays on a time-worn stereotype of welfare and poverty that holds obvious class prejudices: the hardworking middle-class Farmer Hodge receives nothing, while his rowdy neighbour profits from the threat of violence, receiving government assistance. The simianized farmer represents the inversion of English manly character, he lacks self-reliance and depends on assistance from government, but is also somewhat cunning as he manages to survive while avoiding the hard work that Farmer Hodge engages in every day.
Bourgeois concepts of manhood in the Victorian era entailed qualities of independence, industry, moral duty, and self-control. These qualities were rooted in middle-class self-perception, representing an “external code of conduct, policed by one's peers”, and a means of differentiating between men and their moral virtues. The working class remained relatively uninfluenced by these ideals and were perceived in the middle-class press as “roughs” who lacked restraint and self-control.Footnote 76 During the Land War, Irish nationalists consciously appealed to notions of Victorian manhood. When touring Britain for the Land League, T.P. O'Connor declared that the movement had installed “into their people a spirit of manliness, a spirit of courage, a spirit of independence and of self-reliance”.Footnote 77 In 1882, United Ireland quoted an editorial from The Times on the death of Garibaldi, which observed, “to him, moreover, Italy is indebted for an ideal of manliness and individual self-reliance, the qualities Italians most wanted”. Yet, United Ireland observed, the same paper refused to recognize that the Land League was instilling the same qualities in Ireland.Footnote 78
Irish agitators, similar to brigands in Il Fischietto, were sometimes depicted as children or diminutive figures. In 1870, emergency legislation was passed to give authorities extra powers to deal with a series of agrarian murders in the Irish midlands. That year, a cartoon in Judy entitled “The Impatient Patient” (Figure 7) depicted Ireland as an overgrown child squirming in a chair, refusing to swallow medicine from Gladstone and a nurse. Similar to Figure 6, a gun, albeit a toy one, lies on the floor, along with a model church, an American cap, and a pig figurine. Again the parent–child relationship is evoked to represent Westminster's policies toward Ireland.Footnote 79 Similar images were common. In 1880, Funny Folks portrayed Ireland as a child being fed seditious mixtures by Irish Parliamentary Party leader Charles Stewart Parnell, in a cartoon that, De Nie has argued, drew on “two familiar themes: Ireland as a minor in need of a guardian and the unsuitability of Ireland's political classes to fulfil this role”. In 1893, when the passage of the second Irish Home Rule act was underway, Punch depicted Gladstone nursing a baby wrapped in the bill.Footnote 80 Occasionally British politicians and Gladstone himself were portrayed as babies or diminutive figures, as were liberal politicians in Italian magazines, but in these images they typically had the bodies of babies or children, but with adult faces and adult minds.Footnote 81 They differed from the more distorted physical features frequently found in caricatures of child-like peasants. In comparison, infantilized brigands appeared to a greater extent in Italian satirical magazines, particularly Il Fischietto, but cartoonists in Turin and London both emphasized the idea that paternal, “cruel-to-be-kind” measures were ultimately to the benefit of the Irish countryside and the Italian mezzogiorno.
In contrast, Catholic clerics, and particularly the Pope, appeared to a much greater extent in cartoons of brigandage when compared with those of Irish agrarian violence. The Pope and the Papacy were perceived to represent a greater political threat in Italy, whereas in Ireland the Catholic hierarchy was a vocal opponent of agrarian violence and secret societies. While the temporal power of the Catholic Church was decreasing in Italy in the 1860s, it was increasing in Ireland, and part of the government's approach to resolving social and political unrest entailed large concessions to Catholic institutional power, as with the 1869 Disestablishment Act. At the same time, clerical figures were not completely absent from cartoons. The Irish agitator in Figure 8, by Boucher, receives an open confession from a priest. His shotgun and hat lie against the wall, while he appears to drop some money into the cleric's left hand to gain absolution for a murder before he commits it. In the bottom section a landlord lies mortally wounded by a wall, evoking the frequent trope of unmanly violence: the cowardly assassin strikes from behind the wall and then runs away. In the top section, the assassin has clearly simianized features. The cartoon suggests that some members of the Irish Catholic clergy privately sanctioned agrarian violence, and occasionally profited from it.
SIMIANIZATION AND COLONIALISM
One of the more contentious aspects of Irish cartoons relates to questions of ethnicity. In his 1968 study of London satirical magazines, L. Perry Curtis highlighted the diffusion of Irish figures with such “ape-like features as the simous nose, long projecting upper lip, shallow lower jaw, and fang-like teeth”, which he explained in the context of the development of scientific racism in the second half of the nineteenth century.Footnote 82 This simianized “Paddy” caricature was not universal. The Graphic and Illustrated London News, for example, typically depicted Irish people with the same physical features as English people. In 1870 the Graphic spoke of “astonishing differences” between English and Irish people, but also maintained that “there really is nothing in the brain of a Celt which irresistibly impels him to landlord-shooting”.Footnote 83 Even in the London-based humorous magazines, the bestial Irishman was not omnipresent, and simianized facial features were also employed to illustrate European anarchists and nihilists, in order to personify visually political threats to order and stability.Footnote 84 During periods of unrest, however, and particularly during the Land War, the figures of simian and reptilian monsters became, in London magazines, primarily attached to Irish agitators and peasants.Footnote 85
In contrast, the simianized brigand was unfamiliar in the magazines of Turin, Florence, or Naples. During the 1880s, the Italian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Luigi Federico Menabrea, was a reader of Punch and Judy and occasionally attached caricatures, usually dealing with diplomacy, to his dispatches to Rome when he felt they nicely caught “the real situation”. Menabrea, who had been a senior official during the brigandage wars and even briefly served as Prime Minister in the late 1860s, kept a close eye on the Irish Land War and the government's attempts to legislate effectively on the land question. In 1879, a lengthy dispatch to Prime Minister Benedetto Cairoli regarding Ireland discussed how satirical magazines represented the situation, observing that, “[i]n England, mockery of the Irish is thriving, the English portray them as evil animals rather than human beings”.Footnote 86 The tone of the dispatch suggests surprise and unfamiliarity with the style of the caricatures.
Portrayals of Italian brigands as “evil animals” were far less common. Indeed, textual images of brigands, as described in studies by Dickie and Adorni, are arguably more brutalizing in the 1860s than visual images. In Il Fischietto, Il Lampione, and l'Arlecchino brigands were typically represented as mythological figures, children, and dwarves. Sometimes caricatures related to a play on words: the brigand Chiavone, for example, whose name sounded like chiave [key] was often drawn in the physical shape of a key. On one occasion, Delfico drew the brigand Peretti with a pig-like snout, and as mentioned above, the dissident republican Mazzini was sometimes portrayed with a serpent's body.Footnote 87 In Figure 1, where the allegorical Italy leads brigands out of the country, one study found racist aspects in the “nightmarish physical deformations” of the brigands.Footnote 88 Yet their physical attributes in this image are still essentially human. Drawing on a rich tradition of theatre and visual culture, Italian caricaturists regularly employed figures from the bible and Greek and Roman mythology to embellish their satire, but not from the jungle. Brigands’ physiognomies rarely held reptilian or ape-like aspects and often were not visibly different from northern Italians, as in Figure 3 (where the Pope connives with four brigands outside the gates of heaven).
In contrast, Irish agitators and peasants were frequently drawn as variety of animals: skunks and snakes, pigs and toads, monkeys and gorillas. In Figure 9 from Punch, John Tenniel drew the rural agitator as a heavily armed Caliban, based on the character from Shakespeare's The Tempest, who embodies the worst of agrarian violence, Catholicism, and Fenianism. This caricature represents one of the clearest examples of simianization, and it drew criticism in contemporary British newspapers when published.Footnote 89 The brutish, ape-like agitator rages at Gladstone, who plays the character of Prospero, but also extends the palm of his left hand, asking for Gladstone's staff, which is marked “Irish Land Bill”. Gladstone, undaunted, protects the barefoot Hibernia, again evoking the paternalist relationship between metropole and periphery. Similar examples of ape-like brigands were not evident in the Italian illustrated press.
Between the 1860s and the 1880s concepts of racial science and eugenics made notable advances across Europe, which perhaps contributed to the greater proliferation of the ape-like, sub-human figures in cartoons of the Irish Land War in comparison with those of the “great brigandage”. Debates on racial differences between Italians did not develop significantly until the 1890s and 1900s, when Nicolucci and Sergi began to assert that some Italians were naturally more fit to govern than others, and Lombroso, Ferri, and Niceforo began propagating doctrines of the pre-ordained criminality of some regional people in Italy.Footnote 90 These racial discourses were also politicized in that they were sometimes deployed to discredit the Sicilian-born prime minister, Francesco Crispi.Footnote 91
At the same time, the more advanced stage of racial science in the 1880s only partly explains the contrast. Cartoons of simianized Irish people pre-dated the Land War and can be found in portrayals of Fenian rebels and agrarian agitators from the 1860s, as in Figures 8 and 9.Footnote 92 Neither were changing concepts of race latecomers to the scientific community in Italy in comparison with England.Footnote 93 During the 1860s Italian caricaturists were certainly conscious of depicting distinct physical characteristics between African and European people.
The contrast between images of brigands and simianized Irish agitators is better explained by the fact that, in the 1860s, many Italian satirical magazines were overtly participating in the political process of making Italy. The Italian army was fighting brigandage with the aim of creating and maintaining a unit, one nation of Italians, and in this context Il Fischietto, Il Lampione, or L'Arlecchino did not exaggerate ethnic difference to the same extent as their London counterparts. To be sure, the satirical magazines of the 1860s associated southern Italians with criminality and servility, and prefigured the emergence at the end of the century of Lombroso's and Niceforo's internal ethnic hierarchies and pseudo-science of southerners’ inferiority. Yet, in the 1860s, developing concepts of ethnic difference were shaped by Risorgimento politics. Scientific writing in Italy, Maria Sophia Quine has argued, was an outgrowth of patriotism, a “means to construct a positive national identity” that emphasized the unity of Italians of all regions in a culturally diverse, yet all-inclusive, national community.Footnote 94 On the other hand, cartoons of Irish agitators suggest that concepts of ethnic hierarchies and difference were more developed and politicized in the United Kingdom. Most English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh people considered themselves to be from culturally distinct regions and perceptions of different regional characteristics, particularly between Britain and Ireland, contributed to the more exaggerated stereotypes and dehumanizing images of Irish people found in the London-based satirical magazines.
In comparison to relations between the mezzogiorno and the Italian government, Ireland's relationship with London was more explicitly colonial, yet cartoons in both cases reveal aspects of internal colonialism, an unequal relationship where people from one region have a subordinate status in a larger state dominated by another. A number of scholars have drawn attention to comparisons that northern officials made between the mezzogiorno and non-European cultures in the years that immediately followed unification. The asymmetrical confrontation and brutal violence of the brigandage wars also brings to mind parallels with the later wars of imperial expansion fought by European powers. Historian Angelo del Boca has cogently described the “great brigandage” as Italy's first colonial conflict, when soldiers and officials’ disdain for their adversaries and the use of gruesome force anticipated later incursions into Africa. Another study has argued that the “relationship between north and south was reminiscent of the relationship between European colonizers and African populations”.Footnote 95 Yet there was also an internal European context to this relationship that finds parallels and similarities with another peripheral region, Ireland.
Comparison suggests that derogatory images of peasants from both places held local peculiarities, but they also drew from transnational European stereotypes of rural poverty that centred on dependency, laziness, and lawlessness, and which circulated widely due to the rapidly expanding publishing industry. The appetite for Victorian texts amongst Italian intellectuals, the affinity for Italy in England, the increase of travel writing, and growth of newspaper titles in the mid-nineteenth century all contributed to the busy circulation of these stereotypes between distant places. Colonial attitudes and class prejudices intersected in the perception that unrest and economic underdevelopment in these regions were indicative of a lack of manhood, of the incapacity to overcome dependency on antiquated leaders and structures, and of the reluctance to embrace the political and economic doctrines of liberalism.
Contrived images infused peripheral regions with traits that were the opposite of the virtues of the metropolis, depicting them as uncivilized places, obstacles on the road to modernity. Revolting peasants, whether in Ireland or southern Italy, represented the other as the inversion of the self: the independent, industrious citizen who thrived on liberal capitalism. Through this contrast, cartoons helped to shape and reinforce positive ideas of English and Italian national character. Brigands and Irish agitators were frequently used to personify the peripheral regions they inhabited. They were portrayed as violent, but also dependent, lazy, cowardly, and child-like. Such qualities demonstrated an incapacity for self-government and provided justification for coercive measures, contributing to the moral legitimacy of the Kingdom of Italy and the United Kingdom. Postcolonial studies and scholars of orientalism have emphasized processes of “othering” between the west and east, between the metropole and colony. As has been argued in this article, these assessments should be complemented by the acknowledgment of the internal European context to these relationships based on ingrained class and gendered prejudices.