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Reviewed by:
  • Naples and Napoleon. Southern Italy and the European Revolutions, 1780–1860
  • Tommaso Astarita
Naples and Napoleon. Southern Italy and the European Revolutions, 1780–1860. By John A. Davis. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2006. Pp. viii, 372. $120.00; £65,00.)

Professor Davis is a prominent scholar of nineteenth-century Italy, especially of the Italian South and of economic and social matters. This new book adds substantially to an already impressive production. In it, Davis offers a sharp, nuanced synthesis of a complex period,and a persuasive analysis of the Italian South in the age of revolution.

The book is divided into three sections:"Absolutist Naples" charts the political, social, and economic changes in the South after the re-creation of an autonomous monarchy there in 1734 (under a branch of the Spanish Bourbons), as the absolutist desires of the crown and the reform ideas of the Enlightenment interacted with social shifts and with new international market trends that had a powerful impact on the weak southern agriculture.The section includes a discussion of the short-lived Jacobin Republic of 1799. Next comes "Napoleonic Naples," which critiques the projects for reform of the French Decennio, the decade (1806–15) when the continental South was part of Napoleon's imperial network. Davis relentlessly points out how subordination to imperial needs and the weakening circumstances of both royal finances and the southern economy revealed the contradictions, and led to the failures, of much of the vast reform program of those years. The third shorter section, "Restoration and Revolution," discusses the continuities and shifts of the years 1815–21, when the Bourbons returned to their Naples throne and soon had to face another uprising, which now brought forward novel constitutional ideas. A short conclusion offers some thoughts on how these turbulent times shaped the path to Italian Unification in 1860. [End Page 388]

The book is thus ambitious in scope, and strong in its foundations in archival and other sources. Davis aims to refocus this history in two related ways. First, he rejects the traditional view of southern history, developed at the end of the nineteenth century, that emphasized the backwardness of the South and anachronistically regarded the failed Republic of 1799 as the last gasp of a different—and better—history for the region. Instead, Davis stresses the perspective of the decades he studies:many of his sources offer us the hopes, perceptions, plans, and analyses of the reformers, administrators, and political leaders themselves. Moreover, Davis points out the similarities between southern developments and the equally difficult transition to what he calls a "post-feudal order" in the rest of Italy, and how in fact, in some cases, such as the push for constitutional government, southern developments preceded those elsewhere in Italy.

Davis also refocuses conventional narratives of the whole of Italian history by looking at it from the southern angle.The South was not defined solely by marginality, and southern history was far from immobile. It was in the South that the crisis of the Italian Ancien Régime first burst out; it was here that the most expansive reform program was attempted in the Napoleonic years, thanks also to the contributions of southern forces and individuals; it was in the South that new forms of political mobilization (like secret societies) or economic organization (new latifundia) responded first to the search for new forms of political and social order,and that new ideas about state structures emerged like federal links between capital and provinces or constitutional government.

The Press has unfortunately not fully done justice to this book's great merits: with a price of $120, readers have a right to expect superb copy-editing. Instead, typos and inconsistencies abound: I counted, for instance, eighteen typos in the twenty-two pages of chapter 4; Pasquale Paoli (p. 136) becomes Paolo Paoli (p. 166); Bartolomeo Intieri (p. 39) first appears as Bernardo (p. 30); Elisa Baciocchi's last name appears four times on p. 261, in two different spellings, both wrong; and so on.The impressive bibliography is not exempt: I counted five typos in the long list of Davis's own works.Though this is dispiriting evidence of declining care...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 388-389
Launched on MUSE
2008-05-30
Open Access
No
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