The 1861–1865 diary of Caroline Crane Marsh, wife of Abraham Lincoln's just appointed envoy to the new Kingdom of Italy, at its Turin capital, provides a fascinating window on to the world of the Italian Risorgimento and a unique comparative perspective on nineteenth-century social history. A highly educated, linguistically gifted New England bluestocking, Marsh's sympathetic ear made her the recipient of intimate revelations from Italy's leading figures throughout the fledgling nation's social and political spectrum. This essay stresses her depictions of and reflections on the lot of Italian women in their customary roles as daughters, wives, and mothers. As seen by a Yankee Puritan, the gender distinctions accepted by Italians, particularly the Piedmontese elites of Turin, contrasted utterly with Marsh's own. Assumed inferiority and submission to male authority, arranged and seemingly incompatible marriages, intense if often formulaic Catholic piety, a blind eye to conjugal infidelity, and closely chaperoned virtue in public places made for a self-contradictory brew of hypocrisy, deceit, and narrow conservatism, leavened, however, with cosmopolitan grace and charm. The aims of feminist reform in Italy are contrasted with those in America.


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pp. 157-174
Launched on MUSE
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