Risorgimento-era evangelical fiction is fascinating precisely because the novelists completely fail to grasp the possibility that Italian nationalism did not herald a new Reformation in the offing. In general, evangelicals (and other Protestants, for that matter) didn't quite know what to do with Italy, given that the Italians so stubbornly resisted the supposedly irresistible call of the Bible alone &c. Although, as Dennis Mack Smith points out, anti-Catholicism definitely underpinned some aspects of Risorgimento propaganda (and some Jesuits insisted that nationalism was a Protestant project), the results failed to meet expectations, to say the least.1
Anna Carolina Eugenia, Contessa di Tergolina's Sketches and Stories of Life in Italy (1871), although fairly conventional in terms of its evangelical tropes, nevertheless usefully exemplifies what such novels (or, in this case, novellas) set out to do. The Contessa herself is a bit of a mystery, aside from being an Englishwoman born in 1831 or 1834 (I haven't been able to locate her maiden name yet). Her husband, Vincenzo di Tergolina, Conte di Tergolina (b. 1815) was a professor of law at the University of Padua and a Venetian politician. Anna was his second wife; according to his autobiography, he had eight children with his first wife, Marie di Gislanzoni.2 After emigrating to England, he tried his hand at business, only to fail spectacularly. He makes the English newspapers in July 1864 as a "late dealer in fancy French goods" after being arrested for debt.3 When not going bankrupt, Vincenzo wrote a number of miscellaneous books in Italian; granting the possibility that Anna had previously published anonymously or under her maiden name, she appears to have made her publishing debut in 1865 as the English translator of his anti-Catholic Words of Truth to the Roman Catholics. She began writing religious fiction, albeit not very prolifically, a couple of years later, quite possibly in order to bring in extra cash (see "when not going bankrupt"). Some of the novellas collected in Sketches and Stories had already appeared in the Religious Tract Society's magazine The Sunday at Home. Of the eight novellas, only one, "The Student of Padua," is a historical novel, set during the failed attempt to expand the Reformation to Italy. The others are set in the present. Two of them, "The Italian Volunteer" and "The Wounded Soldier," taking place during the Second Italian War of Independence (1859) and First Italian War of Independence (1848), respectively, while "The Brothers of Olmeta" is set after Garibaldi captures Naples (1861) .
Although the protagonists of these stories are Italian, the subtle importance of Englishness regularly wends its way through the narratives. Three of them ("The Wounded Soldier," "Bettina Ravelli," "The School in the Forest") are told entirely from a first person POV that we are invited to identify with A. C. E., while the longest story, "Fenella," begins with the (same?) first person POV and then transitions to third person. This narrative voice is English, but she's not the only English Protestant in the text: Fenella's (deceased) mother is English; Fenella's eventual husband, a soldier named Gasparini, is struck by the sight of an Englishwoman reading the Bible to sailors (50); Luigi, a young man out for vengeance in "The Brothers of Olmeta," finds himself residing with an Englishwoman and her Italian husband, an obvious stand-in for the author (134); another evangelical Englishwoman is in the background of "Bettina Ravelli"; and an Englishman, for a change, proselytizes his Italian companion-in-arms in "The Wounded Soldier." Far from being incidental or merely autobiographical, the presence of evangelical Englishmen and Englishwomen is actually a relatively common motif in Risorgimento fiction. The English Protestant brings the forbidden Bible, along with literacy, into a country in the throes of political change. While the soldiers succeed or fail, the English Protestants work upon the minds of all classes, producing a "modern" religious mindset to accompany an equally "modern" sense of nationhood. (Out with the Pope, in with God...) Moreover, the emphasis on women reading the Bible stands in stark contrast to the controlling figure of the Catholic priest, who denies his congregation firsthand knowledge of the Scriptures. Finally, several of the novellas associate an explicitly Protestant English femininity with a kind of homeliness otherwise absent from the Italian countryside; for example, the unnamed narrator of "Fenella" observes that "some one with English notions of comfort" (15) has arranged the domestic interior, and when she appears again in "The School in the Forest," she insists that the children she plans to teach must arrive "clean and neat" (264)--not filthy as their parents normally leave them. As in other Risorgimento novels, the Italians may be able to take care of the politics and the soldiering, but they need the English to supply the necessary moral fiber, administered via the Bible.
1 Dennis Mack Smith, Victor Emanuel, Cavour, and the Risorgimento (London: Oxford UP, 1971), 20; see also C. T. McIntire, England against the Papacy, 1858-1861 (1983; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 224.
2 [Vincenzo di Tergolina], "Four Years in the Prisons of Rome," The Leisure Hour 13 (1864): 12. Di Tergolina was jailed in 1850 after the Austrians invaded Venice.
3 "Bankrupts," The Morning Post 20 July 1864: 7; "Court of Bankruptcy--August 11," The Daily News 12 August 1864: 6.