Elizabeth Barrett Browning || Madame de Staël || Anna Jameson || Theodosia Garrow Trollope || Isa Blagden || Mary Somerville  || Jessie White Mario || Anita Garibaldi || Cristina Trivulzio, Principessa Belgioioso || Sarah Parker Remond || Harriet Beecher Stowe || Margaret Fuller || Harriet Hosmer || Félicie de Fauveau || Lily Wilson || Cristina Rossetti

nna Jameson prefaced her Loves of the Poets with a quotation from Madame de Staël:

The laurel wreath laid by the Comune of Florence on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb by Lord Leighton on her 200th anniversary, 2006

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

lizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning eloped together from her Wimpole Street sickroom in 1846 and came to Casa Guidi in 1847. Their first glimpse of their new home would have been of its frescoed walls, then covered with laurel garlands. It was at Casa Guidi that Elizabeth gave birth to her child, in 1849, celebrating that event while mourning the Austrian takeover of Tuscany and the downfall of the Mazzini Republic of Rome to the French in that same year in her political poem, Casa Guidi Windows, and it was here in 1850, that she was proposed for Poet Laureate, and here where she wrote her epic poem, Aurora Leigh, whose heroine crowns herself one June day with ivy and not with laurel.

It was in this room that Elizabeth read novels and wrote poems, her favourites being Madame de Staël's novel, Corinne ou Italy and those of George Sand. She had as a child studied Hebrew and Greek, and knew the poetry of Homer, Sophocles and Lord Byron intimately, their pictures and their books being her cherished possessions. It was to this room that many other women came, women like the Americans Margaret Fuller, Kate Field, Harriet Hosmer, Harrier Beecher Stowe, and the Englishwomen Anna Jameson, Jessie White Mario, Frances Trollope and Isa Blagden, but not George Sand or George Eliot or Anita Garibaldi or the Princess Belgioioso.

None of these women could attend university. But they could and did write, or sculpt, or heal the sick, or advise nations on freedom. They share a passionate hatred of the abuse of children, of slavery, of the oppression of nations, all as paradigms of their own exploitation as women. In the nineteenth-century they banded together, especially espousing the cause of the Italian Risorgimento. In this essay I shall give portraits of these women, just as much as did Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself adorn its walls, decked with the colours of Beatrice's garb and Italy's then-forbidden flag, with engravings and paintings of poets she loved, and in the same way as would later Lytton Strachey write Eminent Victorians and Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, and as had Anna Jameson and even Plutarch before them written biographical sketches of great women and men. These women can be her laurel and her ivy, her Casa Guidi Windows opened to the world.

In an earlier lecture at the British Institute I discussed in detail Elizabeth and Robert's family backgrounds as deeply implicated in slavery in the West Indies. Elizabeth Barrett Moulton Barrett was of slave as well as slave-owning stock (her aunt is the famous Pinkie, born in Jamaica, and dying sooner after this painting was finished, and this is Pinkie's brother, Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett, owner of countless slaves). And likewise was Robert, who was also celebrating, in his Bells and Pomegranates his partly Jewish ancestry. We are dealing with Citizens of the Globe, not merely of Italy or of England or of America.

Madame de Staël

et me begin with Madame de Staël (1766-1817), the author of the novel, Corinne ou Italie (1804), which profoundly influenced Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anna Jameson, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Margaret Fuller. Anne Louise Germaine was the daughter of Suzanne Curchod and supposedly Jacques Necker, the Swiss banker who became France's Minister of Finance in 1776 and 1789. But more likely Edward Gibbon, author of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and who had loved Suzanne Curchod for many years, was her real father. Gibbon, two years before she married, described her to a friend: "Mlle. Necker, one of the greatest heiresses of Europe, is now about eighteen, wild, vain, but good-natured, and with a much larger provision of wit than of beauty." Her husband was to be Eric Magnus, Baron de Staël-Holstein, Sweden's ambassador to Paris.

De Goncourt described her political role:

Madame de Staël was a woman of genius as early as the year 1795. . . The daughter of Necker forbade France to recall its line of kings; she retained the republic; she condemned the throne. She agitated victoriously in behalf of the maintenance of the representative system. The human right of victory was equivalent, with her, to the divine right of birth.
She first met Napoleon at a ball given by Josephine, his beautiful Créole wife from the Caribbean islands, toward the close of 1797. Apparently amongst the comments they then exchanged was the following:

Madame de Staël: When [a man] has had the fortune to meet with a strong-minded woman, one worthy of sharing his laurels, and herself enjoying a high reputation, then the distance of time and space disappears, for it is the renown of both which serves as messenger between them, and it is through the hundred mouths of fame that each receives intelligence of the other'.
Because of her opposition to him Napoleon saw that she was kept in exile from France. When Napoleon's son, the King of Rome, was born Mme. de Staël was informed that her exile could end if she would but write and publish loyal stanzas about the event. She refused.

She next visited England where she was treated with the highest consideration and above all enjoyed the friendship of Lord Byron.

In 1816, she wrote "There is a nation which will one day be very great--the Americans." Only slavery she felt, marred its perfection. "What is more honourable for mankind than this new world which has established itself without the prejudices of the old?--this new world where religion exists in all its fervor without needing the support of the state to maintain it, where the law commands by the respect it inspires although no military power backs it up." In a letter to Thomas Jefferson she wrote, "If you succeeded in doing away with slavery in the South, there would be at least one government in the world as perfect as human reason can conceive it."

Twice she published novels, Delphine first, then Corinne ou Italie. Corinne is an intensely political book. In it a young Scottish nobleman, Oswald, Lord Nevil, finds his childhood friend become an Italian patriot. He witnesses her being crowned with laurel, made Poet Laureate, while dressed as the Sibyl, on the Capitol in Rome and hears her utter political prophetic verses. Perhaps, in this scene on the Capitol, Madame de Staël/Corinne was playing with her biological father's conception of his great work, The Decline and Fall of Rome. In her chef-d'oeuvre, she metamorphoses that into the Renaissance, the Risorgimento, of Italy.

But, instead of marrying Corinne, Lord Nevil weds a pallid proper young girl--and Corinne dies of a broken heart. This novel was read and admired by Victorian generations. Though unbeautiful, Madame de Staël had herself portrayed as enacting the role of Corinne, by the woman portrait painter, Madame Vigée Le Brun.

Anna Jameson

nna Jameson had come to Italy for the first time in 1821, a buxom twenty-five year old with a head of reddish-blond hair (just the colour of Poetry in Carlo Dolci's painting, Ruskin noted). She was the eldest daughter of an Irish miniature painter of considerable talent, Denis Murphy, Lady Byron in 1841 writing a poem 'On a Portrait of Mrs. Jameson by her Father'. At first she earned her sustenance as a governess, observing that "the occupation of governess is sought merely through necessity, as the only means by which a woman not born in the servile classes can earn the means of subsistence".

In moments when she was alone, or if her employers went out to some reception to which she was not invited, Anna Murphy immediately opened two diaries. In the second, she has herself die of a broken heart, the work being published as a governess novel with the title, The Diary of an Enuyée, modeled upon de Staël's Corinne ou Italie, but which is also filled with art historical observations. Mrs. Fanny Kemble said, "While under the immediate spell of her fascinating book, it was of course very delightful to me to make Mrs. Jameson's acquaintance, which I did. . . The Ennuyée , one is given to understand, dies, and it was a little vexatious to behold her sitting on a sofa in a very becoming state of blooming plumpitude".

The Frontispiece is of Beatrice Cenci.

In Florence she notes Artemisia Gentileschi's work: One morning, as she looked at a red morocco edition of Corinne, a gift to Schlegel from Mme de Staël, he confessed himself "immortalized" in it, as "the Prince Castel Forte, the faithful, humble, unaspiring friend of Corinne". She also visits Coppel, Madame de Staël's Swiss exile chateau.

In reality, rather than dying of Victorian tuberculosis, Anna Murphy married.

But the marriage failed, and the alcoholic Mr. Jameson went off to Canada.

Because of the failed marriage, Anna could no longer even return to being a governess. She therefore wrote further books: The Memoirs of the Loves of the Poets by the Author of the "Diary of an Ennuyëe, 1829, in two volumes; Memoirs of Celebrated Female Sovereigns, 1831; Memoirs of the Beauties of the Court of Charles II, 1831; Characteristics of Shakespeare's Women. Anna Jameson had a warm temperament, her friends including Ottilie von Goethe, Lady Byron, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her own niece Geraldine Bate, who married and became Geraldine MacPherson. This is Anna Jameson describing the Coronation of Queen Victoria, whom she knew well:

Mrs. Jameson made the acquaintance of Miss Barrett through the good offices of Mr. Kenyon, their mutual friend. Mrs. Jameson was at the time staying next door to the house on Wimpole Street where Miss Barrett resided. This early period of their acquaintance produced a multitude of tiny notes in fairy handwriting, such as Miss Barrett was wont to indite to her friends, and which are still in existence. Some of these are most charming and characteristic, and illustrate the rise and rapid increase of a friendship that never faltered or grew cool from that time up to the death of Mrs. Jameson.

Anna Jameson, with her young niece, helped the eloping Elizabeth Barrett, who was seriously ill, and Robert Robert Browning, who was robust, in Paris and Pisa while on her way to Rome and working on her masterpiece, Sacred and Legendary Art. The couple seemed to have walked out of the pages of her volumes, The Loves of the Poets .

Later her niece who was with her writes: At Pisa, Geraldine assisted Anna with drawings and cups of tea. Outlines were drawn, tracings made, careful drawings put on the wood and sent home to be engraved for the illustrations. The plates of the Campo Santo at Pisa for Sacred and Legendary Art would cause the young painters, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Holman Hunt and Everart Millais, to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The exquisite drawings made for her book are at Baylor University's Armstrong Browning Library. Anna Jameson wrote to Lady Byron, "Not often have four persons so different in age, in pursuits--and under such peculiar circumstances been so happy together."

In 1857 Anna Jameson lived around the corner from Casa Guidi in Via Maggio; like Elizabeth, she was to die, in 1860, without seeing Italian liberation succeed.

Theodosia Garrow Trollope

heodosia Garrow and Elizabeth Barrett Browning already knew each from Torquay in Devon where Elizabeth had been sent because of her tuberculosis, an illness she shared with Theodosia. Like Elizabeth, she was small and exotic, her own background being part East Indian, part Jewish, and from this she is partly the model for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Miriam in The Marble Faun. Both Theodosia and Elizabeth were to come to Florence where Theodosia met and married Thomas Adolphus Trollope, bearing him the child Bice, Pen's playmate, translating Niccolini's plays, supporting the Risorgimento, until her own early death.

Isa Blagden

lizabeth set her epic poem's most important Dantesque-scene at Bellosguardo. She knew of it because of her friend, Isa Blagden . Isa is likewise the model for Miriam in Nathaniel Hawthorne's Romance, The Marble Faun. Alfred Austin said of her: "The news, 'Isa is coming,' invariably thrillled with an almost childlike delight a certain Florentine circle." "She gloried in the gorgeous apparel of the external world, just as--many will remember--she delighted in bright textures and vivid colours for feminine adornment." Kate Field said:

There was a great love story. Because she was Anglo-Indian or part Jewish, no one knew quite what, it was not acceptable for her to marry Lord Lytton, whose life she had saved through her careful nursing. A relative later wrote: " Romeo-like he arrived at Florence, sighing for Rosaline, and almost immediately met his Juliet. Barriers more impassable than the feuds of Montagues and Capulets prevented any happy issue to this new attachment, but it profoundly affected many years of his life, and coloured all his early writings." The Brownings hoped they would marry. Anna Jameson's letter, July 25, 1857, describes them: In Elizabeth Browning's words: ' On April 6 [1857] we had tea out of doors on the terrace of our friend Miss Blagden, in her villa up at Bellosguardo, not exactly Aurora Leigh's, mind). You seemed to be lifted up above the world in a divine ecstacy. Oh, what a vision!'

Henry James talked with her one morning at Bellosguardo:

Among the manuscripts in the Armstrong Browning Library are Isa Blagden's verses 'On the Italian colors being replaced on the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence, April 27th, 1859'. Isa was present at the entombment of Italy's hopes of liberty and unity at the close of one decade, and at their glorious and final resurrection towards the close of the next. She even lived to see Rome delivered, and raised to its proper dignity as the capital of the new Kingdom. As her poems testify, she took the warmest interest in the fortunes of the beautiful and now prosperous land. Signora Villari, the wife of the great historian Pasquale Villari, was by her bedside when she died, January 20, 1873. She is buried in the ' English Cemetery ' in Piazzale Donatello, near Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb.

Mary Somerville

Jessie White Mario

essie White ' is a great woman to whom we Italians owe a lot' Giosué Carducci said. She had met Garibaldi in London in 1854, when he was more or less engaged to be married to an Englishwoman. As this lady's friend she had come to Italy to rejoin the General. Garibaldi valued her masculine energy and her gifts as a medically trained nurse. She was a most fervent disciple of Mazzini who held her in high esteem. Even before meeting him Miss White had been fired with his theories, and once she had met him, she threw herself into the cause with such passion that the apostle himself was frightened. 'Good and devoted as she is, Jessie infuriates me. She talks like a soldier; she insults everyone; she uses a dictatorial manner which is more imperious than Garibaldi's own.'

Jessie White arrived in Genoa in 1857 to take part in the Mazzinian rising for which she had collected considerable funds, but she was promptly arrested and kept in jail for four months. In prison she made the acquaintance of Alberto Mario, an exceedingly handsome young patriot who shared her views. From that moment, the heart of Jessie White nursed not only a fraternal friendship for Garibaldi and a disciple's cult for Mazzini, but a flaming woman's passion for Mario, whose wife she soon became, and with whom she pursued her devoted service to the cause of her adopted country. After 1860, along with her husband, she followed Garibaldi on the field of battle in all his campaigns, and was always in the thick of the fight as an heroic nurse. Miss Henrietta Corkran gave a portrait of Jessie White:

She became an intimate friend of General Garibaldi, and so came in contact with Mazzini and Orsini and other Republican leaders. She was the enthusiastic ally of Garibaldi in the Italian War to shake off the Austrian yoke, and distinguished herself greatly as a kind of aide-de-camp to the General in many of the engagements. She was thrown into prison upon a charge of which she was ultimately acquitted. She then married Mario, an aide-de-camp of Garibaldi. Jessie Mario also accompanied the General in his expedition across Sicily and Rome. She nursed the wounded soldiers in the hospitals; they were devotedly grateful to her, and always spoke of her as an angel.

Though they were friends, inevitably things moved towards open disagreement between the invalid Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the robust Jessie White Mario. In fact when Mrs Mario went to America to give a series of propaganda talks and used the name of the Brownings as a recommendation for the cause they were horrified lest they be taken as patrons of revolutionary ideas, and they issued a denial in an American newspaper. Polemical correspondence ensued in the columns of the Athenaeum, which ended with a letter from the Browning stating that ' despite our high esteem and personal affection' for Jessie Mario, there was diversity in their political opinions. They became reconciled later, but when Elizabeth heard of the arrest of Jessie and of her expulsion to Switzerland, she did not conceal a certain feeling of relief.

Thomas Adolphus Trollope said of Jessie White:

In the last years of her life, widowed and much impoverished, she supported herself with dignity by teaching in Italian secondary schools and by writing a history of the events she had taken part in. To the end dressed in her Garibaldi red shirt.

Anita Garibaldi

nita, Garibaldi's tiny, determined wife, had met him in Latin America, and joined him through terrible times, being pregnant with their child at the Fall of the Roman Republic in 1849. Margaret Fuller describes that Fall of Mazzini's Roman Republic to the French:

Anita Garibaldi died in childbirth during that flight, the two corpses being buried hurriedly in shallow sand, so that dogs dug them up again.

Cristina Trivulzio, Princess Belgioioso

argaret Fuller, writing from Italy to America, described the hospital work being done by Jessie White Mario and by Cristina Trivulzio, the Princess Belgioioso.

Sarah Parker Remond

he anti- slavery lecturer Sarah Parker Remond had three goals in mind when she first sailed from Boston for Liverpool in September of 1858. One was to remove herself from the daily toxicity of American racism. Another was to do all she could to consolidate anti-slavery sentiment on the eve of the Civil War by arguing the ethical and economic advantages of British support for the Union during the War. The third was to secure for herself an education superior to any available to her at home. Her speaking schedule, before groups up to two thousand strong, kept her on the road and often near exhaustion. Still, she wrote to Maria Weston Chapman that, 'on the 12th of this month [October 1859] I go to London to attend the lectures at the Ladies College.' She continued both her lectures and her studies at Bedford College for Ladies, later a part of the University of London. Although there was steady demand for her services following the war as a speaker on behalf of the freedmen, Remond had her eye on Italy.

Sarah Remond’s political connections in England introduced her to reformers and revolutionaries from the Continent. With her friends Harriet Martineau, Mary Estlin and Clementia Taylor, she was a founding member of the Ladies’ London Emancipation Society which supported causes beyond the abolition of slavery in the United States. The Society had two male members, one active, and one honorary. The active member was Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini whom Remond had met in her early days abroad. He was a close friend of the Taylors with whom she stayed in London. Remond, as did Margaret Fuller before her, became a supporter of the Italian reunification struggle. She won Mazzini’s confidence as an effective speaker and fund-raiser for his cause during his visits with the Taylors. The honorary member was the great Garibaldi himself.

Sarah Parker Remond, collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

At the age of forty Sarah Parker Remond moved to Florence where she embarked on medical studies at Santa Maria Nuova, the hospital founded in the thirteenth century by Dante's Beatrice's father and which served as Florence Nightingale's model of medical care and training.

The black publication, The Christian Recorder, reported on what was probably one stage of her medical education with the notice that, 'Miss Sarah Remond, a gifted colored lady, who studied medicine with Dr. Appleton --the friend and physician of Theodore Parker, during the latter portion of his life at Rome and Florence, has been regularly admitted as a practitioner of midwifery in Florence, where she is now residing, with excellent prospects of employment and success. Her merit has won her friends on the continent of Europe, as it did in England. On going to Italy, she had excellent letters of introduction from Mazzini, among others. With this satisfactory passport, Dr. Appleton went with her to call on Garibaldi, and, though many others were waiting for an interview, they were instantly admitted. Miss Remond is not only well received everywhere in Florence, but she has friends among the very best people there.' 

A few years later, Sarah Remond’s sister, Caroline Putnam, an Oberlin College graduate and founder of a school for freed men and women in Lottsburg, Virginia, lived with her for a while in Florence. Putnam’s school was supported by Louisa May Alcott (senior) and Ellen Emerson. Elizabeth Buffum Chace, human rights activist and former conductor on the Underground Railroad, visited Remond in Florence in 1873 and wrote that: 'Sarah Remond is a remarkable woman and by indomitable energy and perseverance is winning a fine position in Florence as a physician and also socially; although she says Americans have used their influence to prevent her by bringing their hateful prejudices over here. If one tenth of the American women who travel in Europe were as noble and elegant as she is we shouldn’t have to blush for our country women as often as we do.'  

Sarah Parker Remond certainly aroused curiosity and comment in Florence, but the city had a particular sophistication about race unusual on the Continent. After all, the fabled dynasty of the Medici displayed the likeness of Alessandro, the first Duke of Florence, born of a union between a slave of African origin named Simonetta, and, it appears, the future Pope Clement VII. Alessandro lies buried in the tomb of Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino sculpted by Michelangelo, with its spectacular figures of Dusk and Dawn.

Jacopo Pontormo, Alessandro de Medici, The Art Institute of Chicago.

Decades after Sarah Parker Remond's arrival, Frederick Douglass and his second wife, Helen, visited Florence 10 May 1887. Douglass went straight from breakfast to the 'English' Cemetery to visit the tomb of Elizabeth Barrett Browning honouring her poetry against slavery and to stand, lost in reverie, at the grave of the abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker. Parker, during his final illness, refused to die, if die he must, in Papal Rome. He longed for Boston but knew he would never survive the journey home and so, announcing that 'I will not die on this accursed soil, I will not leave my bones in this detested soil,' insisted on being lifted from his deathbed and transported by carriage to Florence. The real Theodore Parker, he told his friends, was in America; this was just a dying man they saw before them. The remarks of his final day included the wish to walk once more on Boston Common. If he could not die in Boston, Florence, the Boston of Italy, was his chosen resting place.

[Marilyn Richardson]

Harriet Beecher Stowe

arriet Beecher Stowe, the apostle of freedom for the slaves, came to Florence in 1857. The fabulous success on two continents of Uncle Tom's Cabin assured her an enthusiastic reception in Italy also. "We find her reading Madame de Staël, and especially Corinne, with eager delight. In Rome one day she visited the workshop of the brothers Castellani, patriots and goldsmiths, and admired the exquisite workmanship of their jewelry. Castellani handed her the head of an Egyptian slave chiselled in black onyx saying:

Mrs. Stowe moved in such an aura of fame that the Brownings awaited her arrival with some misgiving. But they were quite won over by her simplicity and earnestness. ' I, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin? No, indeed! The Lord Himself wrote it, and I was but the humblest instrument in his hand. To Him alone be all the praise.'

Margaret Fuller

" agnificent, prophetic, this new Corinne. She never confounded relations; but kept a hundred fine threads in her hand, without crossing or entangling any." So wrote Emerson on of New England's Margaret Fuller. Born in 1810, her tragic death by drowning occurred 16 July 1850. At age of six Margaret read Latin as well as English and soon after Greek, at 15 revelling in Madame de Staël and Petrarch.

She travelled to Italy as a journalist, already deeply committed to women's position.

She mentions Adam Mickiewicz's presence and gives their declaration of faith In Florence he was addressed as the "Dante of Poland ."

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that

The American Consul spoke of her work in the Roman Republic's Hospitals. There are two sculptures which particularly inspired women in the nineteenth century.

One is Michelangelo's 'Aurora' from the Medici Tomb in the New Sacristy at San Lorenzo. The Republic of Florence commissioned these sculptures. Later Michelangelo wrote a poem for Dawn to speak in which she desires not to awake while the Medici have robbed Florence of her freedom. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote about it at length in Casa Guidi Windows and used it for the title of her epic poem, Aurora Leigh.

The other is Hiram Powers' 'Greek Slave'. It appears to be about the War of Greek Independence, in whose cause Lord Byron fought and died. But it is really about Hiram Powers' own knowledge of himself as both American and Native American, and about Italy, which in this period was ground under by Austria, Spain, France and the Pope, as had Greece been by Turkey. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who was Hiram Powers' great friend and admirer, spoke of him as part Native American. Another sculpture of his is 'The Last of her Tribe', in which an Indian maiden is fleeing from her persecutors. It is exquisite. Elizabeth wrote a powerful sonnet about the 'Greek Slave', which Queen Victoria read. The Queen also saw the sculpture for it was at the centre of the Great Crystal Palace Exhibition she visited, leaning upon her Prince Consort's arm. Margaret Fuller had written:

She prefers his busts. But she had also written approvingly: 'As to the Eve and the Greek Slave, I could only join with the rest of the world in admiration of their beauty and the fine feeling of nature which they exhibit. The statue of Calhoun is full of power, simple, and majestic in attitude and expressions.'

Hiram Powers' 'Greek Slave' is normal in its proportions. But Hiram Powers also sculpted colossal statues, as did similarly the tiny Harriet Hosmer. One gigantic statue of Calhoun by Powers was shipwrecked, if indeed it did not cause the wreck of the ship on which the Fuller-Ossoli family perished; one marble effigy of a statesman never reached America, another ended at the bottom of the Bay of Biscay.

Just before Margaret sailed Mrs. Browning wrote of their last evening in Florence: To Miss Mitford EBB wrote: Pen showed this Bible to Lillian Whiting:.

Angiolino was nourished by means of a goat on shipboard, there being no refrigeration for the Victorian sea voyage. Small pox broke out, Angiolino miraculously recovering, but the Captain died. The first mate failed in navigating the ship and it wrecked off Fire Island. "Neither Margaret's body, nor that of her husband was ever recovered; that of little Angelo was borne through the breakers by a sailor and laid lifeless on the sands. The manuscript of her "History of Italy" was lost in the wreck." The still warm bodies of steward and child and trunk with letters beween her husband and herself were all that survived.

It was this drowning of her friend, in a ship named the `Elizabeth', that paradoxically released Elizabeth to write Aurora Leigh, whose two heroines she models upon Margaret Fuller and upon herself as gypsy.

Harriet Hosmer

arriet Hosmer initially studied anatomy in St Louis, though as a woman she was not permitted to attend medical school, coming to Rome from Boston when she was 22. She became the pupil of John Gibson, who in turn was the pupil of Canova, and she "used to ride out along through the streets of Rome, her short brown curls cut like a boy's, gathered under a little velvet capt, and her hands deep in the pockets of a velvet jacket, to the astonishment and fascination of everyone'. 'A slight, delicate, though well-rounded figure, a forehead "royal with truth," short curling hair and rosy, smiling cheeks, not to speak of the "dimples" that Mrs. Browning loved in her "Hattie," made up a buoyant and magnetic personality." Brownings write to her lovingly, mentioning her Greek studies.

In the winter of 1853 she sculpted the clasped hands of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning.

There are photographs of Hattie in short skirts on steps working on male statue three times her size, then of her sculpture of 'Beatrice Cenci', which was exhibited in the Royal Academy, 1857. That sculpture shows Beatrice Cenci, the night before her execution, asleep in her Castel Sant'Angelo cell. Harriet Hosmer, like the Pre-Raphaelite Brethren before her, is likely influenced by Anna Jameson.

The 'Zenobia' was famous, and exhibited in London in an octagonal temple, Charles Sumner said "It lives and moves with the solemn grace of a dethroned queen." It is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. For the London Exhibition the Prince of Wales also loaned 'Puck', described as ' a laugh in marble', and Lady Marian Alford, 'Medusa'. The 'Sleeping Faun' was shown in Dublin. Harriet moved to the Palazzo Barberini, where she created a companion 'Waking Faun', now being 36. Much later Lillian Whiting describes her, in Chicago, reading from Browning's letters to her, then bursting into tears soon before 1908. When she died at 78, she was still planning projects that would take yet another lifetime.

Félicie de Fauveau

he sculptress Félicie de Fauveau was no lover of the Risorgimento but a French Royalist, having to live in exile in Florence because of her politics, following even imprisonment in France. She was much admired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Isa Blagden, the latter writing a fine essay on her, worthy of being read here.

Lily Wilson

n Elizabeth Barrett Browning's day and in her circle were such women as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Hosmer, Harriet Martineau, Anna Jameson, Cristina Rossetti, Margaret Fuller, Isa Blagden , Princess Belgioioso, Theodosia Garrow Trollope , Jessie White Mario, Anita Garibaldi, and last but not least Elizabeth Wilson without whom Elizabeth could never have come to Italy nor borne the child Pen nor written Aurora Leigh. It was Lily who persuaded Elizabeth to come off laudanum long enough for a successful pregnancy, the child Pen Browning, who was her great joy.  I suggested to Margaret Forster the writing of Lady's Maid, and now I wish I could rewrite that book and make it more poetical. Lily Wilson called her two sons, Orestes and Pylades, the classical pair whom Elizabeth, as Electra, had mentioned in her Sonnet V. Elizabeth was very jealous of Wilson and dismissed Lily from her service for her second pregnancy, her two sons having to be raised apart, one in England, one in Italy. When the brothers eventually met neither shared a language with the other. Like Walter Savage Landor and Marian Erle, Elizabeth Wilson, too, was capable of great madness, learning and poetry and did not just have the 'damp housemaid's soul' Forster gives her. Walter Savage Landor was her boarder at a time of his greatest dementia. 


Christina Rossetti

hristina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were the children of Italian parents, their father, Gabriele Rossetti, being from Naples of illiterate parents but educated at the University of Naples, then as a political exile, being Professor of Italian, at King's College, while their mother was of Tuscan aristocracy. They spoke Italian with their father, English with their mother, whose commonplace book from which she taught them contained Byron and Sappho.

The figures of Dante and Beatrice became for this family the ideal of love between men and women. While the Risorgimento was taking place in Italy, in England we witness the Oxford Movement in religion and the Pre-Raphaelite Movement in art. We could almost say that the Italian Risorgimento was inspired by English-speaking ladies from both sides of the Atlantic while the English Pre-Raphaelite and Oxford Movements were inspired by Englishmen in love with Italy. Dante Gabriel Rossetti sketched Lord Tennyson reading Maud at a dinner party Elizabeth and Robert attended and Elizabeth treasured that sketch, keeping it on the mantle piece at Casa Guidi. But it was Tennyson whom Queen Victoria had had become Poet Laureate in 1850, not Elizabeth.

These women, as poets, writers, journalists, sculptors, and in all but license, doctors, lived in flesh and blood the pages of Madame de Staël's Romance, Corinne ou Italie. They similarly understood the language of freedom being spoken in marble by Michelangelo and Hiram Powers, and that spoken in poetry by Sophocles and Byron. Even Elizabeth and Robert's child, Pen, grew up to become a sculptor, studying under Rodin, and sculpting his illegitimate daughter, Ginevra, as this bust of the murdered heroine Pompilia of his father's The Ring and the Book. Ginevra is Elizabeth's granddaughter. Some day I should like to publish a book in Italian on these women (its English title being Laurel Garland: Women of the Risorgimento), awarding a chapter, a laurel leaf, to each of them. These women, gathered from the British Isles, Europe and the Americas, shaped the histories of Florence and Rome, and earned Laura's wreath.

Cameo with Poet's Laurel Garland, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Tomb

In compiling this lecture/essay I am greatly indebted to the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum, Baylor University, Texas, U.S.A., to the kindness of the Browning Institute's Casa Guidi, 1987-1988, and to Giuliana Artom Treves, The Golden Ring: A Study of Anglo-Italian Relations, to which I now add the contributions by Marilyn Richardson and Silvia Mascalchi. Julia Bolton Holloway. 


di Maria Teresa Mori e Lucetta Scaraffia

Negli ultimi anni si è verificata una vera e propria riscoperta delle donne che hanno partecipato, a vario titolo, al Risorgimento e alla costruzione dell’Italia liberale, ma manca ancora uno studio su un personaggio interessante come Margherita Albana Mignaty, nonostante l’importanza del suo ruolo intellettuale e sociale. Certo gli interessi di Margherita, sostenuti da una vivida curiosità verso tutte le problematiche del suo tempo, non riguardavano solo la politica, che la coinvolse e appassionò soprattutto negli anni dell’unificazione nazionale, ma anche e soprattutto l’arte, la letteratura, la religione. Una religione laica spiritualista che condivideva con molti intellettuali della sua epoca e che l’aveva avvicinata alla teosofia e allo spiritismo. Forse la sua vita sentimentale, molto libera, la rendeva poco adatta ad essere trasformata in esempio di virtù nazionali da esibire nelle raccolte agiografiche postrisorgimentali, e questo può spiegare l’oblio in cui è caduta.
Margherita ha avuto invero l’onore di un intenso ritratto biografico scritto da Edouard Schuré e pubblicato nel suo volume Donne inspiratrici (tradotto e pubblicato in Italia da Laterza, nel 1930)1, ma per quanto questa opera abbia conosciuto un grande successo e una straordinaria diffusione – la traduzione italiana è stata fatta sull’undicesima edizione francese – è stata dimenticata, come tutto il movimento di cultura esoterica che ha caratterizzato l’Europa fra la fine dell’Ottocento e i primi decenni del Novecento.
Margherita Albana nacque a Corfù, allora protettorato inglese, da una famiglia agiata, sorella maggiore di due fratelli maschi. Il suo anno di nascita rimane misterioso: secondo Angelo De Gubernatis è intorno al 1830, per Edouard Schuré nel 1831, ma i suoi due biografi, che le erano legati da rapporti sentimentali differenti ma entrambi molto intensi, come vedremo, le fanno uno sconto di diversi anni, volendo probabilmente assecondare una civetteria dell’amica2. È rivelatrice una lettera datata 24 agosto 1831, giorno del compleanno di Margherita, in cui lo zio Frederick Adam, facendole gli auguri, le scrive affettuosamente: «Giovane come sei, sei abbastanza vecchia per capirmi quando ti dico che i prossimi cinque o quattro anni sono quelli da cui dipende il tuo avvenire»3. Sono parole che fanno pensare a un’interlocutrice adolescente, intorno ai quattordici, quindici anni, coerentemente, del resto, al tono generale di tutto il gruppo di lettere datato intorno ai primi anni Trenta e indirizzato dallo zio alla nipote, con ogni evidenza ancora giovane in quel tempo ma certamente non più bambina. Sir Adam, allora alto commissario per le isole Jonie4, e la moglie Nina Palatianò, zia di Margherita per parte materna, non avendo figli, avevano chiesto e ottenuto di adottare come tale la nipote: la portarono quindi con loro in India dopo che lui divenne governatore di Madras, ricoprendo questa carica dal 1832 al 1837. Per una giovane come Margherita, intelligente, colta, curiosa della vita e sensibilissima l’impatto con l’India, il suo clima, la sua natura, la sua spiritualità fu forte e destinato a lasciare tracce profonde, costituendo forse il primo viatico per quell’attenzione al misticismo esoterico che ne caratterizzò, da adulta, gli interessi. Trasferitasi poi con la famiglia a Roma, qui essa conobbe Giorgio Mignaty, pittore originario di Cefalonia, e lo sposò nei primi anni Quaranta, stabilendosi con lui in diverse città italiane (tra cui Venezia) e infine, intorno al 1844-45, a Firenze. La coppia ebbe tre figli: due, Demetrio Federick ed Elena, morti rispettivamente a diciotto mesi nel ’46 e a cinque anni nel ’53, l’altra, Aspasia, pittrice dilettante, molto vicina alla madre fino alla morte di lei5.
A Firenze Margherita, che scriveva e parlava correntemente inglese e francese, oltre che greco e italiano, si inserì con autorevolezza nella vita sociale e mondana e cominciò a gestire un salotto dall’impronta cosmopolita e aperta, punto di incontro di stranieri e intellettuali di passaggio in città ma anche di molti esponenti dell’élite liberale locale. Le stanze della casa di via Larga (poi via Cavour), dall’arredamento suggestivo ed esotico, colorate da vivaci paraventi di lacca e scialli orientali, costituivano una sorta di luogo di contatto tra la Destra moderata di stretta osservanza e un’area di opinione più mobile e vasta, come dimostra l’elenco dei frequentatori, da Ubaldino Peruzzi a Francesco Dall’Ongaro, ad Angelo De Gubernatis6. Negli anni dell’unificazione Margherita appoggiò con passione la causa italiana scrivendo dal 1859 al 1866 apprezzate corrispondenze fiorentine per il “Daily News”: agli occhi dell’opinione pubblica inglese una signora di origini greche che, da Firenze, scriveva a favore dell’indipendenza italiana doveva costituire l’incarnazione stessa del mito romantico della nazione, unendo idealmente al Risorgimento la Grecia per cui Byron era morto combattendo.
Morì a Livorno il 20 settembre del 1887: la salma ebbe pubblici onori, esposta in una sala della stazione di Firenze dove Edouard Schuré e Angelo De Gubernatis recitarono un’orazione funebre7.
L’immagine che ricordi e testimonianze ci hanno tramandato di lei è quella di una donna particolare, la cui sensibilità, cultura, fascino fisico emanavano un intenso magnetismo, capace di incantare uomini e donne8. Molte furono, infatti, le sue relazioni: l’epistolario di Margherita, conservato nella Biblioteca Nazionale fiorentina, rivela un’ampia cerchia di corrispondenti ed amici, uomini e (moltissime) donne, italiani e stranieri, illustri e sconosciuti, in sintonia con la vivacità intellettuale, la curiosità umana, che tutti sembrano riconoscerle9.
Nei saggi che seguono, ne ripercorreremo la vita attraverso la dimensione dell’intenso rapporto con due uomini sui quali si esercitò in modo determinante la sua influenza: Pasquale Villari e Edouard Schuré.


1. E. Schuré, Donne inspiratrici, Laterza, Bari 1930. Edizione originale: Femmes inspiratrices et poétes annonciateurs. Mathilde Wesendork, Cosima Listz, Marguerite Albana Mignaty, Perrin et Co., Paris 1908.
2. Cfr. A. De Gubernatis, Dizionario biografico degli scrittori contemporanei, successori Le Monnier, Firenze 1879 ad vocem e E. Schuré, Donne inspiratrici, Laterza, Bari 1930, p. 103. I genitori di Margherita erano Demetrio Albana e Caterina Palatianò.
3. Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, cv, b. 192, 73. Presso la biblioteca fiorentina è conservata una nutrita corrispondenza di Sir Adam alla nipote.
4. Un profilo biografico su Frederick Adam (1781-1853), tra l’altro generale dell’esercito inglese a Waterloo, in Dictionary of National Biography, edited by L. Stephen and S. Lee, Smith Elder e Co., London 1908, vol. 1, ad vocem.
5. Secondo la testimonianza di Schuré, Elena era una bambina precoce, dotata di particolare sensibilità e preveggenza (Donne inspiratrici, cit., pp. 128 ss.). I piccoli Mignaty sono entrambi sepolti, a Firenze, nel Cimitero degli Inglesi; Aspasia, invece, in quello evangelico “Degli Allori”, accanto ai genitori.
6. Sul salotto della Mignaty, che De Gubernatis definisce «animato e continuo conversare di uomini dotti» (Dizionario biografico degli scrittori contemporanei, cit., ad vocem), oltre alla testimonianza di E. Schuré (Donne inspiratrici, cit., pp. 34-5) cfr. G. Artom Treves, Anglo-fiorentini di cento anni fa, Sansoni, Firenze 1953, pp. 186-7 e M. T. Mori, Salotti. La sociabilità delle élite nell’Italia dell’Ottocento, Carocci, Roma 2000, pp. 85 ss. e Regesto, ad vocem.
7. Cfr. Margherita Albana Mignaty. Parole di compianto proferite sopra la salma in una sala della stazione ferroviaria di Firenze nel pomeriggio del 30 settembre 1887 da A. De Gubernatis ed E. Schuré, Tip. Luigi Niccolai, Firenze 1887. Margherita, sepolta nel cimitero evangelico “Degli Allori”, riposa in una semplice tomba accanto al marito Giorgio (1824-95) e alla figlia Aspasia. Recita l’epigrafe, in francese: «Greca ha donato il suo grande cuore all’Italia il suo spirito universale all’umanità la sua anima ardente all’Ideale».
8. Sophia Hawthorne, ad esempio, descrive Margherita, da lei incontrata nel settembre del 1858 durante un soggiorno a Firenze, come una splendida bellezza mediterranea: «The lady was a queenly woman, with glorious eyes and brow, and shining black hair curling, from a coronet of braid, down her cheeks, like flexible paragon» (Notes in England and Italy, G. P. Putman and Son, New York 1872, 18691, p. 489). T. Adolphus Trollope, nel suo libro di memorie, ricorda la Mignaty come una donna bellissima, che molti pittori imploravano di posare per loro (What I remember, Bentley and son, London 1872, vol. 2, p. 311).
9. Tra i corrispondenti di Margherita, oltre a quelli citati in seguito, qualche nome indicativo: Malwida von Meysenburg, Cesare Correnti, Carlo Cantoni, Francesco Dall’Ongaro, Camillo Boito, Ludmilla Assing, Alfred von Reumont.