Maura Hametz. In the Name of Italy: Nation, Family, and Patriotism in a Fascist Court. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. x + 278 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8232-4339-6.
Reviewed by Joshua Arthurs (West Virginia University)
Published on H-Italy (July, 2013)
Commissioned by Matt Vester (West Virginia University)
What’s in a Name? Nationalism, Gender, and the Law in Fascist Trieste
In January 1932, the widow Luigia Barbarovich Paulovich of Trieste won an unusual legal victory. For the past eighteen months, she had officially been known as Luigia Paoli, a name imposed on her by Fascist legislation aimed at “Italianizing” the inhabitants of the northeastern borderlands. Despite the regime’s aggressive efforts to nationalize this population acquired after World War I, the widow Paulovich prevailed in her efforts to retain her husband’s seemingly “foreign” or “Slavic” surname--a seemingly uncharacteristic instance of “administrative tolerance” and legalism by an authoritarian dictatorship (p. 2). The Paulovich case was never publicized at the time, and has remained obscure for decades. Maura Hametz’s new book, In the Name of Italy, brings the story to light, and uses it as a vehicle for exploring key themes in the historiography of modern Italy and Fascism. These include, but are not limited to: legal culture, bureaucracy, and the state; national, ethnic, and regional identities; center-periphery relations; and religion, gender, and the family. This is an ambitious agenda, and Hametz effectively situates the Paulovich case within these larger dimensions of Italian history.
As Hametz convincingly demonstrates, Paulovich’s petition was motivated not by opposition to Fascism or the surname legislation per se, but rather by a loyal citizen’s insistence on the correct application of the law. Indeed, she won precisely because, as an elderly matriarch, she conformed to the regime’s vision of Italianness (italianità) and womanhood. The surname legislation claimed not to forcibly impose new names but instead to “restore” historic Italian names that had been “deformed” by centuries of foreign rule. However, for many Adriatic Italians, belonging to the nation was understood in terms of their identification with a distinct regional culture, not with a homogenized identity dictated from Rome. Paulovich could therefore argue that her name was a distinctive marker of Dalmatian italianità, and thus of her family’s “exquisitely patriotic Italian traditions and sentiments” (p. 99). This claim was strengthened by invoking traditionalist conceptions of gender and family. After all, Paulovich was the widow’s married name; she merely wished to honor and preserve the memory of her late husband. She had produced sons who had campaigned against Habsburg rule and fought for Italy during the Great War. In sum, as Hametz argues, Paulovich “asserted her patriotism and sought recognition of italianità on her own terms, not on the terms dictated by the regime” (p. 142).
Another important element of Paulovich’s argument was pitting the central authorities in Rome against local Triestine officials, who were cast as fanatical incompetents. Such jurisdictional conflicts point to the difficulties inherent in implementing the Fascist “revolution” from above to below, and from the center to the periphery. Despite the insistence on uniformity and discipline, laws were often applied irregularly, subject to loopholes, and filtered through local priorities and concerns. Added to this was the resilience of liberal legal culture among many lawyers and functionaries. The commitment to judicial independence and civil liberties was often in tension with the ideological exigencies of the Fascist state, again undercutting the “totalitarian” aspirations of the regime and revealing the limits of its reach.
This book has much to recommend it; however, I have two main criticisms. First, while Hametz repeatedly stresses that Paulovich’s petition was not an act of resistance or defiance, she sometimes cites it as evidence that “much work remained for the regime to effect the widow’s ‘political and moral education’ and to ensure that Italians had sufficiently imbibed fascist national spirit” (p. 50). This argument seems to stand in tension with the interpretation discussed above, namely, that the widow’s appeal was if anything an act of faith in the state and Italian justice. Should we really view this (seemingly anomalous) case as “test[ing] the bounds of fascist success in molding new citizens and inculcating italianità in the borderland” (p. 50)? Or, in a seemingly paradoxical way, could it not also be seen as an instance of the system working?
My second concern is more methodological. In the introduction, Hametz positions her study as a microhistory along the lines of Carlo Ginzburg’s The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (first published in Italian in 1976; English edition published in 1980); she also invokes German Alltagsgeschichte (everyday history), with its emphasis on individual agency and experience. However, most of In the Name of Italy is devoted to the larger political, institutional, and social forces that shaped the case. Paulovich appears infrequently, mainly to illustrate a more general point. Hametz similarly goes on long tangents into well-trodden historiographical territory. The chapter on womanhood, for example, is mainly about biological essentialism, demography, and the body, though their relevance to the case is not always clear. Rarely do we get glimpses of the everyday; nor do we get much of a sense of Paulovich as a real person or historical agent. Hametz herself states that she does not see the “widow as an individual” but as “‘the woman in question’ in a legal proceeding” (p. 10). Clearly, the obscurity of the case means a relative paucity of sources; however, too often the book relies on a “top-down” and macrohistorical approach that the author had wanted to transcend. A more fully realized microhistory could have revealed fascinating new perspectives on daily life under Fascism on the Adriatic periphery.
Nevertheless, this book is much more convincing as a work of legal and bureaucratic history, and as such is a welcome contribution to the study of the mechanisms of the Fascist state, Italian nationalism, and especially Italian legal culture since unification.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-italy.
Joshua Arthurs. Review of Hametz, Maura, In the Name of Italy: Nation, Family, and Patriotism in a Fascist Court.
H-Italy, H-Net Reviews.
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