Victor/Victorian: Gender and Aesthetic Idealism During the Italian Risorgimento



Henry James’ short story, Last of the Valerii (1874), articulates the author’s final assessment of the Anglo-American style. The marriage between the American heiress and impoverished Italian nobleman expresses the transition in the American economy from rural agriculture to one driven by industrial wealth and the creation of large estates. By making the Italian aristocracy the protagonists of his Anglo-Italian novels, James also provides a cursive acknowledgement of the restoration of the Italian aristocracy which was at the heart of the revolutionaries’ nationalist debate during the Italian Risorgimento. The creation of a unified and independent Italy in 1871 also included a king, Victor-Emmanuel II. The desire to acquire the habits and style of the genteel European nobility was grafted onto the new American interest in collecting the aesthetic treasures of Europe then being acquired by wealthy Americans to form the major museum collections of America. Towards the turn of the century, Anglo-Italian authors and artists lost their interest in the revolutionary cause of Italy and centennial America, and replaced this cause with a new pure aestheticism, lacking an underlying political and moral agenda. James’ novels articulate a new crisis in marriage in which men declare their independence from their dependent women. James’ reversal of the women’s movement issue approaches domestic gender roles from the male perspective. His protagonists are educated aesthetes who long for escapism from the confines of societal gender and marriage roles. The new wealth acquired by Americans towards the end of the century during the Gilded Age, afforded such perversions of traditional male duties, without overtly supporting the women’s suffrage movement and rehabilitation of women’s employment.


GenderAesthetic IdealismItalian RisorgimentoHenry James
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 19 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 9
  • DOI: 10.5334/as.40
  • Submitted on 31 Jul 2020
  • Accepted on 21 Dec 2020
  • Published on 29 Sep 2021
  • Peer Reviewed