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Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery, Part Three

Updated on January 2, 2012
Fragmented Italy before 1860
Fragmented Italy before 1860
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi
the Island of Sicily
the Island of Sicily
Garibaldi and King Victor Emmanuel II meet
Garibaldi and King Victor Emmanuel II meet
Eugene Sue, one of the forger's teachers
Eugene Sue, one of the forger's teachers
Alexandre Dumas, who, as a man, the forge dislikes as a mongrel, effectively celebrating the author he enjoys and admires from the physical man he meets and shares food with on the way to Sicily.
Alexandre Dumas, who, as a man, the forge dislikes as a mongrel, effectively celebrating the author he enjoys and admires from the physical man he meets and shares food with on the way to Sicily.
For a man who does not like the Jesuits, the forge spends a lot of time in their cassock.  Perhaps it is the power he attributes to them that he is attempting to take up in the wearing of their uniform.
For a man who does not like the Jesuits, the forge spends a lot of time in their cassock. Perhaps it is the power he attributes to them that he is attempting to take up in the wearing of their uniform.
Bronte, Sicily
Bronte, Sicily
Ippolitio Nievo, who did live, author of the great nineteenth century Italian novel, Confession of an Italian, dying in a shipwreck in 1861 long before its publication under a different title.
Ippolitio Nievo, who did live, author of the great nineteenth century Italian novel, Confession of an Italian, dying in a shipwreck in 1861 long before its publication under a different title.

I come into the section of Simonini's Italian adventures less than well prepared, so I may relieve you of a little legwork by providing my own research notes here. I have an interest in European history, and if this novel had been set in Germany or Britain I would be on firm ground. Simonini's involvement with the secret service begins in Piedmont, however, and there I am far less knowledgeable.

It is 1860. The Risorgimento, the struggle to unify Italy's disparate states and polities under a single government, is in full swing, with various figures and governments hoping to achieve superiority over the others. Participating in the Risorgimento are groups not allied to any one group, but animated by romantic and idiosyncratic visions of Italy's future, like the young men, the almost Carbonari, who were Simonini's friends and victims in the previous chapter. As Simonini comes to work more closely with the Piedmont secret service, he is involved in larger events, the struggles of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his Thousand in Sicily and the reaction to them on the mainland.

Giuseppe Garibaldi is an important figure in the Risorgimento. He is one of those romantic revolutionaries of the nineteenth century, involved in attempts to reorder society in both Europe and South America. We are concerned in this novel, however, with Garibaldi's actions in 1860. In April, uprisings occurred in Messina and Palermo in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, providing Garibaldi with a revolutionary opportunity. He gathered an army of volunteers, the 'Redshirts,' or the Thousand (i Mille ), landing in western Sicily on May 11, 1860. Local rebels joined the Thousand, and met with victory at Calatafimi May 15. Garibaldi led his 800 men against 1,500 in an uphill bayonet charge. The opposing Neapolitan forces were ill led and perhaps bought off, but the victory at Calatafimi established Garibaldi as a power, and he was able to declare himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. He lay siege to Palermo on May 27 with the support of many of the city's inhabitants. A British admiral facilitated an armistice between Garibaldi and the Neapolitans, leaving the city in Garibaldi's hands. Six weeks later, he fought the battle at Milazzo in the east of Sicily. By the end of July, the island was his, save for a single citadel.

Garibaldi crossed to Naples, celebrating more than fighting on his way to the capital, which he reached by train on September 7. The Neapolitan army remained in the field, and his army of 24,000 volunteers was unable to defeat it conclusively in his largest single battle at Volturno September 30. The Piedmontese Army decided the battle, technically his ally. The Piedmontese were not willing to risk a war with France, jeapardizing his planned march on Rome, where the French army protected the Pope. The Piedmontese had taken most of the Pope's territories in their own march south, but had avoided Rome, keeping France out of this private war for Italian power and prestige. Rather than continue fighting and retaining power in a fractured Italy, Garibaldi handed his gains in the South to the Piedmontese and King Victor Emmanuell and retired to Caprera. Garibaldi seemed to view the king as a chosen monarch, one Providence intended to liberate and unite Italy. Eventually, he found the king too cautious and slow in his action, however, and organized the International Legion made up of French, Poles, Swiss, Germans and other national elements to seek the complete liberation of Italy, and also to fight for liberty in their homelands, under the motto 'Free from the Alps to the Adriatic'.

Garibaldi targeted the Papal States, and Rome itself, in a campaign he believed had the secret support of Victor Emmanuell's government. In June 1862, he began recruitment in Palermo under the slogan Roma o Morte , and swiftly collected enthusiasts ready to support his aims. He arrived in Messina with 2000 men, but was denied passage by the garrison loyal to Victor Emmanuell. He found an alternate route across the sea, landing at Melito on August 14, 1861, and marching into the Calabrian mountains. August 28, the Garibaldians met a force of Victor Emmanuel's royal army in the Aspromonte. Garibaldi forbade his men to fire. Garibaldi and many of his volunteers were taken prisoner, Garibaldi having been shot in the foot during by the Italian army. He was held in honorable imprisonment, his foot was operated upon, and soon he was returned to retirement on Caprera. He would return again to the field in Italy in 1866, this time with government support, fighting against Austria-Hungary.

We are concerned, however, with Garibaldi in Sicily, the ambitions of Victor Emmanuel and his government in Piedmont, and with the changing course of policies during Garibaldi's move from Sicily into Naples. These are the events our young forge is involved in, and these are the disparate elements whose shifting loyalties and priorities remain opaque to him, although they determine his actions and the balance of success or failure assigned to his fabrications: Garibaldi's romantic revolutionaries with their popular appeal, the unification ambitions of Victor Emmanuel, the understanding of events and alliances within the circle of Piedmontese officials employing his services, the question of Louis Napoleon and the French Army, and the relationship of the Piedmont to Rome.

On to chapter 6, then: Serving the Secret Service.

The chapter begins with Simonini's complaint of the Abbe's continuing involvement in the process of writing what is supposed to be a diary. "You know too much about me," he writes. "You are a most disagreeable witness. And far too severe." Simonini has justifications ready for his behavior regarding the notary, a villain who he treated as a villain, and for his betrayal of the young Carbonari: "they were fanatics, and fanatics are the scum of the earth, because it's through them, and the vague principles they espouse, that wars and revolutions happen". It was well to be rid of them. Simonini is going to take over again, and provide his own version of events.

Simonini remembers Cavalier Bianco. Bianco came to him for information on the Jesuits, counting on his grandfather's reputation as a supporter of the priests to allow the young man access to sources on the Jesuits unavailable to himself. They have been banned, but "[T]here's a general feeling that the order is gaining influence again in France--and whatever happens in France might just as well be happening here in Turin". What justifies an action in this country, is that something has happened in another. The distinction of situations and interactions is lost in a schematic of inevitable repetition and similarity.

Simonini has no sources on the Jesuits nor among the Jesuits. He might have inherited hatred from his grandfather, but he did not inherit admiration, loyalty, or love from him, and he certainly has none for the Jesuits, his father's enemy. His great information on the Jesuits when Bianco seeks him out is "a reliable source", Eugene Sue's final novel, Les mysteres du peuple , in which Louis Napoleon's coup is forecast (after the fact) as resulting from a grand Jesuit scheme. Bianco wants information, and Simonini under the sway of Sue, with the handy template of the Universal Form of Conspiracy he had learned while reading Joseph Balsamo , comes up with an ambitious plan: to give Bianco not merely gossip he might pick up, but to create testimony to Jesuit perfidy on the Universal Model, with "an entire document taken from the Jesuits", in reality taken from Eugene Sue with changes of name and detail to fit the Piedmont case. There are no Jews in this conspiracy, but he can find a setting that suggests them without providing them, satisfying his need to include the Jews in all evils while retaining focus on the evils Bianco wants revealed. That setting is the Jewish cemetery in Prague, of which he viewed engravings in the library. This setting would inevitably arouse questions, but Simonini identifies this as a positive attribute in choosing it, for a story that aroused no questions, no doubts, would have lacked credibility to the secret service.

The document is prepared, and the secret service, or at least Bianco, is pleased. Bianco knows that it is not a true document, but it is a useful one, both internally against other powers of the Piedmont government and in influencing the opinions, and therefore the policies, of the king. This is Simonini's preparation for two jobs regarding Garibaldi's Sicily, both of which will end in failure for the young forge. This novelistic fiction, influenced by two French novels and passing through the forger's interpretive imagination into an Italian political report, is his audition for higher service. In 1860, Garibaldi arrives in Sicily and conquers it, and the Piedmont government is concerned, looking to its own interests and Garibaldi's popularity as competing, perhaps opposed, elements in the struggle for Italian unification. At any rate, Garibaldi and the king can be at best uncomfortable allies, with significant differences in vision and methods of realizing a unified Italy. For example, Garibaldi would have Rome, while Victor Emmanuel would let it go. Simonini is introduced to men higher in the government than Bianco, and they have a job for him in Sicily as a spy and a creator of truth. He is to find information, or invent it if it cannot or will not be found, that undermines not Garibaldi himself, for he is a popular figure and as such has too much personal power to be directly attacked, but the administration that is created beneath him. "Clearly the general cannot control everything," he is told. "His honesty is beyond doubt. But in whose hands is he leaving public affairs?" He is to uncover corruption and greed, mistakes and theft. That is his mission.

Chapter 7, With the Thousand

Simonini is not a good spy, nor is he an obedient subject of the king. He enters Sicily with a completely different understanding of what is at work, of what should be and who should be in control, than his Piedmontese masters. Once in Sicily, carried there in his cover as a journalist aboard Dumas' yacht, he begins dissecting Garibaldi and Garibaldi's supporters in line with his own conspiratorial mythos. He begins to look for Masons, Jesuits, and Jews, and, unsurprisingly, he finds them. Simonini knows that he creates fictions, and yet he also believes in the fictions he creates. As I pointed out in the last installment of this series, Rebaudengo's definition of the forger's function is extremely important in the explication of this novel: the forge creates the truth that was, or that should have been. That is what Simonini does, and he looks to the real world for affirmations of his invented truths.

In Sicily, the confirmation of Simonini's conspiratorial suspicions are found as he travels rural areas in the guise of a Jesuit. He sits at table with a lawyer, Don Fortunato Musumeci, who 'reveals' the truth of things to him. Garibaldi and the revolutionaries bought their success with gold from the Freemasons. This is a revolution of English Freemasons, purchased with Masonic wealth, and manned by Masons. It is not an Italian revolution at all. It is alien, and its painted visage of heroism, sacrifice, and patriotism are false. Simonini returns to Musumeci to have his own assumption, his grandfather's contribution to Abbe Barruel repeated in Sicily, the influence of the Jews in the revolutionary endeavor, affirmed. Musumeci obliges: 'while not all Masons are Jews, all Jews are Masons'. Furthermore, an examination of the names of Garibaldi's volunteers reveals their Hebraic origins. The volunteers are no more Italian than the leaders--Masons and Jews, every one, and, later, a multinational, non-Italian army of robbers and anarchists. It is his grandfather's conspiracy given life again in Sicily: the Jewish-Masonic destroyers of Catholic civilization and culture.

Simonini was not employed to create or discover this conspiracy, but it is what he does despite his orders. This is his art, this conspiracy, this deception. He also meets with Col. Nievo who is in charge of the ledger of Garibaldi's army, but Nievo does not receive the careful attention he gives to his own creation. Nievo is a poet, a romantic demi-Byron, who would rather fight and die, but has been condemned to keep accounts instead. He weeps and he swears he would rather be in battle. The conspiracy hatched in Simonini's mind is far more interesting, and a far better story, than Nievo's struggles with accounts and the difficulties of Sicily.

What story does Simonini give his masters? It is one unfavorable to Garibaldi. "I will have to exaggerate the Masonic gold, portray Garibaldi as irresponsible, play up the Bronte massacre, refer to other crimes, embezzlement, extortion, corruption and general extravagance". He will demonize the entire enterprise, the soldiers and their leaders, throwing in the Masons, the Jews, and the mongrel, international army for good measure. He has decided, on his own, what truth is needed, and it is not the truth he was employed to deliver.

Chapter 8: The Ercole

The Narrator again takes over, tired of the dialogue between the Abbe and Simonini, but finding the two at impasse. Apparently, what is to follow disturbed both persons greatly and they are having trouble getting it out. "But the Narrator, being unsure, in short, who in the end is right, has allowed himself to describe these events as he feels they might best be reconstructed, and naturally accepts responsibility for his reconstruction". All these personas shaping the story we are told! And can we trust any of them? Can we trust a forge to tell us the truth? Or an Abbe who may be no more than a fractured element of the forger's personality, an imagined conscience for a conscienceless man? Or a Narrator of whom we can determine nothing at all, except that he is continually present, ready to step in when he feels it necessary or helpful to do so?

Simonini's report is delivered, and received with less than glowing reviews. He is, say his employers, "a dangerous fool". He did not get anything right, but has created problems with his every word. He has delivered his personal hatreds, and they were not asked for. It is the books, the ledgers that plague Col. Nievo, that concern the government, and now he must return to Sicily and make them disappear, by any legal means. Once again, he will be a journalist, but this time he is to stay on task: the ledger books, that is all.

Something of great significance is going to happen during this next journey in Sicily. We are warned of that by a failure on Abbe Dalla Piccola's part: "At this point Dalla Piccola's account is also fairly sketchy and incomplete, as if he too were having difficulty recalling what his counterpart was constrained to forget". Simonini returns to Sicily. He gets close to Nievo, but Nievo is protective of the ledger books, having heard that his integrity is under attack. The books are his weapon to defend his honor, proving that he acted honestly in his thankless task and acquitted himself to the best of his ability. No one is going to get their hands on the books until Nievo delivers them to the government. Simonini's mission appears hopeless.

Then, Nievo goes on a brief vacation, returning to Milan to visit his family and his lady-love. Simonini is left on his own, and on his own returns to his cossack and the rural cookery of Sicily where he finds the two men who form the solution to his dilemma. He cannot get Nievo's books; perhaps, however, he can destroy them. First, he meets the brute, Bronte, a man who having survived massacre thinks only of revenge, not a clever man, but able to take direction if given the appropriate motivation. The other, Master Ninuzzo, is an explosives expert, once employed by the Bourbon army, left behind as keeper to a powder magazine by Garabaldi's men, and apparently forgotten. "And there he was, getting bored, awaiting orders, resentful of the northern occupiers, faithful to his king, dreaming of rebellion and insurrection". With the expertise of one and the gullibility of the other, Simonini sets out to destroy the ledger, Col. Nievo, and all other passengers on a steamer from Sicily to the mainland: the death of many will conceal the disappearance of a few pages. All he has to do is get a powder keg, a fuse, and Bronte on the same boat as Nievo, and this he succeeds in doing. Then, as an afterthought, he rids himself of the troublesome witness, Master Ninuzzo, with a dagger in the belly.

Simonini returns to Turin certain that his masters will be pleased with his latest effort. Once again, they are not. The disappearance of an entire ship cannot be covered in silence. People want to know about it. 'We'll no doubt work it out in the end, but the only weak link in the chain is you.' To Simonini's good fortune, their idea of what to do with a weak link is not his own; they do not thrust twenty inches of steel into his belly. Instead, they transfer him to another agency in another country, to Paris, where we met him writing in his office at the beginning of the novel.

What do we know now?

  1. Simonini is a murderer.
  2. Simonini is a creator of and a believer in dangerous fictions.
  3. No voice telling this tale can be trusted.
  4. Simonini's hatred is stronger than his sense of self-preservation, his business acumen, and his ability to judge the needs and desires of his fellow men.
  5. We are on our way to Paris.


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