After 1870, the end of the Italian Risorgimento inspired many American Protestants in Italy to write about Italian Catholicism in new ways. In widely-circulated travel narratives, they rejected and inverted the anti-Catholic Gothic conventions of nineteenth-century travel narratives, describing the pope as a kindly old man trapped in the Vatican, and monasteries as welcoming domestic spaces. This essay argues, first, that their language about the pope and monks was part of a larger Gilded-Age and Progressive-Era turn away from American exceptionalism: Catholic Italy, for these travelers, was no longer a corrupt and fascinating “Romish” other, but rather a society much like their own, weathering familiar changes and facing familiar problems. Second, even as these travelers rejected anti-Catholic Gothic conventions, they continued the Gothic mode of invoking Catholicism to talk about privilege, authority, and domination. What changed was what they wanted to say. Concerned less with defining American liberties against Italian Catholic despotism, they registered, instead, an identification with deposed forms of authority, a rejection of the idea that these forms were threatening to American individuals or democratic social order, and a nascent fear that the real roots of social disorder lay in a breakdown of such authority. Ultimately, post-Risorgimento travel writers were part of the history of cross-confessional toleration, but this essay demonstrates that that history was as much about the defense of some asymmetries of power and privilege as it was about the rejection of others.
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