Maria Attanasio: The girl from Marseilles

Maria Attanasio
Ed. Sellerio, Palermo 2018

On one side a French girl, Rosalie Montmasson, on the other a Sicilian lawyer, Francesco Crispi, in the background Marseilles, where their paths crossed for the first time, and then Turin, where they spoke to each other for the first time. While much is known about the second, the first news is very little, so much so that the author, poet and essayist, to give birth to this historical novel, had to undergo various peregrinations in archives and museums, in search of traces on the life of the "girl from Marseilles". It is certainly known that on December 27, 1854, in Malta, Rosalie e Fransuà they got married in the strictest secrecy.

Genoa, April 30, 1860: Garibaldi, at Villa Spinola, was preparing the expedition to Sicily. In Genoa there were also Nino Bixio and Francesco Crispi. And Rosalie Montmasson was there too, also determined to leave on the expedition. But she was a woman. “The order was strict: no wives, no mothers, no volunteers.” Also there was a ban on her husband. However, she did not give up. She went to Villa Spinola and asked for an interview with Garibaldi… alone.

“No one ever knew what exactly Rosalie and the General said to each other.” But at the end of the interview she was authorized to join the expedition. And so "On the night of May 11th XNUMX, supplies, weapons, men and the only woman taking part in the expedition were embarked on the two awaiting steamers in Quarto.[…] It could not have been easy, neither for the General nor for the husband, managing the presence of a woman among a thousand men; and of a woman like Rosalie, for whom the difference between the sexes was only a connotation of pure physical diversity, not of inequality in doing and thinking: she knew how to handle weapons and explosives with dexterity. [...] During the crossing, without posing any problems, Rosalie put on trousers and a red shirt, casually getting busy on Piedmont which, together with Lombardo, reached Marsala on XNUMX May."

The writer Giacomo Oddo, in his book “I Mille di Marsala. Revolutionary Scenes” described Rosalie's exploits on the battlefield. On November 3, 1860, in Naples, Garibaldi distributed the medals to the veterans of the Thousand. Among them, to be decorated, there was also Rosalie. Even after the royalist conversion of his Fransuà, she decided to stay by his side, initially not believing the newspapers, which told of Francesco Crispi's female acquaintances. Politics of mud, she called it, due to the ring of bribes and corrupt politicians that her husband was exposing. But the truth was that he was cheating on her. And when she became aware of her cheating, their relationship clearly cooled.

He, who in the meantime had made mothers of two of his lovers, Luisa del Testa and Lina Barbagallo, began to hate her. “But he couldn't break that relationship publicly, he would have faced a media scandal; he therefore wanted to force her into a separation in private form.” However, at first she didn't want to know. Until, one day, Crispi's sister went to her claiming to bring an embassy from her brother (but instead it was his idea and that of Lina, Crispi's lover): if she hadn't accepted the separation privately, the brother would have asked for it publicly, through his manifest fault. “Easily obtained: there were those who were ready to testify about the adulterous affairs she carried on with many, even with the servants. In this case, her brother would not have given him even a lira in maintenance."

An agreement was reached which provided for the administration of a monthly sum to Rosalie. She pledged not to bear the surname that had accompanied her for decades: Crispi. There now remained for the Honorable Member another question to resolve. To avoid the scandal of the accusation of bigamy, having married Lina Barbagallo in 1878, he had to demonstrate that her marriage, contracted in Malta with Rosalie, was null.

Summoned by the judge, Montmasson took the painting out of her bag with a copy of the notarized certificate of her marriage stating that “no court could erase that truth: Francesco Crispi was and always remained her husband, and the other a certified bad woman.” In the end, however, the court declared the legal illegitimacy of that marriage, thus deeming the one contracted in Naples, between Crispi and Barbagallo, in 1878 automatically valid. Therefore "the guilty sentence that everyone expected and that many politicians hoped for did not arrive, leaving many doubts among contemporaries about its impartiality."

After this sentence Rosalie disappeared from the history of the Risorgimento and from the writings of Francesco Crispi. But a few years later, the two started dating again. “when a heart attack had kept her between life and death, forcing her into absolute immobility for some time. One day while she was dozing, she had opened her eyes, and had seen him on a chair at the foot of her bed: him, in the flesh. [...] An abyss the heart of man. And more than ever that of Don Ciccio: while he erased her from her papers he returned to frequenting her! ”

Francesco Crispi died in 1901, Rosalie Montmasson in 1904. "I want to present myself to God as a Garibaldine, she had said to her closest friends and to her nephew Giuseppe, before finally losing her word." In fact, she had asked to be wrapped up in her red shirt.

During the funeral procession, “behind the coffin a middle-aged man carries a red satin cushion on which four medals are pinned.” On her tombstone, in the Verano cemetery in Rome, where she was buried, these words are engraved: “Francesco Crispi's first wife / with him she conspired for the unity of the country / with him she took part in the legendary Expedition of the Thousand / Only woman in the immortal legion / She became its heroine / enjoyed the trust of Mazzini and the friendship of Garibaldi / Example to Italian women / of masculine public virtues and gentle domestic virtues.”

Gianlorenzo Capano