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LHMP #379 Manfredini 2019 Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice Chapter 19

Full citation: 

Manfredini, Matteo. 2019. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice” in Sabine R. Huebner & Christian Laes (eds), The Single Life in the Roman and Later Roman World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. ISBN 978-1-108-47017-9

Publication summary: 

A collection of papers addressing (and definine) the state of "singleness" in the Roman Empire, both in pre-Christian and early Christian times. There is a strong focus on Egypt as well as Rome proper, as well as wider Byzantine material. Comparative material is offered from Jewish sources, as well as a small selection of studies from specific cultures of more modern date.

Manfredini, Matteo. “Singleness in Nineteenth-century Italy: Permanent Celibacy and Solitariness between Coercion and Free Choice”

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This article summarizes various “ways of  being single” in Catholic society of one particular Tuscan community in the first half of the 19th century.

Permanent celibacy is defined for this purpose as being never-married by age 50. While out of line with normative expectations, permanent celibacy was accepted under certain conditions, e.g., for those with religious vocations. But certain economic strategies also required an acceptance of permanent celibacy when only the eldest son was expected to marry and beget children (to avoid diluting the inheritance), with other sons taking up religious, military, or diplomatic careers rather than marriage, and surplus daughters either entering religious life or performing household support activities for a married sibling. In a context where marriage was the only licensed means to producing children, control of access to marriage by the family was also a means of population control when resources or land was scarce. This could result in 15% of men and 12% of women never having access to marriage. (The social dynamics involve other complications, so this is a simplification of a simplification.) The vast majority of these never-married individuals were part of complex extended-family households, although solitary singles and members of smaller nuclear households also occurred. While these permanent singles were excluded from full access to social rights and privileges, they were not stigmatized, unless it were viewed as a personal whim rather than part of a family strategy.

Living alone as a one-person household was another option for singles, and its acceptability was highly contextual. If the solitary state was due to household attrition—the death of other members or the natural fracturing of the family into smaller units on a life-cycle basis—then there was not typically any stigma or marginalization. The solitary state tended to be unstable, with such persons typically joining another family unit or moving to an urban center for opportunity. However if the solitary state was perceived as voluntary or due to family rejection or the individual failure to form a family unit, then they might face social disapproval, especially if female. This was more often the case in rural areas than urban ones. These solitaries were likely to be never-married in younger age ranges, and much more likely to be widowed (especially female widows) in older age ranges.

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