Naples:life,death &
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Anne Leffler and Pasquale Del Pezzo
Luciano Mangiafico

In early May 1888, Swedish author,  Anne Charlotte Leffler (1849-1892) arrived in Naples by ship. She was accompanying her
brother, famous Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler and his wife. They  had left frigid Stockholm in mid-March for a conference in Algeria and on the way back home stopped in Naples where Gosta wanted to discuss mathematics with University of Naples Professor Pasquale Del Pezzo and visit Swedish physician and author Axel Munthe in Capri.

Anne Leffler was already a famous author before she arrived in Naples, where she would meet her future husband. She was the only daughter of a clergyman and was encouraged by both parents to write, but they wisely kept her from rushing her early writing into print, telling her to wait until her skills had developed. Her first book, a collection of short stories called By Chance was published when she was 20 under a pseudonym in 1869. She started writing plays though she had no experience on how to write for the stage. What she lacked in experience, she made up in natural dramatic instincts. Still under a pseudonym she wrote The Actress (1873), The Curate (1876), and The Elf (1880). All three plays had a common theme: the struggle women face for individuality in a man’s world. They  were successful. The Actress,  the story of a woman who chooses the stage over love, marriage, and an easy, conventional life, played in Stockholm to a full house for the entire season of 1873-74. Her success didn't suit her conventional husband, who was embarrassed when he found out she was the author. If this  became public knowledge, her name would be in the thoughts of many men, and he wanted none of that. 

In her lifetime, Leffler wrote 14 plays, published or performed, most to great critical and popular acclaim. Her dramatic method forms a connecting link between Ibsen and Strindberg, and its masculine directness, frankness, and freedom from prejudice won her work great esteem. In 1882, she published her first book under her own name, a collection of stories, From Life, and later, under the same title, two additional volumes. The stories in the books dealt mostly with marital issues between women and insensitive men and were translated into Russian, Danish, and German. She made a reputation throughout Europe. Under her own name she continued to write for the theater with True Women, How to do Good, and Struggle for Happiness, the last in collaboration with her friend, mathematician Sonja Kovalesky.

When Anne and her relatives got to Naples in May, they called on Prof. Pasquale Del Pezzo
(1859-1936). He was happy to meet his colleague and host the three during their stay in the city, taking them around to see the tourist sights and to meet his friends, everyone who was anyone in Neapolitan culture. He was born in Berlin. Pasquale, unlike most young noblemen of his time, rather than a life of leisure chose an academic career. He got degrees in law and  mathematics and began to teach at the University of Naples. He was stout, sported a beard, hunched a bit and they he said looked like a lively faun. Despite his unusual appearance, or perhaps because of that and his fine intellect, he attracted women and had an active social life. In 1888, when he met Anne Leffler, he was 29 years old, ten years younger than she was. Cupid took over and that was that.

They fell in love to the distress of his family, who disapproved of his relationship with a married older woman and, to boot, a foreigner of a different religion. Her brother Gosta, saw the affair as a scandal within their social circle in Sweden. He tried to stop the relationship by quickly moving the family to Capri to visit Munthe, but when the three of them got back to Naples in early June to prepare to leave for Stockholm, Pasquale  proposed to Anne and she accepted. They would marry as soon as she was legally free to do so (she was still married). Anne described Pasquale's “incredible liberalism and freedom from prejudice … The only thing dear to him is what he gets through his own work.” She told her brother that Del Pezzo had "... features that remind me of Sonja [Kovalesky]. He has her same talent snd the versatility, vivacity, intensity of expression... the same quickness of spirit, the same perception of love as an essential element of life, the same dreams of complete compatibility with a companion..."

Anne had made up her mind and was not swayed by social mores in Sweden and Naples. Back in Sweden in June 1888, she filed to divorce her husband Gustav Edgren. They were divorced in 1889. She was free to remarry and went back to Italy where she and Pasquale were civilly married in Rome in May, 1890. In the meantime, Pasquale’s father had died and Pasquale inherited his father’s title and was now Duke of Caianello and his new wife was a duchess!

In Naples, as in Stockholm before her move, Anne held a literary salon frequented by prominent Neapolitan cultural figures of the times:  Benedetto Croce, Axel Munthe, Antonio Cardarelli, Edoardo Scarfoglio, Salvatore Di Giacomo, and others. From Naples, while visiting in June 1888, Anne had written to Ellen Key: “Life, real life, is more than dreams and nostalgia. We're too romantic, too sentimental, too contemplative up north. We should learn from southern Italians. They know how. Nowhere in  Europe is there a city more favored than Naples in terms of climate and nature. I love nature beyond description. I enjoy living every day amid nature and yet I like a big city. Italy has conquered my heart so much that I no longer believe I could live happily up north.” 

Ellen Key herself then fell in love with Italy and spent months there in 1901 and 1907. She went to see Del Pezzo for information on Anne (who died in 1892) to write a biography of her friend (pub. 1893). In 1890 just before  marriage to Del Pezzo, Anne wrote Femininity and Eroticism, partly biographical, about the conflicts between love and independence, erotic desire and freedom. While in Naples, she also wrote Three Comedies and Neapolitan Images, (pub. posthumously) and the Biography of Sonja Kovalesky, who was her good friend. It was her last book.

Benedetto Croce, that arbiter of literary taste in Italian culture, knew her and admired her. He wrote in Critical Conversations (1918) about her book, Struggle with Society: “…I hold in my soul the image of Anne Charlotte Leffler, the wife of my friend Pasquale del Pezzo... She died after just a few years of marriage, in Naples in 1892; and I remember that indeed it was I and Di Giacomo who numbered among the few in that brief time who had the pleasure of her company…”

On June 7, 1892 Anne Leffler gave birth to a baby boy, Gaetano Gosta Leffler Del Pezzo (1892-1970).  The baby was only four
months old when Anne died from a burst appendix on October 21, 1892.  Pasquale Del Pezzo thus lost his life companion after just two years of marriage. He was later president of the University of Naples, and also mayor of Naples and a senator of the Kingdom of Italy from 1919 until his death in 1936. 

Anne, the Swedish author become the Duchess of Caianello, and Pasquale, the man she fell in love with in the land she fell in love with, are buried in the del Pezzo family chapel in the church of S.Maria del Carmelo in Vairano Scalo near Caserta. That chapel was installed in 1880 by Pasquale. In 1946 the entire church was donated by Gaetano del Pezzo to the Teano-Calvi diocese to serve the local community.

photo: Mario Del Pezzo

Selected Bibliography

1. Ciliberto, Ciro & Emma Sallent Del Colombo. Pasquale del Pezzo, Duke of Caianello, Neapolitan Mathematician. Springer-Verlag 2012;
2. Dudley Warner, Charles, et al. Library of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern, Volume 13. New York: J. A. Hill & Company, 1902;
3. Key, Ellen. Anne Charlotte Leffler. Duchessa di Cajanello. Stockholm: Bonnier. 1893;
4. Hallegren, Anders. Campagna per la Felicità. Anacapri (Napoli): Edizione Villa San Michele, 2001;
5. Jangfelt, Bengt. Axel Munthe: The Road to San Michele. London (U.K.): I. B. Tauris, Ltd, 2008;
6. Stubhaug, Arild. Gösta Mittag-Leffler: A Man of Conviction. Berlin, Springer-Verlag, 2010;
7. Wilkinson, Lynn R. ”Feminism, modernism and the morality debate: Anne Charlotte Leffler's "Tre komedier",
   Scandinavian studies 2004(76): pp. 47-70.

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