Surprising similarities: Scotland and Sicily

Literature specialist Graham Tulloch and Italian film expert Luciana d’Arcangeli from Flinders are co-editors and contributors to Sicily and Scotland: Where Extremes Meet.
Cover detail of the new book, Sicily and Scotland: Where Extremes Meet.

Scotland and Sicily might appear to be poles apart in language, climate, religion and temperament, but a new book reveals significant parallels and resonances between the two.

Scottish literature specialist Professor Graham Tulloch and Italian film and drama expert Dr Luciana d’Arcangeli from Flinders University, along with Dr Karen Agutter of the University of Adelaide, are co-editors and contributors to Sicily and Scotland: Where Extremes Meet.

The book had recent dual launches in Adelaide and Glasgow.

Professor Tulloch says that the two populations live in the shadows of their much larger, immediate neighbours – England and mainland Italy – yet each has retained a strong, distinctive cultural identity. From the 19th century onwards, both were sources of mass migration to the New World.

Professor Tulloch, who has had a fascination with Sicily since childhood, said the book’s aim is to compare and contrast the two societies by examining their literature and film, travel writing and emigration.

The genesis of the book was a symposium held at Flinders, organised around a visit from Joseph Farrell, professor emeritus in Italian at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland who has a special interest in Sicilian literature and also reviews contemporary Scottish literature. Flinders staff and students and other overseas participants contributed to the program.

As well as contributing to the introduction, Professor Tulloch has written a chapter on The Leopard, the enormously popular novel by Sicilian aristocrat, Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Professor Tulloch says the novel’s political backdrop – the unification of Italy – has strong parallels with Scotland’s uneasy relationship with England.

“Both were once proud independent nations that have now become part of bigger nations, but which retain a very strong sense of cultural identity, and it is a sense of identity in which a parallel underlying political history plays a major role,” Professor Tulloch said.

“Even after the union, Sicilians didn’t refer to themselves or see themselves as Italians – Italy was something else.”

He said Scotland’s similar sense of separateness is very evident in current political events in the UK culminating in the recent referendum where a substantial minority voted for Scottish independence

Professor Tulloch said Sicily frequently found itself on the receiving end of ignorance – Italy’s first prime minister, for instance, thought Sicilians spoke Arabic – and there was a lasting sense of superiority from the north towards the south. For the Scots, the prejudice ran in the other direction.

“The perceptions of the populace of the two places as illiterate bandits have some similarities,” Professor Tulloch said.

In another chapter, Professor Tulloch joins with Professor Liam McIlvanney of the University of Otago to discuss crime novels by Leonardo Sciascia and Ian Rankin, comparing the strands of politicised criminality exemplified by the Mafia in Sicily and sectarian gangs in Glasgow.

Luciana d’Arcangeli examines the portrayal of the two societies by film-makers from the outside, including Visconti, who directed the film version of The Leopard, and also by native-born directors and two Flinders postgraduate students provide a further chapter on The Leopard and a comparison of Robert Louis Stevenson and Pirandello..

Travel writing, including the work of Patrick Brydone, an 18th century Scottish travel writer who visited southern Italy and Sicily extensively, is another rich source of comparison – one shared aspect of life in Sicily and Scotland was the endemic poverty that would result in the exodus of large proportions of the two populations.

Flinders University historian Professor Eric Richards writes on attitudes towards Scotland and the tensions within the country that drove emigration, as well as providing an overview of the demographic profiles and emigration experiences of Scotland and Sicily. US artist and academic Thomas McPherson, meanwhile, brings a personal perspective, and in describing the respective experiences of his Scottish and Sicilian ancestors exposes the vicissitudes of assimilation in America.

Professor Tulloch said Australia also had large numbers of Scots and Sicilian migrants. The reception of the two groups, however, was often quite different, and a chapter by Karen Agutter on Sicilian migrants reveals how the arrivals frequently met prejudice and hostility.

Sicily and Scotland: Where Extremes Meet, co-edited by Graham Tulloch, Karen Agutter and Luciana D’Arcangeli, is published by Troubador Publishing, UK.

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2 thoughts on “Surprising similarities: Scotland and Sicily

  1. Scots singer Dick Gaughan’s “51st Highland Divison’s farewell to Sicily” – also brought the two places together. It seemed an odd combination, but perhaps there is more in common, than we realize. (the song’s on Youtube..)

  2. The book seems very interesting! It’s special appeal to me, however, is that I’ve been very curious about the actual interbreeding between the Scottish and the Sicilians. I know that the British occupied Sicily in the 1700s and 1800s and that there is a castle and graveyard, in Sicily, where Lord Nelson once lived, and which is still part of his legacy, in the UK. I have reason to believe that I have Scottish blood/DNA within me, but, have not been able to find a strong histprical genetic link between the two nationalities other than the possible propagation brought on by Lord Nelson, who had had Scottish ancestry.
    If there is any factual knowledge about the interbreeding between the Sicilians and the Scottish, I would be most interested to know of such.

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