Naples: Life, Death & Miracles  © 2002-2017       contact:     Jeff Matthews  
home & index 1     -->  2
 welcome 
 sitemap
portals
map
other
eyes of
venues
photos/
audio

history
ErN
museums
sardinia
link to a Google search page HERE
main index                          © Jeff Matthews                              entry June 24 2016

another Bakunin
Maria Bakunin


I've been whining a lot recently about Naples being a hotbed of anarchy (see the items on Walter Benjamin). To play the Devil's Anarchist for a moment, I now point out that the combination of Naples plus true anarchy (true anarchists, really) can, in fact, produce some remarkable results. Case in point, the person of Maria (also known as Marussia) Bakunin (1873-1960), daughter of the Russian revolutionary anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), who needs no introduction (or if he does, go do some homework). His daughter, Maria, became one of the most important figures in the sciences in Italy, renowned for her work in chemistry; she was also in the forefront of the struggle for the rights of women to take their place in "the professions," and she remained active as a guardian of general culture for her entire life.

Her presence in Naples has to do with Mikhail Bakunin's lifelong support of every revolution in sight (which was a lot in the mid-1800s). His travels took him to Italy in the 1860s, where he was an enthusiastic supporter of Garibaldi. Bakunin found disciples in Naples and it was here that he founded the newspaper Libertà e giustizia [Liberty and Justice]. He died in Bern, Switzerland in 1876.

In Naples one of Mikhail Bakunin's disciples was Carlo Gambuzzi (1837-1902), a good friend, a fellow dedicated revolutionary and an active soldiering supporter of Garibaldi on various military expeditions; he also founded a Neapolitan chapter of the Internationale in 1869. Although he eventually gave up the "the revolution," he remained active in journalism and in various benevolent causes, such as actively supporting the clean-up of Naples in the face of the devastating cholera epidemic of 1884. He was a lawyer by profession...and in his spare time, he was, in fact the natural father of all three children born to Bakunin's wife, Antonina Kwiatkowska (1849-1887) while Bakunin was still alive (and obviously the fourth one later on). Father (hah!) Bakunin was always off running around and, well, anarchists have to help each other out (they can't expect the state to do it, right?). Thus, Maria was the third child (of four) in the Bakunin-Gambuzzi-Kwiatkowska triangle, all party to what someone called a "nihilist marriage." She was born in 1873 in the town of Krasnojarsk in Siberia and then was taken by her mother to Naples in 1875. Kwiatkowska had fallen in love with Naples in the mid-1860s when she had visited (and met Mikhail) and now everyone was together again in Naples in an idyllic setting at Capodimonte. After Mikhail died in 1876, Kwiatkowska and Gambuzzi were married at the Posillipo town hall. Antonia Kwiatkowska died in 1887 in Naples and is entombed in the central cemetery in the Bakunin-Gambuzzi Chapel, a site that would receive the remains of others in the family, including those of Maria Bakunin, herself, years later.

Mikhail Bakunin, the great anarchist, came from a wealthy, aristocratic Russian family (land and serfs, the whole nine yards/8.23 meters) and apparently never held a real job in his life. He lived off his family's wealth, which is how daughter Maria Bakunin managed to have the privileged upbringing she had. It is worth noting that Maria was only three years old when daddy died; mommy then married the natural father, Carlo, and was in fact married to him when she had her fourth child. Also worth noting is the fact that the neighbors in Naples apparently just assumed that Mikhail Bakunin was the real father. ("Gee, he's always off at some Peace, Bread and Socialism conference...I wonder how he does it.") The true nature of this three-sided relationship has only recently come to light through the published letters of Mikhail Bakunin in which he speaks of his relationship with his wife and with Carlo Gambuzzi, her "effetivo sposo" [husband, in practice]. He bears them no ill-will. Quite the contrary, he married Antonina Kwiatkowska to save her from a brutal life in a Siberian hell-hole. She was 18; he was in his 50's. He loves her like a daughter(!) and is glad that she has found true love in Carlo. Blessings all around. Mikhail adopted his wife's three children by Gambuzzi so they could use the Bakunin name. Mikhail Bakunin was a very generous man. He gave a lot of money away, too. The story of this triangle is intensely more complicated, but we're here to talk about Maria, the daughter. It's just that the story of her bizarre family may help explain why, as respected and well-liked as she was to become in her life, she had the reputation of being hard-nosed and difficult to get along with.

In any event, Maria attended one of the most prestigious high-schools in the city and then studied at the Frederick II university where she graduated in 1895 with a degree in chemistry. She received an academic award for physics and mathematics in 1900 and then taught applied chemistry at the Upper Polytechnical School in Naples where in 1912 she became head of the department in Applied Technological Chemistry. She did extensive work in earth sciences, including a study of the great eruption of Vesuvius in 1906. She also compiled a geological map of Italy, during which time she studied the oil shale deposits of the mountains near Salerno. She consulted for province and regional administrations and private companies interested in the industrial development of such deposits in the Picentine mountains near Naples.

In hindsight, she lived to teach. She started in 1893 while she was still a university student at the young age of 20 and continued until she retired in 1943, at which point she was made a professor emeritus and kept active anyway. She married Agostino Ogliaro Todaro, her university chemistry teacher, in 1896. She was 23. He was 49. (It runs in the family?) They had no children. Maria was a prodigy in chemistry and advanced quickly simply by coming out on top in exams for almost every promotion she ever competed for. She published extensively, was a member of a number of professional organizations, and traveled widely to chemistry conferences and to lecture. In photos of such conferences, she is often the only woman. She and her husband lived in a large apartment on the university premises; they were only partially successful in attempts to save their home from "scorched earth" fires set by retreating German troops in 1943. The premises are today marked by a plaque in her honor, at number 10, via Mezzocannone.

add: June 27, 2016

I append this addition to the main text as a means of adding some substance to the personal life of Marussia Bakunin, some clue as to her emotional life, an indication of the turmoil in the inner life of even this first women admitted to Italy's prestigious Lincean Science Academy. My source is the single one I cite below, but the content is footnoted in that source as coming from "Memoria di G. Malquori" in the Atti dell'Accademia Pontaniana [Proceedings of the Pontanian Academy], XI, 393-399 (1963)]. [trans. note: the source is Giovanni Malquori, a younger colleague of Maria Bakunin on the chemistry faculty of the University of Naples. He succeeded her as the head of the department.]

I cite this passage (in my translation from Italian):

From the same source we learn of the tragic end of the entire family, exterminated in the course of the Nazi occupation of Poland, probably during the Warsaw insurrection of Aug-Oct 1944, which caused the deaths of around 200,000 victims. All members of the Kossowski family went missing for a long time, leaving their Neapolitan relatives in agonizing despair, in particular Marussia [Maria Bakunin].
The way that is phrased is perplexing since "missing for a long time" leaves room to believe that some of the missing family members eventually showed up after WWII, which they did not. Maria Bakunin was particularly close to a sister, Carolina Gambuzzi, who had married a Michael Kossowski in Warsaw in around 1900. The couple had two children. Kossowski is a common Jewish surname in Polish; thus, the sister had married into a Jewish family. The ghastly events of WWII eventually overtook the entire Polish nation, particularly in the two uprisings against German occupation and mass deportations (and murder) of the Jewish population: the uprisings of 1943 and 1944. Once it became clear (probably by 1950) to Maria Bakunin's colleagues in Naples what had no doubt happened to her sister and others in Poland in WWII, they—so says the same source—tried to keep the news from her because they knew it would devastate her. It is not clear whether they actually succeeded in this act of kindness. But one thing is clear: she knew that she had not heard from her sister in Poland in years.


I have relied almost entirely on "Marussia Bakunin: una rilettura aggiornata della vita e della carriera" [Marussia Bakunin: an updated rereading of her life and career] by Carmine Colella in Atti Accademia Pontaniana, Napoli, N.S., Vol. LXIII (2014), pp. 123-165. I am grateful to Selene Salvi for calling the article to my attention.