The Battles of Magenta and Solferino, June 1859

The first volume of All the Year Round was composed against the backdrop of the short, but very bloody, war for Italian independence, which broke out between Austria and France (and their Italian allies, Piedmont-Sardinia) on 29 April 1859, the day before All the Year Round’s first number.

On 4 June – the week of part 6 of TOTC – the Austrians were defeated at the Battle of Magenta (pictured here) and on 24 June – the week that part 9 of TOTC was published – the Austrians were finally routed at the Battle of Solferino. It’s fascinating to imagine original readers enjoying part 9 of TOTC, with its scathing critique of the French aristocracy, while news of the Battle of Solferino filtered through.

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About Ben Winyard

Ben Winyard is a Senior Content Editor at Birkbeck, University of London. He completed his PhD at Birkbeck, where he also worked as an intern on '19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century' ( He also worked as a postdoctoral researcher and senior editor on the Dickens Journals Online project ( and he has been a co-organiser of the annual Dickens Day conference since 2005.

2 thoughts on “The Battles of Magenta and Solferino, June 1859

  1. Thanks for this fascinating piece of context Ben. Do we know where sympathies in Britain lay during this conflict? I almost want to go back and reread the story so far to see if there are any reread the descriptions of the French for any insights. Of course, with Dickens, initially at least, writing his instalments some time ahead of when they were published, there may be some time delay, so it’s just as likely that any allusions to this conflict may yet appear in future parts.

    • Thanks, Pete. The movement for Italian Unification was hugely popular in Britain: an estimated 500,000 people met Garibaldi, the Italian freedom fighter, when he arrived in London in April 1864. I think the war caused a lot of liberal angst, rather like conflicts in our time, as people were keen to see the autocratic, Roman Catholic Austrians chucked out, but they mistrusted the ambitions of the equally imperialistic and Catholic French. They were right to be suspicious: Napoleon III took Nice and Savoy as reward for expelling the Austrians and sent troops to protect the Pope and ensure Papal Rome remained outside of the united kingdom of Italy. The French troops guarded the Pope until 1870, when the rather-more-pressing matter of the Franco-Prussian war saw them leave and Garibaldi take Rome and proclaim it capital of the united Italy.

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