midiguru, many people have asked for the retention of character styles through the import process. As you say, some formatting - such as italicizing words - is a very common thing. One big problem is that most word processors don't do typography properly like Scribus does.
For instance, if you make a character/word italic - or bold - in a basic word processor the software creates new altered versions of the glyphs rather than using the real italic/bold typeface variants. Specifically, for italicized characters the software just draws the glyphs on a slant (oblique) and for bold they typically increase the outline width. (Sloppy, but for the average document it doesn't look too bad.)
Scribus doesn't do this; it forces you to use the correct typeface variant. This means that if you don't have the italic or bold variant installed then it can't display the character correctly. So, if you don't have, for example, "Arial Italic" installed then Scribus can't display italicized characters, therefore the character formatting can't be kept.
It's not an ideal situation but there's no simple way of making sure that the imported text will look that same when it comes into Scribus. Maybe that will change by the time the next stable version comes out.