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Vigevano Schoolteacher: a translation of Lucio Mastronardi’s Il Maestro di Vigevano Schultz, Anneliese

Abstract

The North America-patterned economic boom had barely-taken hold in Italy when, in 1962, the first cry of rebellion was heard from the literary world. The blurbs to Lucio Mastronardi's Vigevano Schoolteacher read:"one of the angriest stories to stem from the years of the economic miracle", "a fierce caricature of a world which has become hurried, indifferent, ruthless in its feverish pursuit of Well-being", "the dramatic failure of petit-bourgeois decorum." A film version, directed by Elio Petri and starring Alberto Sordi, followed immediately. As did lawsuits, brought by those whose decorum had not succeeded in withstanding the bitter caricature. The novel, tragi-comic but ultimately tragic parabola to a petty doom, held - like its author - little hope. This hopelessness - of Mastronardi's, of schoolteacher Mombelli's, of industrial-era Man - I have seen as dispossession. In the first part of my critical introduction to the translation of Vigevano Schoolteacher, I have considered the innumerable essentials of which Antonio Mombelli, elementary teacher at his fourth pay increase of point total 271, has been systematically dispossessed. Disfranchised -by a constantly changing society- of pride, he is an educator who knows there is no room for learning, a modern man unaffiliated with the present time. Eyewitness to the construction of a power plant on the spot where Hannibal defeated the Romans, to the hallucinatory transformation of woman from Eve into Delilah, he is a middle-aged man who realizes there is no time for the past. Returning, humiliated, to the point of departure, he is an ex-father cured of the tendency to hope. Mombelli, then, is dispossessed not only of past, present and future, but of a calling, of pride (or 'tar*, as Mastronardi terms it; a man's almost amusing but vital concept of Twentieth Century saving-face), of hope; even, perhaps, of control over his own mind. The second part of the introduction addresses itself of necessity to Mombelli's reactions to his dispossession. I have considered first his initial attempts to fit in -as colleague, as Principe Bar hanger-on, as even small-time industrialist; then his subsequent forms of escapism - the fantasies and numbed despair; and finally his efforts at creating order - habits as holding off the holocaust. The parallel then is clear. What have ultimately to be discussed are Mastronardi's linguistic equivalents to the life-responses of his character. To the schoolteacher's attempts at fitting in correspond the author's tries at various formulas of speech (bureaucratic, learned, journalistic, dialectal). To fantasies correspond linguistic experimentation and even outright invention. To Antonio Mombelli's two-decade-long habits, to his sentence to do first resigned, then ever more untenable, increasingly surrealistic, and finally irreparable Time corresponds Lucio Mastronardi's parabola. From the vise-like chaos of dispossession, through a writer and novel, emerges -anguished - order.

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