The English Gentleman – Novel by Lucia and Maria Scerrato
Review by Maria Teresa De Donato
Fiction and reality blend harmoniously in this beautiful evocative novel written by the cousins Lucia Scerrato and Maria Scerrato in which, through a pleasant and flowing narration, important issues are brought to the reader's attention, offering good insights for deep reflection.
"A tin box, like many others, where cookies are stored to keep them crisp and fragrant" (L. Scerrato & M. Scerrato, 2020, p.20), carefully placed in a chest and pulled out by an old lady in order to console one of her two great-nieces’ puppy love, preserves a treasure that she suddenly and unexpectedly reveals to them. This is the beginning of a secret adventure with the elderly 'Aunt Nannina ', that will mark the two teenagers not only for an entire summer but for life and by means of which they will find out, little by little, the richness as well as the complexity of Love and Passion.
The novel, partly consisting in an exchange of letters, recounts the real life experiences of the Scerratos at the beginning of the 20th c. ; fictional characters interplay with others really existing, such as the British archaeologist Thomas Ashby, who in total self-denial devoted a good part of his life to the study of Roman antiquities, the topography of Rome and Lazio, carefully exploring and describing ancient Roman roads, reconstructing their paths and photographing and immortalizing not only the populations, but also their local customs and habits.
The authors must certainly be credited with bringing to the reader's attention and making it alive, in the fullest and most authentic way, carefully respecting the style, morals and language of the time, that part of Italy, known as Ciociaria. This is an area situated halfway between Rome and Naples in which a remarkable archaeological heritage is accompanied by a rich and lively cultural tradition made not only of history, but also of excellent food, particular customs and traditions, of festivals and processions and enchanting landscapes whose simple lifestyle and slower rhythms are lost in the mists of time.
Other important aspects in the novel are the sense of responsibility and sacrifice, as well as Love, deep feelings, and even great passions – such as the ones experienced by Teresina and Tito, the other two protagonists who, in spite of their spontaneous and pure love, have to confront with the prejudices related to belonging to different social classes, cultures and religions.
Their Heart, fascinated by diversity, spontaneity, authenticity, simplicity and deeply aware of belonging to each other, is opposed, and restrained by their Mind that pragmatically analyzes, censors, and rejects Love, feelings, and passions. This is done not only by virtue of what is 'socially acceptable', but also in the belief that having a regular and scheduled family life with pre-established activities and times does not coincide with the emotional, spiritual and mental needs that might drive, on the contrary, to travel, to be always on the move to distant lands, to increase one's knowledge thanks to study and research and above all through continuous and new intellectual stimuli.
Nonetheless, in an era in which the only roles suitable for women were those of being a wife, a mother, and a housekeeper, there were people who, out of necessity or virtue, due to superior intelligence or perhaps simply to greater awareness and practical sense, were able to grasp the importance of education as an instrument of knowledge, redemption, and emancipation. Those are the themes coming to light, thanks to Teresina's sense of responsibility and determination in sacrificing her life so to allow her younger siblings, Nannina included, to continue their studies at any cost.
This is a book, I recommend to everyone, simple and at the same time complex, full of interesting details and twists, permeated with culture and respect for traditions and the historical heritage belonging not only to Ciociaria but that is also Italian and universal and gives a great lesson in Life, namely true Love means that "neither of us ... needs to know who [is] the other in the eyes of the world." (L. & M. Scerrato, 2020, p.160)