Ln July 10, 1896, the amphitheater of La Sapienza in Rome is full. Students, journalists and the curious flock there: a woman is going to defend her thesis in medicine! Before Maria Montessori takes the floor, the Minister of Public Instruction, support from the start, recalls her difficult journey to incorporate a very masculine circle. Recognized by her peers, the newly graduated doctor worked from then on in contact with young mentally retarded people and undertook to improve their daily lives by providing them with activities. It feeds, in parallel, on the work of eminent colleagues, while developing its own observations and experiences. A feminist activist and committed to the well-being of children, she leads her fights with rigor and passion, both in Italy and around the world. She thus crossed the troubled first half of the 20th century without failing in her convictions, even when the fascist state tried to exploit its school system.
Inseparable from active pedagogy, the name of Montessori is associated with more than 35,000 educational institutions scattered over the five continents – including two hundred in France –, as well as with a series of tools to help toddlers learn. However, behind the label, there is a thinker with multiple hats (she was simultaneously a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, pedagogue, inventor, philosopher and writer) who still remains largely in the shadow of her work. To make her better known, Caroline Lepeu, screenwriter and parenting guide, has teamed up with designer Jérôme Mondolini to transcribe the destiny of this exceptional being into a comic strip.
Through more than one hundred and seventy pages, this biography in comic strip paints the portrait of a woman of character, entirely devoted to her research, to the children entrusted to her or with whom she meets and to a humanist vision of education. . Well documented and based on the writings of the protagonist, the story illuminates the various struggles that animated the existence of Maria Montessori. From the impediments prevailing in her milieu of bourgeois origin, which did not conceive of a representative of the fair sex learning and working on an equal footing with men, to the persistent prejudices against the abilities of children, through Mussolini’s attempt to engulf and distort the establishments of the pedagogue, everything is related in three chapters provided. A crowd of prestigious figures parades, showing how much the Italian was linked to the advances of her time on the issue in the medical, social and psychological fields. Moreover, the feminine dimension of the character is not forgotten. His clandestine relationship with his mentor Professor Montesano and Mario, the son born of their love, are also present in this evocation. They underline Maria’s constant commitment, her motherhood, but also the sacrifices made to social conventions.
The subject is based on the pleasant graphics of Jérôme Mondolini. The line is realistic, quite expressive and accurately sketches the many speakers – the reader will easily recognize Freud, Picasso or Gandhi. Although a little wise, the drawing nonetheless effectively restores the different moments and atmospheres of the story. The shots alternate between partitioned scenes and other larger ones, all as neat and detailed as each other. A few overviews, especially outdoors, bring welcome breaths. With sobriety, a sepia color setting – sometimes bluish – gives relief to the vignettes, some of which remain however in gray tones. Only regret: a cover with sharp colors that does not really make you want to look at the album – a mistake!
Interesting in its subject and the person it presents, Maria Montessori – The School of Life, in the MARAbulles collection by Marabout, fully deserves to be looked at. Note that next October, Steinkis editions will also release a comic on the famous pedagogue.
By Mr. Natali