Riccardo Bacchelli Thomas Sugrue - Essay

Thomas Sugrue

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In "The Mill on the Po," which is regarded in Italy … as a national epic, the common man who is given the role of hero fails to demonstrate nobility; he survives, along with the other peasants of his community, the troubles of weather and politics which beset Northern Italy from 1812 to 1872, but he never cares about what is happening to fortunes other than his own, and he never realizes what is happening to his country, his church, or to Europe and Western civilization in general. He is a miller and a good one; he pays attention to his trade and expects nothing more than that other people pay attention to theirs; he is therefore not a focus for the events of his lifetime, nor does he give to these events a point of view or continuity. The long book … is therefore more like a peasant's journal than an epic; it gives a village view of history, but even the village is without dignity or importance in the lives of its inhabitants.

Very likely this curious achievement is what the author aimed at. (p. 19)

["The Mill on the Po"] is quite an old-fashioned book, actually. It is written on a straight line, with little depth or insight, and in a manner reminiscent of the century it describes…. [Altogether] it is the dulness of Scacerni and his fellow peasants which comes through rather than any heroic qualities they may have demonstrated while their country was being born from the little kingdoms and Papal States into which the peninsula was divided a hundred years ago. That is no doubt the way it was; there were heroes, of course, but not around Ferrera, or along the Po in the vicinity of St. Michael's mill. (p. 29)

Thomas Sugrue, "Miller's-eye View of History," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1950 by Saturday Review; copyright renewed © 1978 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 33, No. 39, September 30, 1950, pp. 19, 29.