(Essentials of European Literature)

The unexpected death of Emilio Ratti’s father plunged the family into poverty, and Emilio, at age seventeen, found it necessary to look for some way to make his own living. At his mother’s suggestion, and with financial help from a wealthy family named Goli, he entered a normal school located in the town where the Rattis resided. The young man felt a real call to the teaching profession; the love and sympathy he felt for his young brothers and sisters had given him an interest in the welfare and training of small children.

His mother’s death came on the day Emilio learned of his appointment to the normal school. As a result, he spent his first months there in relative solitude, reading and studying during the hours when he was not required to be in classes. His only friends were his roommates. One was Carlo Lerica, a thirty-year-old former corporal of grenadiers who had left the army to go into elementary teaching. The other was a quiet, compromising chap in his mid-twenties, Giovanni Labaccio. His only other friend was Professor Megari. Emilio believed that the professor had a genuine liking for him, even though he did not let it show among the other students.

When Emilio finished his course at the normal school, the professor admitted his sympathy for the young man and showed him a note written by Emilio’s mother on her deathbed, a note asking this faculty member to do what he could for her son. Professor Megari, thinking that the letter might inspire Emilio in his career, gave the letter to him.

Emilio’s first post was at an elementary school in Garasco, not far from the city of Turin, in the northern part of Italy. There the new teacher spent his first professional year, a year not without its tribulations. He inadvertently made an enemy of the local priest’s cook, a spiteful woman who did everything she could to harm his reputation with the parents of his pupils and with the local authorities, mostly because he refused to bow to her in the street. During that first year Emilio tried to keep discipline and order in his room and motivate his students by kindness and affection for them. He learned, however, that the rather brutal peasant youngsters took his attitude for weakness and disliked him for being so easygoing. At the annual inspection the school inspector for the province advised Emilio to keep his affection for his pupils but not to let it show, lest they continue to take advantage of him. Emilio was leaving Garasco at the end of the year, his position being only a temporary one, and he resolved to change his methods when he changed his location.

The following year Emilio taught at Piazzena, a small village on the plains. Inadvertently, he found himself regarded in the area as a member of the opposition to the political group in office, largely because he had secured his position through an influential gentleman of the neighborhood. The first year in Piazzena went by without any...

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