ln July 10, 1896, the amphitheater of La Sapienza in Rome is full. Students, journalists and the curious swarm there: a woman is going to defend her PhD thesis in medicine! Before Maria Montessori takes the floor, the Minister of Public Instruction, support from the beginning, recalls her difficult journey to build a very masculine circle. The recently graduated doctor, recognized by her colleagues, from that moment on worked in contact with young mentally handicapped people and promised to improve their daily lives by offering them activities. At the same time, it feeds on the work of prominent 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. Thus she endured the troubled first half of the 20th century without failing in her beliefs, even as the fascist state tried to exploit its school system.
Inseparable from active pedagogy, the Montessori name is associated with more than 35,000 educational institutions across the five continents – including two hundred in France, as well as with a range of tools to help toddlers learn. Behind the label, however, hides a multi-hatted thinker (she was simultaneously a doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, educator, inventor, philosopher and writer) who is still largely in the shadow of her work. To make her better known, Caroline Lepeu, screenwriter and parenting guide, works with designer Jérôme Mondolini to turn the fate of this exceptional creature into a comic strip.
In more than one hundred and seventy pages, this biography in comic strip outlines the portrait of a woman full of character, wholly devoted to her research, to the children entrusted to her or with whom she meets and to a humanistic vision of education. Well documented and based on the writings of the main character, the story highlights the various struggles that animated Maria Montessori’s existence. From the barriers that prevailed in her milieu of bourgeois origin, which failed to imagine a representative of the fair sex who learns and works on an equal footing with men, to the persistent prejudices against the abilities of children, through Mussolini’s attempt to of the pedagogue, everything is connected in three chapters. A crowd of prestigious figures parades, showing how closely the Italian was connected to the advancement of her time on the issue medically, socially and psychologically. In addition, 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 continuous commitment, her motherhood, but also the sacrifices she has made to social conventions.
The subject is based on the pleasant graphics of Jérôme Mondolini. The line is realistic, quite expressive and accurately delineates the many speakers – the reader will easily recognize Freud, Picasso or Gandhi. Though a little wise, the drawing nevertheless 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 a welcome relief. With sobriety, a sepia color scheme – sometimes bluish – gives relief to the vignettes, some of which, however, remain in shades of gray. Only regret: a cover with sharp colors that makes you not really want to look at the album – a mistake!
Interesting in the subject and the person presenting it, Maria Montessori – The School of Life, in Marabout’s MARAbulles collection, deserves to be viewed. Note that the Steinkis editions will also release a comic about the famous educator in October next year.
By Mr Natali