History and views of the future, in “Les misérables” illustrated by Mateldi

Filiberto Mateldi I Miserabili

"Il signor Madeleine salva Fauchelevent"

The Roman painter, illustrator and set designer Filiberto Mateldi (1885-1942) illustrated fourteen books in the hit series “La Scala d’oro”, that publishing house Utet had created ad hoc for children aged six-to-thirteen.

In 1934 Mateldi was commissioned “Les Misérables”, Victor Hugo’s masterpiece set in France after the Revolution, between 1815 and 1833. Jean Valjean, Bishop Myriel, Cosette and her mother Fantine, inspector Javert… Hugo’s wonderful characters paint the strokes of an incredible picture, portraying twenty years of life in Paris.

The young readers edition of the novel for the Italian market was edited in the 1930s by Riccardo Balsamo Crivelli (1874-1938), a poet appreciated by Croce yet looked over by most authors and critics of his time due to his dislike – at times peaking into despise – for modernity. He was enamored with 14th and 15th-century literature, and refused to read or study anything beyond that period; he opposed technical progress to the point he chose to walk everywhere, just to avoid using cars or trains.

How ironic that in his work he would stumble upon Hugo’s progressive statement, “There is no backward flow of ideas more than of rivers. But let those who desire not the future, think of it. In saying no to progress, it is not the future which they condemn, but themselves […] There is but one way of refusing tomorrow, that is to die.”

June 18, 2014