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To Obey is not a Job

  Obbedire non è un mestiere  DCM-005
04 May 2024

Once upon a time there were the servant girls. Girls of eleven, twelve years old who went into service and were available all day long (there were no contracts, paid breaks, working hours) for wealthy families. In exchange, they received a bit of food and a wage - low, very low - which they sent to their families. Vichi De Marchi in “Chiamami Giulietta” [Call Me Juliet] (Feltrinelli) tells the story of one of them. Her name is Maria, she lives in a village in the Veneto region, and one day her mother tells her: “Go and learn the job of obeying the masters” .Because that’s what the little woman must know how to do. Obey. Always and in every circumstance.

Maria is not a rebel. She is obedient, poor, modest. She understands the needs of the family. She even shows understanding for a mother so tough, shaped by need and poverty. But, even though she submits, obeys, she does not intend to give up herself. She wants to work, but not to serve. She accepts the harshness of her job, not the compromises that would deface her. She also wants a bit of happiness for herself.

The job of always obeying, in any circumstance and to anyone, that’s just not something she wants to learn. That’s why, after a bad experience in a greedy and authoritarian Roman family, she returns to Milan and then to her hometown. Back home again.

Now she is more mature and more aware, and when she finds friends involved in the Resistance, she decides to participate. She will change her name and become Juliet.

 “It’s a novel”, explained Vichi De Marchi, “for teenagers and preteens that I wrote inspired by true stories of young servant girls who lived during the Second World War in Italy. The story is set in Veneto, a region that appears in my books because it’s where I was born and where poverty - in this case, of the mountains - was quickly forgotten”. “I am naturally drawn,” she added, “to female lives that rebel, and I enjoy giving them a voice, imagining for them a path that derails, that takes them far from their assigned destiny. I invent part of that path, and part of it truly existed”.

The writer, who has already narrated to young people tough and important themes such as emigration, wars, atomic energy, science, and terrorism, speaks of Maria with a light and delicate touch. Serious, but not dramatic.

“Call Me Juliet” is a book for the younger audience. For those who are no longer young, it has the bittersweet taste of a past still close. For women, it represents an emancipation that in Italy began when Maria became Juliet.