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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

    

Love and Gymnastics

by
Edmondo De Amicis


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Love and Gymnastics



Title: Love and Gymnastics
Author: Edmondo De Amicis
Genre: Novel
Written: 1892 (Eng. 2011)
Length: 152 pages
Original in: Italian
Availability: Love and Gymnastics - US
Love and Gymnastics - UK
Love and Gymnastics - Canada
Amour et gymnastique - France
Liebe und Gymnastik - Deutschland
Amore e ginnastica - Italia
Amor y gimnasia - España
  • Italian title: Amore e ginnastica
  • First published as part of the collection Fra Scuola e Casa
  • Translated and with an Introduction by David Chapman
  • With a Foreword by Italo Calvino

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Our Assessment:

A- : very well done, and good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 5/10/2011 S.W.
TLS . 5/5/1972 .


  From the Reviews:
  • "David Chapman's translation, the first into English, is clean and sprightly, and shows De Amicis as a master of the skewering one-liner which fixes a character to the page. (...) It delivers fistfuls of cruelty, but always with a smile." - S.W., The Economist

  • "All this is very funny, as is the bland, light-hearted satire of the infatuation for physical training which was sweeping Italy at the time. (...) (H)e has a real gift for accurate observation of both characters and scenes. (...) Amore e ginnastica (...) still makes for delightful reading, and one would not be surprised if it becomes as popular as Cuore." - Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Love and Gymnastics is set largely in a single house of six apartments, one of the oldest in Turin -- and one which: "suited itself well to intrigues and to the secrets of amorous passions". The time is the late nineteenth century, as a gymnastics-craze is sweeping Italy -- not competitive gymnastics, but rather as a fitness- and wellness-exercise, suitable for all to participate in; as presented here it's perhaps most comparable to the present-day yoga fad, complete with competing schools of what are the best forms of the exercise and devotees who swear by it.
       Several of the tenants of the house are very wrapped up in this gymnastics enthusiasm, with the third floor being: "all scholastic and gymnastics". It is there that Maria Pedani -- a: "tall and strong lass of twenty-seven" -- lives with Miss Zibelli, who is nearly a decade older and "the physical opposite of her friend".
       Miss Pedani is completely devoted to gymnastics -- obsessed with it: "She lived with one thought alone: gymnastics". Her life revolves entirely around it: she practices and she preaches it; she is a teacher as well as an ardent proponent of the activity and she follows all the latest news and trends; she also writes about it, to spread the word and share her expertise, including for professional journals. If not a classic beauty -- her facial expression and gait are a bit too manly, for one --, she is, thanks to her lifestyle, still quite a figure: she "was of statuesque proportions, breathed health and strength from her entire body" (and she has: "the flexibility of a ten-year-old child"). And so she of course attracts some attention, including from one of the sons of a family in the building, as well as from the landlord's nephew, employed by his uncle as secretary after he decided that the path to priesthood he had previously embarked upon wasn't quite for him after all -- though he's not allowed to forget it, as: "all the tenants of the house had for years called him 'Reverend' Celzani in jest".
       It is Celzani's passion for Miss Pedani that dominates the story. As is perhaps to be expected from a priest-manqué, he is not just not a ladies' man -- he really doesn't even know how to approach one, and so his is fumbling actions around Miss Pedani are a source of much of the comedy in the novel. He might only be: "a few years past his thirtieth birthday, but he had the bearing and behaviour of a man of fifty". But it isn't only his bearing and hapless approach -- which includes first making his feelings known by sending her a letter -- that hinder his hopes for romantic happiness: there's that problem that Miss Pedani doesn't even think of romance, her entire being taken up by gymnastics.
       De Amicis' tale is an enjoyable romantic and gymnastic romp. Celzani's first letter quickly makes the rounds, and many of the tenants get pulled into the affair to some extent. It doesn't develop into much of a romantic affair -- Miss Pedani makes her position clear, time and again -- but Celzani is the sort of deluded would-be lover who refuses to give up. De Amicis presents this very well, right down to Celzani's voyeurism, which sees him gaze down longingly into Miss Pedani's rooms from an attic perch, as well as how Celzani goes to pieces when his suit fails, again and again:

When she had first arrived at that house, he was wise, hard-working, calm, good, and liked by all. And everything had fallen apart from there.
       Miss Pedani doesn't even seem to think of romance, trying to explain to him: "For my occupation I need to be free; I have decided to be free". And De Amicis convincingly presents her as completely wrapped up in what is her true passion -- hilariously over the top, down to the enthusiasm with which she immerses herself in the reports coming hour by hour from a gymnastics-meet in distant Frankfurt.
       The basic story of Love and Gymnastics is a fairly familiar one, but De Amicis makes of it one that is quite the cut above the usual variation. For one, he deftly ties in Italy's enthusiasm of the day for gymnastics into the story -- "The teachers of gymnastics will become the nation's elite", one enthusiast insists --, gently, rather than harshly, mocking it; his characters are all sincere in their engagement with it (though there is the occasional exaggeration-for-purposes-of-flattery). It's this sincerity, that extends beyond gymnastics, and the true-to-life depiction of the characters' behavior and attitudes which De Amicis pulls off particularly, with his well-drawn characters and his presentation of the house, and the interaction of the tenants.
       These strong supporting characters, and their own issues and interests, work particularly well in the story, especially in relation to the in many ways oblivious-seeming Miss Pedani, whose interests are so specific and limited. So, for example, her flatmate seesaws in her intense feelings for Miss Pedani, in a relationship where it is at one point suggested: "one would assume that she was a husband rather than a friend". Similarly, the different ways Celzani is treated by the others in the house, including his uncle, as he falls apart in his failed courtship is very well-handled.
       Love and Gymnastics is a surprisingly rich work, with even the satire of the gymnastics craze of the day holding up very well. It is an accomplished novella, in all respects -- and it's very good entertainment too.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 April 2020

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Links:

Love and Gymnastics: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Italian author Edmondo De Amicis lived 1846 to 1908.

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© 2020 the complete review

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