1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Serao, Matilda
SERAO, MATILDA (1856- ), Italian novelist, was born at Patras in Greece. Her father was an Italian, a political emigrant, and her mother a Greek. She began by becoming a schoolmistress at Naples, and afterwards she described those years of laborious poverty in the preface to a book of short stories called Leggende Napolitane (1881). But attention was first attracted to her name by her Novelle, published in a paper of Rocco de Zerbi's, and later by her first novel, Fantasia (1883), which definitely established her as a writer full of feeling and analytical subtlety. She spent the years between 1880 and 1886 in Rome, where she published her next five volumes of short stories and novels, all dealing with ordinary Italian, and especially Roman, life, and distinguished by great accuracy of observation and depth of insight: Cuore Inferno (1881), Fior di Passione (1883), La Conquista di Roma (1885), La Virtu di Checchina (1884), and Piccole Anime (1883). With her husband, Epoardo Scarfoglio, she founded Il Corriere di Roma, the first Italian attempt to model a daily journal on the lines of the Parisian press. The paper was short-lived, and when it was given up Matilda Serao established herself in Naples, where she edited Il Corriere de Napoli, and in 1891 founded Il Mattino, which became the most important and most widely read daily paper of southern Italy. But the stress of a journalistic career in no way limited her literary activity; between 1890 and 1902 she produced Paese di Cuccagna, Ventre di Napoli, Addio Amore, All' Erta Sentinella, Castigo, La Ballerina, Suor Giovanna della Croce, Paese di Gesu, novels in which the character of the people is rendered with minute sensitive power and sympathetic breadth of spirit. Most of these have been translated into English.
Matilda Serao's place as a contemporary Italian novelist is one apart: she is a naturalist, but her naturalism should be understood in a much wider sense than that which is generally given to it. She is a naturalist because her books reflect life with the utmost simplicity of means, sometimes with an utter neglect of means, and at the same time she is an idealist through her high sense of the beauty and nobility which humanity can attain, and to which her writings continually aspire. All her work is truly and profoundly Italian; it is the literature of a great mass of individuals, rather than of one peculiarly accentuated individual; the joy and pain of a whole class rather than the perplexities of a unique case or type pulsates through her pages. Matilda Serao's defects are always defects of style; her want of sufficient choice of detail often clogs the movement of her narrative and mars the artistic effect of her always animated pages. Like Fogazzaro's, her speech is too often the popular speech of her particular province, in description as well as in dialogue.