APT Basilicata

APT Basilicata

Basilicata turistica

Claps Tommaso

On August 6, 1945 died Tommaso Claps, the most significant voice of the late 18th century Lucanian fiction together with Nicola Marini and Giustino Fortunato (even though the latter did not consider himself an author of fiction).

It had been indeed Giustino Fortunato to discover Tommaso Claps, and to ask him to break cover: his attention had been drawn by a few short stories which had appeared on the Lucano, a small paper published in Potenza. The author of the stories, which were set on a Lucanian background, was Ms. Maria Andreina Sordetti, who professed to be a primary school teacher. Fortunato did not believe this pretence: he could sense the touch of a subtle and learned hand. He asked the anonymous author to reveal himself. It turned out that it was Tommaso Claps, born in Avigliano on July 1871. He was an erudite magistrate and a law scholar, with a brilliant university career ahead of him which he had had to renounce to meet the needs of his poor family: his studies had been possible thanks to one of his uncles, a priest who was the director of the Ospizio della Pace in Avigliano, who took his studies on himself.

Tommaso Claps graduated in Law, even though his was a marked disposition for humanities. His first teacher had been Emanuele Gianturco. As a very young man, he had won a competition for the professorship in civil law at Camerino University, which he had to renounce for the aforementioned reasons. He practised the profession of magistrate in Potenza, whence he moved because of the bombings. He retired to Avigliano, his hometown, where he died in poverty but respected by everyone.

Claps had published many articles on law magazines under the assumed name of Dottor Volgare [Doctor Vulgar], maybe after an expression which was typical of Giovanni Battista De Luca, a 17th century Lucanian jurist born in Venosa. His law essays were published in volume, Studi giuridici, but he deserves a place in Lucanian literature because of his collection of short stories A pie’ del Carmine – Bozzetti e novelle basilicatesi, Roma-Torino, Roux e Viarengo, 1906.

In the introduction, Claps tells us about his interest in literature, dating it back to his youth, when he particularly appreciated Verga. From Verga he derived his poetics, that is to say the attention to the social tragedy of the southern common people and the desire to portray that world objectively, the need for a narrative technique free from its creator. Verga, to his good fortune, betrayed his poetics, achieving a friendly and warm narrative. Claps, on the contrary, held to his ideas, and stuck with the language of reality, the use of dialect, and the dark colours which made him more similar, aside from some ironic passages, to Luigi Capuano, Matilde Serao, and Grazia Deledda than to his master. We sometimes hear an echo of Dannunzio’s Novelle della Pescara in his hot, oppressive, tragic, and sometimes grotesque landscape.

The section entitled Gesta brigantesche has a lighter tone, is more disposed to warm and vivid description, perhaps because of its narrator, Aunt Rossa, an ordinary old woman who, having lived the brigandage years, recounts those events to the women in the neighbourhood, whose genuine and plain mentality she tries to conform to. As far as ideology is concerned, the work is interesting in that Aunt Rossa condemns brigandage. Of course she was Claps’ mouthpiece: his father had fought brigandage in the years between 1861 and 1865.

Ultimately, notwithstanding his literary shortcomings, which make it impossible to compare Claps to Verga, his works stand out not only for its great historical value, but also for the total participation to the tragedy of poverty and misery which took place in “his” region between the 19th and the 20th centuries, with desolate references to the mass migration which depopulated towns and countryside, and disintegrated thousands of Lucanian families. It is this spiritual and moral participation to the drama of his land which makes his pages alive and vibrating, noble and respectable even today, a hundred years later. Claps is a writer which deserves a place in the history of national literature, if only among the “lesser” authors of Italian realism, which they are not, because the “lesser” knew how to preserve the dignity they derived from their sincere participation to the political, social, and civil events of a scattered people, which still had no name.

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