A.J. Cronin (1896–1974) was a doctor by training. He practiced medicine in Wales and in London. It was while recovering from a breakdown in health that he wrote his first novel Hatter’s Castel. It was a huge success. Cronin gave up practicing medicine and took to writing as a career. He wrote a number, of novels and short stories, among his best–known novels are the ‘Citadel’, ‘The key of the Kingdom’, and ‘The Spanish Gardener’. Some of his novels have been made into successful films. The title of the
story is that of one of the early plays of Shakespeare. The story recounts the hard life chosen by two young boys so that they could pay for the treatment of their sister afflicted with tuberculosis. The boys’
sacrifice, sincerity and devotion to the cause and the maturity they display in their actions gives a new hope for humanity.
Nicola and Jacopo work very hard to keep their sister well and cured from tuberculosis of the spine. The war has orphaned them and they are doing their best to keep the family together. They show a lot of love and devotion for each other. They were true gentlemen as they were selfless.
1) The narrator realizes why Nicola and Jacopo work so hard. Yet he does not go in to meet their sister nor does he speak to them about what he learns from the nurse. Working in groups, discuss the following aspects of the story and share your views with the class.
a) The love and devotion, and the family values Nicola and Jacopo display.
Ans: Nicola and Jacopo work very hard to keep their sister well and cured from tuberculosis of the spine. The war has orphaned them and they are doing their best to keep the family together.
They show a lot of love and devotion for each other. They were true gentlemen as they were selfless and did not disclose their family secrets.
b) Their pride in themselves and their family.
Ans: They are impoverished by war yet their spirit is not broken. They have been separated from their only sister who is older to them but who is almost on death bed. Yet they stay together and keep in touch with her in the hospital thus exhibiting family pride and loyalty. They do not discuss her with anyone.
c) The trust they place in the narrator.
Ans: They take a liking to the narrator and are of an immense help to him. He pays them well for all their timely services rendered to him and so they are very eager to help him. Gradually they trust him and even allow him to drive them to the villa; where they visit their invalid sister.
d) The reason the narrator does not disclose to them that he knows their secret.
Ans: The narrator is very touched by the scene at the hospital He does not want the little boys to know that he has followed them into the villa (hospital), he stood outside and watched carefully the beautiful family scene in the cubicle. He saw the two boys sitting with their sick sister who was propped up in bed and who was very pleased by their chatter. As the boys did not want him to enter the villa in the first place he did not disclose to them what he saw there. It was their secret, and he liked to keep it that way.
2) What do you understand by the following statements:
a) “We do many things, sir,” Nicola answered seriously. He glanced at us hopefully.
Ans: Nicola told the two gentlemen that they were doing any odd jobs that came their way in order to earn their living.
b) He coloured deeply under his sunburn, then grew pale.
Ans: This statement means that he was very embarrassed when he was asked what he did with the money he earned by doing so many jobs. He did not spend any money on his food nor on his clothes.
c) He smiled uncomfortably. “Just plans, sir,” he answered in a low voice.
Ans: When the author asked him if he saved his money in order to migrate to America he simply said that even if he liked to go there he had other plans on which to spend his money. When asked
“what plans” he simply said “plans” as he was unwilling to tell the author about them.
d) Yet in both these boyish faces there was a seriousness which was far beyond their years.
Ans: These two boys were young Jacopo who was as lively as a squirrel and Nicola whose smile was very steady and engaging yet these two boys had a seriousness which was far beyond their years as they had a heavy burden of responsibility to bear – that of their sick sister afflicted by tuberculosis of the spine. They were working hard to pay for her treatment.
3) Answer the following questions briefly:
a) Why didn’t Luigi, the driver, approve of the two boys?
Ans: The two boys were very shabbily dressed and they were selling wild strawberries. Their hair was entangled, their skin was dirty and dark brown and their clothes hung loosely on their skinny bodies. Hence Luigi disapproved of them.
b) Why were the narrator and his companion impressed by the two boys?
Ans: The narrator and his companion were impressed by the two boys because despite their young age, their ragged looks, and their skinny frames they were cheerful, hardworking and very knowledgeable about the area in which they lived. They were ready to do any odd jobs to pay for their living.
c) Why was the author surprised to see Nicola and Jacopo working as shoeshine boys?
Ans: The author was surprised to see Nicola and Jacopa working as shoe–shine boys because the author was under the impression that they picked fruit for a living. The author did not know that they performed successfully any task available.
6) Two Gentlemen of Verona is written in the first person. A story written in the first person is a first–hand account of events told or narrated through the eyes of a single character, typically the main character. Stories written in the first person are easily identified by the use of the pronoun ‘I’ rather than ‘he or she’.
The reader will see phrases such as “I said, I thought,” rather than “he said, she thought,”
Everything is experienced through the eyes of a single character, and all thoughts and
observations are limited to that one person. There can be no outside observer. If the
narrator does not see or experience an event first–hand, it cannot be a part of the story.
All scenes in the story are filtered through this person’s unique perception.
The third–person is a narrative mode in which both the reader and author observe the
situation either through the senses and thoughts of more than one character, or through
an overarching godlike perspective that sees and knows everything that happens and
everything the characters are thinking. In this mode of narration, the narrator can tell the reader things that the main character does not know.
Rewrite any part of the story you like in the third person.
Ans: The two boys reaching the villa entered a cubicle which was part of a hospital. A nurse took us to that cubicle and we saw the two boys sitting beside a girl of about twenty two. She was propped up on a pillow and was wearing a pretty lace jacket and was listening to their stories intently. She looked like her brothers; she had soft tender eyes. There were several books, a vase of wild flowers and some fruit besides her table. She was suffering from tuberculosis of the spine and the two were working hard to pay her hospital bills.
7) Write down the character sketches of the brothers Nicola and Jacopo.
Ans: In the first two meetings with the boys the narrator felt a kind of strange attraction and seriousness in them. He developed a kind of curiosity to know more about them. Strangely, he found them almost wherever he went. In his talk to them he learnt about the two boys sold fruits, hawked newspapers, shined shoes and conducted tourists round the town. They ran errands also. Due to their multiplicity of work they proved very useful for the narrator. They brought him a pack of American cigarettes, seats for the opera or the name of a good restaurant. They could be depended upon.
The narrator knew from the nurse about their family and how it was destroyed by the war. Before that they lived a comfortable and cultured life as their father was a well known singer. They worked themselves to the bone only to earn money for their sister’s illness. Their great devotion to duty and survival instincts coupled with capacity to endure made a mark on the reader. They proved otherwise from their appearance. The narrator now knew everything about these ‘Gentleman of Verona’ who had a moral duty towards their sister. That’s why they were called “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and we see in them a new nobility and a greater hope for human life and human society