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||Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)|
Italian author, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934 for his "bold and brilliant renovation of the drama and the stage." Pirandello's works include novels, hundreds of short stories, and c. 40 plays, some of which are written in Sicilian dialect. Typical for Pirandello is to show how art or illusion mixes with reality and how people see things in very different way - words are unrealiable and reality is at the same time true and false. Pirandello's tragic farces are often seen as forerunners for theatre of the absurd.
"A man will die, a writer, the instrument of creation: but what he has created will never die! And to be able to to live for ever you don't need to have extraordinary gifts or be able to do miracles. Who was Sancho Panza? Who was Prospero? But they will live for ever because – living seeds – they had the luck to find a fruitful soil, an imagination which knew how to grow them and feed them, so that they will live for ever." (from Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921)
Luigi Pirandello was born in Caos, near Girgenti, on the island of Sicily, which was to be the inspiration of his writings. "I am a child of Chaos and not only allegorically," he said in his biographical sketch; his family spent vacations at a house called Chaos. Pirandello's father, Stefano Ricci-Gramitto, who had fought with Garibaldi, owned a prosperous sulfur mine.
His childhood Pirandello spent in modest weath in Girgenti (today called Agrigento) and Palermo, surrounded by nurses and servants, and enjoying the adoration of his mother. From his teens Pirandello showed literary talents, but he first studied law. His father intended his son to become a businessman. In 1887 Pirandello entered the University of Rome, from where he was expelled for offending a Latin professor, and then transferred to the University of Bonn, Germany, receiving his doctoral degree in Roman philology in 1891. Pirandello's dissertation, written in Germany, dealt with the dialect of his native region.
After having a liaison with his cousin Linuccia, which his father did not approve, Pirandello started his career as a writer. "Blessed is he who can stop halfway and before old age comes on can marry illusion and preserve it lovingly," Pirandello wrote in 1887 in a letter of his future plans. In Rome, where he had settled with a montly allowance from his father, Pirandello translated Goethe's Roman Elegies, wrote Elegie Renane (1895), and published two collections of poetry, and a collection of short stories, Amori senza amore (1894). In 1898 he became a professor of Italian literature at a teacher's college for women, and worked there for 24 years. L'esclusa (1901) was Pirandello's first full-length novel. In the ironical story the protagonist suspects that his wife is unfaithful and takes her back after the adultery has actually occurred.
Pirandello had married in 1894 Antonietta Portulano, a fellow Sicilian and the daughter of his father's business associate. She suffered mental breakdown in 1904. When her condition steadily worsened - she became insane with a jealous paranoia - the illness deeply influenced Pirandello's writing. During World War I, both of Pirandello's sons were captured as prisoners of war. After his wife's illness got worse, Pirandello was forced to place her in 1919 in a mental institution.
When the collapse of the sulfur mines destroyed the family business, Pirandello had to turn his writing into a financially profitable activity. In 1904 Pirandello gained his first literary success with the novel Il fu Mattia Pascal. Its antihero, Mattia Pascal, is mistakenly declared dead. Offered an opportunity to start life over again, he escapes from his family. In Monte Carlo Mattia wins a fortune, but his newly found freedom turns sour and he must return to his hometown, to his past he had hoped to leave behind. "I can't really say that I'm myself," he thinks. "I don't know who I am. . . . I am the late Mattia Pascal." In the following decades the questions "who am I?" and "what is real?" became central in Pirandello's fiction. Uno, nessuno e centomila (1925-26, One, None, and Hundred-Thousand), a story about husband's descend into madness, owed more to Freud than Gogol. His despair starts when his wife comments a slight defect on his nose - it tilts to the right.
Pirandello started to write plays as early as in the 1880s, but he first considered the stage insensitive medium compared to the novel. After 1915, Pirandello concentrated on the theater and wrote until 1921 sixteen dramas. La ragione degli altri (1915) was Pirandello's first three-act play. It did not gain much understanding, but through the performances of the actor Angelo Musco (1892-1937) his work started to attract attention. His ideal female lead Pirandello found in Marta Abba, for whom he wrote several plays, among them Diana e la Tuda (1926, Diana and Tuda), L'amica delle mogli (1927, The Wives's Friend), and Come tu mi vuoi (1930, As You Desire Me). Pirandello also engaged her for his own company, the Teatro d'Arte di Roma, and formed a relationship with her, documented in Pirandello's Love Letters to Martha Abba (1994).
Cosi è (se vi pare) (Right You Are - If You Think You Are), published in 1918, marked Pirandello's interest in the examination of the relativity of truth. The story was about a woman whose identity remains hidden and who could be one of the two very different people. Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (1921, Six Chracters in Search of An Author) asked the question, can fictional characters be more authentic than real persons, and what is the relationship between imaginary characters and the writer, who has created them.
Six Characters in Search of an Author consists of roles-within-roles. In rehearsal preparations of a theatrical company are interrupted by the Father and his family who explain that they are characters from an unfinished dramatic works. They want to interpret again crucial moments of their lives, claiming that they are "truer" than the "real" characters. "How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other: but we never do," says the Father. He tells that he has helped his wife to start a new life with her lover and the three illegitimate children born to them. The Wife claims that he forced her into the arms of another man. The Stepdaughter accuses the Father for her shame – they met before in Mme Pace's infamous house, and he did not recognize her. She was forced to turn to prostitution to support the family. The Son refuses to acknowledge his family and runs into the garden. He shots himself and the actors argue about whether the boy is dead or not. The Father insists that the events are real. The Producer says: "Make-believe?! Reality?! Oh, go to hell the lot of you! Lights! Lights! Lights!" and The Stepdaughter escapes into the audience laughing maniacally.
Six Chracters in Search
of An Author created a scandal when
it was first performed in Rome, but it was hailed as a masterpiece in
Paris, innovatively produced by Georges Pitoëff. G.B. Shaw praised it
as the most original play ever. Enrio IV
(1922, Henry IV, known in the United States as The Living Mask),
premiered in Milan, received much better reception. The play told about
a man who has fallen from his horse during a masquerade and starts to
believe he is the German emperor Henry IV. To accommodate his illness
his wealthy sister has placed him in a medieval castle surrounded by
actors dressed as eleventh-century courtiers. The nameless hero regains
his sanity after twelve years, but decides to pretend he is mad. Marco
Bellocchio's screen version of the play, starring Marcello Mastroianni
in the title role, was made in Italy in 1984. Astor Piazzolla wrote and
arranged the music for the film. An excerpt from the soundtrack, the
tango Oblivion, became one of Piazzolla's most popular pieces.
With the trilogy Six Characters in Search of An Author, in which the characters of the title are called into existence by a writer, Ciascuno suo modo (1924) and Questa sera si recita soggetto (1930), Pirandello revolutionized the modern theatrical techniques. A second trilogy, La nuova colonia (1928), Lazzarro (1929), and I giganti della montagna (1934, The Mountain Giants) moved from the limits of truth-telling to the reality outside of art. The Mountain Giants was left unfinished. It portrayed a magician, who lives in an abandoned villa. A theatrical company decides to perform at a celebration given by the 'Giants of the Mountain.' The barbaric audience tears two of the actors to pieces and kills one of the directors of the company.
Pirandello once said: "I hate symbolic art in which the
presentation loses all spontaneous movement in order to become a
machine, an allegory - a vain and
misconceived effort because the very fact of giving an allegorical
sense to a presentation clearly shows that we have to do with a fable
which by itself has no truth either fantastic or direct; it was made
for the demonstration of some moral truth." (from Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. by Toby Cole, 1961) Pirandello's central themes, the problem of identity, the ambiguity of truth and reality, has been compared to explorations of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg,
but he also anticipated Beckett and Ionesco.
One of the earliest formulations of his relativist position Pirandello presented in the essay 'Art and Consciousness Today' (1893), in which he argued that the old norms have crumbled and the idea of relativity deprives "almost altogether of the faculty for judgment." A central concepts in his work is "naked mask," referring our social roles and on the stage the dialectic relationship between the actor and the character portrayed. In Six Characters the father points out, that a fictional figure has a permanence that comes from an unchanging text, but a real-life person may well be "a nobody." Pirandello did not only restrict his ideas to theatre acting, but noted in his novel Si gira (1915), that the film actor "feels as if in exile - exiled not only from the stage, but also from himself."
In 1923 Pirandello requested membership in the Fascist party and obtained Mussolini's support in founding the National Art Theatre of Rome (Teatro d'Arte di Roma). However, the company was closed in 1928 on grounds of financial problems. At first Pirandello had seen in Mussolini a man committed to the facts rather than theory, but later he described Mussolini as "a top hat, an empty top hat that by itself cannot stand upright." (Pirandello and the Crisis of Modern Consciousness by Anthony Francis Caputi, 1988, p. 147) Gian Francesco Malipiero's opera La favola del figlio cambiato (The Fable of the Changeling Son), for which Pirandello wrote the libretto, was performed with great success at Braunschweig, where Chancellor Hitler had attended a performance. The second production in Darmstadt was postponed for a week, according to the official explanation, due to "technical difficulties." Pirandello did not fully believe this. ('Fascist Discourse and Pirandellian Theater' by Mary Ann Frese Witt in Plays, Movies, and Critics, edited by Jody McAuliffe, 1993, p. 82) In Rome the play was booed off the stage. As an academy member, Pirandello performed official duties for the regime. Morever, he still hoped Il Duce's support for a national theater. Following the invasion of Ethiopia by Italian forces in 1935, Pirandello donated to the country all the gold he had, imcluding the medal of the Nobel Prize, as a token of his loyalty. (The Pirandello Commentaries by Eric Bentley, 1986, p. 83)
In spite of Pirandello's support of Fascism, he enjoyed wide popular acclaim. His influence can be seen on such writers as Jean Anouilh, Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, Eugene O'Neill, and Edward Albee. In Latin America, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges once acknowledged in a interview that he greatly enjoyed Pirandello's game between the actors and the audience. Both of their interest in the mystery of human identity have much in common.
dramatists and writers, including John Howard Lawson and Clifford
Odets, who visited Pirandello's suite in the Waldorf-Astoria,
New York, in 1935, were worried about his antidemocratic bias and tried
get him to disavow "imperialism, fascism, reaction, war and Italy's
intended invasion of Ethiopia." (The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten by Gerald Horne, 2006, p. 90) Much of his time Pirandello spent on working on the Treatment for Six Characters
with Saul Colin, his English language secretary, and on endless
negotiations on film deals. "They admire me too much, you undestand,"
he wrote in a letter to Marta Abba. "They hold my art in too high
esteem and fear that it can't be brought low enough for the mediocre
leved of the "mass's undestanding."" (Pirandello & Film by Nina Davinci Nichols, Jana O'Keefe Bazzoni; preface by Maurice Charney, 1995, p. 121)
If he had no engagements in the evening, he used to go to the movies.
Especially the films by Frank Capra, Ernest Lubitsch, and King Vidor
won his admiration. At Old Lyme, Connecticut, Pirandello met Albert
Einstein, who supposedly had said that he felt they were "kindred
From the end of 1932, Pirandello lived in a small apartment near family in Rome. Immediately after the Nobel prize announcement, he received about twenty offers from Hollywood. No official celebration was held in Italy. Pirandello died of pneumonia in Rome on December 10, 1936. At the time of his death, he was admired everywhere but in his home country. Pirandello's wish was that he would not be given a pompous state funeral. Several of Pirandello's works have been adapted to screen, including As You Desire Me (1932), starring Greta Garbo, L'homme de nulle part (1937), based on the novel The Late Mathias Pascal and directed by and Pierre Chenal. Kaos, directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (1984), was based on the author's four Sicilian stories.
For further reading: Pirandello's Visual Philosophy: Imagination and Thought Across Media, edited by Lisa Sarti and Michael Subialka (2017); Her Maestro's Echo: Pirandello and the Actress Who Conquered Broadway in One Evening by Pietro Frassica (2010); The Plays and Fiction of Luigi Pirandello: Selected Essays by Anne Paolucci (2009); Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello by Ann Caesar (1998); Luigi Pirandello, 1867-1936, His Plays in Sicilian by Joseph F. Privitera (1998); Luigi Pirandello: The Theatre of Paradox, ed. by Julie Dashwood (1997); Ars dramatica: Studi sulla poetica di Luigi Pirandello by Rena A. Lamparska (1997); Understanding Luigi Pirandello by Fiora A. Bassanese, James N. Hardin (1997); Pirandello & Film by Nina Davinci Nichols, Jana O'Keefe Bazzoni; preface by Maurice Charney (1995); A Companion to Pirandello Studies, ed. by John Louis Digaetani (June 1991); Moments of Selfhood by James V. Biundo (1990); The Pirandello Commentaries by Eric Bentley (1986); Luigi Pirandello by S. Bassnett-McGuire (1983); Luigi Pirandello: an Approach to his Theatre by O. Ragusa (1980); Dreams of Passion: The Theater of Luigi Pirandello by R, Oliver (1979); Introduzione alla critica pirandelliana by A. Illano (1976); Pirandello: a Biography by G. Giudice (1975); Pirandello fascista by G.F. Vené (1971); Luigi Pirandello by G. Giudice (1963); L' arte di Luigi Pirandello by F. Puglisi (1958); Playwrights on Playwrighting, ed. by Toby Cole (1961); Luigi Pirandello by L. Ferrante (1958); Luigi Pirandello by L. Baccalo (1949); L' Uomo segreto by F.V. Nardelli (1944); L'opera di Luigi Pirandello by M. Lo Vecchio Musti (1939) - Suomeksi Pirandellolta on käännetty useita näytelmiä ja esseekokoelma Uusi teatteri ja vanha teatteri (1934).