Authors: Luigi Pirandello

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2017

Italian dramatist, fiction writer, and poet

June 28, 1867

Girgenti (now Agrigento), Sicily, Italy

December 10, 1936

Rome, Italy

Biography

Luigi Pirandello (pee-rahn-DEHL-loh), who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934, became a force in twentieth century drama by calling attention to the limitations of the school of the “well-made” play, the poetic drama, and the naturalistic drama of the nineteenth century. He offered in their stead a theater that the Italians called grottesco and that elsewhere has been called expressionistic. However named, Pirandello’s theater directs attention to the psychological reality that lies beneath social appearances and overt social action. He found inadequate the plays of Eugène Scribe and Victorien Sardou, which are cleverly contrived to excite and divert, and he rejected the overwrought and often insincere language of the poetic drama of Gabriele D’Annunzio and Sem Benelli, for he aimed at language closer to that of normal impassioned speech. Finally, he rejected not so much the subject matter of the naturalistic theater of Eugène Brieux as its assumptions: that drama is a branch of sociology. Drama, if a branch of anything, was to Pirandello a branch of psychology; it is superior to psychology in that the dramatist who investigates mental states is not bound by a theory or dogma. The dramatist’s only obligation is to be faithful to his or her insights into the particular situation that is treated.

In addition to his opposition to literary fashions, Pirandello used the conditions of his own life in his literary production, conditions that, in his many plays and almost countless stories, he tried to study and resolve. Pirandello was born to a well-to-do family in Girgenti, Sicily, which at that time was a backward and violent region of Italy. Pirandello was early impressed by the special civil and religious privileges accorded the upper classes to which he belonged.

Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936).

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Agence de presse Meurisse‏ [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Later experiences helped to underline this lesson. When he attended the University of Rome he encountered academic pedantry. After further training in Germany, Pirandello returned to Sicily and, discovering that he and his fiancé of long standing had lost interest in each other, married instead, in 1894, Antonietta Portulano, a young woman chosen by his father. For some years the couple lived comfortably in Rome, but this changed, first when Antonietta’s family lost their fortune, and then when Antonietta became mentally ill. Until her death in 1918, Pirandello kept her at home and watched over her, though her condition greatly disrupted his life and those of their three children. During these years Pirandello taught in a teachers’ college and continued to write and publish.

Pirandello became internationally recognized as a result of his play Six Characters in Search of an Author, which was first produced in 1921. As early as 1904, in his novel The Late Mattia Pascal, Pirandello had called attention to the gap between what individuals are and what they must seem to be if they are to live in conformity with their social role. Six Characters in Search of an Author makes a similar contrast between the conventional bonds that hold persons together and the real bonds of passion and injury that connect one person with another. As You Desire Me presents an amnesia victim whose sense of identity depends not on her self-knowledge but on whether a man—possibly her former husband—believes that she is the person she claims to be. Henry IV poses another difficult problem, typical of Pirandello and closely related to his personal tragedy: What the word “sanity” means, and whether sanity is what is possessed by the “normal” majority or by persons endowed with a peculiar insight.

Pirandello was an asker of questions. He questioned the wisdom of taking sense impressions, surface appearances, and sanity for granted. In this respect he resembles many other twentieth century writers. Pirandello’s influence has been considerable, especially in his own country, where more recent Italian writers like Ugo Betti and Diego Fabbri have imitated his technique and have continued his merciless and exhaustive scrutiny of human motives and actions.

Author Works Drama: La morsa, pb. as L’epilogo, 1898, pr. 1910 (The Vise, 1928) Scamandro, pb. 1909 Lumìe di Sicilia, pr. 1910 (Sicilian Limes, 1921) Il dovere del medico, pb. 1912 (The Doctor’s Duty, 1928) Se non così . . . , pr. 1915 All’uscita, pr. 1916 (At the Gate, 1928) Liolà, pr. 1916 (English translation, 1952) Pensaci, Giacomino!, pr. 1916 Il berretto a sonagli, pr. 1917 (Cap and Bells, 1957) Così è (se vi pare), pr. 1917 (Right You Are (If You Think So), 1922) La giara, pr. 1917 (The Jar, 1928) Il piacere dell’onestà, pr. 1917 (The Pleasure of Honesty, 1923) Il giuoco delle parti, pr. 1918 (The Rules of the Game, 1959) Ma non è una cosa seria, pr. 1918 La patente, pb. 1918 (The License, 1964) L’innesto, pr. 1919 L’uomo, la bestia, e la virtù, pr., pb. 1919 (Man, Beast, and Virtue, 1989) Come prima, meglio di prima, pr. 1920 La Signora Morli, una e due, pr. 1920 Tutto per bene, pr., pb. 1920 (All for the Best, 1960) Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore, pr., pb. 1921 (Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1922) Enrico IV, pr., pb. 1922 (Henry IV, 1923) L’imbecille, pr. 1922 (The Imbecile, 1928) Vestire gli ignudi, pr. 1922 (Naked, 1924) L’altro figlio, pr. 1923 (The House with the Column, 1928) L’uomo dal fiore in bocca, pr. 1923 (The Man with the Flower in His Mouth, 1928) La vita che ti diedi, pr. 1923 (The Life I Gave You, 1959) Ciascuno a suo modo, pr., pb. 1924 (Each in His Own Way, 1923) Sagra del Signore della nave, pb. 1924 (Our Lord of the Ship, 1928) Cecè, 1926 All'uscita; Il dovere del medico; La morsa; L'uomo dal fiore in bocca, 1926 L'imbecille, 1926 Diana e la Tuda, pr. 1926, pr., pb. 1927 (Diana and Tudo, 1950) L’amica della mogli, pr., pb. 1927 (The Wives’ Friend, 1949) Bellavita, pr. 1927 (English translation, 1964) La nuova colonia, pr., pb. 1928 (The New Colony, 1958) Lazzaro, pr., pb. 1929 (Lazarus, 1952) O di uno o di nessuno, pr., pb. 1929 Sogno (ma forse no), pb. 1929 (I’m Dreaming, But Am I?, 1964) Come tu mi vuoi, pr., pb. 1930 (As You Desire Me, 1931) Questa sera si recita a soggetto, pr., pb. 1930 (Tonight We Improvise, 1932) I giganti della montagna, act 1 pb. 1931, act 2 pb. 1934, act 3 pr. 1937 (The Mountain Giants, 1958) Trovarsi, pr., pb. 1932 (To Find Oneself, 1943) Quando si è qualcuno, pr. 1933 (When Someone Is Somebody, 1958) La favola del figlio cambiato, pr., pb. 1934 Non si sa come, pr. 1934 (No One Knows How, 1960) Naked Masks: Five Plays, pb. 1952. Long Fiction: L’esclusa, 1901 (The Outcast, 1925) Il turno, 1902 (The Merry-Go-Round of Love, 1964) Il fu Mattia Pascal, 1904 (The Late Mattia Pascal, 1923) Suo marito, 1911 (Her Husband, 2000) I vecchi e i giovani, 1913 (The Old and the Young, 1928) Si gira . . . , 1916 (Shoot! The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator, 1926) Uno nessuno, centomila, 1925 (One, None, and a Hundred Thousand, 1933) Tutti i romanzi, 1941 (collected novels). Short Fiction: Amori senza amore, 1894 Quando’ero matto . . . , 1902 Beffe della morte e della vita, 1902–1903 (2 volumes) Bianche e nere, 1904 Erma bifronte, 1906 La vita nuda, 1910 Terzetti, 1912 Le due maschere, 1914 Erba del nostro orto, 1915 La trappola, 1915 E domani, lunedì, 1917 Un cavallo nella luna, 1918 (A Horse in the Moon, and Twelve Short Stories, 1932) Berecche e la guerra, 1919 Il carnevale dei morti, 1919 Novelle per un anno, 1922–1937 (15 vols.) La rallegrata, 1922 Lo scialle nero, 1922 La mosca, 1923 In silenzio, 1923 Tutt'e tre, 1924 Dal naso al cielo, 1925 Donna Mimma, 1925 Il vecchio dio, 1926 Il viaggio, 1928 Candelora, 1928 Una gionata, 1937 Better Think Twice About It!, and Twelve Other Stories, 1933 The Naked Truth, and Eleven Other Stories, 1934 Four Tales, 1939 The Medals, and Other Stories, 1939 Short Stories, 1959 The Merry-Go-Round of Love, and Selected Stories, 1964 Selected Stories, 1964 Short Stories, 1964 Poetry: Mal giocondo, 1889 Pasqua di Gea, 1891 Pier Gudrò, 1894 Elegie renane, 1895 La Zampogna, 1901 Scamandro, 1909 (dramatic poem) Fuori de chiave, 1912 Saggi, 1939 Nonfiction: Laute und Lautentwickelung der Mundart von Girgenti, 1891 (The Sounds of the Girgenti Dialect and Their Development, 1992) Arte e scienze, 1908 L’umorismo, 1908, revised 1920 (partial translation On Humour, 1966; complete translation, 1974) Translation: Elegie romane, 1896 (translation of Johann von Goethe’s Römische Elegien) Miscellaneous: Opere, 1966. Bibliography Alessio, A., D. Pietropaolo, and G. Sanguinetti-Katz, eds. Pirandello and the Modern Theatre. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Society for Italian Studies, 1992. A selection from the proceedings of the International Conference on Pirandello and the Modern Theatre, held in Toronto in November, 1990. Includes bibliography. Bassanese, Fiora A. Understanding Luigi Pirandello. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997. An introduction to Pirandello’s work, focusing largely on his thought and the relationship of his life to his work. Biasin, Gian-Paolo, and Manuela Gieri, eds. Luigi Pirandello: Contemporary Perspectives. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1999. This collection of essays provide modern perspectives on the work of Pirandello, including his quest for truth, his use of theater-within-the-theater, and use of characters and actors on the stage. Budel, Oscar. Pirandello. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1966. Argues Pirandello’s short stories depict human entrapment in the strange and incongruous. Bloom, Harold, ed. Luigi Pirandello. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. Bloom has collected ten short selections from the best studies of Pirandello’s major thought and works. These include critical articles as well as selections and full chapters from complete works. Dante della Terza’s essay “On Pirandello’s Humorism” will be especially useful. Contains a short chronology, a bibliography, and an index. Caesar, Ann. Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello. New York: Clarendon Press, 1998. A good study focusing on Luigi Pirandello’s characters. Includes bibliographical references and an index. Cambon, Glauco, ed. Pirandello. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. This collection of twelve essays contains Adriano Tilgher’s seminal Pirandello criticism and moves on through critical views of the 1960s, a period of intense interest in Pirandello’s influence on world literature of the early twentieth century. Includes a detailed chronology and a select bibliography. Caputi, Anthony. Pirandello and the Crisis of Modern Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Caputi is concerned with Pirandello as the source of the twentieth century’s literary recognition and explication of the crisis of self-awareness. One of the few approaches to Pirandello’s thought that makes equal reference to all forms of his work, not limiting itself to his plays. Supplemented by an extensive Italian and English bibliography and an index. Dashwood, Julie, ed. Luigi Pirandello: The Theater of Paradox. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1996. This volume examines the works of Pirandello, particularly his creation of paradoxical scenes in his drama. Includes bibliography and index. DiGaetani, John Louis, ed. A Companion to Pirandello Studies. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. A comprehensive volume, twenty-seven essays on Pirandello’s biography and work, with an excellent introduction and several appendices, including production histories and an extensive bibliography. May, Frederick. Introduction to Short Stories by Luigi Pirandello. London: Oxford University Press, 1965. Argues that Pirandello’s basic fiction themes are the same as those in his plays: the nature of identity, reality and illusion, and the difficulty of communication. O’Grady, Deidre. Piave, Boito, Pirandello: From Romantic Realism to Modernism. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2000. O’Grady traces the development of Italian literature, from romantic realism to modernism, examining the works of Pirandello, Arrigo Boito, and Francesco Maria Piave, among others. Includes bibliography and index. Parilla, Catherine Arturi. A Theory for Reading Dramatic Texts: Selected Plays by Pirandello and García Lorca. New York: P. Lang, 1995. Parilla contrasts and compares Pirandello and Federico García Lorca, focusing on Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author and Henry IV and García Lorca’s Yerma (pr. 1934; English translation, 1941) and La casa de Bernarda Alba (wr. 1936; pr., pb. 1945; The House of Bernarda Alba, 1947). Radcliff-Umstead, Douglas. The Mirror of Our Anguish: A Study of Luigi Pirandello’s Narrative Writing. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978. The introductory segment on Pirandello’s philosophy of literature and its role in literary history is excellent. Of particular interest is the in-depth study of his short fiction complemented by a full treatment of his rhetorical style and themes. Extensive bibliography, index. Starkie, Walter. Luigi Pirandello. 3d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965. Starkie, a widely recognized Pirandello scholar, focuses on the author’s position as inheritor of one literary tradition and forerunner of another. He provides one of the few extended commentaries on Pirandello’s prose fiction, novels, and short stories, and does so in nontechnical style. Includes a bibliography and index. Stella, M. John. Self and Self-Compromise in the Narratives of Pirandello and Moravia. New York: P. Lang, 2000. Stella examines the concept of self in literature, comparing and contrasting the works of Pirandello and Alberto Moravia.

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