Authors: Tommaso Landolfi

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Italian short-story writer, novelist, playwright, and poet

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Dialogo dei massimi sistemi, 1937

Il Mar delle Blatte, 1939

La spada, 1942

Le due zittelle, 1946 (The Two Old Maids, 1963)

Cancroregina, 1950 (Cancerqueen, 1971)

Ombre, 1954

Se non la realtà, 1960

Racconti, 1961

In società, 1962

Gogol’s Wife and Other Stories, 1963

Tre racconti, 1964

Racconti impossibili, 1966

Cancerqueen and Other Stories, 1971

Le labrene, 1974

A caso, 1975

Landolfi: Le più belle pagine, 1982 (partially translated in Words in Commotion and Other Stories, 1986)

Long Fiction:

La pietra lunare, 1937

Racconto d’autunno, 1947 (An Autumn Story, 1989)

Ottavio de Saint-Vincent, 1958

Un amore del nostro tempo, 1965


Landolfo VI di Benevento, pb. 1959

Scene della vita di Cagliostro, pb. 1963

Faust ’67, pb. 1969


Viola di morte, 1972

Il tradimento, 1977


Rien va, 1958 (diary)

Un paniere di chiocciole, 1968

Gogol a Roma, 1971

Del meno, 1978


La bière du pecheur, 1953

Des mois, 1968

Opere, 1991-1992 (2 volumes)


The biographical facts pertaining to Tommaso Landolfi (lan-DAWL-fee) can be briefly stated. His life was without major incidents, and he chose to live in obscurity, away from the glare of publicity. Landolfi is known for consciously establishing barriers between himself and any would-be biographer. This jealously guarded privacy amounted to something of an obsession.{$I[AN]9810001750}{$I[A]Landolfi, Tommaso}{$I[geo]ITALY;Landolfi, Tommaso}{$I[tim]1908;Landolfi, Tommaso}

He was born in Pico (in the province of Frosinone) in 1908. His mother died in his second year; as a young adolescent, he was sent away to boarding school. He later attended the University of Florence, from which he was graduated having specialized in Russian literature. He spent most of the 1930’s in Florence, participating in the literary activities of the time, publishing his early fiction. On the eve of World War II, he was arrested and spent some time in prison for activities deemed inappropriate by the regime. Landolfi’s political demeanor, however, took the form of a rather generic anti-Fascism rather than that of an overt militancy. During the war, he lived with his father in his ancestral home in Pico, which at different times during the war was occupied both by German forces and by Moroccan troops of the Free French Army. Landolfi married later in life, fathered two children, and devoted himself to literature. He divided the years after the war between Pico and Rome, where he died in 1979.

Landolfi was a unique and eccentric writer who fits into no obvious category of Italian literature, past or present. Italian fiction in the twentieth century follows the tradition laid down by the nineteenth century masters Alessandro Manzoni and Giovanni Verga, both of whom dealt directly with the historical forces at work on human society and who emphasized realistic description of the social backdrop. Landolfi appears to have had no interest in dealing overtly with the historical crises of his time that had such a formative influence on his own generation (fascism and World War II). Instead, Landolfi’s cosmopolitanism is reflected in his continuous output as a translator–mainly from Russian, but also from French and German literature, which always paralleled his literary production. In the 1930’s, Landolfi was associated with the hermetic movement in Italian poetry and prose, as a part of that generation of writers who, in response to the pressures of the Fascist regime, turned in upon themselves to rediscover a poetic voice or simply to maintain private integrity, while they also looked to foreign traditions in search of stylistic and thematic mentors. In those years, Landolfi, with his degree in Russian literature, continued to reside in Florence and published his early fiction in reviews such as Letteratura and Campo di Marte. The hermetics made their anti-Fascist comments obliquely, never attacking the regime directly, but rather withdrawing from its vulgarity, militancy, and stridency.

The hermetics had attracted Landolfi most, not for their political attitude but rather for their exploration of the metaphysical, especially as expressed in the humble and the mundane. Increasingly obsessed with the spiritual and existential, Landolfi became more and more isolated during the postwar period, when the intellectual climate became intensely political, with mounting claims made on writers for commitment and partisan allegiance. He consciously neglected issues he deemed outside his own art, and an important consequence of his withdrawal from fashion was the delayed recognition of his work. His columns in the Corriere della Sera, however, earned him a wider audience, and he won repeated recognition in Italy for his achievements over a broad area of the literary landscape. To list only a few of his awards: the Premio Viarregio for fiction (1958); the Bagutta (1964) and Elba (1966) awards; the Premio D’Annunzio (1968, 1974); the Pirandello Theater Award (1968, for Faust ’67); the Premio di poesia Fiuggi (1972); and the Strega Prize for fiction (1975, for A caso).

BibliographyBrew, Claude. “The ‘Caterpillar Nature’ of Imaginative Experience: A Reading of Tommaso Landolfi’s ‘Wedding Night.’” Modern Language Notes 89 (1974): 110-115. Although focusing on one story, Brew’s attentive analysis of narrative technique, cryptic imagery, and surreal action–especially as these apply to imagined rather than literal experience–illuminates many other stories by Landolfi.Calvino, Italo. “Introduction: Precision and Chance.” Words in Commotion and Other Stories. New York: Viking, 1986. Master fantasist and personal acquaintance of Landolfi, Calvino utilizes Landolfi’s real-life obsession with gambling to identify and analyze his “rules” for the “game” (literature) between writer and reader. As described by Calvino, necessity, chance, uncertainty, and suffering are as significantly interwoven for Landolfi the man as they were for Landolfi the artist.Cancogni, Annapaola. “Confronting Phantoms.” The New York Times, November 30, 1986. A review of Words in Commotion and Other Stories. Claims that Landolfi’s stories bring us face to face with the netherworld of phantoms and fears that we often repress in the name of reality. Asserts that he is an anomaly in Italian fiction with no clear literary ancestor or descendant.Capek-Habekovic, Romana. Tommaso Landolfi’s Grotesque Images. New York: Peter Lang, 1986. Landolfi’s stories are analyzed through their grotesque imagery, which the author claims he uses to combat the toll of scientific logic and modern technology on humanity: too much perfection produces dehumanization. Excerpts in Italian; notes; thorough bibliography.Elder, Richard. “An Author Whose Mind Is Elsewhere.” Los Angeles Times, October 8, 1986. A review of Words in Commotion and Other Stories. Elder contends that the stories have a Poe-like sense of the grotesque, but that they are told with such an offhandedness that their effect is sabotaged; claims that Landolfi is an artist, but one who chooses deliberately to mar what he writes.Rosenthal, Raymond. “A Note on Landolfi.” In Cancerqueen, and Other Stories. New York: Dial Press, 1971. A short but lucid essay. Rosenthal emphasizes the creative effort both reader and author must exercise in confronting Landolfi’s works. Paradox, ambiguity, and doubt are highlighted as primary aspects of the stories, both because of the experience of reading and because of Landolfi’s own obsession with conflict and the reality of the spirit.Weales, Gerald. “Fiction Chronicle.” The Hudson Review 24, no. 4 (1971-1972): 716-730. Weales’s very short review of Cancerqueen reveals an unanticipated disappointment: “What I find at work in Landolfi is a professional story-teller, one who uses the traditional materials–loss, death, cruelty–sometimes to explore humanity in its greatest pain, at others simply to play games with the reader.”
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