In 1894 his father arranged his marriage to Antonietta Portulano, the daughter of a business associate, a wealthy sulfur merchant. This marriage gave him financial independence, allowing him to live in Rome and to write. He had already published an early volume of verse, Mal giocondo (1889), which paid tribute to the poetic fashions set by Giosue Carducci. This was followed by other volumes of verse, including Pasqua di Gea (1891; dedicated to Jenny Schulz-Lander, the love he had left behind in Bonn) and a translation of J.W. von Goethe's Roman Elegies (1896; Elegie romane). But his first significant works were short stories, which at first he contributed to periodicals without payment.
In 1903 a landslide shut down the sulfur mine in which his wife's and his father's capital was invested. Suddenly poor, Pirandello was forced to earn his living not only by writing but also by teaching Italian at a teacher's college in Rome. As a further result of the financial disaster, his wife developed a persecution mania, which manifested itself in a frenzied jealousy of her husband. His torment ended only with her removal to a sanatorium in 1919 (she died in 1959). It was this bitter experience that finally determined the theme of his most characteristic work, already perceptible in his early short stories--the exploration of the tightly closed world of the forever changeable human personality.
Pirandello's early narrative style stems from the verismo ("realism") of two Italian novelists of the late 19th century--Luigi Capuana and Giovanni Verga. The titles of Pirandello's early collections of short stories--Amori senza amore (1894; "Loves Without Love") and Beffe della morte e della vita (1902-03; "The Jests of Life and Death")--suggest the wry nature of his realism that is seen also in his first novels: L'esclusa (1901; The Outcast) and Il turno (1902; Eng. trans. The Merry-Go-Round of Love). Success came with his third novel, often acclaimed as his best, Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904; The Late Mattia Pascal). Although the theme is not typically "Pirandellian," since the obstacles confronting its hero result from external circumstances, it already shows the acute psychological observation that was later to be directed toward the exploration of his characters' subconscious.
Pirandello's understanding of psychology was sharpened by reading such works as Les alterations de la personnalite (1892), by the French experimental psychologist Alfred Binet; and traces of its influence can be seen in the long essay L'umorismo (1908; On Humor), in which he examines the principles of his art. Common to both books is the theory of the subconscious personality, which postulates that what a person knows, or thinks he knows, is the least part of what he is. Pirandello had begun to focus his writing on the themes of psychology even before he knew of the work of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. The psychological themes used by Pirandello found their most complete expression in the volumes of short stories La trappola (1915; "The Trap") and E domani, lunedi . . . (1917; "And Tomorrow, Monday . . . "), and in such individual stories as "Una voce," "Pena di vivere cosi," and "Con altri occhi."
Meanwhile, he had been writing other novels, notably I vecchi e i giovani (1913; The Old and The Young) and Uno, nessuno e centomila (1925-26; One, None, and a Hundred Thousand). Both are more typical than Il fu Mattia Pascal. The first, a historical novel reflecting the Sicily of the end of the 19th century and the general bitterness at the loss of the ideals of the Risorgimento (the movement that led to the unification of Italy), suffers from Pirandello's tendency to "discompose" rather than to "compose" (to use his own terms, in L'umorismo), so that individual episodes stand out at the expense of the work as a whole. Uno, nessuno e centomila, however, is at once the most original and the most typical of his novels. It is a surrealistic description of the consequences of the hero's discovery that his wife (and others) see him with quite different eyes than he does himself. Its exploration of the reality of personality is of a type better known from his plays.
Pirandello wrote over 50 plays. He had first turned to the theatre in 1898 with L'epilogo, but the accidents that prevented its production until 1910 (when it was retitled La morsa) kept him from other than sporadic attempts at drama until the success of Cosi e (se vi pare) in 1917. This delay may have been fortunate for the development of his dramatic powers. L'epilogo does not greatly differ from other drama of its period, but Cosi e (se vi pare) began the series of plays that were to make him world famous in the 1920s. Its title can be translated as Right You Are (If You Think You Are). A demonstration, in dramatic terms, of the relativity of truth, and a rejection of the idea of any objective reality not at the mercy of individual vision, it anticipates Pirandello's two great plays, Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Enrico IV (1922; Henry IV). Six Characters is the most arresting presentation of the typical Pirandellian contrast between art, which is unchanging, and life, which is an inconstant flux. Characters that have been rejected by their author materialize on stage, throbbing with a more intense vitality than the real actors, who, inevitably, distort their drama as they attempt its presentation. And in Henry IV the theme is madness, which lies just under the skin of ordinary life and is, perhaps, superior to ordinary life in its construction of a satisfying reality. The play finds dramatic strength in its hero's choice of retirement into unreality in preference to life in the uncertain world.
The production of Six Characters in Paris in 1923 made Pirandello widely known, and his work became one of the central influences on the French theatre. French drama from the existentialistic pessimism of Jean Anouilh and Jean-Paul Sartre to the absurdist comedy of Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beckett is tinged with "Pirandellianism." His influence can also be detected in the drama of other countries, even in the religious verse dramas of T.S. Eliot.
In 1920 Pirandello said of his own art:
The universal acclaim that followed Six Characters and Henry IV sent Pirandello touring the world (1925-27) with his own company, the Teatro d'Arte in Rome. It also emboldened him to disfigure some of his later plays (e.g., Ciascuno a suo modo ) by calling attention to himself, just as in some of the later short stories it is the surrealistic and fantastic elements that are accentuated.
After the dissolution, because of financial losses, of the Teatro d'Arte in 1928, Pirandello spent his remaining years in frequent and extensive travel. In his will he requested that there should be no public ceremony marking his death--only "a hearse of the poor, the horse and the coachman."
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