Palazzeschi, Aldo 1885–1974
Palazzeschi was an Italian poet and novelist. Originally allied with the futurist school, Palazzeschi broke with this group early in his career and established himself as a unique and strongly individual artist. He is best known for his novel The Sisters Materassi, which reveals Palazzeschi's fine sense of humor and traditional prose style. He received the Feltrinelli dei Lincei Accademi, Italy's highest literary award, in 1957. (See also Contemporary Authors, obituary, Vols. 53-56.)
It takes Palazzeschi a long time to tell this simple story [The Sisters Materassi], for his subsidiary interests are varied, and he is often sidetracked by complex metaphor and simile. These stylistic tangents are worth his time and reader's, and they enrich a novel already full of interest. But his primary concern is with character, both dominant and recessive. Like Proust he submits good to evil and microscopically examines the results. And like Proust again, the struggle between the two is unevenly weighted because eccentricities of character and personality outbalance the strength of moral decision….
One is rather impressed by [Palazzeschi's] entire objectivity. The Materassis and their beautiful, evil nephew are, like the Guermantes, specimens worthy of exact and loving investigation and display, and, in their way, they are as fascinating and worthwhile to the reader.
Doris Grumbach, "The Squander of Innocence," in Commonweal (copyright © 1953 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), July 31, 1953, p. 425.
After a long descriptive introduction that even Sir Walter Scott might have found a bit leisurely, The Sisters Materassi is a brillant examination of … the symbiosis of emotional relationships….
The moral insight in Mr. Palazzeschi's book does not result from the fact that he writes of a society rich in moral insight. His stodgy, unintrospective, provincial characters are moral enough …; but they would never understand the compassionate, sophisticated, humorous breadth of view he brings to bear upon their situation. The Sisters Materassi derives its stature from its author, as, in the end, all novels must. (p. xvi)
Paul Pickrel, in The Yale Review (© 1953 by Yale University; reprinted by permission of the editors), Autumn, 1953.
[The Sisters Materassi] is leisurely in a pleasantly old-fashioned way…. It lingers throughout on the details of the dailiest kind of life and out of them creates an entire little world, all wonderfully alive, for Signor Palazzeschi knows exactly what he is about and is sure of his power. This long-drawn-out and unclimactic account of the fatuities of the Materassis, lingerie makers to wealthy Florentines, and of their selfish and selfless devotion to a worthless object, their beautiful, captivating, and amoral nephew, is reminiscent of the novels of Italo Svevo. But with a difference. The buffoonery of a Zeno, the folly of an Emilio Brentani destroy them spiritually. Signor Palazzeschi, though he never loses sight of the spiritual and moral idiocy which animates the self-sacrifice of his victims, sees their folly as conferring on them a perverse minor triumph. Their entirely material and curiously sexual passion for Remo reaps for them the spiritual benefit of being able to continue life on some level meaningful to them when money and the object of passion are gone. In this sense, and as a study of the material destruction of those ripe for destruction the novel is first-rate.
Technically it is remarkable for the way in which, on occasion, the careful realism is deliberately violated by the introduction of passages of grotesquerie which point up in comic horror the monstrousness of the victor and his victims. (pp. 712, 714)
The portrait of Remo, the temperate and calculating prodigal, is superb…. It is possible to construe him, given the date of The Sisters Materassi, as a sly parable on Fascist youth, though on its surface the novel is set in a political vacuum into which nothing penetrates but the immediate material concerns of the characters. His existence is all Kraft durch Freude, and although his important affiliations are with motorcars, in his radiant and meaningless beauty he reminds one of a figure on a party poster. (p. 714)
Ernest Jones, in Partisan Review (copyright © 1953 by Partisan Review, Inc.), November-December, 1953.
Thomas G. Bergin
[Il codice di Perelà (1911) is one of Palazzeschi's] earliest books and his first great success. Perhaps there are technically "better" novels in the canon—there are certainly some of more robust fiber (how could it be otherwise when the protagonist of this ambiguous allegory is made of smoke?)—but it seems to me that this quasi-Pirandellian exercise in wistful mischief can tell us as much as any other about the author's talents, attitudes, and direction. Perelà, it will be remembered, born of a fireplace with three attendant mothers, enjoys—if that is the word—a brief and educational sojourn in our world of flesh and blood. At first all goes well: ladies court him and politicians exalt him, deeming his silence oracular. But then comes the reversal of fortune and Perelà, still all but wordless and of course blameless, is vilified, condemned, and eventually compelled to vanish into insubstantial ether. Had the book appeared thirty years later all critics worth their salt would have recognized in Perelà an authentic Christ figure. And so we might still consider him were it not for the author's manner, as airy as the substance of the vaporous transient who, for all the smoky light he may shed on human mores, keeps reminding us that he is "molto leggero." It is all very "buffo" and if there are dark shadows in the corners, well, we don't have to look. (pp. 56, 58)
If Perelà is, at least in appearance, as light and feathery as the smoke-man himself, the same cannot be said of Sorelle Materassi, a robust structure of good nineteenth century dimensions and an all but Manzonian style to adorn it. It remains, after forty years, the author's best known book and most critics would agree that this is as it should be. The novel may be seen as a story of involuntary involvement and its price, or as a triumph, however sad, of wayward heart over calculating head, or even, as has been suggested, as an allegory of the conflict between nineteenth century order and twentieth century emancipation. Seeing the smug and severe sisters betrayed by instincts they do not know they possess and exploited by selfish yet somehow irresistible youth, one can only say that the novel is as searching a study of the perverse pathos of life as any Italian novelist has given us….
[Stampe dell' ottocento recalls] the sights and characters of the author's childhood [and] is the kind of book that Italian men of letters like to write and write very well. It might be compared to Cicognani's L'età favolosa or some of the early chapters of Parini's L'uomo finito or, leaving Tuscany, Zuccoli's L'occhio del fanciullo. But if the genre is traditional, Stampe has its own distinctive flavor; it is not as aggressively intellectual as Papini's...
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