Thomas G. Bergin

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1152

[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)

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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 recollections nor as programmatically nostalgic as Cicognani's. Nostalgia there is, but it is underplayed, all but patronized. Nor is it the work of a "solipsist"; little Aldo is inevitably at the center but the focus is rather on the "cose viste."… (p. 58)

Within this triangle of fantasy, realism, and reminiscence the remaining works find their place…. Roma (1953) is, ostensibly at least, a novel of the old-fashioned sort, presenting sympathetically a noble old Roman family at grips with today's world. There is a whiff of D'Annunzio in this somewhat baroque saga and, coming out as it did in the full tide—or rather against it—of Resistance literature, Roma found some detractors. I suspect an obliquely polemical intent here; as Palazzeschi had not been deceived by the pretensions of bourgeois society in his youth, nor seduced by the allure of Fascism in later years, so now he is not to be carried away by the new freedom but rather, with consistent low key perversity, elects to champion the old values…. The short stories (the best known collection is Il palio dei buffi, 1937) are of the same mixture; many are stories of "buffi" ("odd fellows"), some realistic to the point of pathos, others portraying Pirandellian obsessions, yet others essentially comic. Fantasy goes as far as it can in Bestie del '900 (1951), in which all the protagonists are animals (Trilussa had prepared the public for this kind of Aesopian commentary), but Palazzeschi's anthropomorphism is distinctively subtle. (p. 59)

Palazzeschi's success as a prose writer has tended to obscure his really considerable achievement in the field of poetry. As all critics have noted, he began as a crepuscolare but somehow not quite like the others of that school; he later embraced futurismo—but somehow with a difference, finally emerging to make a parte per se stesso. And if, in critical telegraphese, we may define the crepuscolari as sentimental and the futuristi as strident, we can see how, in the case of Palazzeschi, the sentimentalism is regularly seasoned by an ironic self-awareness and even a sense of fun, while on the futuristic side the pyrotechnics are moderated by a certain sens de mesure and a good ear…. The ability to suggest mysteries of haunting resonance in simple everyday things is a truly poetic secret and Palazzeschi has mastered it…. The language in which these tenuous images are set forth is simple, the rhythm frequently suggests a nursery rhyme, but in the manipulation of assonance, rhyme, alliteration, and repetition one sees the hand of a master. (pp. 59-60)

Palazzeschi is a writer who, even with the evidence of sixty-odd years of literary activity open for our inspection, remains difficult to pigeon-hole. As a novelist he seems to have no particular motivation—social, political or philosophical. He is no reformer, no doctrinaire moralist—and no hedonist either. He does not attempt to excite us with the spectacular nor titillate us with the scabrous; even his personaggi are of no great stature. His prose has, normally, a Manzonian stateliness—sentences may easily run to a dozen lines—which he can vary, when it suits him, with a laconic, elliptical dialogue not unlike that of Hemingway, but he clearly writes as it comes to him, without any dedication to the bello stile as such. One can only describe him as a faithful and interested observer of life, thoroughly aware of its absurdities, gifted in recording them—and always compassionately. Pancrazi noted, speaking of the odd folk that make up Il palio dei buffi, that Palazzeschi could thoroughly enjoy the eccentricities of his gallery but never permitted amusement to slip into mockery. More than most novelists, I think, he writes to please himself, and this gives his work a special quality of purity. In an insensitive man such an attitude might have led to the arid cultivation of art for art's sake…. [In Palazzeschi] a cool detachment does not stop sympathy; he scrutinizes, questions, even challenges convention without ever rejecting it. (p. 60)

Thomas G. Bergin, "The Enjoyable Horrendous World of Aldo Palazzeschi," in Books Abroad (copyright 1972 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 46, No. 1, Winter, 1972, pp. 55-60.

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