Aldo Palazzeschi Thomas G. Bergin - Essay

Thomas G. Bergin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 1152 words.)