Carlo Collodi Critical Essays

Introduction

Carlo Collodi 1826 1890

(Pseudonym of Carlo Lorenzini) Italian author of fiction and nonfiction, journalist, children's author, critic, editor, and translator.

Collodi created Pinocchio, hero of perhaps the best-known puppet story ever written. The subject of a two-year long centennial celebration in Italy during the early 1980s, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (1883; The Adventures of Pinocchio) has continued to fascinate children and adults with its amusing portrayal of childhood. Historically, The Adventures of Pinocchio marked a turning point away from overt didacticism in Italian children's literature toward the use of comedy and minimal adult intrusion. Since then, it has received a great deal of critical attention; whether seen as folklore, fantasy, or allegory, it is decidedly a classic of children's literature.

Biographical Information

Collodi was born Carlo Lorenzini in 1826 in Florence, Italy, where his father was a cook and his mother was a maid. Biographers have noted that, as a child, Collodi displayed many of the characteristics he later gave to Pinocchio: impudence, mischievousness, and curiosity. At an early age, Collodi was sent to a seminary, though at age sixteen, deciding against an ecclesiastical career, he abandoned his studies. A few years later, in the mid-1840s, he immersed himself in journalism, where he championed liberal causes and founded two journals dealing with political satire and the dramatic arts. He also wrote numerous books for adults on a variety of technical and literary subjects. After serving for a second time as a volunteer in the Italian war against Austria, he became a government official and inaugurated several educational reforms. He also continued his literary efforts, translating various French fairy tales into Italian—including several by Charles Perrault—in the late 1870s, and developing several textbooks that espoused his theory of making education entertaining. These works, together with his later stories for children, were available only in Italy, and have long since been out of print; only Pinocchio survives. In 1881, the editor of a new children's magazine invited Collodi, then a fifty-five-year-old bachelor, to submit a story. Collodi did so, adding a note: "I send you this childishness to do with as you see fit. But if you print it, pay me well so that I have a good reason to continue with it." The first adventure of Pinocchio met with much success, and thereafter Collodi sent in chapters sporadically. After thirty-five episodes had appeared, Pinocchio was published in book form in 1883. Seven years later Collodi died suddenly in Florence, never realizing the international appeal that his story would have.

Major Works

Collodi first achieved literary recognition as a journalist, writing satires, sketches, and dramatic criticism that displayed a sharp wit and a talent for scene-writing and dialogue. In his essays he also expressed an interest in translating literary texts, and in 1876 published I Racconti delle fate, a collection of his translations of French fairy tales. These translations were readily received, and he followed by writing his own stories for children, many featuring the characters of "Tiny Morsel" and "Little Joe." Though these tales were popular among contemporary readers, they have largely been forgotten, overshadowed by the character of Pinocchio. The 1883 publication of The Adventures of Pinocchio was an immense success, selling more than one million copies in Italy. Collodi saw little wealth from the sales, however, receiving only a few thousand liras in payment. A blend of fantasy and reality that impresses upon its readers the values of school, honest work, and upright companions, Pinocchio is the story of a marionette who becomes a boy. Carved by Gepetto from a piece of lumber, Pinocchio comes to life—although he is still a wooden puppet—and Gepetto adopts him as his son. Though Pinocchio promises to be good, he runs away in search of adventure, escaping near-deaths by drowning, hanging, and by fire. Near the end of the story he is reunited with Gepetto and is finally transformed into a real boy. Children have continued to identify with Pinocchio's love for adventure and dislike of school, and they applaud the book's simple justice: every time the puppet lies, his nose grows longer. Without undue moralizing, Collodi succeeded in pointing out that disobedience and pleasure-seeking lead to evil and unhappiness. Though Pinocchio has since become an international favorite in children's literature, none of Collodi's other works has ever achieved popularity in countries other than his native one.

Critical Reception

Critics see Pinocchio as a story rich in imagination and symbolism. They find Collodi interweaving his classical education with peasant folklore by combining mythological, psychological, and religious elements with Tuscan speech and storytelling patterns. Other commentators, such as M. L. Rosenthal (1989), read the book as a social and political allegory, pointing out Collodi's depictions of the disparities between the poor and the wealthy, his emphasis on the working class, and his parodies of the justice system. Still other critics see the book as Collodi's attempt to recover his lost childhood, or as his portrayal of a search of children for parents or of parents for children. Pointing out the numerous adaptations of the Pinocchio story throughout the years, Richard Wunderlich (1992) in particular has concentrated on how these alterations to the original text have been shaped by cultural and social forces, including prevalent educational and child-rearing philosophies. In a negative vein, some reviewers contend that Pinocchio consists merely of a weak string of escapades devised by Collodi to write a winning serial and reap financial gain. Few would quarrel with the book's enduring qualities, however, and most would agree with Benedetto Croce: "The wood out of which Pinocchio is carved is humanity itself."