Carlo Collodi Essay - Critical Essays

Collodi, Carlo


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."

Principal Works

Macchiette ["Odd Figures in a Landscape"] Note Gaie ["Gay Notes"]

Occhi e Nasi ["Eyes and Noses"]

Divagazioni Critico-Umoristiche ["Satirical Digressions"]

Storie Allegre ["Light Stories"]

Giannettino (children's literature) 1876

I Racconti delle fate (translations of fairy tales) 1876

Minnuzolo: Il Viaggio per l'Italia de Giannettino (children's literature) ["Giannettino's Trip through Italy"]

La Geografica di Giannettino (children's literature) ["Giannettino's Geography"]

La Grammatica de Giannettino (children's literature) ["Giannettino's Grammar"]

Le Avventure di Pinocchio (children's literature) 1883

[The Story of a Puppet: or, The Adventures of Pinocchio, 1892; The Adventures of Pinocchio, 1925] Beppo: or, The Little Rose-Colored Monkey (fiction) 1907


The Bookman, London (review date 1892)

SOURCE: "The Story of a Puppet," in The Bookman, London, Vol. I, No. 1, January, 1892, p. 148.

[The following is a positive review of the first English translation of Pinocchio.]

Children are at once so independent and so conservative in their literary judgments, that we hesitate before recommending books to them that are not sanctified by custom and tradition. We think we might possibly be safe in this case, and if they would take our advice only for this once, they might spend even a merrier Christmas than otherwise, enlivened by the waggeries and the sprightly naughtiness of Pinocchio. But knowing the critical cast of their minds, we don't press the point. It is...

(The entire section is 450 words.)

The New York Times Book Review (review date 1909)

SOURCE: "A Juvenile Classic," in The New York Times Book Review, April 3, 1909, p. 192.

[In the following review, the critic examines the moral teachings of Pinocchio.]

Among the illustrious collection of illustrated books "every child should know," the Italian juvenile classic, The Marvellous Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Lorenzini, is entitled to a place; if not a first place, at least one very near the top. . . .

The story of Pinocchio is an allegory, a guide to self-control, self-government, and self-determination in children. Its concise style and picture words are well calculated to hold the attention of children....

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Carl Van Doren (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: An introduction to Pinocchio: The Adventures of a Marionette by C. Collodi, translated by Walter S. Cramp, The Heritage Press, 1937, pp. v-viii.

[Van Doren is considered one of the most perceptive critics of the first half of the twentieth century. A founder of the Literary Guild and author or editor of several American literary histories, Van Doren was also a critically acclaimed historian and biographer. In the following essay, he claims that Pinocchio is "a childish allegory of the moral life."]

In the heroic ages and in the nursery all stories are anonymous. Nobody knows the name of a single bard before Homer, and I never heard of a child that asked...

(The entire section is 1319 words.)

Giuseppe Prezzolini (essay date 1940)

SOURCE: "The Author of Pinocchio," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XXI, No. 17, February 17, 1940, pp. 14-15.

(The entire section is 2103 words.)

Martha Bacon (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "Puppet's Progress," in The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 225, No. 4, April, 1970, pp. 88-91.

[In the following essay, Bacon discusses the cultural and literary impact of Pinocchio.]

What manner of man—or woman—sits down and deliberately writes a book for children? One would suppose that he or she would have had some firsthand experience with youngsters, coupled with a keen sense of what is suitable, pleasant, and instructive. But three of the greatest writers for children, whose contribution stands unquestioned, were all eccentric bachelors.

If we study the lives of Hans Andersen, Lewis Carroll, and Carlo Collodi, we find it impossible to...

(The entire section is 3236 words.)

Ester Zago (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: "Carlo Collodi as Translator: From Fairy Tale to Folk Tale," in The Lion and the Unicorn, Vol. 12, No. 2, December, 1988, pp. 61-73.

[In the following essay, Zago considers the techniques Collodi used when translating the tales of Charles Perrault, Mme. d'Aulnoy, and Mme. Leprince de Beaumont.]

There is a general consensus among critics of Collodi in acknowledging the indebtedness, on the part of the author of Pinocchio, toward the French fairy tales. Few have explored the topic much further, and yet it seems to me that this important influence on Collodi's work deserves closer scrutiny. Collodi's translation method appears to have been by his own...

(The entire section is 4668 words.)

M. L. Rosenthal (essay date 1989)

SOURCE: "The Hidden Pinocchio: Tale of a Subversive Puppet," in Literature and Revolution, edited by David Bevan, Rodopi, 1989, pp. 49-61.

[In the following essay, Rosenthal discusses the political views Collodi expressed in Pinocchio.]

The Adventures of Pinocchio: Tale of a Puppet, by Carlo Lorenzini (who used his mother's birthplace, Collodi, as his pen-name), is a glorious book. Its glories have been obscured for many by Disney's syrupy treatments: his charming animated film that is nevertheless untrue to the sardonic, sometimes anarchic side of the original story; and his "book" version, a tiny, shameless bit of baby-talk.


(The entire section is 5039 words.)

Richard Wunderlich (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "The Tribulations of Pinocchio: How Social Change Can Wreck a Good Story," in Poetics Today, Vol. 13, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 197-219.

[In the following excerpt, Wunderlich chronicles the publication history of Pinocchio, the many editorial changes it underwent, and its adaptations.]

Written serially for an Italian children's weekly from 1881 to 1882, Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio was assembled and first released as a full-length novel in 1883. Pinocchio's tribulations, alas, did not end with the story's final chapter; a long series of quite different mishaps awaited him in North America. The first of these entailed the actual process of...

(The entire section is 8577 words.)

Further Reading


Cambon, Glauco. "Pinocchio and the Problem of Children's Literature." Children's Literature II (1973): 50-60.

Considers the ways in which Pinocchio shaped Italian culture.

Cech, John. "The Triumphant Transformations of 'Pinocchio'." In Triumphs of the Spirit in Children's Literature, edited by Francelia Butler and Richard Rotert, pp. 171-77. Hamden, Conn.: Library Professional Publications, 1986.

Briefly outlines the editorial changes made in Collodi's original text, and the changing critical opinions of the character of Pinocchio.


(The entire section is 550 words.)