Luigi Pirandello Biography

Biography

Article abstract: Pirandello revolutionized modern drama by creating innovative plays that explored the nature of drama itself. He created an intellectual drama that redefined the nature of the self and examined in detail the effects of relativity on the human psyche.

Early Life

On June 28, 1867, in the midst of a cholera epidemic, Luigi Pirandello was born prematurely at Il Caos, in Girgenti, Sicily. He was a fragile, weak, and lonely child. Unable to communicate with his authoritarian father, he felt isolated and turned rebellious. This feeling of isolation became a central theme in his creative work. Pirandello was also influenced by his Sicilian background. Sicily’s hierarchical, almost feudal, society demanded restrictive codes of honor and strict adherence to convention, which led to repressed emotions and acts of violence. This conflict between individual desires and repressive social norms would become a recurring motif in Pirandello’s work.

As a student, Pirandello read classical and Italian literature, and at fifteen he wanted to be a poet. His early poetry already showed his preoccupation with the themes of death and madness. After an unsuccessful venture into his father’s business, he pursued his academic studies at the University of Rome and at the University of Bonn, where he earned a doctorate in philology.

After completing his education, Pirandello returned to Rome and became involved in the literary circle of the realist author Luigi Capuana. He then began to focus on his prose writing and published a collection of his short stories, Amori senza amore (1894; loves without love). In 1893, he began to formulate his artistic credo. He saw modern humanity trapped in a maze and believed that the old social norms were disintegrating, leaving the world in a state of uncertainty.

At twenty-six, Pirandello entered into an arranged marriage with Antonietta Portulana, the daughter of his father’s business partner and a woman he hardly knew. Four years later, he began teaching in Rome at the Instituto Superiore Magistero, a teacher’s college for women. In 1903, his father’s sulfur mine was destroyed in a flood, leaving the family bankrupt. Distraught by these events, his wife was stricken by hysterical paralysis and later went insane. She became obsessively jealous, tried to stab Pirandello, and accused him of incest with his daughter. After many years of torment, he finally put her in a clinic in 1919. From living with a madwoman, he learned that reality was a matter of perception and that in the eyes of his demented wife, he could become many different people. These experiences would influence his writing.

Life’s Work

Pirandello soon began to establish himself as a noted writer of short stories, novels, and most significantly, dramas. With his novel Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904; The Late Mattia Pascal, 1923), he gained recognition both within Italy and abroad. In the novel, he shows how the modern individual tries both to escape the conventional roles placed on him and to free himself from social restraints. The attempt is a failure. Mattia, an insignificant, unheroic man, always questioning his own actions, finds out that he cannot exist outside the bounds of society, nor can he return to a role he once had.

In Si gira . . . (1916; Shoot, The Notebooks of Serafino Gubbio, Cinematograph Operator, 1926), Pirandello continues to treat the themes of alienation and loss of identity. In this novel, he uses the diary form to trace the fragmented impressions of a cameraman who tries to become a detached recorder of the lives of glamorous movie stars. In Uno, nessuno centomila (1925; One, None, and a Hundred Thousand, 1933), he foreshadows the modernist novel. The work is composed of long interior monologues, lengthy self-reflexive digressions, and an unreliable narrator who cannot certify what he has seen.

Throughout his career, Pirandello continued to publish short stories, 233 in all. He had planned to do twenty-four volumes but completed only fifteen. His stories reflect a pessimistic worldview tinged with a sense of tragicomic irony. As journeys in search of the unattainable, they bring out the humor in the disparity between human ideals and the cruel realities of experience.

Pirandello was to reach the height of his artistic genius as a dramatist. In 1915, Angelo Musco coaxed Pirandello into writing for the Sicilian theater. Writing plays in the Sicilian dialect, he began to achieve popular success as a playwright, and drama became the perfect medium for him to explore his vision. Between 1916 and 1924, Pirandello made his most significant contribution to modern drama in particular and world literature in general. In Così è (se vi pare) (1917; Right You Are (If You Think So), 1922), he shows how a husband who separates his wife and his mother-in-law can lead a whole town into confusion as both the mother-in-law and the husband claim that they are playing along with the deluded perceptions of the other. In this play and in subsequent dramas of this period,...

(The entire section is 2126 words.)