Luigi Pirandello Pirandello, Luigi (Short Story Criticism) - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Pirandello, Luigi 1867-1936

Italian playwright, short story writer, novelist, essayist, and poet.

One of the most important dramatists of the twentieth century, Pirandello was also a prolific writer of short stories. He planned to write a story for each day of the year and to collect them in a series entitled Novelle per un anno, intended to contain twenty-four volumes, each of which would comprise fifteen tales. In all, Pirandello succeeded in completing two hundred and thirty-three stories before his death. Through this vast body of work, he worked out in many variations the quotidian struggles of characters trying to grasp the significance of life. Early in his career Pirandello was associated with a school of regional realist writers, and many stories are set in the author's native Sicily, with vividly rendered landscapes of sun-baked fields and oppressive sulphur mines. Yet Pirandello's short stories often have a tinge of irony and absurdity as well as an intellectual complexity that sets them apart from the work of typical realist writers. The preoccupations of Pirandello's characters are generally cerebral, and the action of the stories often hinges less on action or a climactic event than on the significance of a word or gesture. Pirandello was awarded international acclaim for the philosophic probing of his plays, and the same themes are found in his short stories, many of which he subsequently adapted for the stage.

Biographical Information

Pirandello was born in Sicily to a prosperous sulphur merchant. Although his father initially sent him to study commerce at the local technical institute, Pirandello lacked interest in the subject and transferred to an academic secondary school, where he excelled in oratory and literature. He began writing at a young age, and by the time he was twelve had produced his first play, Barbaro, with siblings and friends. He also wrote poetry and fiction, publishing his first poem in 1883 and his first story a year later. After graduation, Pirandello attended universities in Palermo, Rome, and finally Bonn, where he earned a doctorate in Romance philology. He then returned to Rome, living on a remittance from his father while trying to establish himself as a writer. Here he became a member of the literary circle of Luigi Capuana. Capuana, along with another well-known Sicilian writer Giovanni Verga, followed the precepts of Émile Zola's Naturalism (verismo in Italian) and attempted through fiction to recreate the people, customs, and landscapes of their native Sicily. Though Pirandello's later theoretical writings show that his thought evolved beyond verismo, landscape remained a striking feature of his narrative works. In 1894 Pirandello's father arranged his marriage to Antonietta Portulano, the daughter of a business partner, and the couple settled together in Rome and had three children. Pirandello published his first book of short stories, Amori senza amore (Loves without Love), in 1894. Two novels followed, L'Esclusa (The Outcast), published serially in 1901, and Il Turno in 1902. Then in 1903 Pirandello suffered a dramatic financial reversal when his father's sulphur mine was destroyed in a landslide and flood. His family wealth was wiped out, and the catastophe pushed his wife into mental collapse. Antonietta never recovered, but became paranoid and delusional. Pirandello initially refused to have her hospitalized, and he took refuge from her irrational abuse by escaping to his study to write.

In 1904 Pirandello published his novel Il fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Mattia Pascal) to great acclaim, as well as a volume of short stories. More short story collections followed in 1906, 1910, 1912, 1914, and two in 1915. He also published an important critical work L'umorismo (On Humor) in 1908, and three more novels by 1916. Pirandello began to have success with his dramas also. His first full-length play was performed in 1915, and two Sicilian dialect plays, Pensaci, Giacomino! (Think It Over, Giacomino!) and Liolà, were successfully produced the next year. More plays were staged in the following years, including two which were adapted from his short fiction, Cosí è (se vi pare) (Right You Are (If You Think So)) and La patente (The License). Pirandello's reputation swelled enormously in 1921 with the Rome performance of his play Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author). With this play and Enrico IV (Henry IV) Pirandello came to international fame. Pirandello joined the Fascist Party in 1925 and received government sponsorship to form the Art Theatre of Rome. This company toured throughout Europe and America with productions of his plays. The Art Theatre dissolved in 1928, and Pirandello's plays suffered decreasing popularity. In 1934 Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, while that same year a Fascist claque booed his La favola del figlio cambiato (The Fable of the Changeling) off the stage in Rome. He continued to write short stories up until his death in 1936.

Major Works of Short Fiction

In all his work Pirandello probes the conflicts between reality and appearance, the individual and society, art and life. Influenced by verismo, Pirandello's early fiction unceremoniously exposes the lives of villagers—miners, clerics, olive farmers, an old man captured by bandits, distressed brides and widows—and highlights salient features of Sicilian society: strict Catholicism, an uncompromising code of honor, well-defined social roles, and an underlying violent temperament. He skillfully described the landscape and inhabitants of Sicily in a naturalistic style while simultaneously commenting on the paradoxical and contradictory aspects of life and the restrictions of social identity. Later stories are more overtly philosophical. "Canta l'epistola" ("He Who Chants the Epistle") describes a youth who, after losing his faith in God, develops pantheistic love for a blade of grass. The enormity of the universe and the folly of ordinary people are described through the eyes of the boy, whose behavior—incomprehensible to others—leads to his death. Other stories, such as "War" from The Medals, and Other Stories, are masterpieces of dialogue, with little physical description or narration. The verbal interplay of the characters is so highly developed that Pirandello was able to fashion plays out of some short stories with only minor alterations. The fiction from Pirandello's last years differ from his earlier work. Pirandello toured the world with his theater company, and some later stories are set outside his native Italy, most notably in New York. His very last stories are also surreal and metaphysical. In the story "All'uscita" ("At the Gate"), the dead souls of a philosopher and an obese man converse. The philosopher, as in life, philosophizes, and the stout man too is still interested in the preoccupations of his former life. In Pirandello's last story, "Una giornata" ("A Day"), the narrator lives an entire life in a single, bewildering day, from a strange birth in a train station to old age and death in a dusty armchair. In these final stories Pirandello abandoned his preoccupation with factual reality to explore psychological and metaphysical issues.

Critical Reception

Pirandello achieved fame because of his plays, and his reputation still rests principally on his dramatic works. The majority of critical studies since his death have concentrated on his plays, yet he was a popular short story writer in Italy in his day. Many of his stories were first published in daily newspapers, where his novels were also serialized. His short fiction began to appear in English in the 1930s, when his international reputation as a play-wright increased interest in his career. However, no new English translation has appeared since 1965. Pirandello wrote enough for two careers, one as a playwright, one as an author of fiction, and the immense success of his dramas is at least partially responsible for the relative neglect shown his short stories by general readers.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

Amori senza amore [Loves without Love] 1894

Beffe della morte e della vita [Jests of Death and Life] 1902

Quand'ero matto [When I Was Mad] 1902

Bianche e nere [White and Black] 1904

Erma bifronte [The Two-faced Herma] 1906

La vita nuda [Naked Life] 1910

Terzetti [Tercets] 1912

Le due maschere [The Two Masks] 1914

Erba del Nostro Orto [Grass from Our Garden] 1915

La trappola [The Trap] 1915

E domani, Lunedi [And Tomorrow, Monday] 1917

Un cavallo nella Luna [Horse in the Moon] 1918

Berecche e la guerra [Berecche and the War] 1919

Il carnevale dei morti [The Carnival of the Dead] 1919

Novelle per un anno. 15 vols. [A Story for Every Day of the Year] 1922-37

*Horse in the Moon 1932

*Better Think Twice about It, and Twelve Other Stories 1933

*The Naked Truth, and Eleven Other Stories 1934

*The Medals, and Other Stories 1939

Short Stories 1959

Short Stories 1965

*The stories in these collections were selected from the series Novelle per un anno.

Other Major Works

Mal giocondo [Joyful Ills] (poetry) 1889

Il fu Mattia Pascal [The Late Mattia Pascal] (novel) 1904

L'esclusa [The Outcast] (novel) 1908

L'umorismo [On Humor] (essay) 1908

I vecchi e i giovani [The Old and the Young] (novel) 1913

Liolà (drama) 1916

Si gira [Shoot] (novel) 1916

Cosí è (se vi pare) [Right You Are (If You Think So)] (drama) 1917

Il piacere dell'onestà [The Pleasure of Honesty] (drama) 1917

L'uomo, la bestia e la virtù [Man, Beast and Virtue] (drama) 1919

Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore [Six Characters in Search of an Author] (drama) 1921

Enrico IV [Henry IV] (drama) 1922

Vestire gli ignudi [Dress the Naked] (drama) 1922

Ciascuno a suo modo [Each in His Own Way] (drama) 1924

Uno, nessuno e centomila [One, None, and a Hundred Thousand] (novel) 1926

Come tu mi vuoi [As You Desire Me] (drama) 1930

Maschere nude. 10 vols. [Naked Masks] (drama) 1930-38

Questa sera si recita a soggetto [Tonight We Improvise] (drama) 1930

I giganti della montagna [The Mountain Giants] (drama) 1937

The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1933)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Stories from Pirandello," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1623, March 9, 1933, p. 164.

[In the following review, the critic extols the collection Better Think Twice about It.]

Thirteen stories from Signor Pirandello's vast output of tales are included in [Better Think Twice about It]. Almost all of them are scenes of Sicilian life, humorous or tragic; and one would have been glad to see some of the other stories, which are equally characteristic and contain many germs of Signor Pirandello's later plays. Nevertheless, this small selection illustrates his mastery of the short story, the queer twist of his humour and the grimness of his tragedy....

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Percy Hutchison (essay date 1934)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Short Stories of Pirandello," in The New York Times Book Review, September 9, 1934, p. 2, 12.

[In the following review, Hutchison judges the collection The Naked Truth "truly great, " asserting that Pirandello conveys the messages of his stories very subtly.]

The twelve stories which comprise [The Naked Truth, and Eleven Other Stories] have been selected from the series by Luigi Pirandello called Novelle per un Anno. In adopting what is the title of the second piece as a caption for the collection the translators chose wisely. Signor Pirandello has long been occupied with that illusive matter, truth; discussing the concept from various...

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Elizabeth Hart (essay date 1935)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Luigi Pirandello, 1934 Nobel Prize Winner," in New York Herald Tribune Books, January 6, 1935, p. 3.

[In the following review, Hart hails Better Think Twice about It as a testament to Pirandello's skill as a short story writer, ]

It is probably to the Nobel Prize judges that we owe most of our thanks for getting another batch of Pirandello stories so soon after the appearance of that superb collection The Naked Truth, but a very special bow should be reserved for the publishers, the translators, or whoever selected the contents of [Better Think Twice about It]. The prestige of a literary prize winner can be counted on—for a short...

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Walter Starkie (essay date 1937)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello, Novelist and Short-Story Writer," in Luigi Pirandello, revised edition, John Murray, 1937, pp. 94-126.

[An educator and critic who specialized in the Romance languages, Starkie is best known for his tales of gypsy life, drawn from his own experiences living among them in Europe. In the following excerpt, he provides an overview of Pirandello's short fiction.]

[In the early stage of his literary career, Pirandello could have been classified] as a regional writer interpreting and expressing the customs and mode of life of the inhabitants of his native Sicily. But Pirandello was not fated to continue treading the path of Verga or even Capuana. He soon...

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Percy Hutchison (essay date 1939)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Medals, and Other Stories, in The New York Times Book Review, May 14, 1939, p. 7.

[In this review, Hutchison praises The Medals, and Other Stories, noting that Pirandello's work is distinct from that of other short fiction writers. ]

Strange and eerie, as is everything written by Luigi Pirandello, fabricator of that compelling drama Six Characters in Search of an Author, and of As You Desire Me, which also was put upon the screen, this new culling [The Medals, and Other Stories] from his two hundred short stories is as provocative as all that has gone before. For this winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is...

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Alfred Kazin (essay date 1939)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Italy and England Appear in New Fiction," in The New York Herald Tribune Books, May 21, 1939, p. 6.

[A highly respected American literary critic, Kazin is best known for his essay collections The Inmost Leaf (1955) and Contemporaries (1962), and particularly for On Native Grounds (1942), a study of American prose writing since the era of William Dean Howells. In the following review of The Medals, and Other Stories, he finds the stories for the most part tiresome. ]

Luigi Pirandello spent the first half of his life looking at Italians from a classroom, and the last half giggling at them from Olympian heights. Olympus is not in the...

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Renato Poggioli (essay date 1958)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello in Retrospect," in Italian Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter, 1958, pp. 19-47.

[Poggioli was an Italian-born American critic and translator. Much of his critical writing is concerned with Russian literature, including The Poets of Russia: 1890-1930 (1960), which is one of the most important examinations of that literary era. In the following excerpt, Poggioli discusses the Italian author Giovanni Verga as the literary progenitor of Pirandello. ]

During the period between the end of the last century and the first World War, two great Italian novelists, and one of them undoubtedly the greatest, were islanders: the Sicilian, Giovanni Verga, and...

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Frances Keene (essay date 1958)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Introduction to Short Stories by Luigi Pirandello, translated by Lily Duplaix, Simon and Schuster, 1959, pp. vii-xiv.

[In the following excerpt from an essay written in 1958 as an introduction to the collection Short Stories, Keene perceives Pirandello's stories to be about the human condition.]

Before Pirandello ever wrote a play, he wrote poetry and short stories. The form his thoughts took at their grandest and most expressive—as in Six Characters in Search of an Author and Henry IV—was clearly foreshadowed in the dramatic juxtapositions which characterize his stories, and the tone of the plays at their best has the thin, pure echo...

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Irving Howe (essay date 1959)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Some Words for a Master," in The New Republic, Vol. 141, No. 2341, September 28, 1959, pp. 21-4..

[A longtime editor of the leftist magazine Dissent and a regular contributor to The New Republic, Howe is one of America's most highly respected literary critics and social historians. He has been a socialist since the 1930s, and his criticism is frequently informed by a liberal social viewpoint. In this review of the 1959 collection Short Stories, Howe relates Pirandello's work to nineteenth-century realism. ]

About half a year ago, when a collection of Pirandello's stories appeared in English, I began to read them casually and with small...

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Marian Seldin (essay date 1959)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Near Tragic," in The Commonweal Vol. LXXI, No. 1, October 2, 1959, pp. 28-9.

[In the following review of Short Stories, Seldin identifies qualities that distinguish Pirandello's successful short fiction from his weaker stories. ]

Most volumes of short stories involve for the reviewer a built-in hazard in that space forbids the particular comment and justice the general. However, these twenty-two stories [in Short Stories by Pirandello] mitigate the difficulty because Pirandello's preoccupation in them, as in his plays and novels, is remarkably constant. Human experience, as he saw it, is at best ironic, at worst not quite tragic, but rather...

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Ulrich Leo (essay date 1963)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello between Fiction and Drama," translated by Glauco Cambon, in Pirandello: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Glauco Cambon, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967, pp. 83-90.

[Leo was a leading German scholar of Romance literature. In the following excerpt from an essay that was originally published in Romanistiches Jarbuch in 1963, he compares the short story "Mrs. Frola and Her Son-In-Law, Mr. Ponza" to its stage adaptation, Right You Are (If You Think So), while asserting that Pirandello's short fiction is more artistically powerful than his dramas. ]

. . . In . . . L'uomo, la bestia e la virtù (Man, Beast and Virtue) we [can see]...

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Jørn Moestrup (essay date 1972)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "1910-16. Renewal," in The Structural Patterns of Pirandello's Work, Odense University Press, 1972, pp. 90-121.

[In the following excerpt, Moestrup highlights some of the most significant stories written by Pirandello between 1910 and 1916, a period that the critic perceives as the middle phase of Pirandello's career as a short fiction writer. ]


The short stories of this period will be divided into [separate] groups: first the seven which, by reason of their quality, are superior to the rest; then four that are of almost as high a quality; then the short stories which, though of less aesthetic value, contain...

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Olga Ragusa (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello's Haunted House," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. X, No. 3, Summer, 1973, pp. 235-42.

[An Italian-born American educator and critic specializing in Italian literature, Ragusa is the author of Narrative and Drama: Essays in Modern Italian Literature from Verga to Pasolini (1976) as well as book-length studies on Pirandello, Giovanni Verga, and Alessandro Manzoni. In this essay, she explicates Pirandello 's ghost story "Granella 's House " as a commentary on the limits of reason and science. ]

Richard Kelly's recent "The Haunted House of Bulwer-Lytton" (Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 8) calls to mind Pirandello's "La casa del...

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Douglas Radcliff-Umstead (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Jests of Love and Death," in The Mirror of Our Anguish: A Study of Luigi Pirandello's Narrative Writings, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978, pp. 108-22.

[An American educator and critic, Radcliff-Umstead is the author and editor of numerous studies of Romance literature. In the following excerpt, he analyzes some of Pirandello's later short stories, to which the critic attributes a distinctly mythic quality. ]

Several of Pirandello's final novelle—written during the years of his most intense theatrical activity—reveal a desire to evade everyday reality in a higher plane of experience. What was examined in earlier tales like "Quand'ero matto"...

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Mark S. Finch (essay date 1979-1980)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Life and Form in Pirandello's Short Prose: An Existential Atmosphere," in Revista/Review Interamericana, Vol. 9, No. 4, 1979-80, pp. 615-21.

[In the following essay, Finch perceives in Pirandello's short fiction a tension between the spontaneity of life and the boundariesboth social and psychologicalthat humans impose upon themselves. ]

It would be difficult to determine what influence if any Pirandello had on the modern existentialists. However, there can be no doubt that he must be considered a precursor of the modern literary men who propound this philosophy. Thomas Bishop and Erminio G. Neglia both note that Pirandello exemplifies much...

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Paolo Valesio (essay date 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "A Remark on Silence and Listening," in Oral Tradition, Vol. 2, No. 1, January, 1987, pp. 288-95.

[In the following excerpt, Valesio closely examines the short story "Canta l'epistola."]

One of the least known among the many short stories that Luigi Pirandello published in literary magazines around the turn of the century and started issuing in book-length collections from 1901 on is the one titled "Canta l'Epistola" ("He-who-intones-the-Epistle"), a phrase which is the nickname of the defrocked seminarian who is the hero of the little story.

Tommasino, who because of his change of heart has become an object of scorn and ridicule for his...

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Luisetta Chomel (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello's Notion of Time," in Canadian Journal of Italian Studies, Vol. 12, Nos. 38-9, 1989, pp. 26-31.

[In the following excerpt, Chomel discusses Pirandello's treatment of the theme of time in several of his short stories. ]

The Pirandellian man, trapped in the flux of time, condemned to endure an incessant chain of transformations, vainly tries to resist time and fix himself in a lasting form. Institutions, traditions, social masks, even prejudices and hypocrisy are but devices he uses in his attempt to stop the flow of time. The time motif punctuates Pirandello's writings from the poetic beginning to the last plays, in different forms and various...

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Franz Rauhut (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Pirandello's Short Story 'La Rosa' as a Work of Art," translated by Giovanni R. Bussino, in Canadian Journal of Italian Studies, Vol. 12, Nos. 38-9, 1989, pp. 67-73.

[In the following essay, Rauhut analyses the structure, theme, and literary devices of Pirandello's story "The Rose. "]

Because of its significant human value, Pirandello's short story "La rosa" ("The Rose"), first published in La Lettura in November 1914, merits an aesthetic analysis.

For the sake of orientation I will summarize the plot. Lucietta, the twenty-year-old widow of Loffredi (a journalist who was murdered), lives alone with her two children and has to face the...

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Douglas Radcliff-Umstead (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Luigi Pirandello as Writer of Short Fiction and Novels," in A Companion to Pirandello Studies, edited by John Louis DiGaetani, Greenwood Press, 1991, pp. 344-67.

[In this excerpt, Radcliff-Umstead employs two examples, "The Journey" and "Happiness," to illustrate his assertion that Pirandello 's focus in his stories is "the failure or success of his fictional characters to reach an accord with life. "]

Before his death Pirandello hoped to write a novella for each day of the year and to gather them in the series Novelle per un anno (Stories for a year). By 1937, the year after the writer's death, fifteen volumes had appeared in print. In all the author...

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Maria Rosaria Vitti-Alexander (essay date 1991)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Nature as Structural-Stylistic Motive in Novelle per un anno," in A Companion to Pirandello Studies, edited by John Louis DiGaetani, Greenwood Press, 1991, pp. 385-95.

[In the following essay, Vitti-Alexander maintains that a symbolic connection exists between Pirandello's characters and nature as it is depicted in his stories.]

In the preface to Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello calls himself a philosophical writer because he aims to give his "figure, vicende, paesaggi" (characters, vicissitudes, landscapes) a universal value, a "patricolare senso della vita" (a particular sense of life). Driven by a "profondo bisogno spirituale"...

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Maria Grazia Di Paolo (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Women's Marginality and Self-Obliteration in Some of Pirandello's Novelle," in Forum Italicum, Vol. 27, Nos. 1-2, Spring-Fall, 1993, pp. 204-13.

[In the following excerpt, Di Paolo assesses Pirandello's characterizations of women in his short stories, finding them stereotypical and limited in variety. ]

When reading Pirandello's novelle (and his other works as well), we become more and more convinced that his female characters convey traditional myths, which can broadly be so identified: woman as Flesh, as Nature, as Muse. Under these categories we encounter images of women in a variety of roles common to a male-dominated tradition. The most...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Guidice, Gaspare. Pirandello: A Biography, translated by Alastair Hamilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975, 221 p.

Abridged translation of the standard critical biography.


Aste, Mario. "Two Short Stories of Pirandello: Their Sources and Their Relationship to the Essay Umorismo." Perspectives on Contemporary Literature 1 (1981): 64-72.

Traces two fables by Pirandello to several literary and folklore sources, and considers the fables in light of Pirandello's philosophy of humor as it is detailed in L'umorismo.

Brooks, Cleanth, and Warren, Robert Penn....

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