Born and educated in Naples, Roberto Bracco took a job as a customs clerk at age seventeen because his parents could not afford to send him to the university. Finding such work unsuitable, he took a job as a journalist with Corriere del Matteo, and soon he acted on his interest in literature, publishing poems and stories in Neopolitan journals and writing one-act plays as curtain raisers for actors of the city. His first volume of short stories, Le frottole di baby (1881; baby’s rattles), was published when he was nineteen.
Works written in his twenties, such as Non fare ad altri (do not unto others), Lui, lei, lui! (he, her, he!), and Un avventura di viaggio (a traveling adventure), point to his talent as a dramatist and led the way to the success of Comptesse Coquette in 1893, which was praised in Naples and gradually produced across Europe. Further successes established Bracco as a leading Italian playwright, allowing him to hold his position as a serious writer when foreign plays and trivial drawing-room entertainments dominated the attention of a large portion of the audience. Steadily writing plays every year or two, Bracco also lectured on the position and rights of women in Italian society, a major theme of his drama.
When the Fascists came to power in 1922, Bracco lost the position he had achieved as a liberal deputy in the Parliament, his plays were forbidden to be performed, and his books were banned. Perhaps the influence of postwar ideas and attitudes would have ended Bracco’s literary career in any case, because his last play, I pazzi, shows his disagreement with the rationalist faith in the new psychiatry as a way to understand humanity or resolve its problems. Perhaps building on the idea of Don Fiorenzo’s mysterious spiritual power in The Little Saint, Bracco presents the protagonist of I pazzi as healing people in a personal and spiritual way that involves love and understanding, characteristic of Bracco’s humane sympathy for life. Living beyond his time as a writer, Bracco died in poverty in 1943.