Tommaso Landolfi

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Landolfi, Tommaso 1908–

Landolfi is an Italian short story writer, essayist, dramatist, poet, and translator. An ingenious fantasist, Landolfi has been linked with writers such as Gogol, Kafka, Poe, Nabokov, and Borges. Because his writing contrasts so sharply with the neorealism of his contemporaries Moravia, Vittorini, and Pratolini, Landolfi stands apart from the mainstream of Italian literature.

Patricia M. Gathercole

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Though Landolfi's stories [in Cancerqueen and Other Stories] may be considered amusing and entertaining, he is not an easy author to understand. The reader must put forth a genuine creative effort to comprehend the subject matter. The author's analytical ability reveals in limited detail the conflict between the sensual and the reflective mind. Long interested in Russian literature, Landolfi at times portrays an anguished mentality analogous to that of a certain Slavic tradition. In his story "The Mute," for instance, we live in the terrified mind of a child murderer who recalls Dostoyevsky's Stavrogin. In the story "Hands" we learn of the man Federico who is haunted by the idea of having killed a mouse one night in the courtyard.

The author in several tales appears to share the Existentialist's notions concerning the absurdity of the world. In "Night Must Fall" a young poet expresses bitter thoughts about the banality of the world. Absurd, disconnected dialogues are found in "Autumn"; for example, the question: "Have you ever noticed how much Vittoria resembles the button on a shoe?"… No answer is given but an equally nonsensical remark follows. Fate plays an unwelcome role in a card game ("Misdeal"). Foolish Destiny forces Renato to kill the girl he loves ("The Sword")…. (p. 113)

Fantasy plays an extensive role in Landolfi's work. In "Week of Sun" we inhabit the imagination of a madman who tells us of the pain and misery of insanity. We witness the birth of a monster in "Stefano's Two Sons," one with its fingers and toes joined together. All in all, one may say that this collection of stories shows marked originality, though one may term the content weird. (p. 114)

Patricia M. Gathercole, in Studies in Short Fiction (copyright 1973 by Newberry College), Winter, 1973.

Claude C. Brew

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Though Landolfi titles his story [in Gogol's Wife and Other Stories] "Wedding Night," the groom is absent. Taking his place in the focus of the story, and in the young bride's imagination, is a chimney sweep. The story is traditionally structured. In the first section the scene and mood are set and an emotional conflict within the young bride is suggested. The second section, beginning with the chimney sweep disrobing and preparing to ascend and clean the kitchen chimney, presents the central action of the story—and the young bride's imaginative interpretation of it. The last section, after the bride flees the kitchen for the third time, presents a cluster of images and cryptic statements by the narrator which collectively suggest the resolution of the young bride's conflict. (p. 111)

The shyness and awkwardness of the first encounter between the bride and the chimney sweep evokes the traditional confrontation of a bride and groom on their wedding night…. The phallic suggestiveness of [the descriptions of the chimney sweep are] even more apparent as the story progresses, and, to the extent that the chimney sweep replaces the groom in the story, the young bride's apprehension that there is something dirty about him that cannot be washed away may be suggestive of her feeling about sexuality.

In seven of the nine stories in Gogol's Wife and Other Stories Landolfi employs either a first person character-narrator or a rather obtrusive first person observer-narrator. In the other two, "Wedding Night" and "Sunstroke," he employs a...

(This entire section contains 620 words.)

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contrastingly unobtrusive third person observer-narrator. In each of these two stories the narrator uses dialogue and the direct thought of the characters very sparingly, telling most of the story in his own voice; yet at the same time he conveys the feeling that we are seeing much of the story as if from the point of view of the main character. In "Sunstroke" the central character is an owl, and most of the story simply describes the rising of the sun. What is interesting, however, is how powerfully the story conveys the attitudes, values, and responses that might be expected of an owl, rather than a human being. In a similar way, "Wedding Night" is not so concerned with the literal events that underlie the story, as it is with how the young bride perceives those events and how her imaginative projection of herself into them effects her emotionally. (p. 112)

From about the time the bride flees the scene for the third and last time a number of images are presented, the cumulative effect of which is to suggest the nature of her emotional reaction to this imaginative projection of her "wedding night." Generally they suggest fear and repulsion….

The bride has surrendered to her fear and guilt-ridden conception about sex before she ever encounters it in reality, and by the end of the story she seems ready to join a gallery of corpses, made insensitive by fear and guilt to one of the central expressions of life—the innocent enjoyment of her healthy and natural sexual desire. (p. 114)

In "Wedding Night" the bride's imagined experience of her wedding night, with its suggestions of pain, revulsion, and fear, leaves her dead to this particular aspect of joy. Far from avoiding "life's consequential issues," Landolfi here treats the perennial human problem of how our imagined anticipation of future events affects our emotional adjustment to those events. Rather than "malicious mystification," his narrative and descriptive techniques are functional and effective. "Wedding Night," like all good stories, intrigues us to return. (p. 115)

Claude C. Brew, "The 'Caterpillar Nature' of Imaginative Experience: A Reading of Tommaso Landolfi's 'Wedding Night'," in Modern Language Notes (© copyright 1974 by The Johns Hopkins University Press), Vol. 89, No. 1, 1974, pp. 110-15.

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