Luigi Pirandello (June 28, 1867 – December 10, 1936) was an Italian dramatist and novelist, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934.
He was born into a middle-class family in a village with the curious name of Chaos (Xaos), a poor suburb of Girgenti (Agrigento, a town in southern Sicily). While he was young, the sulfur mine belonging to his family was ruined by a flood, leading to serious financial difficulties.
He is known mainly for his writing for the theatre, but his short stories and novels took up most of his career. He also wrote several short novels (novelle), some of which he based on Italian and Sicilian legends. Pirandello composed over 350 short stories, generally on Sicilian themes and showing the influence of realist writers such as Verga. His poetry is rather less well-known.
Shortly after his marriage his wife Antonietta was found to be suffering from a serious mental illness; this gave Pirandello a profound awareness of the workings of the mind, as can be seen in several of his works (notably in Enrico IV (Henry IV)). In Il berretto a sonagli (Cap and Bells), he described in detail how to "go mad": telling everyone the truth, the unadorned and cruel truth, regardless of manners or social conventions, would soon lead to isolation and, in the eyes of others, madness.
Pirandello's best-known work is probably Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author). Equally notable, if not as often performed, are the plays Così è (se vi pare) (Right You Are (If You Think You Are)) and Ciascuno a suo modo (Each in His Own Way). Another play, Come tu mi vuoi (As You Desire Me), was adapted for a 1932 Hollywood film starring Greta Garbo.
In later years he became a close friend, and perhaps the lover, of Italy's most famous actress, Marta Abba. Ms. Abba translated several of Pirandello's plays into English, including La nuova colonia (The New Colony), and Pirandello's unfinished I giganti della montagna (The Mountain Giants). (Ms. Abba also translated a synopsis of the conclusion of The Mountain Giants, as told by Pirandello on his deathbed to his son.)
Pirandello's work was constantly devoted to the investigation of truth and the relationship between rational truth (reality) and socially accepted "truth" (manners?), social mentality and individual personality. He delighted in paradox and a sense of the absurd. Pirandello is a relentless observer of the petty conventions of a limited society, and his essay about humour (Saggio sull'umorismo) shows the depth of his understanding of human behaviour.
Pirandello used a very sophisticated variety of the Italian language (he had studied in Bonn, Germany, graduating in Roman philology), with a very fine use of irony and humour.
His supposed affiliation to Fascism, for which he expressed some enthusiasm, is now considered nothing more than a ploy to obtain institutional assistance and sponsorship in creating his "Teatro d'Arte di Roma". He had already personally experienced the serious consequences of making powerful enemies (he had to graduate in Bonn because of a dispute with the principal of the university of Rome). Such an attitude towards the authorities would have been entirely in accordance with the ideas in some of his best known plays. Criticism of fascism's "might makes right" philosophy is prominent in The New Colony.
On July 14, 1930, Pirandello's play The Man With the Flower in His Mouth became the first piece of drama ever to be transmitted on the then-experimental medium of television, being produced as part of the BBC's test transmissions in London, England.
Pirandello died in Rome in 1936.
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