Luigi Pirandello was born in 1867 in Girgenti (now Agrigento) on the island of Sicily. Luigi's father was a fairly prosperous sulphur dealer and intended that his son should follow in his footsteps, but the boy demonstrated a studious bent early on, and as a result, he was provided with a literary schooling. He entered the University of Rome in 1887, but later transferred to Bonn University where he completed his doctoral thesis, a study of his native Sicilian dialect.
Pirandello's sense of disillusionment was burned into his psyche early on by a very personal tragedy. In 1894, at the age of 27, he married a young woman whom he had never met. The marriage had been arranged by his parents according to custom. His young bride, Antonietta Portulano, was the daughter of his father's business partner. The girl's mother had died in childbirth because her father was so insanely jealous that he would not allow a doctor to be present during the birth. For a time, the young couple found happiness, but after the birth of their third child and the loss of the family fortune in a flood, Antonietta suffered a mental breakdown. She became so violent that she should have been institutionalized, but Pirandello chose instead to keep her at home for seventeen years while she spat her venom at the young writer and his three children. Their daughter was so disturbed by her mother's illness that she tried to take her own life. Fortunately, her instrument of choice, a revolver, was so old as to be of no use. The illness had a profound effect on Pirandello's writing as well, leading him to explorations of madness, illusion, and isolation. It was not until his plays finally began to prove profitable around 1919 that he was able to send Antonietta to a private sanitarium.
Pirandello wrote his first widely acclaimed novel, The Late Mattia Pascal, in 1904. By the time the First World War broke out ten years later, he had published two other novels and numerous short stories. It was not until 1916, however, that he turned his attention to the theatre. He quickly became enthralled by this new medium, and became quite prolific, turning out as many as nine plays in one year. His first three plays, Better Think Twice About It!, Liolà, and It is So!, If You Think So, were each written in less than a week. His first notable critical success came in 1920 with As Before, Better than Before. Then, within a five week period in 1921, he wrote two masterpieces: Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Henry IV. Six Characters had a successful but scandalous opening in Rome and, soon after, another successful--but less scandalous--opening in Milan. Almost overnight, the play was being directed by Komisarjevsky in London, Brock Pemberton in New York, and Max Reinhardt in Germany. 1922 saw the successful opening of two more plays, Henry IV and Naked.
Between 1922 and 1924, Pirandello became a major public figure. In Paris, he received the Legion of Honor, and in 1925, with the help of Mussolini who had publicly announced his admiration for the playwright, Pirandello opened his own Art Theatre in Rome. Pirandello's relationship with Mussolini has been the subject of much debate. Some scholars have suggested that the playwright's enthusiastic adoption of fascism was simply a matter of practicality, a strategic ploy to advance his career. Had he opposed the fascist regime, it would have meant serious difficulties for him and for his art. Acceptance, on the other hand, meant subsidies and publicity. His statement that "I am a Fascist because I am an Italian." has often been called on to support this theory, and one of his later plays, The Giants of the Mountain, has often been interpreted as showing the author's growing realization that the fascist giants were hostile to culture. And yet, during his last appearance in New York, Pirandello voluntarily distributed a statement announcing his support of Italy's annexation of Abyssinia. He even gave his Nobel medal over to the Italian government to be melted down for the Abyssinian campaign. However, Pirandello was a complex creature, and all that can be certain is that nothing is certain.
Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1934, and continued to experience a great deal of critical success until the time of his death in 1936.
Luigi Pirandello left instructions for his funeral, saying, "When I am dead, do not clothe me. Wrap me naked in a sheet. No flowers on the bed and no lighted candle. A pauper's cart. Naked. And let no one accompany me, neither relatives nor friends. The cart, the horse, the coachmen, e basta. Burn me." But the church did not believe in cremation and the Fascist party did not want a world-famous fascist to slip away naked, without his black shirt. Thus, against his wishes, Pirandello was given a state funeral.
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