Domestic fronts: bringing the great war home in Pirandello's Novelle per un anno.
In the years surrounding the war, which, as it happens, both in Italy and elsewhere also coincide with the context of literary modernism, the "irreversible signs" of such changes are expectedly traceable, at different levels of visibility and intensity, in the works of a number of Italian writers and intellectuals. (1) The latter, regardless of their positions as interventionists (the vast majority), fatalists or neutralists, responded to, and tried to come to terms with this cataclysmic event in various ways and through disparate genres in their artistic production. Thus, just to mention a representative few, artists such as Marinetti, with his experimental text Zang Tumb Tumb (1914); Ungaretti, with his collection of poems Allegria di naufragi (1916); Soffici, with his diary Kobilek: giornale di battaglia (1918); Jahier, with his autobiographical memoir Con me e con gli alpini (1920); and Palazzeschi, with the solitary pacifism of his meditations in Due imperi ... mancati (1920), are a few figures commonly associated with the kind of literature directly derived from, dealing with, and/or generated by the
First World War. (2)
Most likely because of the absence in his oeuvre of a major, well-known text in which the First World War is either a main theme or provides the background to the narrated events, Luigi Pirandello's name almost never comes to mind when one thinks of how the conflict affected the literary and artistic imaginary in these years. (3) Not surprisingly, scholars have underlined his "historical extraneousness" (Gieri 301), his overall focus on individual subjectivities, and his general disengagement from strict ideological and sociopolitical issues. And yet, it is common knowledge that his works, be they destined for the page or the stage, investigate precisely the effects of modernity's advent on the interiority of individuals. That is, his plays, novels and short stories often capture the sense of alienation and existential disorientation felt during the initial, chaotic, war-torn decades of the twentieth century, a destabilizing time in which traditional values and certitudes came under attack.
The gnoseological dimension of modernity--the thin, unstable borders dividing rationality from madness, the changes in perception of personal identity and, in short, as Dombroski writes, "the ontological status of the Self' in the modern era (Properties 88)--are all familiar issues and themes in Pirandello's poetics. It is, perhaps, something more than a curious coincidence and a sign of the Sicilian writer's foreshadowing skills, that a frequently quoted passage in which he describes his nightmarish perception of modern consciousness appears more than ten years ahead of the explosion of the First World War. In "Arte e coscienza d'oggi" (1893), he writes:
A me la coscienza moderna da l'immagine d'un sogno angoscioso attraversato da rapide larve or tristi or minacciose, d'una battaglia notturna, d'una mischia disperata, in cui si agitino per un momento e subito scompaiano, per riapparire delle altre, mille bandiere, in cui le parti avversarie si sian confuse e mischiate, e ognuno lotti per se, per la sua difesa, contro all'amico e contro il nemico.
(880; qtd. in Dombroski, "Pirandellian" 137)
As Dombroski observes, this conflictual, military scenario depicts nothing else but "the advent of modernity: perpetual disintegration and renewal, struggle and contradiction, ambiguity and anguish" ("Pirandellian" 127). In other words, the quotation above suggests that the notion of war as metaphor, as embodiment of the modern, and as emblematic signifier of the times was quite present in his mind. It simultaneously mirrored and helped him define the "tragedy" of the confused and directionless modern human existence. Allyson Booth notes that "even at moments when the spaces of war seem most remote, the perceptual habits appropriate to war emerge plainly [...]," and "the dislocations of war often figure centrally in modernist form, even when war itself seems peripheral to modernist content" (4). Booth's words could well apply to Pirandello's case. (4) When the imaginary battle in "Arte e coscienza d'oggi" materialized into a real event, and the war actually exploded, Pirandello certainly could not avoid being affected by it, nor could he refrain from artistically responding to the dramatic events around him.
It is also useful to recall that, from a biographical perspective, Pirandello played a pre-eminent intellectual role in the Italian cultural scene during the war years, and he displayed a patriotic, though divided and tormented, interventionist position. In particular, the conflict impacted him very closely and personally when two of his sons left for the front: first, Stefano volunteered to combat in 1915, was wounded and then taken prisoner by the Austrian army; and then Faustino, who followed him in the war. As a matter of fact, his sons' departure to the front, and Stefano's subsequent, long imprisonment seem to have been a significant source of inspiration for Pirandello on those sporadic occasions in which the war actually plays a relevant textual role in his work and which, predictably, especially attracts the scholar's attention.
A passage in the first of his "Colloquii coi personaggi," a short, two-parts story first published in the "Giornale di Sicilia" on August 17th-18th, 1915, and set in the days preceding Italy's entrance in the conflict, makes one of the most explicit autobiographical references to the event of his son's enrollment in the army. Through the voice of one of the protagonists, a nameless Author, one may begin to form an initial idea of how the war impacted Pirandello's private, domestic sphere, and, by extension, his own mixed feelings of impotence, guilt and exclusion from participating in the unfolding of history:
Mio figlio doveva partire in quei giorni per la frontiera. Della partenza imminente volevo e non riuscivo a sentirmi orgoglioso. Egli avrebbe potuto, come tanti altri della sua eta e della sua condizione, sottrarsi almeno per il momento ai suoi obblighi: s'era invece presentato subito, volontario, all'appello [...]. Prima i nostri padri, e non noi! Ora, i nostri figli, e non noi! Dovevo restare a casa, io, e veder partire mio figlio.
(Pirandello, Novelle 2686)
In the rest of this essay, I thus wish to address precisely these infrequent, but also potentially revealing, war-inspired stories in the Novelle per un anno (from now on Novelle), and consider them as something other than just the insignificant, tensionless "burle e bozzetti" Isnenghi barely mentions in his book (39). (5) Rather, by viewing them in the light of some of Pirandello's recurring aesthetic principles and "epistemological gestures" (Dombroski, Properties 69), my hope is to better justify their legitimate, though marginal, presence in the war-literature of the period and, while discussing their semantic and psychological richness, implicitly highlight some of their eminently modernist qualities.
A Closer Look at the Texts
Besides the above mentioned "Colloquii," there are only four other short stories in the whole corpus of the Novelle per un anno whose plot significantly centers around the war. (6) These are, in chronological order, "Frammento di cronaca di Marco Leccio e della sua guerra sulla carta nel tempo della grande guerra europea" (from now on, "Frammento di cronaca"), published in the collection Berecche e la Guerra in 1919, but most likely already written in 1916; (7) "Quando si comprende," first published in 1918, in Un cavallo sulla luna; "Ieri e oggi," which came out in 1919, and, finally "Berecche e la guerra" (1934), which re-elaborates some parts of the "Frammento di cronaca," and which, however, I shall discuss only tangentially and in conjunction with the latter novella (that is, "Frammento di cronaca"), since it has already received in-depth scholarly attention. (8)
By way of introduction, one may anticipate that the departure of a son to the front is a recurring, almost obsessive thematic leitmotif in these short stories. For the most part, they develop by following and depicting the multiple, often contrasting effects this event has on an immediate circle of relatives, including parents, siblings, and lovers. Their reactions and behaviors become then powerful occasions for the writer to bring up, and, in turn, invite reflection upon some of the salient anxieties, paradoxes and contradictions of the modern human condition confronted with the rupturing times of war.
Some of the questions raised in the first of the "Colloquii coi personaggi" include the possibility and the role of aesthetic creation; the dynamics of artistic representation of reality; the fragmented, split nature of the subject "in un momento come questo [...] giorni di torbida agonia che precedettero la dichiarazione della nostra Guerra all'Austria" (2682-683). In other words, the story is set in a period when the same idea of pursuing intellectual, imaginative, (literary, artistic) work may be considered a shameful, almost frivolous pursuit, in stark contrast with the dramatic seriousness of the events happening in the real world.
As its title indicates, this novella is structured on a narrative pattern well-tested by Pirandello. It revolves around the imaginary dialogue between a literary Author who, given the imminent war, has decided to indefinitely suspend his creative activity, and a Character who, because of its own fictional nature, exists "fuori delle transitorie contingenze del tempo." The latter, unaware of, and indifferent to the "orrendo e miserando scompiglio" impacting Europe in those days, reminds the writer that his duty as an artist is to overcome historical contingencies, which, despite their tragic nature, are sooner or later destined to end and, rather, strive to create something eternal, beyond time: "Che contano i fatti? Per enormi che siano, sempre fatti sono. Passano. Passano. [...]. La vita resta" (2685).
It is not difficult to realize that this is one of Pirandello's meta-literary stories, where theoretical questions of poetics and aesthetics are addressed in narrative form. (9) The Character gives voice to Pirandello's recurring distrust of history, which he considered as another rigid form ideally shaped and ordered by the whims of historians. The latter are unable to reflect on and interpret the chaos of real life, which, on the contrary, "si muove con tutti i suoi elementi ancora scomposti e sparpagliati" (Pirandello, "La tragedia" 685). Indeed, the fictional figure of Dr. Fileno, in "La tragedia di un personaggio" (1911), and his ingenious, topsy-turvy "philosophy of the distant" (or of the "inverted telescope") aimed at easing the pain suffered by human beings because of "ogni pubblica o privata calamita" (684), clearly resurfaces in the following passage in "Colloquii," when the Character tells the Author : "Cio che realmente importa e qualche cosa d'infinitamente piu piccolo e d'infinitamente piu grande: un pianto, un riso, a cui lei, o se non lei, qualche altro, avra saputo dar vita fuori del tempo, cioe superando la realta transitoria di questa sua passione d'oggi" (2686). However, the problem or, at least, a significant complication faced by the Author in "Colloquii" is that his concern and anguish for the fate of his son fighting at the front and for the consequences of the war, continues to affect him after the Character and his suggestions leave the scene. Dr. Fileno, instead, by applying the "inverted telescope" perspective, was able to detach himself from the circumstances and console himself of the recent loss of his daughter. To put it differently, the enormity and tragic nature of this particular historical event is such that it prevents the escapist, exorcizing solution delineated by the Character. The war thus seems to undermine existential defenses, defy poetic strategies and, last but not least, have long-reaching physiological, traumatic effects on the Author. As he states: "Come una tenebra d'angoscia m'aveva rioccupato il cervello [...]. Fuori di questa passione, fuori di quest'angoscia, non potevo per il momento veder piu nulla" (2686-687).
These words would not only be appropriate to ideally describe the sort of fear-ridden sensation and impaired, dark vision experienced by a soldier fighting in some mountain trench (thus subtly reminding the reader of a way-of-seeing similar to the one likely experienced by the Author's son at the front). They also suggest that, after all, there is not much difference between the Author and a Character who is, like him, half-blind ("mezzo cieco"), and in need of help ("s'ajutava con gli occhiali" 2682) to truly "see" and decipher reality, be it either a simple note stuck on a door or the "atrocissima vita" (2687) by-produced by the conflict. (10) The distance between Author and Character and, in turn, between Author and son, the latter "sciaguratamente" (2687) conjoined despite their separation, diminishes as the story progresses and, ultimately, the figure of the Author cannot but allude once more to the self-reflexive, multifaceted, and fragmented nature of the typical Pirandellian subject.
"Con chi potevo io veramente comunicare [...] in un momento come quello?" (2687), asks the Author at the conclusion of the first dialogue, evoking at once the particular limitations of his own language to represent reality and convey one's innermost feelings and more general, widespread modernist questions on the problematic relationship between words and things. Let us read his answer, "ombre nell'ombra," in conjunction with the second piece of the "Colloquii," in which the shadow of the Author's recently deceased mother takes the place of the Character while, through a reversal of perspective common in Pirandello's fiction, the figure of the son coincides with the Author. Thus Pirandello's answer suggests that only shadows and specters will be his interlocutors in a world becoming more familiar with feelings of mourning and loss; a world, that is, where death is increasingly undermining the subjectivity of those still living, alienating them even further from reality, and where even the illusion of any existential or epistemological certainty is coming to an end: "E caduto a me, alla mia realta, un sostegno un conforto [...]. Tu sei e sarai per sempre la Mamma mia; ma io? io, figlio, fui e non sono piu, non saro piu." (2693-94). Although the memories evoked by the mother as she reminisces about her family's past would seem to shift the attention away from the present, to the heroic period of the "Risorgimento" and the First War of Independence, the Great War makes a forceful reappearance as she communicates to him probably her most important message:
Ma ecco, per questo appunto sono venuta, figlio mio, per dirti questo, che tu l'hai voluta questa guerra contro tanti che non la volevano e lo sapevi che se poco ti sarebbe costato sacrificare in essa la tua vita, tanto, troppo invece ti sarebbe costato il solo rischio di quella del tuo figliolo. E l'hai voluta. Tu paghi, dunque, di sofferenze piu che se fossi andato.
In this instance too, the largest and darkest shadow of all, the ongoing conflict, continues to loom. Quite paradoxically, if you wish, the delicate evocation of a loving family figure and of childhood travel memories culminates in a quite abrupt shift to the present in the implicit maternal reminder--which feels more like a scolding--that any attempt to distance oneself, or remove "questa guerra" from one's mind and field of vision, can only be ephemeral and illusory.
Times of War
Temporal and epistemological issues, particularly the manner in which the war and its inhuman toll on soldiers and civilians alter one's inner perception of time --in turn accelerating, slowing, or freezing it in an instant--may be traced in "Quando si comprende" (1918) and "Ieri e oggi" (1919). Although these two short stories were published more or less one year apart, belong to different collections in the Novelle (respectively, Donna Mimma and Dal naso al cielo), and each constitutes a separate and complete narrative on its own, they are nevertheless intimately connected by the content of their plots. Surprisingly, they both revolve around the motif of the "son at the front." As a matter of fact, in a way similar to the "Colloquii," these two stories could arguably even be considered as sections of an ongoing, single narration, yet perceived and told each time from different points of view held by the recurring, common characters. Following this interpretation, one could also view the events narrated in the later short story ("Ieri e oggi") as chronologically anticipating those in the earlier one, thus potentially rehearsing, at an additional and (macro-)structural level, familiar and modernist strategies of Pirandellian perspectival and temporal reversals.
The short, declarative opening line of "Ieri e oggi," "La guerra era scoppiata da pochi giorni" (1362), immediately provides the story with an atmosphere of both finality and anticipation. Readers are literally thrown into the fait accompli of the conflict, and simultaneously invited to find out the forthcoming implications of such a recent explosion in the following pages. One of these consequences is that Marino Lerna, together with twelve other young volunteers of a "corso accelerato di allievi ufficiali" (1363), learns that he needs to immediately leave the safety of his training camp in Macerata in order to go to combat on the Podgora front. This unexpected piece of news generates contrasting reactions of "stordimento" and "delusa ebbrezza" in him and his comrades. Everyone, nonetheless, also struggles to maintain a mask of nonchalant confidence: "[...] tornarono a riprendersi con uno studio di mostrare l'uno all'altro che quella loro disinvoltura non era punto affettata" (1363). For example, a fellow soldier named Sarri, "ricco e solo al mondo," certain that death in combat will find him soon, actually devotes himself entirely to enjoying the present and thus just uses his time to satisfy "il gusto piu facile, quello bestiale dell'altro sesso" (1364). In his mind, he is already foreseeing and anticipating post-war scenarios, and is disgusted by the ostentatious demonstrations of heroism and patriotism he imagines on the horizon. Consistent with the rebellious identity and behavior he wishes to project (i.e., the mask he is currently wearing), Sarri does not plan to inform anyone of his imminent departure--anyone, that is, but his mistress, Nini, who followed him from Rome.
Marino Lerna, on the other hand, not only decides to telegraph his parents, but also urges them to visit him to say goodbye in person: "[...] se prendevano il treno delle dieci di sera, avrebbero fatto in tempo a salutarlo prima della partenza" (1365). As the line above, with its abundance of temporal references, may already suggest, the real protagonist during the subsequent farewell episode between parents and son, "uno strazio inutile" (1366), is time itself. On the one hand, we perceive its increased fugacity in these circumstances, and, on the other, how the dramatic force of the events affects its subjective perception, disrupting its linear flow, compressing and mixing the dimensions of past, present and future. From a stylistic perspective, a series of active verbs communicating fast, frenetic movement, and of idiomatic expressions related to speed, emphasize the rushed quality of both the brief familial encounter and the soldiers' departure. Thus, Marino, after dropping his parents at their hotel, "dovette scappar subito in caserma" (1366); later, he returns there "in fretta e furia" (1366), only to run out again to get his combat boots. His comrades arrive "in gran fretta all'albergo" (1367), and then, as the narrative pace intensifies even further and everything seems to be sucked into the void, everyone leaves: "via tutti a precipizio, in carrozza, di gran trotto. [...] Piu che un distacco, fu uno strappo, una furia, un precipizio" (1367). In contrast, Marino's mother's perception of the events seems associated with a "slower" temporal dimension, and already oriented toward the past. Her concern for her son's fate and possessive, though understandable, desire to hold on to his image--something stable within the impending chaos--anchors her to a "ieri" which, nonetheless, coincides also with her feeling of impotence and "precariousness of existence," as Dombroski remarks (Properties 91):
[...] il senso che le facevano tutte le parole, tutti gli atti del suo figliuolo: un senso strano e crudele, di ricordo.--Ogni parola, capisci? Mi fa l'effetto che non me la dica ora, ma che me la diceva .Cosi! Mi resta impressa, come se lui gia non ci fosse piu ... Che posso farci? ... Dio ... Dio ...
Her instinctive inclination to "freeze" her feelings and her son's image in an individual memory is a desperate attempt to give an illusory, permanent form to his (and her) identity. But, as every reader of Pirandello knows, there are serious dangers in this process: "Ma guai a fermarti in una sola realta; in essa si finisce per soffocare, per atrofizzarsi, per morire" (Pirandello, qtd. in Dombroski, Properties 70).
At the conclusion of "Ieri e oggi," this motherly, backward-looking approach towards time and reality is thus juxtaposed with that of Nini, the young prostitute who is also mournful because of the recent departure of Sarri and his fellow soldiers. Contrary to the respectable "signora Lerna," in fact, she gives herself not only literally, to the officers, but also to the eddy of time, namely, she allows her "Self [...] [to] desolve into the All" (Dombroski, Properties 91), accepting the "oggi," and, with it, the continuous flux of life. Individuality, in fact,--Dombroski continues--"is, by Pirandellian definition, indistinctiveness" (91):
Non era stata soltanto del Sarri ultimamente, a Roma, la Nini; era stata anche di altri compagni di lui in quel plotone allievi ufficiali. [...] A mezzogiorno era stata a tavola con loro, con dieci di loro.[...] Glien'avevano fatte di tutti i colori [...]. Avevano volute finanche scoprirle il seno [...] e lei li aveva lasciati fare e toccare, baciare, premere, stringere, strappare, perche se lo portassero, si, vivo lassu, quell'ultimo ricordo della sua carne d'amore. [...] Ma le era arrivato da parte del Sarri quel terribile schiaffo sulla guancia destra. (11)
By continuing to generously offer her body and, after the train leaves for the front, to cry for everyone's fate ("Lei per uno solo ... io per tutti ... posso per tutti ... anche per suo figlio [...]. 1370), thus rejecting the role Sarri had implicitly chosen for her, Nini escapes being stuck in a singular, fixed moment and identity, and seems to achieve the paradoxical condition of selfless, "indistinctiveness" mentioned above. It is only natural, therefore, that, in the end, neither tears nor communication can be shared between her and "signora Lerna," two women who react to and cope with the pain and desperation caused by the war's demands in such antipodal ways. Seen by the "signora" "in compagnia d'un giovanotto" just a day after the soldiers' departure, Nini's response sanctions both the conclusion of the story and the existential chasm that divides them: "--Povera mamma buona e stupida--le disse con quello sguardo.--E non capisci che la vita e cosi? Ieri ho pianto per uno. Bisogna che oggi rida per quest'altro" (1370).
As its title suggests, at least a partial answer to Nini's question about the issue of "understanding" life can be found in "Quando si comprende." This story focuses on something that "Ieri e oggi" merely hinted at--the conversation that takes place on the train from Rome to Macerata between afflicted parents about to bid farewell to their son and five other travelers. What emerges in the initial part of the dialogue is each character's tendency to claim the pre-eminence of her/his own personal war-related tragedy--for in fact the conflict is affecting everyone's families--and, in particular, the mother's desperate unwillingness to accept that someone else is able to experience, and actually live with, the same anguish she feels. However, when a "viaggiatore grasso e sanguigno" reverses the perspective and brings up the point of view of his own son, ultimately revealing that he passed away at the front, something changes:
Bisogna non piangere, ridere ... o come piango io, sissignori, contento, perche mio figlio m'ha mandato a dire che la sua vita--la sua capite? Quella che noi dobbiamo vedere in loro, e non la nostra--la sua vita lui se l'era spesa come meglio non avrebbe potuto, e che e morto contento [...]. le labbra livide sui denti mancanti gli tremavano; gli occhi, quasi liquefatti, gli sgocciolavano; e termino con due scatti di riso che potevano anche esser singhiozzi.
These words represent a powerful epiphany for the mother ("trasecolo" 1474). She suddenly understands both the isolated singularity and the egocentric self-centeredness of her anguish: "[...] comprese che non gia gli altri non sentivano cio che ella sentiva; ma lei, al contrario, non riusciva a sentire qualcosa che tutti gli altri sentivano e per cui potevano rassegnarsi, non solo alla partenza, ma ecco, anche alla morte del proprio figliuolo" (1473). When, however, she tries to confirm and solidify this recently acquired knowledge, the simple question she poses to her fellow traveler--"Ma dunque. dunque il suo figliolo e morto?" (1474)--has an even more devastating (and enlightening) effect on the "viaggiatore.". This question confronts him with a factual reality different from the (fictional) one he held to be true and, thus, reveals the fundamental vacuity of his earlier, heroic argument. His own, individual tragedy, then, ultimately manifests itself as he sadly sees beyond the repressive, meaningless artificiality of his own rhetoric and realizes that, indeed, "il suo figliuolo era veramente morto per lui" (1474). At the same time, the traveler's realization of the emptiness existing behind language, of the ultimate incapacity of words to represent experience, is intimately connected to his own experience of the war, to the impact it has on him and, in short, to its modernist capacity to generate, as Booth writes, a "terrifying tension around the categories of fact and fiction" (12).
Real and Imagined War
The last short story I wish to discuss, Pirandello's "Frammento di cronaca," is among the longest texts in the Novelle despite its definition and nature of "fragment." (12) For, in fact, it would seem to represent a particularly fitting example and exploration of such a tension between fact and fiction.
At the beginning of this novella, which is divided in eleven parts, we learn that its protagonist, Marco Leccio, is an old, patriotic "veterano garibaldino, reduce di Bezzecca" ("Frammento" 2703). Marco lost both his father and a dear friend during the earlier unification war. Although he cannot be anything but proud of the fact that three of his older sons (he has a total of seven) are already fighting at the front, he cannot bear that his youngest, Giacomino, will soon leave for combat. In the course of the story, the father tries to enlist with his son Giacomino and, once he fails--expectedly, given his age, physical condition, and discordance with modern times--(13) he ends up following the war and "fighting" from his home office, filled with military maps, books, weapons, and relics of the Risorgimento Wars.
Named after the battle fought by Garibaldi in the Third War of Independence, Bezzecca, Marco's daughter, is married to a watchmaker, an "oriundo svizzero tedesco" ("Frammento" 2701), "il signor Livo Truppel," thus creating a peculiar, oxymoronic (and comical) situation at a time when Italians and Austro-Hungarians are fighting on opposite sides. In parallel with the ongoing war, Marco Leccio's own family and home are also sites of conflict and anxiety. (14) After Roman demonstrators attack the German shop in the city center owned by Truppel and his brother Guglielmo, Marco tries to convince the two brothers to change their name to the Italian "Truppa." But Marco's naive, passionate attempt is seen by Guglielmo Truppel as an action fraught with "ingiurie e minacce" ("Frammento" 2704), and, paradoxically, is followed by the government officials' imposition of a monetary fine upon the Truppel brothers.
Narrated with Pirandello's trademark humor and grotesque tones, this episode serves to immediately define the fiery nature and the lively, patriotic, and combative spirit of the old protagonist ("c'e da gridare contro quanti in quest'ora suprema non sentono il loro dovere di italiani" "Frammento" 2704), and the in-between status of the peaceful, meek Livo Truppel. The latter, suddenly perceived as an enemy, realizes that he can no longer go to the Bezzecca anniversary party at Marco Leccio's house, and feels that his own house, too, is becoming a battlefield. (15) He thus decides that he "non avrebbe rimesso piede mai piu nella casa del suocero e che se il suocero veniva qualche sera da lui a visitare la figliuola egli [...] oltre il saluto non gli avrebbe rivolto la parola e, dopo il saluto, avrebbe sputato in terra.[...] Truppel promise, giuro per placare il fratello" ("Frammento" 2705).
The conflicting nationalities of the protagonists in this episode suggest that the events taking place in these "bellicose" domestic spaces also constitute a parodical and critical commentary on the sort dynamics associated with the war itself. The repeated act of "sputare in terra" ("Frammento" 2705) performed by Guglielmo Truppel, for example, may make one think at the war generals' obsession with delimiting borders and marking and controlling access to conquered territories. Marco Leccio's stubborn impulsiveness and Guglielmo's refusal to enter Marco's house, in turn, may evoke the irrationality and rigidity of war threats, as well as the lack of tolerance, narrow-mindedness, and selfserving, expedient promises that characterize any conflict. Ambivalence and allusiveness, after all, should not be surprising elements within a narrative context in which the real, undeclared reason behind Marco Leccio's wish to enlist is his love and anguish for Giacomino's fate. In Marco, "fervore patriottico" ("Frammento" 2707), sense of military duty, and belief that "questa e veramente una santa guerra" ("Frammento" 2729), coexist and are juxtaposed with his realization that such a war, with its despiteful modern strategy, has also an economic cause and is among the byproducts of rising capitalist powers. As he tells Livo Truppel while particularly upset about the lack of news from the front: "Bel paese, va' la il tuo! [...] Affarone, la guerra! Anche per gli Stati Uniti di America, si! Affaroni, affaroni. Sfido io! con questa guerra che non si vede! [...] Migliaia di lire per ogni cannonata, che spesso fa ridere i soldati. Un bel congegno, per tutti i fornitori, questa strategia moderna...." ("Frammento" 2734).
Indeed, Marco Leccio cannot really "see" a war that, because of its modern technological advancements and combat techniques, is so different from the ideal, glorious one he has in mind. Machinery and modern science ("meccanici e [...] farmacisti" 'Frammento" 2722) have taken the place of soldiers' bravery, and have resulted in the increase of casualties and the pointless extension of the fighting ("questa macchina stupida e mostruosa della [...] strategia moderna, che mangia vite, strazia carni, e non conclude nulla" "Frammento" 2721). Marco's predilection for old-fashioned weapons ("la bajonetta, l'arma vera, che ha bisogno di coraggio e non di scienza" "Frammento" 2721), for individual acts of valor and past honor codes, and his understanding of the Great War as overlapping with, and direct "prosecuzione e compimento di quella del 1866" ("Frammento" 2709), can only serve to limit and confuse his vision or, at least, to make it far from a clear, univocal one. (16)
Within this context, Marco Leccio's own "guerra sulla carta" conducted from a number of illuminated, flagged maps and relief models displayed in his home office, with the usual assistance of his poor veteran friend, Tiralli, is also a way for him to actually bring this war into view, to paradoxically "see" it and understand it better by (literally and metaphorically) playing around with the notions of light and darkness, alternatively switching one bulb on, and turning another off. (17) From his peculiar temporal perspective, one that oscillates between past memories and present facts, affecting his perception of space and reality, (18) he is thus able to momentarily feed the illusion that he can follow the war's developments, participate in combat, and, as he tells Tiralli, even dictate its future, historical outcome ("Togli via subito codesta bandierina! Kowno resiste e resistera ancora per un pezzo, te lo dico io" "Frammento" 2720):
Su ciascuna di queste carte pende dal soffitto [...] una lampada elettrica. Cinque lampade elettriche, di sera tutte accese, che fanno un bel vedere. Marco Leccio [...] passa fulmineamente da un teatro di guerra all'altro e vuole che le sue indicazioni, le sue tracce, le sue mosse si vedano e si seguano chiaramente. Di queste lampadine, quattro sono bianche, una azzurra. L'azzurra pende sul teatro di guerra del Trentino, che non e propriamente una carta delle solite, ma una plastica in rilievo di cartapesta colorata [...]. Spegne Marco Leccio le altre quattro lampadine e lascia accesa qua quest'ultima azzurra [...] che conservi e accresca l'illusione della realta a quel rilievo colorato. [...] Poi serra gli occhi e si sforza di distrarre l'animo dall'immagine del suo figliuolo in pericolo, richiamando gli antichi ricordi della campagna garibaldina lassu.
In its anticipation of a very similar episode in "Berecche e la guerra," in which its homonymous protagonist continues to play his childhood game, "Theater of War,", even as an adult, the extended map scene in the "Frammento di cronaca" equally conveys the idea of the constructed nature of history which, as Dashwood observes, "like a map [...] is dependent on the perceptions, motives, choices and omissions of its makers and interpreters, and the validity of those perceptions is fragile and fleeting" (18). After all, maps could be considered a particular kind of adult "war toy," one which enables both Berecche and Marco Leccio to "breake and remake" (Higonnet 116) the facts of history according to their whims, while also having the effect of "domesticating] war [...] reminding] us that war is not something that happens far away on a neatly contained 'battlefront' but part of the everyday" (Higonnet 119).
The narrator's observation that the various operations of "strategia moderna" Marco Leccio performs with the help of his maps ("studio indefesso [...] dei punti, delle linee, delle posizioni") are not so different from those of a "duce supremo d'una guerra" ("Frammento" 2723), make me think of yet another approach to these crucial scene[s], especially if one reads them against the backdrop of some of Allyson Booth's fitting remarks on the interrelations between maps, WWI and modernism. Maps, she notes,
provide apt images of the dangerous gap between representation and experience, and they were frequently exploited by combatants as a means for critiquing inadequate or irresponsible representations of war. Many soldiers recognized that the generals' views of war, so often limited to a study of maps, encouraged a dangerous illusion of having access to the material world of battle when, actually, what they had access to was only a series of representations.
Furthermore, she continues, while maps are informed by a univocal, one-directional synecdochic logic, one that "relies on the assumption that one knows what smaller space is a part of what larger one," modernist writers' more complex handling of "the relationship between representation and experience [...] thwarts the orderly habits of mind" (Booth 99) such a logic invites, since they show its limitations and inadequacy to appreciate multiple, contradictory perspectives. It goes without saying that Pirandello's "Frammento di cronaca" would seem a particularly good place to test the implications and meditate further on Booth's assertions.
First of all, the fact that what Marco Leccio does in his home study is "non molto dissimile" from what a "duce supremo" (2723) does in his base camp or, in other words, that the (partial) vision and "fantasy" representation of combat produced by an anxious, restless, and emotionally upset old veteran closely recalls those of a general, not only confirms the narrator's ironic and parodical attitude, or the porous, unstable borders between illusion and reality. From a more concrete perspective, the narrator's remark is also another hint at Pirandello's critical attitude and fundamental aversion to the conflict.
That is, Pirandello seems to indirectly question the skills and the often "irresponsible" (Booth 94) conduct of contemporary, WWI military strategists and modern political leaders, especially if, along with Marco Leccio, one also compares the latter's alluded "deafness" in terms of strategy and weaponry to the openly admired, heroic Risorgimento figures whose portraits hang in his office: "ritratti: quello di Mazzini e di Garibaldi [...] di Nino Bixio e di Stefano Canzio e di Menotti, di Felice Orsini e di Guglielmo Oberdan [...].--Va' a dirlo a Joffre, va' a dirlo a French, va' a dirlo a Cadorna!" ("Frammento" 2716/2723).
Secondly, Marco Leccio's idiosyncratic, dreamy, memory-induced and, ultimately, emotional, artistic relationship to his maps--one that considers their accurate interpretation as less relevant than the gratification provided by the coincidental realism of some maneuver; that lets his mind analeptically wander from a material site on paper to a mnemonic one in his consciousness and, finally, that almost neurotically alternates between moments of enjoyment for his table game and frustrated rejection--would seem to indeed ironically question what Booth calls "the narrow logic of a synecdoche" (99). (19) Marco Leccio strategizes in his home office:
Certo, se una mossa prevista da lui in questo o in quel teatro della Guerra [...] s'effettua proprio come lui l'ha prevista, se ne compiace. [...] non badando piu nemmeno se la mossa indovinata sia in favore dei tedeschi e a danno degli alleati, perche veramente l'arte, di qualunque genere sia, e il regno del sentimento disinteressato [...]. Ma non e questo! Non vorrebbe far questo Marco Leccio! Gl'importa assai che i duci supremi oggi combattano le guerre come lui, su la carta!
That same logic seems to be undermined even further towards the conclusion of the novella, when "una mosca maledetta che viene ostinatamente a posarsi su la carta plastica del Trentino" ("Frammento" 2729), a metaphorical image of reason, repeatedly breaks Marco's illusions, conveying both their ephemerality and the difficulty of containing the complex dynamics of war within the representational limits of a map.
Through the vicissitudes of a protagonist who seems to depend on the fragile illusion provided by his maps, and is confronted with their ultimate uselessness, Pirandello, in line with his poetics of humor, implicitly calls attention to the multifarious spaces of war, to war's impact on internal, emotional, subjective landscapes, as well as on external, geographical ones and, in short, to a quintessentially modernist "awareness of and [...] appreciation for multiple points of view" (Booth 99). (20) In this sense, similar to Berecche's loss of control and plunge into insanity, Marco Leccio's final, destructive gesture is a sign of "the collapse of his illusions and ideals" (Dashwood 18): "sdegnato, diede un calcio a tutte quelle carte nel suo studio, e non volle piu saperne" ("Frammento" 2737).
The blank space on the page separating Marco Leccio's gesture (described by the narrator in a separate paragraph) from his first-person, suddenly truncated reply to Tiralli ("i tradimenti che sono stati finora la ...") may well represent typographically such a "collapse." As it points to a communicative failure directly caused by the war, this textual void seems to paradoxically emblematize both an absence and a presence. On the one hand, it cannot but confirm the war's relative marginality in Pirandello's oeuvre. On the other, however, especially if the war is imagined as a sort of trench and "linear wound" on the page, it also cannot but evoke the peculiar front that the Great War opened in Pirandello's private life and domestic sphere, and that, as I have hopefully demonstrated, these modernist short stories have repeatedly attempted to represent.
University of Virginia
Booth, Allyson. Postcards from the Trenches. Negotiating the Space between Modernism and the First World War. New York, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
Dashwood, Julie. "Introduction." to Pirandello. Berecche and the War. Tr. and Intro. J.
Dashwood. Leicester: Troubadour Publishing Ltd., 2000. 1-23. Web.
Dombroski, Robert. "Pirandellian Nakedness." Luigi Pirandello. Contemporary Perspectives 125-38.
--. Properties of Writing. Ideological Discourse in Modern Italian Fiction. Baltimore: The John Hopkins UP, 1994.
Fussell, Paul. "Introduction: On Modern War." The Norton Book of Modern War. Ed. Paul Fussell. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.
Gibelli, Antonio. L'officina della guerra. La Grande Guerra e le trasformazioni del mondo mentale. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1991.
Gieri, Manuela. "Of Thresholds and Boundaries: Luigi Pirandello between Modernity and Modernism." Italian Modernism 294-306.
Higonnet, Margaret. "War Toys: Breaking and Remaking in Great War Narratives." The Lion and the Unicorn 31.2 (2007): 116-31.
Isnenghi, Mario. Il mito della grande guerra. Bologna: il Mulino, 1989.
Italian Modernism. Italian Culture between Decadentism and Avant-Garde. Ed. L. Somigli and M. Moroni. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 2004.
Luigi Pirandello. Contemporary Perspectives. Ed. Gian Paolo Biasin and Manuela Gieri. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1999.
Mariani, Annachiara. "Solitude and the Fragmentation of Self: The Disillusioned Representation of Man in the Plays of Luigi Antonelli and Luigi Pirandello." About Face: Depicting the Self in the Written and Visual Arts. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2009. 165-74.
Padovani, Gisella. "I temi della maternita, della guerra, della morte in alcuni testi narrativi e teatrali di Luigi Pirandello." in La Figure de la mere dans la literature contemporaine. E-talis 1 (2013). Web.
Pirandello, Luigi. Come tu mi vuoi. Milano: Mondadori, 1971.
--. Novelle per un anno. Vols. 1-3. Firenze: Giunti, 1994.
Piredda, Patrizia, ed. The Great War in Italy. Representation and Interpretation. Leicester: Troubadour Publishing, 2013.
Tate Trudi. Modernism, History and the First World War. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1998.
World War 1 Bridges: http://www.worldwarone.it/2014/01/luigi-pirandello-and-hisberecche-and.html
(1) The links between the Great War and literary modernism have been widely explored in recent years. There should be no need to recall Paul Fussell's argument that the First World War takes place "within a context of cultural 'modernism,' and indeed is one of its causes" (23). Allyson Booth also observes that "the Great War was experienced by soldiers as strangely modernist and that modernism itself is strangely haunted by the Great War" (6). Finally, Trudi Tate's work has also shown (and, at the same time, problematized) the vicinity and permeability of the categories of "modernism" and "war writing."
(2) Of course, this list could be further expanded with names such as Alvaro, Gadda, Lussu, and many others.
(3) One exception (besides the texts I will soon be considering) is the play Come tu mi vuoi (1929) which, however, takes place "dieci anni dopo la grande guerra europea" (Pirandello, Come 86).
(4) Incidentally, when Booth lists some of the "familiar aspects of modernism," which include "the dissolution of borders around the self, the mistrust of factuality, the fascination with multiple points of view" (4), she could ideally be referring also to fundamental aspects in Pirandello's poetics.
(5) Pirandello's presence in Mario Isnenghi's fundamental book, Il mito della grande Guerra, is mostly limited to footnotes. In the only instance his name appears in the main text, Isnenghi respectfully liquidates him with: "Lontanissima poi e la capacita di riconoscimento critico dell'esistente dei grandi, da Svevo a Pirandello. Cosi la tensione si spegne troppo spesso in burle e bozzetti di dimensione novellistica e paesana" (39). In other words, according to Isnenghi, important writers such as Svevo and Pirandello are far from being able to critically assess the real situation and impact of the conflict ("l'esistente"). As a consequence, when they deal with the war in their works, the narrative tension (and, implicitly, the "seriousness" of the topic) is "extinguished" (because they choose to represent the war only in what Isnenghi considers minor literary genres such as "burle" and "bozzetti." Also, no essay is dedicated to Pirandello in Patrizia Piredda's recent collection, The Great War in Italy. Representation and Interpretation (2013).
(6) For a list of these war-related stories, see also Gisella Padovani's article.
(7) See "Note ai testi e varianti" in Pirandello, Novelle per un anno 3.2, p. 1408.
(8) See especially the fine reading provided by Julie Dashwood in her introduction to the English version, as she notes: "In this novella Pirandello uses the semantics of suffering and madness to convey the state of mind of the protagonist and the world he inhabits" (20).
(9) See also the short stories "Personaggi" (1906), "La tragedia di un personaggio (1911) and, most famously, the play Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore.
(10) "Colloquii" begins by reproducing the "Avviso" which the Author stuck on his office door.
(11) Interestingly, this same idea of flesh as a mnemonic token of love will reappear, literally materializing itself and with much darker tones, in another short-story related to the First World War: F. T. Marinetti's "La carne congelata" (1922), later republished with slight revisions as "Come si nutriva l'Ardito" in Novelle con le labbra tinte (1930).
(12) By the way, the "Frammento" is approximately the same length of "Berecche e la guerra," of which, as noted, it anticipates various themes and motifs.
(13) "Non si sente piu sicuro di se, sente che gli manca un appoggio, l'appoggio solito della propria realta nel suo figliuolo. [...] esposto alla ridicola realta, che ha assunto per gli altri, il suo papa che e vecchio e non sa che oggi non si pensa piu cosi, non si va piu a spasso vestiti cosi, con quel cappello di quella foggia, per esempio, e piu cosi non si parla e piu cosi non si ride, e via di seguito" ("Frammento" 2711).
(14) It is not surprising, also given Pirandello's own biographical experience, that the family is often a site of deep tensions and anxieties.
(15) This situation of "in-betweennes" will be developed much more in "Berecche e la guerra," whose homonymous protagonist is a "tedescone spatriato" ("Berecche" 2193). The sixth section of "Berecche," entitled "Il signor Livo Truppel," reproduces a substantial part of the first two sections in "Frammento di cronaca."
(16) Marco Leccio's long list of "materiale bellico [...] obici [...] mortaj da 305 e 420, fucili a tiro rapido, mitragliatrici, dirigibili [...] gas asfissianti, bombe incendiarie [...] tanks, trincee scavate a macchina, blindate [...]." ("Frammento" 2721-22) evidently communicates his deep anxiety about the "development of new weapons technology" (Tate 6).
(17) Since Marco Leccio is trying to re-live his wishes and fantasy of war in the present via the maps, a notion similar to the one of "acting out" mentioned by Mariani in her article could perhaps accompany his "seeing" (166).
(18) "E non e gia che quel lago di Garda e quelle valli e quei monti siano cosi piccoli perche finti [...] no: cosi piccoli sono perche egli li guarda da lontano lontano. [...] nel ricordo" ("Frammento" 2717).
(19) In this light, it may be relevant to observe that the absurd death of Marchetto (Marco Leccio's nephew) "mentre raccoglieva i feriti" (2726), is not only juxtaposed to the past, glorious one of Lavezzari (an old "garibaldino" fighter), but also immediately follows the protagonist's realization of the ultimate irrelevance of his game: "[...] stiamo qua a giocare come due ragazzini scimuniti con le carte e le bandierine! Puah!" ("Frammento" 2725).
(20) Booth observes that such an awareness is a trait of modernist writers. Joyce, for example, inverts the "common mapping logic" of Dublin in Finnegans Wake (99), and Stevens, in his "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Mockingbird," may implicitly mock the "clear, singular, bird's eye perspective" (100) which Great War's generals adopted when looking at the maps on their desks.
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|Title Annotation:||Luigi Pirandello|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2015|
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