Text and Context for a Short Story by Pirandello

by Michael Hanne
Text and Context for a Short Story by Pirandello
Michael Hanne
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Text and Context for a Short Story by Pirandello

Critical Response to the Novelle

uigi Pirandello was one of the great short-story writers of the early twentieth century. Between 1884, when, at the age of seventeen, he published his first story, "La capannetta," in a Turin newspaper, and 1936, the year of his death, in which he wrote six stories, Pirandello composed more than 230 novelle. Moreover, despite his world-wide renown as a dramatist, and considerable success as a novelist, it was to the short story that he showed an almost constant devotion. throughout his fifty-year writing career. Gaspare Giudice, his biographer, confirms that, whenever Pirandello had fulfilled an obligation to write a play, he would return with pleasure to writing short stories (and, to a lesser extent, novels) "poiche solo per questo si sentiva fatto" (305), and his son Stefano declared after Pirandello's death that "gli piaceva pensare che allora il suo teatro sarebbe apparso come una parentesi nella sua piu vasta opera di narratore" (Landi 15).

Writers on Pirandello have, nevertheless, struggled to do justice to his remarkable output as a short-story writer. For the first decades after his death, little critical work was done on the novelle and Olga Ragusa was substantially correct when, in her 1980 monograph, she .declared that "Pirandello's short stories, though greatly admired by some critics who place them even above his plays as successful works of art, have been by and large neglected" (62). In fact, Pirandello scholars were, at that point, just beginning to acknowledge the importance of the novelle and, in a variety of ways, to pay tribute to this segment of his writing. The process was initiated by [ern Moestrup, in 1972, in his The Structural Patterns of Pirandello's Work, when he included a sizeable section on the short stories in his discussion of each phase of Pirandello's career. Douglas Radcliff-Umstead likewise devoted sixty pages of his 1978 book, TheMirrorofOurAnguish:A Study of Luigi Pirandello's Narrative Writings, to the short stories, before moving on to the novels. A conference held in Agrigento in 1979, sponsored by the Centro Nazionale di Studi Pirandelliani, was entirely devoted to the novelle, and fifteen papers from that conference were published the following year (see Milioto). The fullest treatment yet of the short stories is a monograph by Franco Zangrilli, L'arte novellistica di Pirandello, published in 1983. And through the 1980s and '90s there

ITALICA Volume 76 Number 1 (1999)

has been a fair sprinkling of articles on topics as diverse as: animal motifs (Nardi), the theme of birth (jepson and Firth), the theme of death (Maslanka), the roles assigned to women (Di Paolo), and narrative techniques deriving from the cinema (Vitti-Alexander), in the novelle.

Despite this flurry of activity, Pirandello scholars still have difficulty in evaluating the short stories and in locating them appropriately within his total literary achievement. A recent Companion to Pirandello Studies, for instance, with a total of 27 articles, the great majority on aspects of his theatre, finds room in its last pages for only one-and-a-half essays on the novelle (see Di Gaetani).

To be fair, there are a number of intrinsic difficulties in confronting such a large body of short stories: not only their sheer number,1 but their variable quality, the absence of a Decameron-like frame or setting (despite Pirandello's intention, when he decided, in 1922, to arrange them as Novelle per un anno, that there be one story for every day of the year),2 and the difficulty of discerning a clear development in his handling of the form over five decades.I So there is an unavoidable arbitrariness about the selection by critics of one theme, or another, in the novelle for close study, and about the choice of stories for detailed discussion by those scholars who aim to be comprehensive, or at least representative, in their treatment of the noueiie:"

A further obstacle to adequate critical treatment of Pirandello's short stories has been the fact that he subsequently adapted so many of them for the theatre.P This has led a number of critics to view the stories primarily as raw material for the theatrical "end-product.rv In the words of Olga Ragusa, "there has been an underlying assumption that the stories exist for the plays, that they are a kind of zibaldone which provided Pirandello with material when he needed it" (62), and there have been numerous studies presenting the novelle in that light."

I like to think of the two volumes of the Mondadori edition of Novelle perun anno as resembling a jeweler's display case, containing over 200 gems, some of the highest quality and brilliantly faceted, others of lower quality and more crudely cut. It is very difficult to respond appreciatively to such a massed display, as one's eye tends to flit from one gem to another, seeking similarities between them, and attempting rough categorizations and evaluations. Giuseppe Petronio, almost 50 years ago, insisted on the desirability of reading Pirandelle's output of stories in toto: "appunto Pirandello va letto non novella per novella, rna nel suo complesso, tutti i due grossi volumi, con i loro pregi ed i loro difetti" (49), but, in so doing, most readers find it hard to maintain their critical edge.

While sharing Petronio's distaste for the arbitrary anthologizing of Pirandello's stories, I propose here a rather different (but, eventually, complementary) strategy: to extract from the collection a single story, "La giara" (1909)-which Pirandello scholars have always found fascinating, without, I believe, ever quite understanding why -and subject it to a very close examination. I aim to show that much of the multi-faceted brilliance of the story derives from the fact that the elements of plot are articulated around a dense (and previously unnoticed) metaphorical core. Then I remind the reader that, before its appearance in the grand display-case provided by the two volumes of the Mondadori edition of Novelle perun anno, "La giara," like the majority of Pirandello's stories written before 1920, had in fact already been displayed in three quite distinct settings. It was published first in a newspaper in 1909, then in a small collection of the author's novelle, Terzetti in 1912, then in the very different selection he made for the publication of volume 11 of the Novellein 1928.8 Precisely because of its multi-faceted character, this gem of a story appears, I suggest, to quite different effect in each of these settings.

"La giara": A Reading

In "La giara," a prosperous Sicilian landowner, don Lollo, anticipating an extra large olive harvest, purchases a gigantic terracotta jar to hold the extra oil that will be produced. The jar is placed in a storeroom, and, after a couple of days, is found mysteriously broken. A jarmender Zi' Dima, famous in the area for having invented his own uniquely powerful glue, is called. But don Lollo insists on the use of wire rivets as well as glue. Zi' Dima sets to work, angry at this lack of trust in his glue, and mends the jar with glue and wire, but ends up trapped inside. The glue is so powerful that the only way to release him would be to smash the jar. Don Lollo, the jar-owner, rides to town to consult his lawyer, who advises that don Lollo is legally obliged to break the jar to release Zi' Dima, but that Zi' Dima will then be obliged to compensate him for the value of the jar. Don Lollo returns to the farm, to find Zi' Dima making himself comfortable in the jar, which has been brought out into the open, with the farm workers gathered round. Don Lollo stomps off into the house to sleep, and Zi' Dima gives the money he has been paid for repairing the jar to the farm workers to buy food and wine. Don Lollo is woken by the row of the festa that has developed, and, in his fury, smashes the jar against an olive tree. So Zi' Dima has won.

Commentators on "La giara," with the exception of Josette Blanquat and Alessandro Falassi, have tended to dispose of the story too quickly, by slotting it into one or other of two categories. The one group of critics emphasizes the vividness of the physical and psychological depiction of the two central figures, and views the story as one of a handful of early "quadri siciliani," defined (and so limited) by their local color.? The other group starts from assumptions that downplay the importance of individual characterization and local color, such as: "Pirandello equello che si potrebbe definire uno scrittore situazionista. Non fa ritratti 0 studi psicologici" (Moestrup, "Struttura della novella pirandelliana" 35), or "the Pirandellian game can be played anywhere, its puppets are not bound to their nationality."10 From that perspective, "La giara" is seen as one of many stories illustrating aspects of Pirandello's philosophy of life. So, according to May, it is "a parable on the vanity of human wishes," and "a dramatic re-enactment of the perpetual conflict between the creative as inspiration and the creative as organization" (xix), or, according to Moestrup, "chance operating in its most purely comic form" (Structural Patterns 52).

The struggle between landowner and jarmender is a pretty obviously archetypal situation, employing such narrative motifs as "reversal of fortune," "triumph of the weak," "pride brought low" (see Thompson, classification L), but also "rescue," and "escape" (see Thompson, classification R). It has parallels with such folktales as Jack the giant-killer, but, more particularly, the many stories and plays depicting servants who outwit their masters. At the same time, at the center of the story, there operates an elemental dynamic that has been largely ignored by critics: an interaction between clusters of metaphors associated with the animal world, plant-life, the earth, and human beings.

The story opens with an account of the plentiful harvest, which at once establishes an analogy between the olive trees and child-bearing women: "Piena anche per gli ulivi, quell'annata. Piante massaje, cariche l'anno avanti, avevano raffermato tutte ..." (271; my italicsj.l' When the terracotta jar arrives, it, too, is described in human, and again specifically female, terms, "alta a petto d'uomo, bella panciuta e maestosa, che fosse delle altre cinque la badessa" (271). The metaphorical femaleness of the jar is all the more striking because there are no actual female characters in the short story. By contrast, don Lollo, tyrant in relation to his farm workers, as well as the jarmender, is portrayed by analogy with a wild animal: "Col cappellaccio bianco, in maniche di camicia, spettorato, affocato in volto e tutto sgocciolante di sudore, correva di qua e dila, girando gli occhi lupigni ..." (272). And, when we get to meet Zi' Dima, he is introduced as having some of the characteristics of an olive tree: "Era un vecchio sbilenco, dalle giunture storpie e nodose, come un ceppo antico d'olivo saraceno. Per cavargli una parola di bocca ci voleva l'uncino" (273).

The triangular relationship between don Lollo, the jar, and Zi' Dima is worked out in terms not only of the surface elements of plot, but also through interactions between their metaphorical attributes: animal, human-female, earthy, and vegetable.

The earthenware jar has served practical purposes as a household container, for storing and serving liquids, including water, oil, and wine for millennia. But it has also been widely used in religious rituals for pouring fluids regarded as sacred, including blood, ointment, oil, wine and water. Special jars have been used in religious ceremonies associated with fertility, in "hand-washing ceremonies before birth, prayers, and weddings, and in sympathetic magic to bring fertilizing rain."12 This fact gives point to the little ritual in which Zi' Dima appears to offer the contents of his much smaller container to the divinity, before applying his glue to the broken jar ("Apr! la seatola di latta che conteneva il mastice, e 10 leva al cielo, come per offrirlo a Dio ..."). In the medieval Christian world, the Holy Grail was the earthenware vessel in which Joseph of Aramathea was supposed to have received some of the blood of the crucified Christ, and was regarded as the most sacred and elusive relic of Christendom. But in other cultures, right around the Mediterranean and beyond, the jar has had symbolic status as an image of fertility, wealth, and the female principle. In Pirandello's "La giara," an intriguing balance is established between the Christian connotations for the jar (the chaste, asexual "badessa," etc) and its much more ancient, pagan connotations with fertility rites.I3 Don Lollo fails to respect his jar's human, female, even sacred, qualities, or to perceive its association with the fruitfulness of his own olive trees. Concerned only with its practical and economic function, he neglects to accord it an appropriate welcome:

Quella giara nuova, pagata quattr'onze ballanti e sonanti, in attesa del posto da trovarle in cantina, fu allogata provvisoriamente nel palmento. Una giara COS! non s'era mai veduta. Allogata in quell'antro intanfato di mosto e di quell'odore acre e crudo che cova nei luoghi senz'aria e senza luce, faceva pena. (271)

Don Lollo expects possession of the jar without accepting any of the associated cultural responsibilities.

In addition, and more significantly, in his raging, wolf-like manner, he also fails to respect the humanity of his workers, threatening them and hurling animal epithets at them, "vi fulmino tutti,jigli d'un cane!" (271), to the point where two of them are described by the narrative voice as having taken on those qualities, "stravolti nelle facce terrigne e bestiali" (273). He also uses such expletives as "Sangue della Madonna" (273). The blasphemous impropriety of his behavior is made explicit in such narratorial comments as: "E bestemmiava come un turco e minacciava di fulminare questo e quello, se un'oliva, che fosse un'oliva, gli fosse mancata" (272). It is this blasphemous disrespect that, on some mysterious, or at least metaphorical, level, appears to be the cause of the, otherwise unexplained, first breaking of the jar. Having threatened his workers that they will be struck by lightning, don Lollo is punished by the supernatural forces whose authority he has usurped, to see his prize acquisition mysteriously fractured, as if by a lightning bolt. The odd nature of the break seems like an assault, even a surgical abortion, performed on the "female" jar: "la bella giara nuova, spaccata in due, come se qualcuno, con un taglio netto, prendendo tutta l'ampiezza della pancia, ne avesse staccato tutto il lembo davanti" (272). When Zi' Dima arrives to mend the jar, his role is referred to in semi-medical terms "La giara si poteva sanare" (273). (Zi' Dima's stitching together of the pieces of the jar, however much he may disapprove of the procedure, suggests, similarly, the final stage of a surgical operation.) But the landowner shows his usual lack of respect, and uses the same sort of abusive language to him as he has to the peasant workers. When the jarmender wants to use only his glue, don Lollo responds with a string of animal-metaphors: "Messere a porco, cosl trattate? Ma guarda un po' che arie da Carlomagno! Scannato miserabile e pezza d'asino, ci devo metter olio, io, la dentro, e l'olio trasuda!" (274).

It is because Zi' Dima is required to work in a way that goes against his professional judgement (applying staples that require him to cut and twist them from inside the jar) that he takes the course of action that will result in his becoming trapped. But the description of the jarmender at work suggests a further explanation for his uncharacteristic mistake. Whereas previously it has been don Lollo who has been described as "su tutte le furie" and as having"gli occhi lupigni," while the jarmender has been described as silent and having plantlike attributes, Zi' Dima now displays growing rage, and makes noises associated with an animal:

Zi' Dima si mise all'opera gonfio d'ira e di dispetto. E l'ira e il dispetto gli crebbero a ogni foro che praticava col trapano nella giara e nel lembo staccato per passarvi il fil di ferro della cucitura. Accompagnava il frullo della saettella con grugniti a mana a mana piu frequenti e piu forti. ... Finita quella prima operazione, scaglia con rabbia il trapano nella cesta. (274-75)

When he comes to apply the glue, he makes a gesture that acknowledges the potentially sacred nature of the task he is undertaking, but that is vitiated by the spirit in which it is performed: "Zi' Dima alzo la mano a un gesto rabbioso. Aprf la scatola di latta che conteneva il mastice, e 10 leva al cielo, scotendolo, come per offrirlo a Dio, visto che gli uomini non volevano riconoscerne la virtu" (275). Having spread the glue along the broken edge of the jar, and prepared the wire and tools for the stapling, "si caccio dentro la pancia aperta della giara, ordinando al contadino d'applicare illembo della giara" (275). He does not realize he is trapped until he has spent a further hour fitting the staples. When he does realize, his reaction is that of an animal: "Zi' Dima, dentro la giara, era come un gatto inferocito" and "furibondo, si dibatteva come una bestia in trappola" (276). In metaphorical terms, then, Zi' Dima has allowed himself to be infected by the "rabbia" ("rabies," as well as "anger," in Italian), and animal qualities, of the wolf-like don Lolla.14 The jarmender's eventual triumph over the landowner comes from the fact that, as time passes, he is able to shed this animal fury, and, appearing to settle into residence in the jar, builds a brief alliance with the peasants, using the fee don Lollo has paid him to send for wine and food. Indeed, don Lollo, along with all his other failings, has neglected to provide the feast traditionally offered by the landowner to his workers when the harvest is in. In so doing, he gives Zi' Dima, the figure with the attributes of the olive tree and the skill at working with objects made from baked earth, the opportunity to take over that task. The festa that follows is referred to in terms ("un baccano d'inferno ... su l'aja, sotto la luna, tanti diavoli," 279), which link it to ancient, pre-Christian harvest celebrations. When don Lollo hears the row, anger and animal nature combine in him ("si precipito come un toro infuriato") and he gives the jar, with Zi' Dima inside, a great shove, which causes it to smash against the very tree, an olive-tree, with which the jarmender was first compared.

Zi' Dima, with his affinity for the earth, the plant-world and, indeed, woman, and his powers as a healer, in alliance with the farm workers, has triumphed over don Lollo, whose only affinity is with the world of wolves and wild bulls.

Personal Significance for Pirandello of Olive-Tree and Jar

There are a number of biographical sources that remind us of the great personal significance that both Saracen olive trees and a particular earthenware jar had for Pirandello.

The olive tree figures not only in Pirandello's own, somewhat fanciful, account of his birth, but in his son's recollection of the writer's death (as well as in many of his Sicilian stories). He began his short essay, "Informazioni sul mio involontario soggiorno sulla terra," with this account of his arrival on earth: "Dna notte di giugno caddi come una lucciola sotto un gran pino solitario in una campagna d'olivi saraceni affacciata agli orli d'un altipiano d'argille azzurre sul mare africano."15 And, on his deathbed, preoccupied with finishing the third act of his play I giganti della montagna, he is said to have woken from a long sleep to declare, with some satisfaction: "C'e un olivo saraceno, grande, in mezzo alla scena: con cui ho risolto tutto" (see Giudice 545). Corrado Alvaro, in the wonderful memoir he wrote as a preface to the 1956 Mondadori edition of Novelle per un anno, in fact compared Pirandello himself with a solitary tree: "Forse questo atteggiarsi nellavoro lungo diede al suo portamento quell'impressione di raccolto in su, una impressione di albero" (25).

It is Alvaro, again, who tells us that Pirandello owned an ancient earthenware jar, which held at least as great significance for him, in life, as the Saracen olive, and which was also to be associated with his death. Alvaro makes several references to "quell'anfora greca che egli amava, che aveva sempre davanti agli occhi quando tornava aRoma" (7); "nel mezzo della stanza, lunga una diecina di metri, c'era il vaso greco figurato, su una colonnina, unico ricordo della Sicilia" (12); "non c'era in lui affezione verso nessuna forma, se non verso quel vaso greco" (15). The jar apparently had very specific connotations for Pirandello: "Ma il suo vero lusso era il vaso greco trovato in un campo di Agrigento ... si sciupava ora all'azione dell'aria. Egli ne parlava spesso, gli dispiaceva di vederlo deperire. Ne parlava come del suo paese ..." (25-26). With this object, too, Alvaro, at one point, identifies Pirandello, again associating it with the writer's solitariness: "Pirandello camminava solo in disparte, col suo passo dai malleoli ravvicinati, il cappello largo, le mani in tasca: aveva 10stesso profilo del suo vaso greco; mormorava qualcosa, solo" (16). It was in this amphora that, some years after his death, Pirandello's ashes were transported to Sicily, where they were preserved in the Museo comunale in Agrigento from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, before being placed under a pine-tree next to the house where he was born (Giudice 547-48).16

Given the weighty personal associations that the Saracen olive tree and the jar had for Pirandello, it should not be surprising that a story focussing on these two motifs turns out to be so packed with metaphorical value.

The Political Contextfor "La giara"

Frederick May made the, to me, surprising claim that "La giara" is not a political tale: "The conflict in 'The Jar' is not between man and nature, or masterand man, but between two artists ..." (x) and C. A. McCormick, in an essay on the novelle, stated that "Pirandello was, by nature, a non-political animal" (xxv). Yet we are surely left in no doubt about the narrator's disapproval of don Lollo's tyrannical and inhumane attitude to his workers and to Zi' Dima, or his sense that the jarmender's victory is also a victory for the farm workers. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to attempt to deduce the author's general views on relations between the landowning class and the laboring class from that. Gaspare Giudice conveys a vivid impression of both the complexity and the superficiality of Pirandello's politics in this summary of the sequence of political positions he adopted through his life:

C'era in lui una spinta irnmediata, prirnaria, verso Ie posizioni protestarie, rnentre l'oggetto della protesta gli era fin fine indifferente. Da giovane fu con i radicali, eredi diretti del Partito d'Azione, da vecchio, fu fascista. Nel periodo di mezzo, pote essere insieme estremista, acerbamente antigiolittiana, garibaldino, /I anarchico individualista," e trovarsi d'accordo con il riformisrno giolittiano.... Coerente invece, sotto l'onda periodica del ribellisrno (anarchico 0 fascista), rirnaneva la sua partecipazione aIle sorti del suo ceto. (201)

In the period 1908-09, Pirandello took an interest, not very deep, in anarchist or maximalist socialist ideas and rhetoric. In I vecchi e i giovani, the novel he published in serial form between January and November of 1908, the year preceding publication of "La giara," his political stance seems thoroughly contradictory. On the one hand, a character with whom the author seems to identify insists that class conflict is out of the question:

'Come avevano potuto credere possibile una lotte di ciasse, dove rnancava ogni connessione e saldezza di princfpi, di sentirnenti e di propositi, non solo, rna la piu rudirnentale cultura, ogni coscienza? ... Non una lotte di ciasse, irnpossibile in quelle condizioni, rna una cooperazione delle classi era da tentare....'

On the other hand, there is a passage, spoken by the same character, Lando Laurentano, which looks forward to "un momento di tempesta," a social revolution which would serve to "abbattere dalle fondamenta una costituzione di cose comoda per alcuni, iniqua per la maggioranza degli uomini." By and large, the novel seems to advocate caution and reformist moderation: "Una buona legge agraria, una lieve riforma dei patti colonici, un lieve miglioramento dei magri salarii, la mezzadria a oneste condizioni" (qtd. Giudice 213-15). (Gaspare Giudice points out that, having responded with harsh repression to the peasant uprisings, the Fasci siciliani, at the end of the preceding century, the Italian State, by 1908-09, was permitting workers to organize and negotiate directly with landowners.)

Another illustration of Pirandello's ambivalence on the question of relations between landowners and their workers is to be found in "La lega disciolta," a story he wrote just a year after "La giara" (Novelle per un anno 2: 324-32). A local activist, Bombolo, coordinates the selective theft, and the return -after payment of a fee -of cattle, sheep, and horses, from landowners whose pay rates to their workers are inhumanly low. Once all the landowners have agreed to pay a reasonable wage, he intends to disestablish the scheme, but, finding the workers will not abandon their thieving habit, he abandons their cause in disgust. [ern Moestrup refers accurately to the unsystematic nature of Pirandello's inclination to social protest: "II pessimismo pirandelliano non prende se non molto raramente la forma di una sistematica critica, delle strutture sociali, per esempio, con relativa indagine delle cause e degli effetti" ("Struttura" 35).

Crucial to the question of the politics of "La giara" is the moment in the year at which it is set. Francesco Brancato, an historian of Sicilian peasant life in the late nineteenth century, makes some very pertinent points about relations between landowners and peasants in the harvest season:

Nella quasi immobilita della vita paesana, il tempo trascorreva lento e quasi inavvertito. II valore di esso era misurato soltanto nella stagione del raccolto, in cui si riceveva il compenso del lavoro di un anno. Quella stagione era perch) attesissima ... rna quando finalmente veniva quell'epoca, allora il paese si rianimava. (30)

Don Lollo shows no inclination to pay his workers, let alone offer them the traditional celebratoryfesta, being more concerned with ensuring that manure is spread for the following broad-bean harvest. So Zi' Dima, like Bombolo, ensures that the workers are looked after, and at the landowner's expense. By forming a temporary alliance with the workers, Zi' Dima is participating in a recognizable social pattern. According to Brancato, disorder frequently occurred at harvest time, with the peasants, "avviliti" and, as Pirandello himself had declared, in I vecchi e i giouani, incapable of organizing themselves, regularly being led by representatives of the "classe artigiana" (Brancato 244). In a broader context, it will be recalled that Unification, far from bringing the promised benefits for the peasants, including the distribution to them of land owned by the Church and the latifondisti, had led to an actual deterioration in their lot, with good land being bought up by entrepreneurial individuals like don Lollo (and Verga's Mastrodon Gesualdo).

"La giara," then, bears all the marks of Pirandello's personal political ambivalence in the period in which he wrote it.

The First Settingfor "La giara"

"11 compito del critico," wrote novelist and critic Luce d'Eramo in 1971, "e di penetrare in un libro dimenticando tutto il resto, altrimenti il giudizio su un libro dovrebbe cambiare se letto in carcere 0 in villeggiatura" (242). Critical theory since then, however, has tended to reject the notion of a single interpretation for the literary text (let alone the term "penetration" as an appropriate metaphor for the task of the critic!). Whether the text is referred to as "open" (Umberto Eco) or "polysemous" (Barthes and Kristeva), its capacity to evoke different responses in different groups of readers, and at different times, is seen as a crucial feature of its literariness. In Barthes's words, the text is no longer regarded as

the product of a labour ... but the very theatre of a production where the producer and the reader of the text meet: the text "works," at each moment and from whatever side one takes it. Even when written (fixed), it does not stop working, maintaining a process of production.


And reception theorist Hans Robert [auss maintains that the same text will, legitimately, be read in rather different ways at different historical moments, because each generation of readers brings different concerns to the reading process. These general claims acquire specific point when applied to short texts such as poems and short stories, which can be displayed in a variety of different settings, or, to adopt Barthes's metaphor, be performed in a variety of theatrical environments.

To view "La giara" in the setting in which it first appeared, the issue of the Milan newspaper Corrieredella sera of the 20th October 1909, is a fascinating experience. Pirandello's collaboration with that paper, edited by Luigi Albertini, had begun only two weeks before, with the publication of "Mondo di carta"l? and provided a much needed addition to his meager income as a teacher. It was to last the rest of his life (during which 72 of his stories appeared in the Corriere della sera), ending only with the publication, on 9th December 1936, the day before his death, of "Effetti d'un sogno interrotto." But, in October 1909, to find a Pirandello story in the daily paper was still quite a fresh experience.

To the modem reader, accustomed to bulky daily newspapers with numerous supplements, literary and commercial, it is surprising to realize just how prominently Pirandello's little story figured. It fully occupied the first three columns (of six) on page 3 of an eight-page issue. Occupying the other three columns are: a review of a play by Baron Henri de Rothschild, performed in Paris, and some minor news reports. There are only two news stories in the whole issue, which loom as large as Pirandello's story, and "La giara" would have had a certain resonance with both of them. The major front-page story reports "L' improvvisa morte di Cesare Lombroso a Torino," and conveys tributes to the renowned psychiatrist and founder of the discipline of criminal anthropology. The extended discussion of his work, with its emphasis on the relation between behavior, including insanity and criminality, and physical characteristics, including skull-shape and concepts of race, would have given a certain piquancy to Pirandelle's description of don Lollo as resembling various animals. On the basis of his observation, in 1871, of a similarity between the skullshape of a certain brigand, Vilella, and that of the anthropoid apes, Lombroso had developed a theory, which subsequently became very influential, about the criminal tendencies of individuals who showed the closest links to their animal ancestors. Of relevance, too, would have been Lombroso's political position, radical-democratic, then non-Marxist socialist. Lombroso had written extensively on the political-social situation in Sicily, attributing the rapid spread of socialism on the island to the mixture of races and the influence of the climate, as well as the scandalous economic and social injustice which prevailed (Sciascia 14). It is interesting to see that Albertini's Corriere della sera, accurately described by Gaspare Giudice as a newspaper"di tipo moderato, liberale e conservatore" (232), is unstinting in its appreciation of this considerably more radical figure of the period.

Nevertheless, for the first readers of Pirandello's story, there would have been a much more direct resonance with the second major news item in the newspaper that day: reports of, and comment on, an official visit under way by the Russian Tsar to Italy. There is an editorial about the visit on the front page and a long interview on page 4 with the socialist leader Bonomi. The editorial position was that, however unsavory his tyrannical regime was, the Italian government was obliged to deal with the Tsar, as the force actually governing that major nation. Bonomi's position, fully and not unsympathetically reported, was that the suffering to which the Tsar subjected his people made it indefensible for him to be welcomed to the country. The first readers of "La giara" could hardly have failed to notice the comictragic parallel between the petty tyranny, at village level, of don Lollo and the tyranny, at national and international level, of the Russian autocrat. From that perspective, Zi' Dima's victory over the rural tyrant in Pirandello's story must have seemed all the sweeter. Incidentally, concern about authoritarian oppression was by no means limited, in this issue of Corriere della sera, to discussion of the Russian case. There is a long article, on page 2, about the treatment by the Spanish government of anarchists, and the execution less than a month before of Francisco Ferrer y Guardia, the influential anarchist educator, accused, without evidence, of leading an insurrection, about which there had been protests in several European countries. While the juxtaposition of Pirandello's story with the visit of the Tsar could only have been serendipitous, the modem reader gains a strong sense, in scanning this issue of the paper, of the general unacceptability of such oppression, and of the story as participating in an ongoing debate about the means by which tyrants may be undermined or overthrown.

Much of the rest of the content of the Corriere della sera for 20 October 1909 would have conveyed to the first readers of "La giara" a sense of just how archaic and provincial was the world in which the story was set. There are numerous references to developments in communications and transport technology, and to the radical transformations they were bringing to Italian life. There is a story on page 1 about the establishing of a phone link through Trieste (still part of the Austrian Empire), through Austria to Germany, and an indication is given for several news stories that they have been received by cable or by telephone. There is a report on page 3, in the column adjacent to "La giara" of a spectacular flight over Paris by the French aviator De Lambert, which is seen as being comparable in significance to Bleriot's flight across the Channel. And, on page 6, there is a small story about an air display over Blackpool, England. At the same time, there is a certain cynicism in the reporting, with the writer of the De Lambert story remarking that you might just as well stay at home and read about such exploits in the newspaper. The cinema is referred to as another modern attraction and entertainment. Yet a story on page I, about a major development of the port of Messina, makes clear that even Sicily was not wholly immune from modernization.

Nevertheless, overall, Milanese readers would doubtless have gained a sense that the rural Sicily in which don Lollo and Zi' Dima were playing out their drama on page 3 was a remote backwater of a rapidly modernizing Italy, and we can readily imagine their amused condescension. As modem readers of the Corriere della sera of 20 October 1909, we, in our tum, are struck by the absence of any significant foreign news in the paper (the most prominent foreign story relates to the commemoration of the first arrival of European sailors in San Francisco Bay 140 years before), and the quaintness of the advertisements on the back page (for: a "stufa americana," described as "igienica ed economica"; patent treatments for "tossi e catarri," "reumatismi," and "dolori di reni"; and the practice of a doctor who cures "malattie segrete," "debolezza virile," and "epilessia," "isterismo" and "nevralgia").

It seems likely that even the most urbane Milanese reader would have appreciated that the story was appearing in their newspaper shortly after the moment in the year when the olives would actually have been harvested.

TheSecond Settingfor "La giara"

To encounter "La giara" in the setting in which it next appeared, a collection of eighteen of Pirandello's stories, published under the title Terzetti in 1912, is a substantially different reading experience. In the first place, it is an entirely fictional, all-Pirandello context, so that the immediate linkages, comparisons, and contrasts are with other stories by the same author, rather than the wider world evoked by the newspaper. Written mostly in the years 1909-1911, in which his wife Antonietta's mental health underwent a further deterioration and their domestic life was increasingly becoming a torture to both of them.l'' these stories include some of the grimmest of all Pirandello's novelle. The brilliance and humor of "La giara," which is the fourth story in the collection, cause it to shine out amidst the gray anguish of so many of the others. Significantly, given his wife's distress at the time, the most anguished stories, including the three selected to precede "La giara," all depict the misery of women in a variety of situations. In the first story, "Illume dell'altra casa," a woman who has left her family for another man, rents the room opposite their flat, from which he first spied on her, to gain a glimpse of her own children; in the second, a young widow, whose whole existence has been confined by Sicilian custom and an unloving husband to a crushingly narrow domestic sphere, discovers love and a wider world in the course of a brief journey to seek medical assistance for her terminal illness; and in the third story, "Ignare," the one immediately preceding "La giara," four young nuns who have been raped, live, uncomprehendingly, through their pregnancies, and the disposal of their babies by the religious authorities. To the readers of Terzetti, the change of tone when they reach "La giara" is very striking, and the combination, in the story, of charming humor and the absence of women (except metaphorically) will hardly seem coincidental.

The two stories that immediately follow "La giara" in the collection are much lighter in tone than the opening stories, and are probably those with which it has greatest resonance. (The title of the collection, of course, invites the reader to view the stories as grouped in threes.) "La morte e la viva" relates the pragmatic domestic arrangement worked out by a Sicilian fisherman, his first wife, whom he mistakenly believed to have died in a shipwreck, and the young woman, sister to his first wife, whom he has subsequently married. The eminently sensible roster for cohabitation that the three devise makes an amusing contrast with the self-defeating rigidity of don Lollo in the immediately preceding story. The sixth story in the collection is the one, already referred to, "La lega disciolta," in which Bombolo plays a Robin-Hood role in attempting to gain financial justice for the underpaid farm workers, until he discovers that criminality has become too much of a habit for them to give it up. In its treatment of the relations between landowner and worker, it reads as a kind of pessimistic sequel to the optimistic treatment of incipient peasant rebelliousness in "La giara."19

The most remarkable of the remaining stories, both for its depiction of the extreme degradation resulting from living conditions in the poorest communities in Sicily and for its exclusive focus on women's experience, is "II libretto rosso." A small coastal community, dominated by the sulfur mining industry, is so poor that three-quarters of the babies born die at, or soon after, birth. The mothers of the dead babies tum their loss to grim economic advantage, by acting as wetnurses to the foundlings for which the comune is responsible, thereby earning just enough money to buy the trousseau without which their surviving daughters would be unable to marry. Whereas the stories in this collection that aim to represent the emotional lives of bourgeois women are, in general, quite unconvincing -and "Ignare," the story of the nuns that immediately precedes "La giara" is horribly unsuccessful -"II libretto rosso" is extraordinarily powerful, combining, as it does, closely observed detail in the description of the borgo and the hovels that make it up, with a vivid impression of the moral and emotional vacuum in which the female inhabitants exist and make their choices.

By and large, however, these stories tend to support Moestrup's claim that Pirandello is "uno scrittore situazionista," rather than a political observer, or commentator on Sicilian life and customs. Finding "La giara" in this setting, as opposed to the setting of the Milanese newspaper, the reader would have been drawn to reflect more on the curious ways in which human beings relate to each other on the personallevel, than on the nature of tyranny or the criminal mind.

The Third Settingfor IILagiara"

When, in 1928, Pirandello came to assemble fifteen stories for volume 11 of Novelle per un anno, he recognized both the drawing-power of "La giara" and the opportunity to display it in a less grim setting. In any case, these were much happier times for the author. His sons had returned alive from the war in 1918, his wife had departed permanently (and mercifully for both of them, it seems) into institutional care in 1919, and his plays Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (1921) and Enrico IV (1922) had brought him international renown. In selecting the stories for volume II, he could draw on stories first published as early as 1896 and as late as 1918. The result is a much more varied collection, with an element of the fantastical that was missing from Terzetti,which provides a quite fresh setting for "La giara."

"La giara" is the first story, and gives the volume its title. It is followed by several novelle with which it had not previously been associated, as well as the stories from Terzetti that show the lightest touch, including "La lega disciolta," "La morta e la viva," and "L'illustre estinto" (the story of the misdirected coffin). All the really grim stories from Terzeiti, "II viaggio," "II libretto rosso." "Ignare," "Felicita," 'I/Leonora, addio!,"' and "Illume dell'altra casa" were kept for volume 12, entitled "II viaggio," which was also published in 1928.

The story that immediately follows "La giara" is chronologically the latest of the collection, "La cattura" (1918). It is a remarkable tale about the kidnapping of a Sicilian farmer, il Guamotta, by a group of local men, desperately poor, illiterate, and stupid or amateurish enough to believe, both that he will not recognize them, and that his unloving wife and greedy step-children will be willing to pay a ransom. Wrong on both counts, they are unable to release him, and unwilling to murder him, and so become as much captives of the situation as he is. All must stay up on the mountain until he wastes away and dies. This powerful and effective story picks up the theme of imprisonment treated with such humor in "La giara," as well as the motif of the double-bind, and reworks them in a much darker mode. (As Simona Costa points out, the moon, which had participated benevolently in the liberatingfesta at the end of "La giara" hangs, indifferent, over il Guamotta and his captors, viii.) The use, moreover, of a rural setting, in the same region of Sicily as that for the preceding story, makes for a wonderfully productive contrast between the two.

The next story, "Guardando una stampa" (first published in 1905, with the title"Allegri!"), also deals with characters on the edge of society, but in a form that has little in common with the tough social and psychological realism of "La cattura." Two grotesque beggars, figures in an old print, are imagined as meeting up with a beggar whom the narrator knows, and as working up between them a little drama of violence and rivalry. Not a very successful story, it has, nevertheless, an interestingly experimental, self-reflexive quality.

The fourth story, "La paura del sonno" (first published in 1896, with the title "L'albero di fico") offers further interesting parallels with "La giara." Here, too (as in so much of Pirandello's work), we are presented with characters locked in a psychological double-bind. The story concerns the dilemma of a long-married couple, where the wife is so chronically sleepy that she is, for a while, believed to be dead. Once she has returned to life, her husband feels obliged to check her vital signs at all hours of the day and night, with the consequence that, until she actually does die, they both exist in a state of unrewarding exhaustion. The most interesting parallels with "La giara," however, are to be found in the many levels at which the story operates and its great metaphorical richness. The husband is a renowned craftsman proud of his great skill (and to this extent, he resembles Zi' Dima), known as "il Mago delle fiere," who creates exquisite hand-made "burattini" (glove-puppets) and marionettes. The metaphorical play in the story derives from the fact that i1 Mago keeps having to bring la signora Fana to life in rather the same way as he instills life into his own puppets. In fact, preoccupied, as he increasingly becomes, with keeping her awake and in motion, he stops working on the puppets altogether. Moreover, and this is the element of self-reflexive fantasy that links this story back to "Guardando una stampa," Pirandello has written the rows of puppets, Florindo, Lindoro, Pulcinello, Carlomagno, and others, into the dialogue as observers of, and commentators on, the curious existence of their maker and his wife. This story, which has not attracted much attention from critics, tends to confirm the reader of "La giara" in the belief that the interplay of metaphorical and narrative elements to be found in that story was consciously inserted by Pirandello, as well as curiously mirroring the device he used to such remarkable effect in Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore of theatrical characters which acquire an existence independent of their creator.I?


There is, I have suggested, a multi-faceted brilliance about "La giara" that causes it to stand out in rather different ways in the three settings in which it has been displayed, reflecting and refracting features from each environment. The setting first provided by the Corriere della sera must have drawn attention both to the story's archaic regional quality and its relevance to contemporary political questions. When it reappeared, three years later, in the volume Terzetti, readers are likely to have been particularly struck by the vividness of the psychological interaction between the landowner and the jarmender. Readers viewing "La giara" in what I have called the"grand displaycase" of Novelle per un anna with experience of it in its two preceding settings will, I suggest, have a significantly richer experience of the story than those who have not seen it in any other setting. But, of course, the short story "La giara" has undergone more than just the three resettings described above. It has also achieved a kind of metamorphosis into other artistic forms: initially in the hands of Pirandello, who wrote a theatrical version in Sicilian dialect (first performed in 1917), and in Italian (1925); then in the ballet version with music by Alfredo Casella (1924); then in three film versions, by Giorgio Pastina (1954), by the Georgian director Iraklij Kvirikadze (1971); and by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (in their Kaos, 1984). Not surprisingly, I would suggest that the story's openness to this degree of multiple adaptation springs in large part from the extreme productive richness that I have been discussing in this article."


UniversityofAuckland,New Zealand


1Though quite why Pirandello scholars have had such difficulty in actually counting them is something of a puzzle. Commentators variously refer to them as numbering 233 (Frederick May, in Pirandello, Short Stories xii, and Radcliff-Umstead, "Luigi Pirandello as Writer of Short Fiction and Novel"), or 246 (Aste, La narrativa di Luigi Pirandello: DaIle novelle al romanzo II Uno, nessuno e centomila" 12), or 273 (Ragusa, Luigi Pirandello 63). The eighth edition of the Novelle per un anno, published in the series "I classici contemporanei italiani," Milan: Mondadori, 1969, actually contains 211 stories, to which the Appendix adds a further 26, most of which had been published in magazines or newspapers in Pirandello's lifetime but which he could not locate when he assembled the Novelle per un anno.

2In the "Avvertenza" with which he introduced the first volumes of Novelle per un anno in 1922, Pirandello hastened to assure the reader that "le novelle di questi ventiquattro volumi [in fact the collection only reached fourteen volumes, at his death in 1936, with the fifteenth being added the following year] non vogliono essere singolarmente ne delle stagioni, ne dei mesi, ne di ciascun giorno dell' anno. Una novella al giorno, per tutt'un anno, senza che dai giorni, dai mesi, 0 dalle stagioni nessuna abbia tratto la sua qualita." Now to be found in volume 2 of the Mondadori edition: 907-08.

3Several Pirandello scholars have, to be sure, attempted to group them chronologically or thematically. Giuseppe Petronio proposed a development from the "novelle paesane" to the "cittadine" to the "ideologiche" to "quelle di maniera surrealistica." Moestrup divided them into five periods, relating them to the plays and other works written in the same years. Renato Barilli argued for a synchronic, rather than a diachronic, reading of the novelle through the lens of Pirandello's theory of I'umorismo. Franco Zangrilli grouped them in terms of four social roles which he saw many of the protagonists as performing: "vittime dei pregiudizi sociali e delle ingiustizie del sistema," "prigionieri della tradizione," "alienati dalla societa," and "avvocati di una morale nuova," L'arte novellistica di Pirandello 303. Radcliff-Umstead ("Luigi Pirandello as Writer of Short Fiction and Novels" 345) proposes a thematic classification which.echoes Borges in its quirkiness: "fables where animals stare with amazement at the inane rituals of human life; graveyard tales with obligatory scenes in cemeteries or at funerals; stories of nihilism that explode in violence; pictures of life's barrenness often ending in suicide; exposes of the falseness of bourgeois customs (especially in marriages); and visions of a super-reality transcending everyday experience."

4Zangrilli, in justifying the narrowness of his selection (he examines only ten stories in detail in his book) declares that "chiunque abbia familiarita con I'opera vasta e complessa comprende facilmente come sia impossibile soffermarsi su ogni novella" (40). Moestrup discusses around 30, but, many of his pages consist of plot summary.

5Frederick May identifies 27 plays which draw on 35 stories and argues that "there is no real discontinuity between the world of the stories and that of the plays," in his edition of Pirandello, Short Stories (252).

CYrypical is the attititude of Renato Lipari, who wrote: "E se possiamo subito dire che dal punto di vista artistico le novelle di Pirandello costituiscono opera compiuta e valida in se:pure, premesso questo, eanchedoveroso direche,concettualmente, esse non sono I'espressione ultima della sua visione, rna costituiscono, nella storia del suo pensiero, una tappa intermedia di transizione. L'espressione totale del pensiero pirandelliano essendo ... il teatro" (168-69).

70ne of the earliest exponents of this position was F. Pasini, who, in 1927, declared confidently: "di solito ... le novelle ... sembrano -rispetto ai drammi come una traccia preliminare, uno schema, un abbozzo, un promemoria per I' autore, in attesa di un piu ampio svolgimento" (292). Emanuele Licastro while examining the novelle as source for the theatrical works, does concede from the start that "PirandelIo, quando ha scritto quelle novelle, non le scriveva con I' intenzione di usarle come canovaccio per le commedie, rna le scriveva come lavori in se completi e autonomi" (4). More dynamic in its interpretation of the relationship between novelle and plays is Ulrich Leo's "Pirandello Between Fiction and Drama," which distinguishes stories that offer a kind of "nonnarrative prefiguration" of the play that was to follow, from stories whose "poetical essence" is lost in the version that Pirandello subsequently composed for the theatre.

8Each volume of the Novelle appeared separately, over the period 1922 to 1937, and was a distinct publishing and reading event.

9Por instance, Simona Costa, introduction to her edition of La giara vii.

10C. A. McCormick, "Introduction" xix-xx. Of course, Pirandello stories often do pose problems that might arise almost anywhere, but the best of these are also packed with vivid local detail. "La morta e la viva" (1910), for instance, in which a man remarries, believing his first wife to have drowned in a shipwreck, and, on her return from the dead, must deal with the implications of having two wives, is intensely Sicilian in flavour.

11 All references are to Pirandello, Novelle per un anno, 1969.

12See entry under "Vase" in Jobes, Dictionary ofMythology, Folklore, Symbols.

13palassi, however, sees the world of "La giara" as exclusively "the representation in metaphor of the pagan and solar foundations of ... pre-Christian Sicily" (181).

14Blanquat suggests, but without any real textual evidence, that Zi' Dima may be seen as a Jonah swallowed by the monstrous whale of don Lollo's greed, "D'une jarre aun moulin avent" (296-97).

lS"Informazioni sul mio involontario soggiorno sulla terra," notes drafted in 1936, now in Pirandello, Saggi, poesie, scritti varii 1101-09.

16Pirandello would have been hugely amused at the fact that, once unloaded from the train that had carried it to Sicily, the crate containing the amphora with his ashes, went missing for a short time, during which it was used by railway workers as a table on which to play cards, before being claimed by Professor Gaspare Ambrosini, the member of the Assemblea Costituente who had the honour of accompanying it from Rome to Agrigento (Giudice 548). This event wonderfully echoes one of his own stories "L'illustre estinto" (1909), in which the coffin containing the remains of a government minister is inadvertently switched with a coffin containing the corpse of a much less distinguished person while being transported by rail for a grand public commemoration in his home town.

174th October 1909. "Mondo di carta" portrays a man whose obsession with reading geographical and travel books, unmatched by any inclination to visit any of the places he reads about, is impeded by the progressive deterioration of his sight. His world is eventually limited to the touch and smell of his collection of books, and his memories of what he has read.

18Her initial mental collapse had taken place in 1903, when, exhausted after bearing three children in just five years, she learned that the substantial dowry she had brought to her marriage had been lost in the sulphur mining enterprise in which Pirandello's father had invested it. The deterioration of her mental state after 1909 followed the death of her own father.

19In a detail which contrasts nicely with the portrayal of don Lollo, Bombolo wears a red Turkish fez, and, honourable man that he is, abandons his dishonest countrymen to return to the Levant, where he has made his money and learned his sense of justice.

20when he first wrote the story, in 1896, this was a foreshadowing of the great play of 1921; but when it appeared in volume 11 of Novelle per un anno, in 1928, it would have seemed a later echo of Sei personaggi.

21 I examine the great range of processes by which the story came to be transformed into stage play, ballet, and film in a separate study, provisionally entitled "New Oil in an Old Jar."


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