Pirandello and his muse


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Pirandello and his muse the plays for Marta Abba
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xiv, 230 p. : ; 24 cm.
Bini, Daniela, 1945-
University Press of Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
Women in literature   ( lcsh )
Toneelstukken   ( gtt )
Femmes dans la littérature   ( rvm )
Frau <Motiv>   ( swd )
Drama   ( swd )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


This study examines the later plays of Luigi Pirandello - those he wrote for his muse, actress Marta Abba - in light of the recent publication of their correspondence. It traces the Nobel Prize winner's entire creative process, revealing how his perception of women shaped his philosophy of art and life, and highlights the structurally necessary shift from the male protagonist of the early and more famous plays and novels to the female protagonist of the later plays.
With sensitive commentary on the letters, Daniela Bini reads the plays the old maestro wrote for the young actress as the sublimation of an erotic impulse he denied throughout his life. From Diana and Tuda to The Mountain Giants, Bini maintains, Pirandello makes love to Marta in the only way he could, the mystical union of the creator and his muse.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 215-222) and index.
Statement of Responsibility:
Daniela Bini.

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University of Florida
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oclc - 37588405
lccn - 97033089
isbn - 0813015480 (alk. paper)
lcc - PQ4835.I7 Z53496 1998
ddc - 852/.912
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Pirandello and His Muse


Luigi Pirandello.
Courtesy of the Biblioteca e
Raccolta Teatrale del
Burcardo, S.I.A.E. (Rome).

Daniela Bini

Pirandello and His Muse

The Plays for Marta Abba

University Press of Florida
Gainesville Tallahassee Tampa Boca Raton
Pensacola Orlando Miami Jacksonville

Crosscurrents: Comparative Studies in European Literature and Philosophy
Edited by S. E. Gontarski
Improvisations on Butor: Transformation of Writing, by Michel Butor, edited, annotated, and with
an introduction by Lois Oppenheim; translated by Elinor S. Miller (1996).
The French New Autobiographies: Sarraute, Duras, and Robbe-Grillet, by Raylene Ramsay (1996).
The Ghosts of Modernity, by Jean-Michel Rabate (1996).
Carlo Emilio Gadda and the Modern Macaronic, by Albert Sbragia (1996).
Roland Barthes on Photography: The Critical Tradition in Perspective, by Nancy Shawcross (1997).
Levinas, Blanchot, Jabes: Figures of Estrangement, by Gary D. Mole (1997).
Samuel Beckett's Structural Uses of Depth Psychology: Hidden Drives, by J. D. O'Hara (1997).
Pirandello and His Muse: The Plays for Marta Abba, by Daniela Bini (1998).

Copyright 1998 by the Board of Regents of the State of Florida
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
All rights reserved

03 02 01 oo 99 98 6 5 4 3 2 I
Bini, Daniela, 1945-
Pirandello and his muse: the plays for Marta Abba / Daniela Bini.
p. cm.--(Crosscurrents)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-8130-1548-0 (alk. paper)
i. Pirandello, Luigi, 1867-1936-Criticism and interpretation. 2. Pirandello, Luigi, 1867-1936-
Relations with women. 3. Abba, Marta. 4. Women in literature. I. Title. II. Series: Crosscurrents
(Gainesville, Fla.)
PQ4835.I7Z53496 1998
852'.912-dczI 97-33089
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of Florida, comprised of Florida A & M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida
International University, Florida State University, University of Central Florida, University of
Florida, University of North Florida, University of South Florida, and University of West Florida.
University Press of Florida
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To my mother, Laura, and my mother-in-law, Mary;
To my cousins Vanna and Marina;
To my sister-in-law, Rita, and to the many
courageous women in my life;
To my daughter, Laura, and to my sons, Joseph and Leo,
that they will learn from all of them.

... Contents

Foreword, by S. E. Gontarski ix
Preface and Acknowledgments xi
Abbreviations xv
Introduction: The Burden of Tradition i
The Liberation of Art 9
I Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta" 17
Before Marta Abba, the Divine Eleonora Duse: The Second
Mrs. Tanqueray and As Before, Better than Before 17
The Virgin Marta: Diana and Tuda and The Wives' Friend 24
Diana and Tuda: The Play 32
The Wives' Friend: The History 45
The Wives' Friend: The Play 50
2 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara 61
The New Colony: The History 63
The New Colony: The Play 68
Lazarus: The History 78
Lazarus: The Play 81

3 Woman's Refusal of Roles: L'Ignota 89
Come tu mi vuoi: The Story 89
As You Desire Me: The Play 1oi

4 Woman as Creator iio
Letters From Berlin and Paris: An Effort at Sublimation no
Artistic Creation/Procreation: The Mountain Giants 123
The Fable of the Changeling I29

5 Woman as Actress 135
The Correspondence of 193 135
A Necessary Prologue: The Monologue "Sgombero" 141
The Correspondence of 1932: Mussolini, the Ultimate
Padre-Padrone 144
Pirandello's Personal Testament: When One Is Someone 147
Re-Creating Life: To Find Oneself 15I1

6 The Disruption of Form: "Non conclude" 169
Non si sa come (No One Knows How) 169

An Afterthought 189
Notes 193
Bibliography 215
Index 223

... Foreword

Amid the conflicted impulses, the currents and crosscurrents, of Modern-
ism, the Romantic preoccupation with the inspiration of a muse tenaciously
persists. Yeats had his Maud Gonne, Dali his Gala, Eliot his Vivien, Breton
his Nadja, Joyce his Nora, and, of course, Pirandello his Marta Abba.
Daniela Bini's study, My Muse, My Bride: Pirandello's Theater for Marta
Abba, is a revisionist journey through the late work of the Italian Modern-
ist, Luigi Pirandello, which demonstrates that "this later theater, thanks to
Marta Abba's presence and collaboration, brings to its fullest develop-
ment the writer's major themes and concerns, not only about woman but
about art. Furthermore it is precisely through their female protagonists
that these last plays achieve the long-cherished union of art and life."
Bini's study is actually a thorough rereading of Pirandello and his work
through cultural and theoretical lenses: Sicilian, psychoanalytic, and femi-
nist. Pirandello's abandonment of the male, phallic raisonneur, in favor of
a more pluralistic, multivocal, androgynous sensibility was a shock to his
audience and culture but ushered forth an artist "who leaves behind the
traditional male raisonneur, and places woman at the center and in con-
trol of his artistic space" (emphasis added). The shift is from patriarchal
codes with deep Sicilian roots to "the feminine discourse of difference."
Such a study, then, constitutes an exemplary addition to the Crosscurrents
series, which is designed to foreground comparative studies in European
art and thought, particularly the intersections of literature and philoso-
phy, aesthetics and culture. Without abandoning traditional comparative
mythology, the series is also receptive to the latest currents in critical, com-
parative, and performative theory, especially that generated by the renewed
intellectual energy in post-Marxist Europe. It will, as well, take full cogni-
zance of the cultural and political realignments of what for the better part

x Foreword

of the twentieth century have been two separated and isolated Europes.
While Western Europe is now moving aggressively toward unification in
the European Community, with the breakup of the twentieth century's last
major colonial empire, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe is subdi-
viding into nationalistic and religious enclaves with the collapse of the
Communistic hegemony. The intellectual, cultural, and literary significance
of such profound restructuring, how history will finally rewrite itself, is
difficult to anticipate. Having had a fertile period of modernism snuffed
out in an ideological coup not long after the 1917 revolution, the nations
of the former Soviet Union have, for instance, been denied (or spared) the
age of Freud and Jung, most modernist experiments, and post modern
fragmentation. While Western Europe continues reaching beyond Mod-
ernism, Eastern Europe may be struggling to reclaim it. Whether a new art
can emerge in the absence -or from the absence -of such forces as shaped
Modernism is one of the intriguing questions of post-Cold War aesthetics,
philosophy, and critical theory.
Bini's close re reading (and re thinking) of Pirandello forms precisely
the sort of comparative philosophical and literary study that the Cross-
currents series was designed to foster. The series henceforth will continue
to critique the developing, often conflicting currents of European thought
through the prism of literature, philosophy, and theory.
S. E. Gontarski
Series Editor

. Preface and Acknowledgments

This study attempts to fill a gap in the Pirandello scholarship by doing
justice to the theater the Sicilian playwright wrote for his actress and muse,
Marta Abba. These late plays have not yet received the attention they de-
serve. As recently as 1993, in fact, Roberto Alonge called for a "system-
atic re-reading" of these texts and expressed confidence that such an en-
deavor would bring out those "relevant pieces of treasure that had remained
hidden and ignored for too long."' The recent publication of the corre-
spondence between Pirandello and Abba makes this rereading timely and
certainly far more rewarding. It enables the reader to measure from close
up the effects that Marta's absence produced on Pirandello's masterly mind
and on his repressed emotions. More interestingly yet, it enables us to
follow Pirandello in his creative process from start to finish and to see
how his perception of women shaped his whole philosophy of art and life.
But why has this phase of Pirandello's theatrical production, with the
exception of The Mountain Giants, not received the attention it deserves?
Could the fact that they are female plays have contributed to this critical
distraction? At their first appearance, all but As You Desire Me were boy-
cotted or passed over in silence. In 1925 Pirandello had abandoned the
male protagonist, his famous raisonneur, and replaced him with a woman.
The renowned male actors-the great mattatori of the time-probably felt
betrayed. Furthermore, Marta Abba was still very young in 1925, when
she became prima attrice in Pirandello's company, and this fact created
animosity and envy. Finally, the relationship of the famous old playwright
with the youthful actress must have been the source of gossip and resent-
ment among actors and critics as well as within their own families.

xii Preface and Acknowledgments

All these reasons might have contributed to the cold reception of Pir-
andello's later plays and prevented public and critics from seeing their origi-
nality. In my view, in fact, this later theater, thanks in part to Marta Abba's
presence and collaboration, brings to its fullest development the writer's
major themes and concerns, not only about women but about art. It is
precisely through their female protagonists that these last plays achieve
the long-cherished union of art and life. Theater, which Pirandello consid-
ered the art form closest to life, was for this very reason woman's space.
Theater can also be seen as the locus where her progressive awakening
takes place. From the emblematic play La morsa (The Vise), first written
in 1892, in which the female protagonist is led to suicide by the husband's
psychological torture, through the highly praised and much-studied tril-
ogy of the theater within the theater, the last production brings to full
circle woman's long process of self-awareness and liberation that culmi-
nates in the character of Donata Genzi in Trovarsi.2 In this process, Marta
Abba acted clearly as a catalyst.
The biographical facts that are discussed in the introduction will serve
to foreground the main theme of this work: the paradox of a traditional
and very conservative son, husband, and father who coexisted with an
extraordinarily modern artist. Pirandello had, after all, placed himself in
the category of those who write rather than those who live-two mutually
exclusive categories. Perhaps he knew that his life, understood as lived
experience, could be nothing but a failure. Perhaps he felt that through his
art he could enter and explore the profundity of that female world forbid-
den and almost hostile to him in life. Maybe he hoped that his fictional
women would help him expiate the sins that he and a long male tradition
had committed against the historical woman. What is certain, however, is
that, whether consciously or not, Pirandello's androgynous spirit gave life
to female characters whose drama it shared and suffered.
In approaching these characters with a mind to Pirandello's background,
however, one must accept the fact that ambiguity pervaded his feelings
toward woman from beginning to end. Fear, awe, and trepidation coex-
isted with admiration, respect, and often envy. It is this ambiguity that
prompted Pirandello to create so many complex female portraits. And it is
this ambiguity that makes his writing stimulating and constantly new.
Although letters are amply used in the course of this work, since life
and art in Pirandello were strictly intertwined, this study concentrates on
Pirandello the writer. What interests us is the artist who, with a typical

xiii Preface and Acknowledgments

humorous twist, left behind the traditional Sicilian male Pirandello and
placed woman at the center and in control of his artistic space.3

This book is the culmination of several years of research and reflection on
Pirandello's artistic treatment of women. Many friends and colleagues con-
tributed insights and inspiration. Very influential in my thinking was Mary
Ann Witt, who also read my manuscript offering precious and invaluable
suggestions. Three colleagues and friends have become a constant source
of help and support in my scholarly life. I could never thank them enough:
Gian Paolo Biasin, Millicent Marcus and Rebecca West. To them I must
add my husband, Joseph Coleman Carter, on whose critical and editorial
advice I have, as always, amply relied.
Many of the ideas developed in the book were tested at various confer-
ences, above all at the International Conference on Pirandello in Agrigento.
To its formidable organizer, Enzo Lauretta, go my deepest thanks for hav-
ing given me many times this splendid opportunity and for having been
such an exquisite host. Among Italian scholars Claudio Vicentini was a
fundamental source of inspiration, help, and encouragement.
This book would not have been written without the financial support
of the National Endowment for the Humanities that awarded me a fellow-
ship for the 1995-96 academic year, and of the University of Texas Re-
search Institute that supported me in the spring of 1996.
My students deserve the warmest thanks. Many of the ideas in this book
were the result of our enthusiastic and stimulating discussions. I cannot
acknowledge them all, but I would like to mention at least the names of
Francesca Chiostri, Isaac Rosier, and Moira Di Mauro-Jackson for their
creative and original contributions in our seminars and for their invalu-
able friendships. For having helped me to find a title that suited editorial
needs, I thank warmly my dear friend Mario Togni. The original title-I
must admit, I am still very fond of it-was "My Muse, My Bride."
A final thank-you goes to Alessandro D'Amico for his generous gift of
many photographs, and to my aunt Franca Gatteschi Bini, for having found
among her old family albums a photo of my grandmother Alessandra Bini
with Pirandello and Abba.
To the editorial staff of the University Press of Florida and, in particu-
lar, to Alexandra Leader and Michael Senecal, I wish to express my appre-
ciation for their expert help and assistance. A special thought goes to the

xiv Preface and Acknowledgments

press's former editor in chief, Walda Metcalf, who showed interest in the
manuscript and confidence in my work right from the start.
I would like to conclude my long list of debts with a final acknowl-
edgment. The first enthusiastic encouragement that I pursue the study of
Pirandello's complex perception of women came from my colleague Joy
Hambuchen Potter after she heard my paper "Procreation, Copulation
and Artistic Creation in Pirandello." Her untimely death in 1991 has de-
prived Italian studies of a major contributor and me of a colleague and


For the plays written after 1922 I am using the Mondadori edition (1958)
of Maschere nude (Naked Masks) in two volumes, edited by Manlio Lo
Vecchio-Musti. They will be referred to as MN I and MN II. For the earlier
plays, the new Mondadori edition (I Meridiani) was used. The two vol-
umes (1986, 1993), edited by Alessandro d'Amico, are prefaced by Giovanni
Macchia. They are quoted as MN I:I986 and MN II:1993.
For Pirandello's short stories I refer to the recent Mondadori edition (I
Meridiani, 1985-90) in three volumes, six tomes. They are abbreviated as
N I: ; N I:z; N II:I; N II:z; N III:I; N III:z.
For the novels the Mondadori edition (I Meridiani, 1975) in two vol-
umes is used and is abbreviated as R I, R II.
Pirandello's essays are collected in the Mondadori volume Saggi, poesie,
scritti varii (Essays, poems, various writings), referred to as SPSV.


The Burden of Tradition

Mattia Pascal, Lamberto Laudisi, Leone Gala, Serafino Gubbio, Enrico
IV, and Vitangelo Moscarda are perhaps the best known of Pirandello's
raisonneurs, the humorist-protagonists of his works.1 The ideal space for
this type of character is the novel-the genre suited for reflection, mono-
logue, philosophical analysis. Three of the characters mentioned above
are the sole protagonists of Pirandello's most famous novels, in which page
after page is devoted to their endless philosophical monologues that re-
place actions. The dichotomy between life and thought, action and reflec-
tion, a central topos of twentieth-century literature, is taken to its extreme
by Pirandello. Pascal, Gubbio, and Moscarda reflect and do not act. Laudisi,
Gala, and Enrico IV also reflect and do not act, but they are characters of
plays, and theater is, as Pirandello had said, the art form closest to life.
Theater is action, is movement; little or no place can be given to reflection.
Yet Leone Gala and Lamberto Laudisi, and even more Henry IV and the
Father in Six Characters are outsiders, spectators, not participants in the
life that goes on around them. Their detachment from life enables them to
observe and judge. Pirandello's philosophers, all male, can claim their in-
tellectual superiority over the rest of humanity-male and female-which
is too involved in the chaos of existence to be able to analyze and under-
stand it.
Reason is the exclusive attribute of the male, as Western philosophy has
taught since the times of Plato and Aristotle. Nature and instinct are the
female sphere. This dichotomy of male mind versus female matter has
come down to the present through the writings of philosophers like Scho-
penhauer, Nietzsche, and Weininger.2 Woman, however, has had her exclu-
sive domain, too, totally inaccessible to men: procreation. Her being-
nature, matter, earth-has its fulfillment in motherhood. Karen Homey

2 Introduction

traced this dichotomy back to its origin, arguing that man's exclusive ap-
propriation of the realm of reason and the exclusion of woman from it were
caused by his envy of the womb.3 Excluded by nature from procreation,
man made himself the sole proprietor of reason, legitimizing his claim by
a similar natural law. Being the possessor of reason, hence the creator of
systems of values and ideals by which to think and judge, man devalued the
realm of nature, woman's territory, as that of change and "becoming" (in
the Parmenidian sense of the word), of matter and deterioration.4 He re-
served for himself the fictitious and abstract realm of thought, of immu-
table and absolute ideas, which he named the world of truths. As Hanna
Arendt ironically put it, in this tradition "whatever is not given to the
senses [. .] is more real, more truthful, more meaningful than what ap-
pears."' From Plato and Aristotle through Christianity, the world of the
senses has been constantly demeaned, the body debased and its needs and
feelings repressed, with the absurd and dangerous consequence that only
the nonexistent "being," a man-made invention, has maintained absolute
value and power. Philosophy, as Cixous and Clement rightly saw, was "con-
structed on the premise of woman's abasement."6
This tradition, exacerbated by Christianity, became pathological, as Leo-
nardo Sciascia defined it, in Sicilian culture. In the essay "Pirandello e la
Sicilia" Sciascia elaborated the formula "stilnovismo patologico" to ex-
plain the Sicilian complex and ambiguous view of woman.7 The assimila-
tion of a primitive religion with its cult of the Mother Earth -a symbol of
life and fertility-into the Catholic tradition, which exalts the spirit and
condemns the flesh and where the central figure becomes the Virgin Mary,
can help to explain in part the Sicilian male's ambivalence toward women.
And we should not forget the Muslim influence in Girgenti, "the most
arabizzata [Arabian] of the Sicilian provinces."8 This mixture of Christian-
ity and earlier cults is even reflected in Sicilian architecture, which raises a
Christian church on the foundation of a Greek temple (like, for example,
San Biagio in Agrigento) and builds in the same city a Catholic cemetery on
a hill named after the goddess Athena. It is the same syncretism that in-
spired Pirandello to place a statue of Venus in front of the Laurentano's
Catholic chapel in I vecchi e i giovani and Tomasi di Lampedusa to make
the women in his family kneel during Rosary on "the mythological nudities"
of Andromeda and Perseus portrayed on the floor of the magnificent Salina
palace, while from the ceiling Tritons and Nereides benignly look down.9
A syncretism, however, that if it achieves a successful blend in Sicilian ar-
chitecture, leaves contrast and ambivalence in the minds of Sicilians.

3 Introduction

In speaking of Pirandello, therefore, one should never forget his back-
ground, keeping in mind not only the advanced philosophical thought he
encountered as a student in Bonn but also the puritanical, stifling, and
complex environment of his birthplace, Girgenti. The powerful influence
of the latter, in fact, is clearly visible in Pirandello's acceptance of a family
arranged marriage. How could a man with such a revolutionary intellect,
capable of shattering solid "truths" and pillars of century old beliefs-
how could such a mind accept a wife his father had chosen for him? A
wife, moreover, raised by an overly possessive, authoritarian, and puri-
tanical father, one who locked his daughter in the house, forbidding her
even to look out the windows, and whose own wife had died in childbirth
because he would not let a doctor see her? What intellectual companion-
ship could he expect from a wife whose education was entrusted to nuns?
Could he not foresee the shocking effect the letters he wrote from Rome to
his young fiancee would have on her naive mind?
What about the impact, for example, of a letter like the one written on
December I5, 1893 -the first he sent her? Pirandello had gone to Agrigento
to meet his bride-to-be; in the month he spent there they saw each other a
few hours a day, always in the presence of several family members, who
prohibited Antonietta from raising her eyes to look at her fiance. Back in
Rome he outlines for her the summa of his pessimistic philosophy. In the
first letter Luigi begins with the encouraging words: "I cannot explain
what I feel as I write you. Nor could you understand it, since you are
unaware of the condition of my mind before I met you in Sicily." To help
matters, he proceeds to explain as well as he can: "I imagined life to be an
immense labyrinth surrounded by an impenetrable mystery [. .] Why
should I go? and where? The fault is in ourselves, in our minds, and the
evil is in life, a senseless evil." Toward the end of the letter the tragic tone
gives way to a new optimism thanks to Antonietta. Shouldn't the "dear
little girl"10 be flattered to read that her future husband, who only a month
before "had never found a way out of this labyrinth"; "who felt neither
desire nor affection"; to whom "everything was indifferent [. .] vain and
useless"; who considered himself "a bored and restless spectator unable
to stay but also unable to make up his mind to leave" -shouldn't this
dear little girl feel flattered to have performed the miracle of having put a
light into such a bleak soul? Or shouldn't she have felt overwhelmed by
the heavy responsibility entrusted upon her weak and uncertain spirit by
such a gloomy cynic? "But now my sun is born! You are my sun, my pur-
pose; I have now emerged from the labyrinth ... I have your image present

4 Introduction

and living before my eyes [...] You will love me, you must love me, be-
cause I. .."
Although Giudice, who used these letters in his biography of Pirandello,
realizes that Antonietta could not understand the complex and elaborate
expressions of her fiance and hints at the possibility of a negative effect on
her mind, he, too, discusses this mismatch more on an intellectual than an
emotional level. Here, instead, I want to underline the psychic trauma that
such outbursts could have caused in Antonietta rather than her inability to
understand Pirandello's complexity. Complexity, yes, but also extreme im-
maturity and even superficiality in the matter of love. How could he in all
honesty believe Antonietta had performed that miracle? (Is this perhaps
another symptom of his "pathological stilnovismo" ?) How could she have
cured him from his existential "illness" that up until that moment had
made it "seem impossible" for him "to fall in love, to feel the joy of offer-
ing himselff entirely to another person?" What could Antonietta have
done to rescue him from the abyss? Giudice considers Pirandello's passive
acceptance of his father's choice as a radical existential passivity, a form of
"skepticism," maybe even a certain "bourgeois cynicism that makes him
lean toward a marriage of interest."12 In my view, instead, his obedient
behavior and the infantile infatuation we see in such letters reveal his ig-
norance and fear of women and his consequent incapacity to deal with the
feminine "other."
Karen Homey has examined at length man's "dread of woman" and
sees it as initially determined by the mystery of her sex (which is not vis-
ible, as man's is) and secondarily by the mystery of maternity.13 Woman
need not prove her womanhood in order to fulfill it. "Even if she is frigid,
she can engage in sexual intercourse and conceive and bear a child. She
performs her part by merely being, without any doing-a fact that has
always filled men with admiration and resentment. The man on the other
hand has to do something in order to fulfill himself." This is why, she
continues, men are obsessed with the idea of efficiency and of proving
themselves. In sexual life, this is shown in his need to conquer and possess
many women. This attitude creates in man the anxiety of failure that pulls
him towards easy prey. The debasement of women as "infantile and emo-
tional creatures and as such, incapable of responsibility and independence,
is the work of the masculine tendency to lower women's self-respect" in
order to disguise the male's own "precarious self-respect" or at least his
insecurity.14 Even Camille Paglia, who attacks a certain feminism for down-
playing the physiological and cultural differences between males and fe-
males and accepts as a given truth the association of woman with nature

5 Introduction

and man with culture, explains the male's aggressive attitude as a symp-
tom of his dread of women. The mystery surrounding the female body "is
the main reason for the imprisonment man has imposed on women."15
In the last letter Pirandello wrote to Antonietta before their wedding,
only three weeks after the first one, there are clear signs of coercion, in-
timidation, and verbal abuse. Antonietta, who was understandably over-
whelmed by her fiance's letters, had answered laconically and with reserve.
Luigi strikes mercilessly: "Don't you really know what to say to me? Do
you really have to force yourself to write to me? I don't believe it! It's not
at all true that you don't know how to write. Why don't you have any-
thing to say to me? Who knows how many thoughts our promises of love
have inspired in you-and the approach of the day when our lives will be
united! Who knows how many feelings have been aroused in your heart?"16
Could Pirandello really have been so naive? Didn't he realize that to a
young woman brought up as Sicilian girls were, with no right to speak to
and even look at men, this sudden engagement and his violent outburst
could have only made her silent? The pressing sequence of Pirandello's
questions is similar to a psychological bombardment, the effect of which
could be nothing but paralysis and silence. There is a grim appropriate-
ness in the fact that Antonietta's mental illness will first manifest itself as
If it is hard to believe that Pirandello could so naively ask such ques-
tions to his fiancee, it is harder still to believe that he could be in love with
Antonietta. This is not to accuse Pirandello of lying but rather to argue for
his fusion or confusion of life and fiction. His sexual immaturity, his igno-
rance of women, his imaginative mind-perhaps because of such igno-
rance-contributed to the creation of a fictional Antonietta and a fictional
relationship (another symptom of pathological stilnovismo). Pirandello was
writing while in Rome, far from the woman he had just met, whom he
barely knew and was soon going to marry. Those were the bare facts,
"sacchi vuoti" (empty sacks)17 that the artist must fill with his own feel-
ings and connect. He must make them meaningful; he must create a story.
Pirandello's distance from Antonietta could only help to intensify his emo-
tions and longings, thus stimulating the imagination. As Leopardi had
taught him, the absence of meaning makes creation possible, and the artis-
tic creation is far superior to the everyday, precarious, and common real-
ity. 18 Pirandello creates his love for Antonietta; what is worse, he expects
Antonietta to do the same. Just as in the short story "Tra due ombre"
(Between Two Shadows, published in 1922), Pirandello's life will always
be suspended between the "shadow" of a reality (the wife he marries) that

6 Introduction

disappoints him and makes him suffer and the shadow of a Platonic ideal
(the woman he never possessed) that he will crave and desire until the end.
At this moment in his life, Antonietta is this idealized being, created by
Pirandello's imagination precisely because she is still unknown to him. When
Antonietta descends from the world of ideas and becomes a real wife, Pir-
andello will create a new ideal.
While writing these letters to his fiancee, Luigi thinks that Antonietta
should love the schizophrenic man who has two personalities in himself,
as he tells her in his last letter on January 5, only a few weeks before their
In me there are almost two different people: You already know one
of them; the other one I myself do not know well. I usually say that I
am made of a big me and a little me: These two gentlemen are almost
always at war with each other; one cannot stand the other. The former
is taciturn and constantly absorbed in thoughts, the latter speaks
easily, jokes and makes people laugh [...] I am constantly divided
between these two persons. Now one has the upper hand; now, the
other. I am obviously fonder of the former, that is of the big me; I
adapt myself to and feel sorry for the latter, who after all is just a
being like anyone else, with his common qualities and common de-
fects. Which one of the two will you love more, Antonietta? (An-
tonietta mia, 23)'9

One cannot but agree with Pirandello's great-granddaughter Maria Luisa
Aguirre D'Amico when she remarks that Antonietta would have probably
preferred the "little me." In 1922, in a letter sent to her daughter from the
clinic where she had been already for several years, a very dejected An-
tonietta remarked: "My dear Lietta, I cannot hate anybody anymore, per-
haps because I have become the shadow of myself, but I will always feel
resentment toward those I know who have contributed to reducing me to
such a state." There is no doubt that she had her husband in mind. A few
days later she wrote to her daughter: "You too, Lietta, have begun to suf-
fer too soon in your life. It is the fault of Luigi Pirandello who, having only
his future projects in mind, gave you a false direction in life."20
Later in his life, Pirandello told his biographer Federico Vittore Nardelli
that Antonietta was "such a dear little girl," confirming his Sicilian men-
tality that feared woman's sexuality. Marrying "a dear little girl" assured
the male possession and total control of the woman, whose sexual and
mental growth were thus stunted. The "little girl" would suddenly become
a mother and, often overwhelmed by many difficult pregnancies, would

7 Introduction

probably never discover her sexuality. Thus the risk of having her trans-
formed into a she-wolf, as Verga called the sexual woman, was averted.
After meeting Antonietta for the first time, Pirandello told his friend Anto-
nio De Gubernatis that he thought she was "bona pi' mugliera" (good for
a wife), and after a long pause he added that "he wanted to make her into
a real woman."21 If this anecdote is true, it can only confirm Pirandello's
fear of femininity and his need to control the "little girl" and to help her to
grow into a good wife, which to him coincided with the only "real woman"
he could ever handle. Finally, the "dear little girl," with her corporeal at-
tachment to life and children, would help Pirandello not to lose total con-
tact with life.
Although biographical studies have generally pointed out the dreadful
life Pirandello had to endure in the company of a mad wife, their (male)
authors have made little attempt to understand Antonietta. Most fall eas-
ily into the trap of hagiography: Pirandello must conform to a conven-
tional idea of greatness, with only minor defects allowed. Sciascia, how-
ever, who devoted a great deal of time and energy to probing into the
complexity of the Sicilian psyche (and, as a good Sicilian, had his own
complexes about women), was more generous toward Antonietta. She,
writes Sciascia, "must have felt herself fixed into a form representing ex-
clusively a dowry" and hence her mental collapse at the collapse of the
dowry.22 Antonietta had been an object of exchange between father and
father-in-law with no rights of her own. Luigi had obeyed his father and
accepted her as the final terms of the business deal. Although marriage
deals were a component of the social mores of Sicilians, how many women
would have maintained their romantic illusions under those conditions?
Antonietta's emotional and mental state, clearly unsettled from the start,
was soon characterized by a form of obsessive jealousy. Was such obses-
sion so insane, after all? How many young girls, lacking experience and
culture, who from a tender age had been indoctrinated to become the sole
possession of a husband-the only way to escape the father's prison-
would not have become obsessively jealous? Jealousy is a natural compo-
nent of exclusive property and of treating women like objects whom men
take and possess. Small wonder that Antonietta would project onto her
husband the proprietary terms of his relationship to her. But then why
should we not also lend a sympathetic ear to the old Portulano's maid,
who remembers Pirandello not as a great writer but as a man "who be-
trayed his wife with dancers" (con le ballerine)?23
In publishing some of Lietta's correspondence with her mother and her
father, Maria Luisa Aguirre D'Amico tries to hear the voices of the women

8 Introduction

in her family in the attempt to reconstruct a more balanced picture of those
difficult relationships. Listening to these voices, we might ask whether Li-
etta's and Antonietta's suffering could have been in part caused by the men
in their lives, starting with their fathers. Those tyrannical Sicilian males
were very dependent on their women, whose abnegation and sacrifice were
taken for granted. Antonietta even cooked special dishes for her husband-
"just as [she] used to do for [her] father" -while she and the maid Rosa ate
soup.24 Pirandello, too, depended on his wife, however sick and frail, just
as he had on his mother and as he would on his daughter after his mother's
death and Antonietta's commitment to a mental institution.
In a letter addressed to his children in June 1913 during one of the sepa-
rations Antonietta forced on him-she spent some of her critical periods
away from him and back in Sicily-Pirandello wrote: "I need you, I need
to have you all near in order to be able to live; but even more-please, do
not be offended-I need your Mother near me; more than Lietta and Lulii,
little Stefano knows it-he who has already seen me far from her. I cannot
resist! And if I think that she, yes, she can stay without me, I feel like dying
of anguish ."25 It is difficult to estimate the effect a letter like this could
have had on Pirandello's young children, who must have been already wor-
ried about their mother's mental health; but it could not have been salu-
tary. There was certainly not much stability at home to help them grow
into well-balanced adults.
The letters Pirandello wrote to Lietta in Chile are as desperate and self-
dramatizing as those he would write a few years later to Marta Abba. They
show his readiness to use psychological blackmail and reveal a man who
cannot control his emotions and uses them to move and to upset his wo-
men-in short, they reveal a man who is still a child in need of a mother.
Already in the first letter written after having seen his daughter off in Genoa,
he complains: "the house seems empty, just as my life. You must come back
soon, my beautiful little Lillinetta, or your Papa will die of anguish. I can-
not stay a single moment without thinking of you."26 Anguish seemed to
be Pirandello's natural state of mind when his women were away.
Lietta knew how much was expected of her; she knew she had to take
her mother's place and that her departure with her husband was experi-
enced as betrayal. Since an early age, she had to learn to do everything by
herself and to help and serve the males in her family. In a letter written to
her mother from Chile while expecting her second child, she comments:
"God willing this one too will be a boy, because I believe that any mother
who gives birth to a daughter and thinks of all she will suffer, must feel like
crying and pulling her hair out."27 Unfortunately, God did not oblige either

9 Introduction

with this or with her third pregnancy. Maria Luisa, the second daughter,
herself had sad memories of her childhood and of that very mother who, in
fact, had wished for a son. Manolo, her first and only boy, died early.
It seems appropriate to conclude this biographical section of the intro-
duction with a final quote from Maria Luisa Aguirre. After telling the readers
that Antonietta was taken to a mental clinic in January 1919, just after
Stefano came back from the war camp, she writes: "Let's make some con-
jectures, let's ask some questions. If Pirandello's father, Stefano, who was
in financial difficulty, had not pushed Luigi to marry Antonietta in order to
invest her dowry in the recovery of his sulfur mine, and if Calogero Portulano
had not consented, maybe because aware of his daughter's frailty-if, in
short, there had not been the concordant interests of Stefano and Calogero,
and Antonietta had contracted a more common marriage, if she had been
granted a less brilliant life in her Girgenti, next to a little me, would her
destiny not have been less cruel? And would she not have caused less suf-
fering around her? Conjectures: but how could one not make them? Ques-
tions: but how could one not ask them?"28 Especially, one might add, since
Antonietta was to remain in that mental institution until she died, forty
years later.

The central position of the male raisonneur, holder of the logos, subject
and creator of discourse, and the subordinate place of woman, deprived of
any autonomy, object and creature of the male subject, has been under-
lined by critics. In her recent study, Maggie Gunsberg reads some of Piran-
dello's plays as the realization of "the traditional binary allocation of cul-
tural creativity to the masculine, and biological procreation to the feminine
domain."29 This is certainly a very legitimate reading. Yet Pirandello can-
not be reduced to this alone. Though a patriarchal code is undoubtedly
present, this hardly exhausts the implications of his plays. His multifaceted
products cannot be straitjacketed into a fixed interpretation. A true hu-
morist, he would overturn any one-sided reading into its opposite. In ex-
amining Pirandello's plays we should never forget what Hinkfuss says in
Tonight we improvise: "Life must obey two necessities, which, for being in
opposition to one another, do not allow it either to persist [consistere] last-
ingly or to move constantly ... And life must persist and move" (MN I,
209).30 This paradoxical principle rules human life. It cannot be forgotten
even in our interpretative processes, which belong clearly to the realm of
form, thus consistency. When Gunsberg states that motherhood for Piran-
dello is incompatible with sexuality, as is femininity with intellectual ac-

0o Introduction

tivities, she is right and certainly not the first one to say it.31 Yet we should
not stop there. Pirandello, in fact, is aware that such antitheses are the
product of a patriarchal society that fears woman's power. The abasement
of women's intellect and sexuality is a clear sign that society fears the threat
they pose. Far from being immune to this fear, Pirandello surely knows
that he shares it. But in the process of writing he becomes aware of some-
thing more significant still.
With all their analytical tools and profound reasoning, what do his male
raisonneurs accomplish? Where do their logical discoveries take them? At
the end of his strange adventure Mattia Pascal will be able to "live" only
as the late Mattia Pascal; at the closing of the curtain in It Is So (If You
Think So) Lamberto Laudisi remains with sarcastic laughter before the
mystery of every being's identity (not only of female identity, as Gunsberg
claims);32 after the success of his clever plan in The Rules of the Game,
Leone Gala faces the most desolate and silent void. Vitangelo Moscarda
renounces life altogether, choosing silence and abandoning the city, soci-
ety, and hopes in the dissolution of the self in nature. What do these rai-
sonneurs accomplish? What do they finally understand through the use
and abuse of reason? That life is a "flusso continue" (continuous flux),
chaos; that there is neither order nor logic in it.33
In his sad attempt to rationalize chaos, to find reasons where there are
none, man stops and dissects life, thus killing it. Man's privileged, rational
place is thus undermined by a tragic paradox: reason tries to make sense
of a life that has none. The much-praised logic is "una macchinetta in-
fernale" (a devilish little machine), Pirandello had written in L'Umorismo
(SPSV, 154). It is a pump that filters feelings and emotions and cools them
down, reducing them to dry carcasses, to concepts and ideas. In Ma non e
una cosa seria (But It's Not Serious), Magnasco develops the image. "You
have a feeling? The little machine that is called logic pumps and filters it
for you; and the feeling immediately loses its warmth, its turbidity; it cools
off; it gets purified; idealized! Everything proceeds smoothly, because-of
course!-we are outside of life, in pure abstraction. Life is there, where
there is turbidity, where there is warmth, where there is no longer any
logic" (MN II:1993, 61).34
The rationalization of feelings is a simplification, a reduction of their
complexity to a formula, a label, namely a linguistic expression, a phrase
or a word. Pirandello's battle against logic is also a battle against lan-
guage, through which logic operates. And his male philosophers are well
aware of it. As the Father in Six Characters in Search of an Author ex-
claims: "But the evil is precisely here. In words! [. .] and how can we

Si Introduction

understand each other [...] if in the words I speak I place the meaning and
value of things as they are inside me; whereas he who hears them, inevita-
bly attributes to them the meaning and value they have for him?" (MN
II:1993, 692).
Pirandello's male characters constantly question the power of words
and warn against their danger-words, says Moscarda in One, No One,
and One Hundred Thousand, that "each of us understands and uses his
own way" (TiR II, 825). Labels, such as madman for Henry IV, usurer for
Moscarda, jinx for Chiarchiaro, cuckold for Ciampa, and so on, are traps
from which no escape is possible. "Epigrafi funerarie" (inscriptions on
tombstones), Moscarda specifies, fix life in crystallized forms, thus killing
it. "Names belong to the dead [... ] To those who have come to the end [.
. .] Life does not come to conclusion," he continues, "and knows of no
names" (R II, 901). Pirandello, however, knew well that we cannot escape
from the trap of names unless we choose to abandon the social environ-
ment, which is what Vitangelo Moscarda does at the end of the novel. His
silence thus sanctions the end of the novel, the end of verbal communica-
tion, the end of the social individual. Moscarda's repudiation of language
coincides with the repudiation of the city, both man's constructions and
thus precarious, relative, artificial. Withdrawing to the country, Moscarda
cancels himself from the human consortium: a utopian end in the etymo-
logical sense that Pirandello affirms and denies at the same time. Man, in
fact, is a social being, producer of language and produced in turn by it.
Pirandello's approach to language, however, is not completely negative.
It is not by chance, in fact, that in his theoretical writings he expresses
himself in constructive terms on the issue of language and offers precise
suggestions for its improvement. What is, in fact, his famous distinction
between "writers of things" and "writers of words" if not a demonstra-
tion of trust in a language more authentic than another?34 Writers cannot
do without words, whether they belong to the first or the second group;
whether they are "costruttori" (builders) or "riadattatori" (adapters). The
former, however, are those who express "things in their unadorned essen-
tiality." A true writer, he continues in his speech in honor of Giovanni
Verga, is he who uses words only to express "the thing in such a way that
between it and those who must see it, the thing as word disappears, and
there remains not the word, but the thing itself" (SPSV, 392). In Pirandello
the essayist there seems, therefore, to be a certain faith in the possibility of
communication and understanding between writer and reader; a faith that
Pirandello the artist constantly questions. Hence the complexity of his ideas
on language and the impasse within which he is trapped. Language be-

I2 Introduction

trays; yet it is the only means of communication. But which language be-
trays? Pirandello's attack is against the linguistic sign pretending to be univo-
cal, demanding universal assent. To be communicative, honest, and there-
fore truer, language will have to be as far as possible from logocentrism,
from the language of the father, he who assigns the name. And Moscarda's
work of deconstruction will begin precisely with the metaphorical killing
of the father, he who, together with his physical form had given him his
name Vitangelo Moscarda as well as that of "usurer."35
Women are excluded from philosophical monologues. But why? Do we
really believe that Pirandello thought that women were incapable of them?
that women had little or no power of reasoning? that they only belong to
the realm of nature and are irremediably cut off from that of the spirit?
Could Pirandello ever have believed human nature so simple that human
beings could be naively catalogued in this way and their identity reduced
to rigid categories? If not, then why is the philosophical monologue so
completely foreign to Pirandello's female characters? Is the logos really
inaccessible to them? Could not he have believed instead that woman, pre-
cisely because she had been excluded for centuries from the production of
logos, remained truer to life than man and therefore could see more clearly
the risks and limitations of the logocentric discourse? Might not woman,
aware of such limitations and risks, consciously renounce logos and turn
to other forms of communication? Could the humility, insecurity, and mod-
esty of so many of his female characters have been founded precisely on
his recognition of their greater sensitivity to the limits of communication,
to the impossibility of absolute knowledge, and to their understanding of
life as chaos? What good does it do to pursue rigorously a logical dis-
course that in the end will be self-defeating? What does Cosmo Laurentano's
philosophy do in The Old and the Young but blow dust off the numerous
volumes of humarf stupidity? Is the raisonneur not a pathetic figure if he
takes his audience to the abyss of the absurd? Is it not more honest then to
speak modestly, even to keep silent, to listen to other voices and sounds, as
inarticulate as they might be? Sounds that, though devoid of logic (or maybe
because of it) lend themselves to other types of interpretations and may
yield different meanings and values?
Pirandello's female characters, especially the protagonists of his plays,
enact a language that "allows the philosopher to escape the solitude of
reason that is essentially univocal."36 They are the precursors of the con-
temporary "crisis of reason," to use a term employed by the philosopher
Aldo Gargani; they are the proclaimers of Gianni Vattimo's "weak thought."
If the self, the individual, is language, as Pierce said, and the spoken word

13 Introduction

is also the speaking word, as Merleau-Ponty stated (that is, the word makes
and transforms itself in the process of being uttered); if language is ges-
ture, is corporeality, then the linguistic horizon must expand, receiving
within itself a variety of signs. It must renounce "the violence of the logos'
abstraction."37 It must, therefore, appropriate the feminine discourse of
difference. To the logically constructed male discourse, which relies heavily
on the use of syntax--a linguistic element that underlines the faith in a
logical substratum in the world-the female language opposes a discourse
made of parataxis -casual juxtaposition of words -ellipses, deviations that
emphasize the absence of an underlying logic. The "in-between words,"
the "white spaces," the tonality of the voice and silence are "tears in the
language which let material impulses come through.""38 "All human be-
ings," Mary Ritchie Key wrote, "are in great need of being liberated from
a linguistic confinement contrary to human nature."39
In the last twenty years special attention has been given to "paralan-
guage"-the study of extra speech sounds, modification of speech, and
kinesics (body language) as fields of investigation that can help to include
in the study of communication precisely those elements that escape lin-
guistic coding and decoding. Although scholars who undertake this type
of study, such as M. R. Key, comment with regret on the difficulty encoun-
tered in trying to analyze scientifically paralinguistic elements, I would
rather say that it is precisely the impossibility of fully explaining, decod-
ing, and cataloging those elements that makes them worthy of study. They
are units of communication that escape the categorization into which tra-
ditional language is trapped and organized; they are land mines scattered
in the solid ground of the logos that destabilize and deconstruct it. There
is no way-fortunately-that a kinesic element like a gaze, for example,
can be absolutely decoded. And this aspect, this impossibility is, I think,
what fascinated Pirandello. Precisely because extralinguistic elements es-
cape systematization, they can retain a high degree of ambiguity and mys-
tery and thus a high destabilizing potential. Their proper place is the the-
ater, where dramatic discourse supplants narrative form, where constantly
new interpretations defeat the fossilization of verbal language. "Qui non
si narra! Qui non si narra!" (This is no place for narration!) shouts The
Stepdaughter to The Father in Six Characters in Search of an Author (MN
II:1993, 692). Theater is for dramatic action. With these emblematic words
woman challenges the paternal logos, appropriates the artistic space, and
sanctions the end of narrative.40
Pirandello's originality is revealed in that he was able to conceive pow-
erful female roles in spite of his traditional and conservative views of

14 Introduction

woman. In him the spirit of the androgynous artist was at work, a spirit
that could create equally potent female and male characters.41 Pirandello
felt in himself this femininity when he repeated on various occasions that
the artist continues the work of nature, giving life to characters that, con-
trary to the creations of nature, will live forever. He often used the meta-
phor of procreation to speak of the creative process, and without any doubt
he saw himself as the mother of his characters, with a special eye and
affection for the female. He even dedicated a whole novel to the explora-
tion of this theme. In Suo marito, Pirandello created a female character-
in which he clearly portrayed himself-who is a writer and a mother but
whose child dies so that her artistic creations might live. The theme was so
central to Pirandello's psychological and artistic world that he returned to
that early novel in the last years of his life, revising part of it and changing
the old title in the new Giustino Roncella nato Boggiolo.42
In the following pages I would like to argue for an awareness in Pirandello
of woman's superior ability not only to live life, but paradoxically, to un-
derstand it, if we construe the word understand in a way that transcends
logic, giving to it a spectrum of connotations taken from various levels of
communication. Women understand more precisely because they proceed
in their experiences with an open perception, calling into play a variety of
faculties, contaminating reason with emotions and concepts with feelings.
What feminist thought says about the nature of the feminine must be res-
cued also for the masculine. It is not man's mind and identity that are
more logical and more orderly than the female. It is that man has for cen-
turies hidden, repressed, and denied the "beast" that hides in all of us, as
Pirandello called it. He has pretended to be made in a more logical form.
What the philosopher Rosella Prezzo says about the inquiry into the femi-
nine should in fact be extended to the exploration of any human beings.
Such exploration leads not to the safe shores of philosophical systems but
to "a thicker maze than the one that the philosophical landscape would
take us; yet a truer one precisely because it is more complex and involved."
To open oneself up to the question of the feminine means to acknowledge
that philosophical language constructs itself also "thanks to that intrinsi-
cally ambiguous signifier, which is made up of many contradictory predi-
cates. 43
With the analysis centered on the woman's role, Pirandello's plays can
be seen to foreshadow a contemporary psychoanalytical trend espoused
by recent women scholars concerned with the problem of sexual domina-
tion and aggression. In her book The Bonds of Love, Jessica Benjamin
argues convincingly that the cause of aggression and domination must be

15 Introduction

found in Freud's overemphasized concept of independence and differen-
tiation seen in opposition to that of dependence and identification, con-
sidered as negative. Benjamin claims that we must go back to the pre-
Oedipal phase, which is dominated by the feeling and desire of the infant
child for union with the unidentified world of the mother. Such feeling and
desire, she continues, should not be "seen as dangerous forces of regres-
sion that threaten to cancel all strivings toward differentiation."44 Instead,
they should be seen as complementary to the striving toward differentiation.
Following Helene Cixous's attack against "patriarchal binary thought,"
Benjamin points to the cause of aggression and domination and sees in it a
trend that polarizes, that drastically opposes forces as mutually exclusive
and destructive.45 She hints at the necessity of accepting the coexistence of
opposite forces in a tension of mutual recognition and the need of treasur-
ing ambivalence (as Rosella Prezzo had urged on the linguistic level). I
would like to elaborate on this idea by suggesting that the need for oppo-
sition that has ruled the male logocentric discourse is clearly artificial. The
creation of such polarities, the drastic separation of white from black, rea-
son from instinct, good from evil is yet another artificial activity whose
fictionality must not be forgotten. The elements that we habitually oppose
do not exist in reality in such an absolute antithesis but are mingled to-
gether. It is this opposition that perpetrates a system of domination and
aggression. One element takes over at the other's expense. Benjamin calls
for a reevaluation of the importance of the identification impulse that has
been underplayed in the name of difference, independence, and distinc-
tion. I like to consider this characteristic of identifying and treasuring am-
bivalence, which is present in man and woman alike, as androgynous, and
I see Pirandello's psyche working on very similar lines.46 Pirandello suc-
ceeded in creating psychologically profound and complex female charac-
ters because he could intimately identify with them.
In giving voice to women, Pirandello accomplished the goal of his male
characters: the defeat of logical discourse, the unveiling of the fallacy of
words. If, in fact, the male raisonneurs denounce the trap of language and
logic in which human beings are inescapably caught, the female charac-
ters, especially in the plays, enact the deconstruction of logic and language
by relying on different elements for communication, such as the use of
silence, touch, facial expressions, and tonality of voice. It is with the use of
this different language that woman enacts the dissolution of the self and
honestly accepts the burden of being at the same time none and one hun-
dred thousand. As emblematic of our analysis, we could therefore take the
character of Signora Ponza, personification of "truth," that is, of that mul-

i6 Introduction

tifaceted truth that the male raisonneur theorizes and woman embodies.
In the scarce and lapidary final words of Cosi e (se vi pare)-"I am she
whom you believe me to be" and "for me I am nobody" (MN I:1986,
509)-there is implicit a complex discourse, the ethical implications of
which go even beyond its ontological statement. If Signora Ponza repre-
sents the dissolution of the self and, in modernist terms, the proclamation
of being as only a net of relations, her final words proclaim the impossibil-
ity of statements, thus the necessity of tolerance and respect, even when
rational understanding is lacking.47 In her words there is an appeal to that
sphere of emotions, to the unsaid and inexpressible, to those empty spaces
which must be respected for what they are and which cannot be violated
by filling them with external meanings.48 The Signora Ponza who appears
at the end of the play can be taken as emblematic of the "no one" who lies
deep down in all of us and, at the same time, as a presence warning against
the violence inherent in absolutes and certainties.

Iiapter 1

Woman, the Platonic Ideal
Tuda and "Marta"

Before Marta Abba, the Divine Eleonora Duse:
The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and As Before, Better than Before
After their meeting and for the rest of his life, Marta Abba was the stimu-
lus to Pirandello's creativity. She not only inspired him; she also gave him
confidence in his work. Marta was the true actress for whom he had been
waiting after his earlier disappointment with Eleonora Duse.
The great Duse was already old by the time Pirandello became a famous
playwright. He had hoped for years to have her perform one of his leading
roles, with no success. In a theater dominated by the glamorous, overly
dramatic performances of Sarah Bernhardt, Duse stood out with her un-
derstated, controlled acting. As she openly said on various occasions, she
went against the established and fixed rules of acting, bringing forth on
the level of the performer a discourse similar to the one that Pirandello
was pursuing on the level of the playwright and the regisseur. She acted
the emotions of a character as she felt them and not as the acting manual
said they should be felt. Duse did not act but lived her roles. "It is estab-
lished that in certain situations the voice must be raised, one must carry on
outrageously; and I, on the contrary, when I must express violent passion,
when my spirit is gripped by pleasure and sorrow, often fall mute, and on
stage I speak softly, barely murmuring."' Critics agreed that her peculiar
quality was her ability to communicate through silence. Her greatness lay
in "the smallness of her gestures, her hesitations, her pauses that seemed
to imply the presence of an internal struggle,"2 namely, in the nonverbal
communication required when words fail or are inadequate. It was what
Pirandello tried to accomplish with his plays, and Duse's style of perfor-
mance helped him to rectify and finally change his early negative views of
actors as falsifiers, betrayers of the work of art.

18 Chapter i

In his invaluable study of Pirandello's career, Claudio Vicentini docu-
ments the relevant role played by Duse-as by other actors-in the evolu-
tion of Pirandello's ideas on the theater. Duse, Vicentini tells us, was an
idol for Pirandello since his university days, when he wrote a few pieces
for the stage hoping he could offer them to her. It was 1887. Writing for
an American journal in the summer 1924, almost forty years later, to com-
memorate the great actress who had recently died, the playwright showed
a knowledge of her acting in all its minute details. He pointed out the
vibration of her muscles, the tension of her nerves, her facial expressions
"free from all theatrical conventions and changing only in direct corre-
spondence with real inner transformations of the soul." He commented
on her "divine" hands that seemed to "talk" and on her voice-"miracu-
lous not so much for its musical quality, as for its plasticity, its spontane-
ous sensitiviness to every subtle shading of thought or sentiment."3
All through his life Pirandello had been in awe of Duse's ability to trans-
form, to change on stage like the sudden movement of life. Her stage man-
ner, he wrote in the same article, was "like the surface of a deep, still wa-
ter, momentarily responsive to the subtlest tremors of light and shadow."
Movement was the essence of her artistic quality, "a continuous, restless,
momentary flow, which had neither time nor the power to stop and fix
itself in any given attitude."4 Those are the words Pirandello used to de-
scribe life in his philosophical essay L'Umorismo almost twenty years ear-
lier, words which are uttered by many of his male characters -but lived by
his female ones. Pirandello stressed the protean quality of Duse's artistry
that allowed her to disappear as Eleonora Duse and become the character
she was representing. His purpose was to debunk the false assumption
shared by many critics that such a quality revealed a "mechanical passive-
ness on the part of the actor, who must think of himself simply as an in-
strument for communicating the author's thought." On the contrary, Pir-
andello continues, "that supreme renunciation of the self" is "a spiritual
creative activity of the rarest kind."5
Duse's masterly interpretation of Paula in Sir Arthur Pinero's The Sec-
ond Mrs. Tanqueray left a deep mark in Pirandello's imagination. He had
seen it in Rome in 1898. Twenty years later, as he created the role of Fulvia
Gelli in Come prima meglio di prima (As Before, Better than Before), the
image of the second Mrs. Tanqueray was still very much on his mind, and
Pinero's play became an inspiration. Its theme was one of Pirandello's cen-
tral existential issues: the opposition between maternity and eroticism, the
mother-Madonna/whore dichotomy (as discussed above). This opposition,
established by a patriarchal society that needed a way to control and sub-

19 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

jugate women and ascertain paternal rights over offspring, obsessed Pir-
andello, who tried to exorcise it in his writing throughout his life.
In Pinero's play Paula is a fallen woman (in the eyes of puritanical Brit-
ish society) who hopes to erase her past-three love affairs-through her
marriage with the idealist Aubrey Tanqueray, a rich, handsome, forty-two-
year-old widower. He accepts this marriage because he feels lonely, of course,
but also out of pity; he wants to rescue Paula from social opprobrium. His
former wife was "a lovely creature [. ..]; by religion a Roman Catholic"
but one of "the cold sort-all marble and black velvet" who did not thaw
even in her husband's arms. "She was an iceberg!" one of Aubrey's friends
remarks: "I used to picture him closing his doors and making up the fire in
the hope of seeing her features relax. Bless her, the thaw never set in. I
believe she kept a thermometer in her stays and always registered ten de-
grees below zero."6 A child was born from this marriage, a girl who, we
soon discover, already at a young age was placed in a convent and even
after her mother's death wished to remain there. Maternity is from the
beginning of the play associated with austere beauty, Catholic faith, cold-
ness, convent life, virginity; in short, with the portrait of a Madonna. Eroti-
cism, on the other hand, is associated with vice. The play's male protago-
nist, with his decision to marry a fallen woman, however, seems to be
ready to fight against this bourgeois prudery-a battle in which he too
will fall as a victim. It is also possible to speculate that, given the unsatis-
factory relationship with his first wife, he might have felt the need for a
warmer and more tender companion.
At the end of act I, at the eve of Aubrey's wedding, his daughter Ellean
writes to her father and gives him the astonishing news that she is ready to
leave the convent. The Madonna figure that had been buried years earlier
comes back home to challenge woman as Eros. Ellean will act out in the
open the opposition between the mother-Madonna, of which she is now
the embodiment, and the erotic woman, the second Mrs. Tanqueray. De-
spite the latter's attempts to win Ellean's affection, she fails, and the cur-
tain closes on her suicide-a suicide, however, that is the enactment of a
murder perpetrated by the whole society. (Ellean's last words, before the
curtain falls, are "But I know-I helped her to kill herselff]."7 The final
gesture, in fact, is only the theatrical end of a crime that had slowly taken
place during three acts of the play.
The fascination Pirandello had with this play went clearly beyond his
admiration for Duse. Its plot and characters, in fact, attracted him as well.
The character of Ellean, for example, presents a very interesting develop-
ment. She comes home when her father remarries to take her mother's

20 Chapter i

place against this unworthy usurper. Yet, in a trip she takes with family
friends, she falls in love with a handsome, bold adventurer whom we soon
discover had been one of Paula's lovers in London. With this device Pinero
succeeds in accentuating the opposition between mother and erotic woman.
The coldness of the virgin Ellean, model of purity and virtue, is thawed
by Hugh's erotic fire which, in turn, had been fomented in him by Paula.
Although the play ends in tragedy-Ellean, too, will have to renounce
her love-the erotic woman is, in part, rescued. Before killing herself, Paula
gives a speech that is the manifesto of the exploitation of woman, of her
objectification, of her being constantly disempowered by the male who
makes up the rules by which society is governed. The language she uses is
the language of aggression, violence, war; since the life she leads is a war
from beginning to end. Either one is a mother, cold and stern in her in-
flexible and inhuman principles, leading a life of sacrifice and abnega-
tion-not a being in her own right but a functionary in someone else's
life-or she is the erotic woman, an object of consumption by the male,
whose only worth is her esthetic appeal-her beautiful body. Either way,
of course, she loses, since her essence is in both cases determined by some-
one else. "A pretty woman [.. .] is always endurable," Paula remarks. But
the day will come, she tells her distressed husband, when he, too, will see
her with the eyes of the others, once the beauty that camouflages her past
has faded. Then "I shall have no weapon to fight with-not one service-
able little bit of prettiness left me to defend myself with!" And what after
all did she do that was so terrible as to deserve the social stigma? Only
what men do all the time. Yet her sin consists precisely in this: in her lead-
ing "a man's life," in her daring to enter man's territory and usurp his
Pirandello had closely studied all the nuances and variations in Duse's
style, Vicentini notes, and all the roles she had played in her long career.
Fulvia Gelli was inspired by Duse's interpretation of Paula. Even before
Marta Abba entered his life, the woman actress had already started to
shape Pirandello's conception of the theater as life. Thus the great attrac-
tion with mother figures. If theater can better than any other art form
represent life, then the giver of life must have a central place in it. Come
prima meglio di prima begins where The Second Mrs. Tanqueray ended:
with the suicide of the protagonist. With a humorist's twist, however, Pir-
andello has Fulvia Gelli survive her suicide attempt, saved by her hus-
band whom she had abandoned thirteen years earlier.
From the beginning of the play she, like Paula, clearly appears as the
victim of male power. Even her lover has lied to her, hiding from her the

21 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

fact that he has a wife and children. She feels disgusted with her body, the
object of male desire and possession, and her attempted suicide signifies
her decision to destroy it. Thus her body becomes her only weapon against
men. Paula destroys her body-she also had called it her only weapon-
before it decays, leaving her defenseless, but Silvia is a step ahead in her
process of self-discovery; she attempts to destroy hers because she refuses
to be reduced to the status of an object of possession and consumption.
Silvia is contended by two men: her lover and her husband. She had left
the latter-a medical doctor-long before, but he has come back to save
her from death after her attempted suicide. While she is recovering in Don
Camillo's inn, Mauri, the lover, arrives and tries to take her away. Piran-
dello uses from the beginning a language denoting violence. "DON
CAMILLO: What is this violence? ... Take her away from him!" "Do not
dare touching her! Nobody!" Mauri, the lover, shouts. "She belongs to
me! to me! ... Just try to tear her away from my arms, if you have the
courage!" (MN 11:1993, 528-29). In the first act Fulvia appears as the
object of a tug-of-war between men, as the language employed by them
clearly indicates. She represents the betrayal of all women-a betrayal
perpetrated by men. "We all have deceived this woman!" Mauri exclaims
(532). It seems that the lover has finally realized the crime he, too, has
committed against Fulvia. Is he redeeming himself, then? He probably thinks
he is, but what he has actually done lowers him even further on the scale
of human conduct. "I freed myself! I am free now! ... I left everything!"
(533)-meaning his family and his job. And before leaving his family for
Fulvia he had even accepted money from his wife. Incidentally, it should
be said that Fulvia represents freedom to Mauri, who had let himself be
caught in a marriage without love. He is an artist; he dreams of playing
the piano. Fulvia signifies to him spontaneous life to be lived in freedom
and enjoyment.
Like Pinero's Paula, Fulvia is a fallen woman in the eyes of society.
She abandoned her husband and daughter and has had several unhappy
affairs. She goes from one man to the next, all very weak and mediocre,
as her way of undermining the importance men give to the possession of
woman. Fulvia does not belong to any one man; she belongs to all, hence
to none. If social convention places a woman's value in her pure body
which must become the property of only one man, Fulvia's lifestyle can be
seen as a statement challenging that very social convention, even at the
cost of her death.
Fulvia, however, does not die. Her husband, Silvio, saves her and takes
her back home with him. Since he had told their daughter that her mother

22 Chapter i

died years ago, Silvio takes Fulvia back as his second wife, determined to
continue with his pitiful lie. Upon Fulvia's entrance into the household a
phenomenon takes place similar to the one that occurred in Pinero's drama.
Livia, the daughter, by now a young woman, takes upon herself the pure,
sanctified role of her mother, acting out once more one pole of the opposi-
tion mother/whore, of which Fulvia must naturally play the other. Fulvia
can go back to her husband only as a lover, not as a mother (just like the
second Mrs. Tanqueray). The two, as Baldovino had said in II piacere
dell'onesta (The Pleasure of Honesty), cannot coexist.
In this play, however, Pirandello does not stop at this opposition. Fulvia
will not accept it. Her new pregnancy is the first sign of her rebellion. Her
confession to her daughter at the end of the play and her taking both of
them away from the home of the husband and father are the last acts of
her independence and victory. Fulvia seems to be shouting that she is both
a mother and an erotic woman. Yet it is not a joyful shout. If, in fact, we
backtrack a little and explore this opposition in more depth, we realize
that eroticism, though acknowledged, is not accepted by Pirandello.
Already in the opening stage directions, when the playwright describes
Fulvia as feeble and pale after her attempted suicide, his own ambivalence
about sexuality appears. Just like Delia Morello, Marta in The Wives'
Friend, and Varia Nestoroff in the novel Shoot!, Fulvia, too, "feels scorn
and intimate hatred for her beautiful body" (MN II:1993, 527).9 Pirandello
uses an expression as strong as feroce ribrezzo" (fierce disgust), a disgust
that is proportional to the enjoyment that she has given to others. From
the beginning, therefore, sexual gratification is branded as a base male
weakness to which females must give in.
Throughout the play it is strongly hinted that Fulvia's perdition was
caused by the erotic games Silvio had taught her when she was very young
and that she had continued to play with other men. Those games, she
bitterly remarks, "mi sono divenuti familiar" (became familiar to me) and
made her famous. "I taught them to him [Mauri] too, you know? That's
why he desires me and suffers so! How revolting! How revolting! How
revolting!" (MN II:1993, 547-48). Erotic and maternal love are so drasti-
cally opposed that Fulvia admits to her husband she is lowering herself so
mercilessly in order to keep him from talking to her of her daughter. She
can no longer be a mother. She is a whore.
Upon her return to the home of her husband and daughter she experi-
ences right away "the odor of sanctity that comes from that dead woman"
and witnesses the sanctification of the mother figure that had been taken
place in the family. Livia must grow up with the cult of her mother-

23 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Madonna. As Fulvia returns to live next to Silvio, Livia demands all her
mother's objects and takes over her role. Eroticism is branded as evil and
demonic, and there is no resistance against it. Pirandello's erotic female
characters have all inherited some genes from Verga's "Lupa" (the "She-
Together with woman's legitimate rebellion against her reduction by
men to an object of pleasure, there coexist in Pirandello the powerful sexual
taboos of his Sicilian culture, where Catholicism is intertwined with the
primitive cult of the mother earth. Silvio wants Fulvia back because he is
sexually driven to her. Fulvia becomes schizophrenic because Silvio wants
her as a whore at night and as a saintly mother in the morning. She de-
nounces to her aunt Ernestina the weakness of male nature: "It makes me
nauseous [... ] He still wants me like that one ... When we are alone; do
you understand? He would like that that saint up there, brought to life
again and well instructed, could upset, yes, mess up all his probity [...]
But then the next morning he wants to fix it again, re-adjust it, since it is
still somewhat messy, before his daughter" (582-83). The opposition of
these two elements of human nature could not have been stated more force-
fully. The mother becomes a Madonna precisely because eroticism has been
completely stripped from her. The erotic woman, on the other hand, ob-
sessed with her lust, cannot know the spiritual and physical sacrifices re-
quired by motherhood. Although Fulvia is victorious in the end and reas-
serts her rights as a mother to both her daughters, she still does it in spite
of, and not together with, her eroticism.
If a brief detour in Pirandello's personal life can be allowed, and more
precisely into his own home, we find on his desk his most beloved portrait
of Marta. It is the portrait of a she-wolf-a face unrecognizable compared
to her appearance in hundreds of other photographs. It is a portrait of
only her face with the line of her naked shoulders barely visible. In it Marta
looks straight at the viewer, who is imagined in a slightly higher position.
In short, she looks up a little. She could be coming out of a bathtub or
getting up from a bed. Her eyes in this picture bring to mind the magnetic
power of Laura's gaze in L'innesto (The Grafting)--the petrifying eyes of
Medusa, but also the hypnotizing eyes of Medea.11 And just as Laura had
a disturbing laugh, Marta's mouth is half open in a sensuous and provok-
ing smile that shows her upper teeth between heavily painted lips-lips
that seem ready to swallow up the viewer. She expresses sensuality and
lust-emotions so uncommon to the austere and enigmatic features of the
great actress. But Marta was also Fulvia (the assonance of the name with
the adjective fulva that Pirandello used to describe her is obvious); as she

24 Chapter

was Laura, Delia, Sara, L'Ignota, and many more. She was also the sexual
creature whom the playwright must have desired terribly and whose real-
ity, at the same time, he must have forbidden himself to acknowledge,
except in a photograph or on stage. The dream-nightmare of seeing that
Marta come out of the frame must have obsessed Pirandello for a long
time, for at end of his life it materialized in the disturbing short story "Effetti
di un sogno interrotto" (Effects of an Interrupted Dream).12

The Virgin Marta: Diana and Tuda and The Wives' Friend
Diana and Tuda: The History

With Marta Abba's entrance into his life Pirandello was at last able to
develop, focus, and galvanize his various thoughts on woman. The "daugh-
ter of the air," "the winged spirit," had in her soul the fleeting essence of
life itself. It was not by chance that Marta entered Pirandello's world with
the role of Dea, the protagonist of Massimo Bontempelli's Nostra Dea,

Marta Abba, ca.
I927. Theater Col-
lection, Rare Books
and Special Collec-
tions, Princeton
University Library.
.- By permission of
ski Princeton University
I ., Library.

25 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

which premiered at the Odescalchi theater in Rome on April 22, 1925.
Pirandello was then the director of the Company of Teatro d'Arte, and he
had hired her on Bontempelli's advice alone as prima attrice, without hav-
ing seen her. "She was announced as the dawn [of the Italian theater]."
Nostra Dea was a great success. "The actress was particularly suited to
the multiform interpretation of the various states of mind of the main char-
acter. There was a fire, an instinct and a mutability, a suffering that made
her a perfect interpreter of Pirandello's world."'1 Dea has no identity of
her own, but she acquires one as soon as she slips into a dress. Rather than
portraying woman's superficiality, her vanity and dependence on clothes,
Bontempelli's play seemed near to Pirandello's philosophy of the "one, no
one and one hundred thousand." He had written this play at Pirandello's
request, knowing the Maestro had liked the idea for a subject. Dea is clearly
the young, maybe immature ancestor of Donata Genzi, who, after a long
process of achieving self-consciousness through a number of roles, will
become aware of the nonexistence of anything else behind them.14
For a year and a half Pirandello and Marta were together in successive
theatrical seasons in Italy as well as England, France, Switzerland, Ger-
many, and South America. Besides plays by Pirandello and Bontempelli,
the repertoire included works by leading European playwrights such as
Ibsen, Schnitzler, and Evreinov.15 During their tournee in Germany Piran-
dello wrote his first drama for Marta, Diana and Tuda. From two letters
to his children, we learn of the "psychological crisis" he went through
while composing it. From Leipzig on October 28 he wrote: "I worked the
entire night and I have almost completed the first act of Diana and Tuda.
Another three nights like this one and the play will be finished. Or per-
haps, I will be finished together with the play."16 Guido Salvini, Pirandello's
scenographer and close collaborator, recalled the same night (here related
by D'Amico and Tinterri):

They were both staying at the Hotel Der Kaiserhof. One morning,
very early, Salvini knocked on Pirandello's door because he had an
urgent matter to discuss. He found him dressed, at his desk and no-
ticed that the bed was still made. Wondering at this state of affairs,
he asked the Maestro how he had spent the night. And Pirandello,
picking up a stack of papers that were lying before him and almost
throwing them at him, said: 'Here it is, what I did!' It was the first
act of Diana and Tuda.17

In spite of his intense and maddening inspiration, or maybe because of it,
Pirandello did not complete the play in three days, nor even in three months.

26 Chapter i

Almost a year later from Rome he wrote to Marta: "Thanks to the faculty
that I possess in the highest degree, to abstract myself from all the miseries
of life, I was able -even in these dreadful days -to rewrite more dramati-
cally and I believe by now perfectly, the entire second half of Act Three. I
have been waiting for your impression, as you promised to read the work
again with a rested mind. I am still waiting for it very anxiously" (Lettere,
14).18 Three days later Marta replied: "I have read Diana and Tuda three
times. A few slight changes in the end of Act One and Two, more rapid.
The third act seems to me fine; the final tragedy is well devised; after Sirio's
death Tuda has no good or clear expressions, since they are so fragmented;
in my opinion the last remark should be more developed. (I will read it
again)" (Caro Maestro, 30). Marta was right; the end of the play was
certainly its weakest part. Tuda's character falls to pieces.
When Pirandello wrote those words to Marta his home was in great
turmoil. In the first part of this letter-which was not published-he tells
Marta of the awful scenes that took place in his home when he and his
sons found out that Manuel Aguirre, husband of Lietta, was trying to cheat
the family out of a lot of money-or at least so Pirandello believed.19 After
Lietta and Manuel's arrival from Chile at the beginning of 1925, Manuel
had become the administrator of Pirandello's finances. Perhaps by giving
this responsibility to his son-in-law, Pirandello was trying to help the couple
to settle down in Rome.20 At the same time Lietta had come back with her
husband; she had thus arrived as Manuel's wife and no longer only as
Luigi's daughter. Perhaps his suspicion toward his son-in-law was exas-
perated precisely by the jealousy he felt as a father, no longer first in his
daughter's affection.
The vital necessity of the woman's presence in the family had been an
axiom in Pirandello's beliefs. Not only did he need a woman who would
live and sacrifice for him, he also needed an ideal to worship and adore.
His separation from his wife, the death of his mother, Lietta's departure
for Chile, but above all her marriage-perceived perhaps as a betrayal for
another man-had all been tremendous blows to his fragile psyche. Had
his wife or daughter been near him, the attachment to Marta might have
been less obsessive.
The intensity of his emotions for his daughter is revealed, as we have
seen, in the letters written to Lietta after her departure for Chile. Their
excessive tone, even coming from a very affectionate father, tells us a great
deal about Pirandello's state of mind. His dependence on female affection
and care took the form of a moral blackmail. These expressions reveal not
only an intense and imaginative artist but the weaknesses of a typical Sicil-

27 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

ian male. Who can take care of him now that Caterina is dead, Antonietta
is committed to a mental institution, and Lietta is so far away? Who can
pamper him with affectionate, self-sacrificing devotion?
Pirandello's psychological blackmail is already at work upon the arrival
of Lietta's first letter from Barcelona. (Faithful and obedient, she evidently
wrote papa immediately as soon as the ship took to sea.) Having found
her letter as he was going out, he had started to read it while walking but
had to return home quickly for he did not want to be seen "crying like a
child" by passers-by. "Even last night, Stefano and Fausto, coming home
together, found me here, sitting at the table in my study, crying before your
letter, which I have read and read I don't know how many times."21
The dramatic, intense expressions Pirandello wrote to Lietta will recur
in his letters to Marta. To his actress he will write over and over that his
only reason in life is to work for her happiness-as he now does to his
daughter. "The only reason that persuades me to go on living this torture
which is my life is that of your well being, my dear children. The more the
fruit of my work grows-work that nourishes itself with all the torments
of my life-the better it is for you. I hope not only for the present, but also
for the future"22 The pathetic self-sacrificing tone is only too obvious. Pir-
andello is hammering on Lietta's psyche and conscience with all his might.
It must not have been easy for her. Away from her family, in a foreign
country with a very difficult first pregnancy and delivery and a son who
remained disabled and eventually died, her father's letters, far from help-
ing her, must have made her even more lonely. We must be grateful to M.
L. Aguirre D'Amico for having presented to the public for the first time
the woman's point of view. Furthermore, the correspondence between fa-
ther and daughter that she published shows us a scarcely known side of
the writer: his emotional frailty and psychological dependence on women.
The letters also help to understand-and this is probably the main aim
of the editor-the dramatic effect the appearance of Marta in her father's
life must have provoked on Lietta. It is again unfortunate, however, that
only a selection is available and that very few of the selected letters are
published in their entirety.23 After the many appeals her father had made
for her return, after his many threats of dying without her, Lietta was to
arrive in Rome and find, or at least feel, she had been replaced in her
father's heart by the beautiful actress "dai capelli rossi." If Lietta took her
father's infatuation so negatively, some of the responsibility was certainly
Pirandello's, who with his excessively intense letters had tied Lietta's heart
to his own in a double knot.
In a letter written on August io to Marta, Pirandello returns to his new

28 Chapter

play. "I have waited and I am still waiting for your impressions on Diana
e la Tuda. But I would like for you to read the third act as it is now. Any-
way your impression on the first two acts would still be very helpful to
me" (Lettere, 16). In the letter he wrote to Marta the following day, Piran-
dello was a little disconcerted because of the unfavorable impression his
play made on her. He assures her, however, that she will like it after the
revisions made to act 3. Furthermore he insists on the fact that she must
hear it read by the Maestro himself. He will in any case take into consider-
ation all her comments and observations so that together they will succeed
in creating a perfect work. He has the highest opinion of Marta's intel-
ligence and sensibility in art and treasures her insights into his creative
world.24 The collaboration between Maestro and actress had started. If
Luigi and Marta did not consummate their love, as Gabriele D'Annuzio
and Eleonora Duse had done, they were to achieve a very fecund spiritual
union. In fact, it was perhaps the frustration of their eroticism that stimu-
lated their artistic creativity. From then on the Maestro and his muse cre-
ated together new characters, new works, new life.
Writing for Marta already in this first play, Pirandello recognized the
possibility of a higher marriage whose offspring could withstand the blows
of time and live forever, just like the masterpiece "Resurrection" in Ibsen's
When We Dead Awaken (1899) that the famous artist Rubek creates to-
gether with his model Irene.25 If Luigi and Marta could not marry and give
life to a child-the fruit of their love-they would give life to superior
entities, spiritual ones. "Those who are born characters [.. .] don't worry
about dying. They will never die! The man will die, the writer"-and we
can add the actor-"the natural instrument of creation; the creature will
never die! [...] You tell me who Sancho Panza was! You tell me who don
Abbondio was! Yet they will live eternally because-living germs [seeds] -
had the fortune to find a fertile matrix, a fantasy that was capable of rais-
ing and nurturing them for eternity" (N I:I, 821). Those characters will be
Pirandello's and Marta's creatures, who on stage will have Marta's body,
but even when she is long gone, will have her spirit.
Marta, however, has not yet had time to read the new play. She is work-
ing on a great role, one of Eleonora Duse's most famous, a role that so
well captures the essence of life: that of Ellida in Ibsen's The Lady of the
Sea. And she is also studying Come prima, meglio di prima. The Maestro
replies: "I am happy that also my Fulvia Gelli is beginning to become yours,
if you tell me that you like her always more. There too, there is a lot that
can be deepened. And I am confident that no one will ever be able to go
more deeply into it than you" (Lettere, 17). The intimacy of their relation-

29 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

ship is obvious. Pirandello is not satisfied writing new plays with and for
Marta. He wants her to take possession of his old ones and make them
her own, so that they will change forever and acquire her imprint. And
while he writes these words on August 17, he is already working on his
next play for her: L'amica delle mogli. Interestingly, this frenetic work was
prompted by his family crisis. While he felt betrayed and used by his daugh-
ter who had been the focus of his life for so long, he could not but cling to
his work, now through Marta. "Safety in the stormiest moments comes to
me always from work to which I cling desperately" (18).26
It is not by chance that the Maestro chose a well-known subject rich
with literary echoes for his first play. His artistic life had been centered on
the opposition between life and art, and woman had represented the first
element of the opposition. Yet the necessary dependence of the two ele-
ments on each other, despite their antithetical essence, had been the cen-
tral puzzle of Pirandello's philosophy. From Balzac's Le chef-d'oeuvre in-
connu and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Oval Portrait" to Oscar Wilde's Portrait
of Dorian Gray, Ibsen's When We Dead Awaken, and Shaw's Pygmalion,
the theme of the work of art capable of defeating frail and precarious life
had become a favorite of Western writers.27 In Pirandello's Diana e la Tuda
these echoes and their classical source are vaguely present, and are inter-
twined with Greek mythological themes.
D'Annunzio's Gioconda

The closest cultural influence was, of course, D'Annunzio's La Gioconda
(1898), a play that, in Pirandello's opinion, together with others by the
same author, had damaged the great art of Eleonora Duse. The despised
but deeply envied Immaginifico was certainly much more present in Pir-
andello's mind than he might have wished. And not only in terms of liter-
ary themes; more importantly he was present with his passionate love life,
a life that Pirandello could only witness, perhaps envy, and only sublimate
on paper. And he was present in the power he had exercised on the divine
Eleonora Duse-his actress and lover-to whom La Gioconda was dedi-
cated. The epigraph read "To Eleonora Duse of the beautiful hands." And
Pirandello himself had described them as "divine hands, that seemed to
Pirandello was probably doubly frustrated on this subject, since in his
view Duse's great art was the antithesis of D'Annunzio's and very similar
to his own. While D'Annunzio's art "is wholly external" and "relies on a
sumptuous display of forms, on marvelous opulence of vocabulary," Piran-
dello admired Duse's reserved and intimate way of acting-"internal, un-

30 Chapter i

adorned, almost naked." If D'Annunzio creates statuesque scenes where
actors, too, must pose like statues, Duse refuses to be fixed "in any given
attitude, even for the pleasure of showing for a moment the beauty that a
pose may have in the truth of its expression." Yet she fell under D'Annun-
zio's spell and chose to play his roles. In them her art "seemed hampered,
oppressed; crushed even, by the gorgeous trappings of D'Annunzio's hero-
ine; just as the action of the tragedy itself is hampered, oppressed, crushed
by the tremendous panoply of rhetoric that D'Annunzio's ponderous eru-
dition thrusts upon it."29 With D'Annunzio, Duse's artistic qualities could
not develop; they were thwarted and forced into a mold that was too ex-
plicit, too rhetorical, too obvious.
Eleonora did not play the part of Gioconda Dianti, the model-whose
last name is clearly echoed in both the names of Diana and Tuda- but that
of Silvia Settala, the self-sacrificing wife of the sculptor Lucio Settala. Silvia's
(and Eleonora's) beautiful hands are the symbol of her gift of giving. Those
are the hands which had nurtured Lucio back to life after his suicide at-
tempt. Those are the hands which, at the beginning of the play, bring him
as a gift the first sketch he had made, years before, of the beautiful head of
Sappho that was to become one of his great sculptural masterpieces. Those
are "the hands of goodness and pardon," which, in the words of Gioconda,
"every night prepared for him a bed of thorns, on which he could not lie
down. "30
The artist Lucio is torn between the gratitude he feels toward his wife,
his duty as a husband and father, and the more powerful drive of his art,
represented by its inspiring force, the model Gioconda. Art, however, in
D'Annunzio's vision is beyond good and evil, more powerful than any
other force, and destroys anything that dares to obstruct its tremendous
drive. Art is pure, strong, faithful to itself, uncompromising. Life, instead,
is weak, low, and needs compromises and lies in order to survive. Lying is
what even the saintly Silvia will do in order to keep her husband. She tells
Gioconda that Lucio will not return to his model because he no longer
needs her. In a furious rage Gioconda tries to destroy the last incomplete
masterpiece that she and Lucio were creating together. Only at this point
Silvia suddenly realizes the incredible power of Gioconda, of her husband's
art, and consequently her own defeat. In a desperate attempt to undo her
deceptive action, she runs to save the statue with those very hands that
had brought Lucio back to life. The sacrifice of Silvia's hands for the sur-
vival of her husband's art is a powerful symbol of the superiority of art
over life and of life being defeated by art.

31 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Gioconda is the perfect model, just as Tuda will be for Sirio, because
she represents pure life, uncontaminated, original. She is the never-ending
flux before it is stopped and imprisoned in social traps. (The great ambi-
tion of both Lucio and Sirio is, in fact, to catch pure life and immortalize
it in marble.) Gioconda is an unusual being. She has no family, no other
activity except that of representing life itself. With words that Pirandello
will echo later in describing the art of Duse (quoted above), D'Annunzio
describes Gioconda: "She is always diverse, like a cloud that from instant
to instant seems changed without your seeing it change. Every motion of
her body destroys one harmony and creates another yet more beautiful.
You implore her to stay, to remain motionless; and across all her immobil-
ity there passes a torrent of obscure forces, as thoughts pass in the eyes."
With her body Gioconda can express the intensity and the fleeting quality
of the deepest emotions and the darkest moods. What cannot be expressed
with words, she does with her physical being. "The life of the eyes is the
look, that indefinable thing, more expressive than any word, than any
sound, infinitely deep and yet instantaneous as a breath, swifter than a
flash, innumerable, omnipotent: in a word, the look. Now imagine the life
of the look diffused all over her body."31
Gioconda is the muse but also the priestess of the artist's temple, where
"domestic affections have no place [. ..] and domestic virtues have no
sanctuary [... ] a place outside laws and beyond common rights." In this
holy place she watches over the work of her master, keeping his spirit alive,
waiting for him "as one awaits the creating God." The Book of Genesis
echoes loudly here. The statue that the sculptor had left incomplete, the
soft clay he was molding, she kept alive throughout his long illness. "It is
there; the clay is there. That first breath that he infused into it, I have kept
alive from day to day, as one waters the furrow where the seed lies deep. I
have not let it perish. The impress is there, intact."32 The artist as deus
artifex. And the sculptor is an easy analogy for God: it is the old topos of
the artistic creator defeating nature insofar as he gives birth to immortal
works. Man is spirit, art; woman, nature and matter to be molded by the
artist's hands and brought to life by the breath he has infused into it.
D'Annunzio's characters are very clearly incised; Silvia and Gioconda
represent two opposite forces, and they are both dependent on and have
submitted to a superior male power, be it that of a husband or that of an
artist. Pirandello's characters, however, are more complex. As we will see,
Tuda is only the seed of woman's representation-a seed that will slowly
grow in his successive plays for Marta.

32 Chapter i

Pirandello's admiration for Eleonora Duse was perhaps rendered more
piquant by her refusal to play his roles, even the one Pirandello wrote
especially for her-La vita che ti diedi-and maybe also by her dramatic
love affair with D'Annunzio. When Abba entered Pirandello's company
she played several roles that had been Duse's "cavalli di battaglia," like
that of Ellida in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea. Despite her young age
Pirandello even had her perform the role of Anna Luna in La vita che ti
There was, of course, another influence in the writing of Diana e la
Tuda: that of the philosopher and theater critic Adriano Tilgher-an in-
fluence that has been examined at length by many scholars. According to
Leonardo Sciascia, when he met Pirandello, Tilgher was elaborating his
own complex philosophy centered on a dichotomy between life and form,
under the influence of the ideas of Georg Simmel. Without going so far as
to assert, as Tilgher did in 1940, "that without my essay [in Studi sul teatro
contemporaneo, 1922] Pirandello would never have understood his inner
world with such clarity [...] and would never have written Diana and
Tuda," it should be remarked that both writers influenced and helped each
other to clarify their ideas.34 If Tilgher helped Pirandello in analyzing in
detail the life/form dichotomy that underscores most of his writing, Pir-
andello gave Tilgher the specific examples that would corroborate and
give body to his theory. It is also possible to speculate that the artificiality
and heavy burden of cultural echoes in Diana e la Tuda might have been
due, at least in part, to Tilgher's dense thought. Pirandello himself contrib-
uted to the creation of this view.

Diana and Tuda: The Play
Diana e La Tuda premiered in Zurich in a German translation on Novem-
ber 20, 1926. At the same time Pirandello gave an interview for II popolo
di Roma that came out on November 21 and 22 in which he explicitly
explained the philosophical core of his play, repeating Tilgher's basic ideas.
As Richard Sogliuzzo reports in his Luigi Pirandello, Director, Pirandello
declared "that the play was 'a complete realization of the fundamental
elements' of his drama: 'Life is an immanent tragedy, since it must obey
two opposing necessities, movement and form.'" Since life requires con-
sistency, it creates "a form for itself, which determines, fixes and impris-
ons movement in an attitude, which is a suspension of movement."35 The
process never stops, and life starts its movement again after having de-
stroyed the form that had trapped it.


tnuaf c 4T'yC O Rr C;I f&IM,
dire"a da

i Oovedi 10 Marzo alle ore 21


Cgr...in, plj'o1A RODOLFO MARTINI
(.Tda Godell MARIA ZANOL
Manm GunLann. e..coi3o scultare LAM8ERTO PICASSO
LIveQ Hot p ..a.ne s^uit a' PIERO CARNABUCI
Coravani pino a RODOLFO MARTINI
( .) Oiudini MARIA ZANOLI
Le o troghe (2) Ros GINA GRAZIOSI
Jonell. attr modea' TIZIANA MALOBERTI
La mrdista ELY D'ARDENZA
La giovane chae accampagna Is Brta GINA DIAZ
La gaov che accompagna I1 modIlta RINA FRANCHETTI
A Rooma oggi
La statlua do Diana a state es e gusai nllsa s one di soultura dd 13ERO ANC ITOTTI del
R, .atut a d'Ar ie di Fairnze, Oli abiti di Tuda $ono slat l guitl dalls Ceal FINZI di Mtlano.
La llotle Iono foraitl dall. CasO OIOLLI MEMMI di Mllano I materiAll seemci sono stiM
... -------------
Palcht di P.atea e ord. L. 120 Palchi di l. ord. L. 100
Palchi di III. ord. L. 80 Palchi di IV ord. L, 30
Poltrone L. 30 Poltroncine L. 18
Galleria iil. ord. L. 10 Galleria IV ord. L. 8
Lire INrCO=ES-S O -.Lire 6
Loggiato 1, fila numerato L. 6 Loggiato non numerato L. 4
Ai prezzi suddetli va agglntol 1 10 per entl par diritti oariall
I bigtaetti sono in vendita anche hbesisobf'Agenria Chiosco
Luminoso in Via in Arciwne 116. saota t d-la'sfr ti ono 8ie.
Da oggi 6 aperta al botteghino del Teatro la ven-
dita del biglietti.
T.-LI. Il i nrdl Pbb1icitA.VI S-a n.idE a '

Theater bill of the
Rome premiere of
Diana and Tuda, March
To, 1927, with Marta
Abba in the title role.
Courtesy of the
e Raccolta Teatrale
del Burcardo, S.I.A.E.

34 Chapter

Marta Abba, protagonist of Diana and Tuda, 1927. Courtesy of the Bibliotecha
e Raccolta Tentrale del Burcado, S.I.A.E. (Rome).
There is no doubt that all this lecturing done before the play had even
arrived on the Italian stage must have prejudiced the critics, who, after the
premiere in Milan in January and in Rome in March, all agreed on its
excessive philosophical weight. Even those who found laudable features
in the play, like Renato Simoni, the famous critic of Corriere della sera,
who praised the "genuine" and "spontaneous" character of Tuda, remarked
that she had been sacrificed to the central theme of form and flux, to that
"inconsistency of life which rebels against that fixity which threatens to
destroy her."36 Even in the scenery conceived by Pirandello this opposition
is emphasized. Sirio's study has "white and high walls. To the large lumi-
nous windows are attached black curtains. Black carpet, black furniture.

35 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Along the walls symmetrically placed, reproductions in plaster of ancient
statues of Diana [.. .] A large white curtain in the middle of the stage" and
behind it "the naked model." A lamp projects "an enormous, black shadow
on the back wall" (MN I, 378). Tilgher himself, besides appropriating the
credit for the inspiration of the work, criticized the play for displaying the
philosophical theme too obviously. "A work of art .. always has some
implied philosophical meaning, the essence of its internal world. But a
work of art is not created by means of an abstractly conceived philosophy.
Whoever wishes to understand Pirandello's philosophy should never seek
it in Diana e la Tuda."'37
If D'Annunzio was Lucio Settala, loved and fought over by the wife and
the model, Pirandello, more ambiguously, identifies himself with both the
young artist Sirio-the pure artist that sacrifices life to the work of art-
and the old sculptor Giuncano, Sirio's adoptive father, who had destroyed
all his statues-and in the end will destroy the very creator of art-in the
name of life. He is the artist (Sirio) whose conscience (Giuncano) is con-
stantly reminding him of this tragic dichotomy. The incandescent flux of
life must be stopped for a while in a form, be it a human body or a marble
shape. Such form, of course, sanctions the death of life; so, before the
spark extinguishes itself completely, life must break the constraints of the
flesh or of the marble and start again its impetuous course. Sirio and Giun-
cano represent these two principles, both equally necessary. And Diana is
to Sirio what Tuda is to Giuncano.
Before dying Sirio wants to create a sublime and final work of art: a
statue of Diana, the virgin, the moon, pure and untouchable, eternal in its
marble shape; just as Ibsen's Rubek had done with "Resurrection." The
fact that he wants to die after the completion of the work underlines the
opposition between art and life. In order to create such a unique piece
Sirio marries the beautiful model Tuda so that he can keep her only for
himself and away from other artists. Why is Tuda so indispensable to Sirio?
Because she is the essence of life: mutable and fluctuating but still in her
brief and fleeting moment of youth. Her beauty and pricelessness consist
precisely in this, in their finite quality, in their brevity. The artistic master-
piece must therefore catch and hold forever, just like Dorian Gray's por-
trait and Edgar Allan Poe's "Oval Portrait," that stupendous fleeting mo-
ment-stupendous because fleeting. No physical fruition of such beauty is
possible if it must be fixed in an artistic form. The artist, in fact, must burn
with desire and be subjugated by the power of this attraction in order to
represent it in all its force. Fruition would put out the spark and kill the

36 Chapter i

Tuda, the first role created for Marta, is modeled after her also in the
details of her physical description. Pirandello is even here too explicit. It
seems he wants to make sure that any reader and any stage director will
immediately recognize Marta in Tuda. But this is not all; he also wants to
confess his love for her. Here is how he describes her: "She is extremely
young and of a marvelous beauty. Golden red hair, curly and combed in a
Greek style. Her mouth has often a suffering expression, as if life were
giving it a scornful bitterness; but in laughter, it immediately acquires a
luminous grace, that seems to enlighten and give life to everything" (MN
I, 381).
Tuda represents life in its constant change and movement. Sirio, the
artist, wants to entrap it in his final masterpiece: a statue of Diana. He
wants, therefore, to use her and abuse her for his selfish project, which, he
claims, will defeat the precariousness of life and live forever. It is at the
price of life, however, that Sirio can succeed in his task. Life so entrapped
and fixed will cease to be life, as Giuncano the old artist well knows. "To
live," he says, "means to die every moment, to change every moment, and
that statue there cannot die, cannot change any more" (MN I, 389). It is
not by chance that Pirandello gave his character the name Sirius-the con-
stellation of the Dog Star, closely connected to Diana through the myth of
Acteon. If Acteon, guilty of profaning Artemis (the Greek name of Diana)
by seeing her naked, is transformed into a stag and torn apart by his own
dogs, Pirandello with a humorous twist has Sirio, guilty of desecrating life
in the person of Tuda, strangled by Giuncano, his own adoptive father.38
In Sirio's attempt to drain life out of Tuda and fix it in the marble statue
there is a subconscious fear of the power of the body and of woman's
sexuality. The impulse to aestheticize the female body reveals the fear raised
by it. The statue, in fact, is that of a virgin goddess. In creating the figure
of Diana, Sirio displays what Buci-Glucksman describes as "the masculine
desire to immobilize, to petrify the feminine body." The desire to contem-
plate "the world as an aesthetic phenomenon conceals a subtext of anxi-
ety and repressed violence," writes Rita Felski, with a statement that seems
to reaffirm the opposition between life and art.39 "La vita o si vive o si
scrive" (life is either lived or written), Pirandello repeated over and over.
One writes what one fears, cannot accept, and needs to exorcise. The statue
of Diana is for Sirio what the play is for Pirandello, a form of sublimation
of a love that can be kept alive only if not consummated.
The fear of the body and of sexuality is not only displayed in the char-
acter of Sirio, but also in that of old Giuncano. His obvious attraction to
Tuda is constantly repressed even to the point of an open refusal when

3 7 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Tuda with her strong need of love offers herself to him. It is a gesture that
almost ten years later will find its more explicit realization in Quando si e
qualcuno, where an older, more desperate Pirandello is still coping with
and exorcising on paper his sexual impulses. Giuncano seems to want to
foment his passion for Tuda through a masochistic device of temptation
and prohibition. He is always present in Sirio's study when Tuda poses,

Marta Abba, the Sphinx, Rosario, Argentina, 1927. A pause
during the tourney with Pirandello's company. Theater Collec-
tion, Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton Univer-
sity Library. By permission of Princeton University Library.

38 Chapter

but always on this side of the curtain, staring at the shadow of Tuda's
beautiful naked body-a foreshadowing of what she will become at the
end of the play, when life has been completely drained out of her. Giuncano's
self-imposed repression in response to the temptation of Tuda's presence
grows progressively in force to the point of explosion. The old artist cre-
ates by himself the forces that will push him to the final murder of Sirio.
Sirio symbolizes art that kills life. His beautiful mother-another symbol
of life-in fact had died bringing him into the world. Giuncano had been
madly in love with her, and at her death, he had adopted and raised the
orphan Sirio, for whom he felt, from the start, hatred and resentment.
Pirandello gave Giuncano a lot of himself, of his obsessions and desires.
The character of the old artist not only hates his old age, regrets having
wasted his youth in the pursuit of his art, and forbids himself to give in to
his passion for young Tuda; he also hates his old body because he sees his
father in it. Giuncano's fear and hatred of sexuality are the consequence
of his father's very strong sexual power, to which women were drawn,
causing Giuncano's mother suffering and death. The echoes of Pirandello's
childhood are still present; the hated image of his womanizing father is
projected onto the father of his alter ego, Giuncano. Finally Giuncano is
also a figure of Pirandello, who sits on this side of the curtain and only
sees the shadow of beautiful Marta -a shadow to which his artistic imagi-
nation will give a variety of shapes and forms. If her full nakedness, in
fact, had been on display, perhaps the inspiration would not have been
present. With a mechanism very familiar to Romantics and to the poet
Leopardi in particular, the imposed limit intensifies desires and gives wings
to the imagination.
Critics have commented on Tuda's total dependence on the male artist
for her identity. In line with Mulvey's arguments in "Visual and Other
Pleasures," some contemporary critics have underscored the fact that Tuda,
like most of Pirandello's female characters, has no autonomy; her identity
is given to her by the male's desire.40 What escapes the critics who tend to
interpret the female characters simply as subordinate and inferior to the
males is the fact that Pirandello, while acknowledging an established state
of affairs, also condemns it. If women are victims and eventually self-de-
structive, as Gunsberg notes in her recent study, the responsibility and the
blame are placed on the males. They appear motivated by an exclusive
desire for possession and control, they lack any ability to love, and their
desire for woman represents only another aspect of their desire for power.
In her analysis of Tuda, Gunsberg draws a suggestive parallel with the
short story "Candelora," which was published almost ten years earlier.

3 9 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

She calls attention to the ample use of indirect discourse that is narrated
from the male perspective-just as the public identifies with the "looking"
male in the play. We therefore come to know Candelora only from Papa's
perspective. She is his wife, but first of all the model of his paintings. And
she has done something else to help Papa to become famous. She has slept
(though Pirandello certainly does not use such a direct expression) with a
famous art critic, who then wrote "a masterly article to draw the attention
of the imbeciles to the new and very original art of Nane Papa" (N III:i,
413). The story consists of a long reflection by Papa, who is the male with
power, logical skills and therefore the ability to analyze and understand.
He describes the animal-like qualities of Candelora, her beautiful body
that she has so often offered to males, and the strange change she under-
went recently after he had finally obtained recognition for his work and
financial security. "How come, so suddenly, this longing for purity; this
desire to live with him apart, tranquil, modest and loving? With him after
all that had happened?" (415). This long reflection, showing the male sub-
jective point of view of Papa and his complete inability to understand the
woman, is framed by two shocking episodes. The story opens with Can-
delora's lament for the disgust and shame she feels about her past life.
Papa tries to calm her down. "No, excuse me, in case I should be ashamed.
I am your husband [.. ..] If I weren't your husband and, above all, if you
were no longer with me, under this hospitable roof, all this satisfaction
would disappear. Here they can come to honor you, with impunity, and all
with a pleasure that is just as big as the dishonor and shame you are giving
me. Without me, you Loretta Papa, would immediately become a small
thing, of little value and of high risk, for whom Chico the Baron,
would not spend ... What are you doing? Are you crying? But no, come
on, I am joking .." (N, III:1, 410).
Papa's words could not have been more cruel. It is clear that he consid-
ers Candelora an inferior being, with little capacity to understand or even
to feel. For him, in fact, her prostitution is seen as a natural episode that
left no impact on her. After the insult Candelora remains speechless; her
response is a ferocious bite on Papa's arm-a symbol of power and posses-
sion-that leaves "a bloody circle: the fence of Candelora's strong teeth,
imprinted there, one after the other" (598).
From now on Candelora is present in the story only through Papa's
reflection, and we come to know her exclusively through the insights of
her husband. This is why the final framing event that concludes the story
comes to the reader as a shock. When Candelora appears again as an indi-
vidual and not as an object of the male narrative, she is lying on the floor

40 Chapter I

dead. She has killed herself twice: first by swallowing the iodine Papa had
asked her to bring him, and secondly by shooting herself. While she lies
before the stupefied eyes of her husband and of the Baron who has just
arrived on the scene, Pirandello tells us that it was Candelora's naked thigh
that especially drew the males' interest and curiosity. If the reader, just as
Papa and the Baron, is here caught in a voyeuristic position that becomes
necrophilic, as Gunsberg argues, Pirandello makes sure that their shame-
that is, their total inability to understand-is dramatically felt.
Nane Papa, the artist who lives only for his art, is unable to see "the
incredible phantasmagoria of life that whirls around him." People do not
matter to him: "his shame? his life? the life of others? Extraneous, passing
things, which it's vain to care about." But when the crazy life that "whirls
around him" ceases to be, death paradoxically awakens him to life, and he
"bursts into a desperate cry over Loretta's dead body" (414, 417).
In creating the role of Tuda, Pirandello is certainly conditioned by his
own desire to possess Marta the actress. But physical possession is precari-
ous, and the fruition of a desire brings about its extinction. Pirandello
wants, therefore, to inscribe the woman he loves in the role he created for
her, in order to remove her from life and keep her only for himself in the
uncontaminated and eternal world of art. What takes place, though, while
Pirandello tries to subtract Marta from the realm of life-and it will con-
tinue to happen in the following plays-is a slow process of liberation and
self-determination of the female character. There is no doubt, however,
that in all these plays it is the male's domineering and aggressive behavior
that is under attack.
At the end of her essay in which she blames the dependence of Pirandello's
female characters on the role assigned to them by their male author, Mary
Ann Witt writes: "it might be objected that what I have postulated as the
feminine condition [. .] in Pirandello's theater is quite simply the human
condition which for Pirandello is by definition theatrical."41 I would like
to use this remark as a starting point of my analysis. Commenting on these
plays, "generally and somewhat pejoratively regarded as bourgeois dra-
mas," Richard Sogliuzzo isolates self-contempt as the major trait of their
female protagonists. "Their self-contempt forces them into a hopeless de-
pendency upon others, especially their lovers."42 1 would like to turn this
argument around and interpret women's self-contempt as a consequence
of the dependency on men into which they have been forced for centuries.
In the process of self-awareness that she will go through in these plays,
woman will also discover her being thousands and in herself no one. This

4' Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

condition is precisely the same as that of her male counterpart, one could
easily object; and characters like Leone Gala, Enrico IV, and the Father
prove it. It is certainly so. The difference between these famous raisonneurs
and their female counterpart, however, is that the former are outside life;
they have abdicated life for their role of raisonneurs, thus their legitimate
place was the novel. They explain the world by stepping out of it. And
they remain there forever, in a limbo where life is no longer possible, just
as Nane Papa had done. Women instead stay immersed in life, risking to
be accused of incoherence and inconsistency. They do not expose a truth
through the use of logical arguments, presenting it in the form of absolute
statements, but enact it in their own bodies and souls, thus their place is
the theater. They drown in the chaos of existence and surface occasionally
from it by grabbing onto a precarious mask that will soon wear out and be
disposed of. What the male characters show is that, after all, they cannot
let go of the illusion-the heritage of centuries of male rationalism and
Platonism-of being an independent and self-determined individual.
Marta Abba was to be the ideal interpreter of this message. Her acting
style was passionate, intense, and at the same time extremely mobile, ca-
pable of sudden changes of humor; the perfect embodiment of the multi-
plicity and variability of human essence. These characteristics are already
present in her acting in the first play Pirandello wrote for her. Tuda repre-
sents life, fleeting and vulnerable, yet she is also perfectly aware of the
male's intellectual presumption, his selfish game and her final destruction.
Already at the beginning of the play, responding to Sirio's melodramatic
suicidal attitude, she logically replies that "if I continue to pose for you,
you will kill me first," showing a superior understanding of the conse-
quences of Sirio's behavior (MN I, 384). It is a knowledge that is obtained
through a variety of means and is never based on logic alone. It is a knowl-
edge that does not claim the final word and that is always ready to correct
and rectify itself. The male protagonists, instead, generally proceed with
the definite, presumptuous attitude of infallibility. Tuda well knows this as
she knows that man never acts and moves without this pretentious mask.
In order to satisfy man's need for intellectual control, therefore, she pre-
tends not to understand enough, thus maneuvering and playing with those
very intellectual tools that man has always considered his exclusive do-
In a very telling dialogue with Giuncano-one in which the old artist
tries to hide his own feelings for Tuda while explaining to her the reason
behind the behavior of Sara Mendel (Sirio's lover)--she gives the old mas-

42 Chapter I

ter as well as all male masters a lesson in true understanding, intellectual
as well as emotional. She begins by stating how often she must pretend to
be without thoughts and play the role the male has assigned her.
I can pretend to be without thoughts, out of calculation. I fight with
the artists. I pretend to talk at random; I turn my head a little, acting
natural; I bend it, I raise it careful not to show that it is I, the
model, who suggest. No, I have just made a silly remark; I have just
made a movement: the thought was only born from their minds.
And they are so confident of that, that they tell me: "You know? ...
I am thinking that ... this movement?" or else: "What did I say?"
That's what we have to do with certain artists. (I, 394)

Tuda/Marta is here taking possession of the creator's role. Meta-theatri-
cally she represents the actress who continues the work of creation started
by the playwright. Pirandello is slowly abandoning the critical position he
had toward the theater as recently as 1925, when he still considered the
written text superior to any interpretation or stage production, and the
work of actors and stage directors as a betrayal of the sacred word of the
author. The role of muse played by Marta Abba thus goes beyond that of
being the source of inspiration for a particular character. She continues
and develops the role that the Divine Muse had assumed in the elabora-
tion of Pirandello's ideas of dramatic discourse and becomes herself a cre-
Tuda's later profanation of Sirio's statues in act 2 is a stupendous blas-
phemous act against the cruelty of male art and of male power. As she
dresses up the statues in her fancy clothes, she speaks a language that mir-
rors the absurdity of her actions. It is characterized by exclamations, in-
complete or very short phrases, totally devoid of any syntax. "A bazaar
here! The museum of statues dressed in the latest fashion." The eternity
and sameness of the work of art are thus undermined by the fashionable
dresses the statues are wearing. It seems almost a parody of Nostra Dea,
where the protagonist would change according to the dress worn, whereas
Sirio's statues, deprived of life, never change, no matter the dress they wear.
"Do you think he is the only mad one because he married me; I am
going to act like one, too! Take a look! Look here! Ah, magnificent!--Oh
God, this one!-Very good!. Yes [...] very funny! They must wear hats!
Here, take them, take them. Take some more! Ah, what a marvelous sight!
Look at them! Magnificent; aren't they? Give me that mantle, give it to
me!" (MN I, 409-10). Tuda's fragmented, asyntactical speech well expresses
the absurdity of her condition.

43 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Sara Mendel is Tuda's rival in the pursuit of Sirio's love. She is actually
Sirio's lover, although it is hard to imagine Sirio in love with her or anyone
else. Tuda, who is in love with Sirio, is only his model, but both women
are used by the male master for his selfish purpose. Although Sara and
Tuda act and think according to their emotions and feelings, as the female
stereotype requires, they are also capable of subtle reasoning. After Tuda
shows this in act i with her confession to Giuncano, in act z it is Sara's
turn. Sara's speech is direct, sincere; she is not afraid of uncovering Tuda's
and Sirio's, as well as her own, weaknesses and incoherencies.
In explaining to Giuncano the reasons of her behavior, Sara does not
hesitate to unveil her inner wickedness. Interestingly, the only time she
misses the point is when she pretends to follow strict logic. "Now try to
reason with me," she tells Giuncano. "I know, you cannot. Then let me do
it. Didn't she go along with Dossi's [Sirio] childish behavior when he mar-
ried her just to spite me? It is a fact that cannot be denied [...] She should
have expected then my resentment" (MN I, 431). While trying to be rea-
sonable, Sara misses the true reason behind Sirio's behavior. Yet we know
that her reasoning is founded upon her own wishful thinking and on her
intense love for Sirio. As she herself later admits, however, her logical sys-
tems will not have the consequences she hopes for. Life, again, in the form
of Tuda's emotions, will give Sara's plans a humorous kick and shatter
them to pieces. Moreover, Tuda will show Sara Mendel that she, too, has
been used by the man they both love. Neither Sara nor Tuda is respected
or treated as a person with her own needs and feelings; they both are used
for the male's purpose. They both are victims of the same exploitation, so
ancient that it can no longer be seen as such. "He took advantage of you
just as he did of me, for his statue," Tuda tells her rival. "He took advan-
tage of all you have made me suffer (I thought out of jealousy, now I know
it was out of wickedness)" (MN I, 439).
In the third act Tuda delivers two powerful speeches that are charac-
terized once more by repetition, fragmentation, and lack of syntactical
connections. Life, broken up, fragmented, produces flashes which are still
powerful enough to transmit a message of truth. Tuda is showing to Jo-
nella-the young model who had come to take Tuda's place after she had
left Sirio-the statue for which she was posing. Looking at it, Tuda real-
izes that Sirio is right and that no one else can ever take her place as model.

You cannot stay either, Jone! -Not because I want to take the bread
out of your mouth, because I am disgusted by it-yes, and also by
the name he gave me, and the clothes, and the house ... (what plea-

44 Chapter I

sure can I have, I, to play the role of the lady of the house! I would
never have done what I did if I had that pleasure!) -But I want you
to be persuaded! Come, look! [...] Look, look at it well! Look at its
eyes! the eyes!-and now look here at mine-can you see? do you
see? They are mine, over there-these-just as you are seeing them
now-mad eyes-like this, because they made them become like this,
-the two of them!-mad woman eyes [. .] It did not have them
before, those eyes-its eyes were different-He took mine and gave
them to it: look at it: -and that hand that touches the hip-can you
see it? -it was open, before, that hand! can you see it now? Closed,
clenched, in a fist. They made me clench it this way, to bear the
torture-and the statue, you see, the statue, too, had it open: it had
to close it!-they made it close it-I saw it closing it! it could not
avoid it! It is no longer the statue he wanted to make! I am there
now, can you understand? I-you cannot be there, Jon&, or any one
else! Leave! (MN I, 437)

Life is becoming petrified, and Tuda desperately throws her last words
like pieces of marble.
Her last speech is a moving example of life flowing intensely without
order and revealing with its lack of linguistic organization and its syntac-
tical incompleteness a profound truth. Tuda's emotional words will ex-
pose the failure of Sirio's logical behavior. "But do you understand? ... Up
there, there with my flesh, my blood, with these eyes that saw what he was
doing to me, that he was taking me, he was taking all of me (every fibre of
me) for his statue; to be there -alive-and to be nothing! Is it possible?-
If he had not realized anything. If he had not realized that I was suffering!
But he knew it, he knew it, if he made me these eyes, there in his statue!"
It is interesting to note that the use of the hypothetical clause "If he had
not realized" -the most logical of the syntactical clauses-is undermined
by its incompleteness; the apodosis, that is, the logical conclusion, is miss-
ing. "I know, I know: I was nothing for him; but I was flesh, I was! -flesh
that has been butchered, mortified like this-What can I do now, what
can I do?" (441). The exploitation of woman by man corresponds here to
the exploitation of life by form. The drastic life/form opposition shows its
limitations. Life needs form in order to consist, to be understood, but it
must constantly destroy the form that entraps it, for every form is death.

45 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

The Wives' Friend: The History
Giuncano remarks that he would have continued to create statues only if
he could be blessed by Pygmalion's miracle "of giving them movement
together with form" (MN I, 387). Pygmalion's miracle, however, was ac-
complished by Aphrodite, a goddess too far removed from the Olympus
of Sirio, the cold star, and Pirandello. The statue of Diana comes to life in
the body of Marta in L'amica delle mogli, but not through Aphrodite's
help. Marta, the character, will, in fact maintain the coldness, restraint,
and aloofness of the virgin Diana. Pirandello's repressive devices are still
at work, but meanwhile he is also liberating woman.
After only a year of working together, the collaboration between the
prima attrice and the Maestro had become intense and exclusive. She ex-
emplified a new type of acting, natural and spontaneous, completely de-
void of artistry and artificiality-Marta represented life, natural and free.
She was Duse's worthy successor. This is why Pirandello began writing
exclusively for her.44 Not surprisingly, this symbiosis was to foment envy
and jealousy, especially in the Olympus of the male mattatori. After all,
the Maestro had always created great roles for his male raisonneurs, who
could hold the stage with long dramatic monologues, gain standing ova-
tions and dozens of curtain calls. It is possible to speculate that the am-
bivalence, or at least the lack of enthusiasm, even criticism, and silence
that surrounded the production of many of Pirandello's plays for Marta,
were caused also by this phenomenon. After all, the great Ruggeri and
Picasso in their later years could not salute with too much enthusiasm the
takeover of the stage by an actress who could have been their daughter.
Those actors also had a strong constituency of critics who were not too
pleased to see them, so to speak, put to rest. If we combine this fact with
the rumors, the gossip, and the envy even among prime attrici that Marta's
privileged place next to the Maestro must have caused, we can better un-
derstand why little critical consideration was given to these plays.
To make things worse, one of the leading theatrical critics of the time,
Silvio d'Amico, though recognizing Marta's artistic potential, still in 193
was criticizing her for not having gone through the traditional steps of
playing minor roles first, just as even the great Duse and Ristori had done.
"What Marta really needs," he writes in an article in La Tribuna, "is a
teacher, and she is still in time. And I do not mean simply a regisseur [. ..]
a stage director, which she already has [. ..] but a serious, expert, intelli-
gent and modern guide, that would begin to put some scholastic, if not
actually classic, order in her diction and acting style, and teach her to un-

46 Chapter i

derstand and express the spirit of the authors she-with all the exuberant
and enviable means that God has given her-should interpret."45
It is not difficult to detect within the criticism of Marta a much more
serious attack against Pirandello. And not only against Pirandello the
regisseur and playwright, but at Pirandello as companion, possible lover,
or close friend of Marta Abba, thirty-three years his junior. Furthermore,
even with a wife committed to a mental institution, Pirandello was still a
married man. For actresses of inferior abilities, Marta Abba was an easy
target. Frassica is undoubtedly right when he remarks that it was much
easier to attack the actress than the Maestro. An actress, in fact, in those
days, was by definition an ambiguous character, with loose morals and
few scruples. Attacking Marta was, therefore, easy as well as cowardly.
D'Amico's well-known, excessive moralism explains why Pirandello and
Marta often referred to him in their letters as "il prete" (the priest).46 And
then, of course, there was ostracism by the family, who saw Marta's major
place in Pirandello's life as a threat.
The boycott of silence must have embittered the Maestro as well as his
actress. Pirandello's progressive detachment from the Italian scene and his
long periods spent abroad in the years to come also had their origin in this
event. In his "Ricordi sul teatro d'Arte," Virgilio Marchi recalls with great
clarity the feelings that the whole company shared after Marta's takeover.
Although he is merciful and just in recognizing that Pirandello's "habitual
affability" with the group never diminished, he also remarks that "the
suggestive creature who embodied the life of the characters was clearly
taking away the Maestro from our confidence."
Marchi recounts an episode that occurred in Rome at the dress rehearsal
of L'amica delle mogli (April 1927) that shows well the level of tension
Marta's presence had created less than two years after she had joined the
company. One of Marta's dramatic speeches had just gained a "frenetic
applause" from the audience mainly of critics and friends. Picasso turned
to Marchi and whispered in his ear: "I'll get that applause tomorrow."47
The next day, right before that very speech, Picasso managed to collect all
his past experience to express his preceding line with great artistry and
succeeded in getting a sonorous applause. This unexpected event was enough
to let down the tension that Marta had built for her master scene, and she
was not as effective as the night before.
From the moment Marta entered Pirandello's life, his creativity displayed
more openly its androgynous nature. With woman becoming the generat-
ing force of his plays and plots, all the characters acquire a new dimension
of humanity, lose the cold cerebralism of their famous male ancestors, and,

47 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

having put down the mask of logic, show humbly and desperately their
weaknesses, repressions, contradictions. Life takes the stage. Still recol-
lecting those times, Marchi tells of Pirandello's powerful readings of all his
new plays before his actors. A play for the Maestro was no longer a writ-
ten entity but an organism that acquired life only when performed. It was,
therefore, not enough for the actors to read the text; they had to witness
its coming to life. Only thus would they become capable of living in them-
selves the various characters. "As soon as he had created a character, Piran-
dello would present it to the actors, influence and instigate them to enter
the imagined reality of the roles and create for themselves a soul and a face
like the character."48
Pirandello lived for the theater and in the theater. Even after all the
actors had left, he would stay there talking with technicians and electri-
cians. Very demanding about the lights, he felt they never created the at-
mosphere he wanted. "From the day when the Compagnia del Teatro d'Arte
was formed Luigi Pirandello never left the stage," Marchi recalls. He him-
self became one with his characters and expected the same from his actors.
At times it was hard, especially when dealing with old, established actors
who were proud of their own personalities. In those cases the Maestro
worked at "destroying the personality of that particular actor, in order to
give him and form in his soul little by little the personality of his charac-
ter."49 The Maestro was the medium who brought into the earthly body of
the actor the spirit of his creation, just as Cotrone will do in his last play I
giganti della montagna (The Mountain Giants).
Marta more than the other traditional actors had one quality that was
indispensable to this conception of a play as living organism: her natural
way of acting, her lack of artificiality. Commenting on the great rivalry
between the old and skillful primo attore Lamberto Picasso and the young
prima attrice Marta Abba, Marchi compares their styles. "The characters,
embodied in Marta, discovered their sufferings: the actress' suffering would
spring out naturally from the depth of her soul where no artistry and act-
ing practice would succeed [. .] It was easy for the skillful Picasso to beat
the first actress in cleverness and provoke an interminable applause with
the curtain up"-as the above episode proves-"but it was not easy to
reach the power of her real suffering."50 She was the characters she repre-
sented. It was well known that Marta would post the name of the charac-
ter she played, and not hers, on the door of her dressing room.
Marta and Pirandello were creating together. She could live in the roles
he made for her without need of explanation. Already the first play he
wrote for her is almost devoid of stage directions. He would continue to

48 Chapter i

create for her and with her with great facility, as the hundreds of letters
written in those years show. On August 15, in the midst of his family cri-
sis, Pirandello tells Marta that writing the new play for her is his lifesaver.
In the middle of the night, not able to sleep because of the anxiety that
overwhelms him, he finds respite only in writing. And with another sleep-
less night he has arrived at the end of act 2 of L'amica delle mogli.'5 Two
days later he writes that it is only their new comedy that keeps him from
going mad. "I have just finished Act Two. I am not telling you anything.
You will read it. I hope that in a few days the third, which I just started,
will be finished too. So I will bring you a second play to Genoa to put
together with the first one" (Lettere, 18).
It is interesting to note that while the trouble in his family seems to be
almost a stimulation to his writing, Marta's silence blocks it. Pirandello's
words have the vague echo of a psychological blackmail. Here I am, Piran-
dello seems to say, alone, surrounded by enemies, with no more family,
and this suffering is a stimulus to create; but since, you, Marta, are the
true inspiration for what I am writing and you are actually creating with
me, you had better stay close to me and write. "Dear Marta, I am no
longer receiving your news or answers to my letters. What shall I think? I
am making the most absurd suppositions; meanwhile the work on L'amica
delle mogli that was going freely and in full speed towards its end, has
suddenly come to a halt and stopped three days ago" (Lettere, 19). On
August z2, exhilarated after receiving a letter from her, he comments that
the joy she put in her letter "was a breath of fresh air which I really needed.
I went right back to Act Three of L'amica delle mogli and I hope that
tomorrow [. .] this play also will be finished. See, even in the midst of so
much turbulence, and with my spirit at its lowest, I kept my promise. And
believe me, I kept the promise only because I had made it to you." Of
course, the insomnia of those last nights helped. "I wrote to keep from
going mad" (Lettere, 22).
What follows is the explicit confession of his lovemaking to her in a
symbolic first night of marriage and of the ensuing conception of their
child. The metaphor is self-explanatory. "I would like that at least some of
your happiness were also due to this. This new play was born from You
and for You. And it is Yours, too. Do you remember the first night, when
we spoke of it together? And now, in a few days it is complete. Writing,
often times, is also a way to be together"-and, we could add, to make
love. At 3:15 A.M. of August 24, the play is finished. "Naturally I have
read it all over again, from beginning to end. Imagine how excited I am. I

49 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

did not go to bed. Now I am exhausted. But more than happy with my
work" (Lettere, 23). Even in this letter Pirandello laments his dreadful
mood and thanks his fertile inspiration for saving him. On this day he has
a new reason to be depressed; a rumor that Nardelli had read in some
newspaper that Marta will next year leave Pirandello's company because
she has been engaged somewhere else. A rumor, undoubtedly, but a rumor
made by nasty people that has upset him. "Let's go back to L'amica delle
mogli. I really think that a truly beautiful thing has come out. I cannot
wait for You to read it, for You to give me your opinion, so that I can
catch in your face the impression that You will receive from it while read-
ing it! I felt such an enjoyment in Livorno while you were reading Diana e
la Tuda, do you remember? in the large luminous room, with the balcony
open onto the view of the sea This Marta of L'amica delle mogli is
different from Tuda. It is a Marta like there is only one on earth. And since
it is the Marta of my work, it is- naturally- a Marta wholly mine" (Lettere,
The lovemaking process continues in the act of reading. Pirandello en-
joys-but godere in Italian has a much more powerful connotation than
to enjoy, and certainly a sexual one as well-watching Marta reading his
plays, or, better, their plays, the offspring of their love. It is a reiteration of
the sublimated erotic act that Pirandello can finally perform in proximity
to Marta. But probably without touching her.
It is very unfortunate that we do not have Marta's replies to the letters
written by Pirandello in this month of August. The only one we have is the
letter of August 8, mentioned above. Marta was very careful with her cor-
respondence, and it is not likely that her letters, to which, after all, Piran-
dello refers, were lost. This is what Frassica, the editor of the volume Caro
Maestro, suggests, since he adds that Marta took the letters along wher-
ever she went. (After Pirandello's death she asked his children to return
them to her.) Neither is it likely that Pirandello tore them to pieces to com-
ply with the request Marta made over and over in her letters. Marta's
letters were Pirandello's life, as he repeated many times, often complaining
about their scarcity and brevity. It is very hard to imagine Pirandello de-
stroying them. It is more likely that she did. And not only because they
were an example of poor writing, as she stated on various occasions.52
Perhaps they were too intimate, maybe she revealed too much of herself in
them. It is a legitimate speculation, especially if we consider that this was
Pirandello's happiest period in his relationship with Marta. In the follow-
ing years there would be a progressive worsening of his mood and deepen-

5o Chapter I

ing of his depression, which he attributed to Marta's change and to her
diminished affection. Of this gloomier period, though, we have plenty of
documentation from both sides.

The Wives' Friend: The Play
In the second play written for Marta, Pirandello does not even feel the
need to change the name of the protagonist. Their union has taken place,
and he wants it publicly recognized, just as a marriage ceremony. The char-
acter's name and physical description are Marta's. This fact is even more
relevant considering that this play, like many others, is a re-elaboration of
a previous short story-in this case a very old one, written years earlier, in
1893-1894. While the protagonist's name is changed from Pia Tolosani to
Marta, Pirandello, however, does not feel the need to change the title. But
Pia Tolosani's change is not limited to her name. When Pia becomes Marta
her stature is raised by several degrees. The bourgeois element of Pia's lack
of a dowry in the story-one of the possible reasons why she cannot find
a husband-is totally absent in the character of Marta in the play. She is a
superior being in every respect, and her finances are never mentioned, pre-
cisely because she is a superior being.53 Marta is in the play the daughter
of a senator and a state advisor. While adapting the old "novella" to his
new personal love story Pirandello brought to the stage his spiritual mar-
riage to Marta the muse and created a character devoid of sexuality. Better
yet, Marta the character renounces her sexuality in order to acquire free-
dom and independence. By sublimating his own sexual impulses toward
Marta the muse, Pirandello liberates Marta the character.54
She actually opens the play with a set of keys and illuminates with her
presence the theatrical space that she has created as she turns on the light,
making visible the interior of an elegant house. The place does not belong
to her, but she has created it, and it carries her signature. "At the raising of
the curtain, the scene is empty and dark. The noise of a key inserted in the
keyhole is heard. The door opens. Marta enters, followed by two house-
maids and a butler. She immediately gives light to the hall and appears
with a big bouquet of flowers in her arms" (MN II, 92). She is the bride
carrying flowers who enters to take possession of her new home. The two
housemaids, carrying also bouquets of flowers, in fact look more like brides-
maids than servants as they follow her. The groom, however, is not visible;
he is probably watching and directing behind the wings. The new home
that the bride enters is the theatrical space that her husband has created
for her and that she brings to life. Marta, "the friend of the wives," who
will be wife to no one in the story, is the true wife of him who has created

5' Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

Pirandello and Abba in Rosario, Argentina, 1927. Theater Collec-
tion, Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Li-
brary. By permission of Princeton University Library.

the story with her. "She is very beautiful: golden red hair; eyes like the sea,
liquid, filled with light." In order to describe her golden red hair, Piran-
dello uses the adjective "fulva"-a word that reverberates with ambigu-
ous connotations of fire, sexuality, and danger. Varia Nestoroff with her
tiger double in Shoot! (Quaderni di Serafino Gubbio operator) comes
immediately to mind with all her power and magnetism. Marta must also
possess this quality, but she must be able to control it. Her behavior, in
fact, is "not rigid, but extremely reserved, that however does not at all
prevent her from expressing the most noble feminine grace. She dresses
with exquisite elegance" (MN II, 92). Marta is all here in this description
that presents us with an idealized image of woman-a woman who does
not exist, except on the stage; but the woman Pirandello wants, creates,
and hopes Marta can become.

' iH ~",' 7'^

52 Chapter i

As she enters the stage she begins to speak, giving directives to the cham-
bermaids as she herself disposes flowers around the rooms. Her power is
such that she conquers everyone who meets her. And she conquers not
only through her beauty, elegance, and bearing, but also through her hon-
esty and sincerity. This is, in fact the only explanation for the real affection
the other women feel for her. Though inferior to her, and although they
should feel jealousy for the admiration she arouses in their husbands, they
cannot hate her, not even resent her. The female characters, therefore, ap-
pear in this play far superior to the male, who once more try to manipu-
late and use women for their selfish ends. A modern lago, Venzi is in fact
the creator of the plot; he is the artificer of the evil situations which will
bring about the tragic deaths of two innocent people. Driven by his desire
to possess Marta, the woman whom no one may possess, Venzi acts in a
typical male fashion, using women, in this case Elena, to reach his end.
Women are here again objects, to be moved around, taken, and disposed
of by men for their purposes.
Marta's function, or at least one of her functions, is to expose the male
power game, to show the use men make of women and men's total lack of
understanding. In order to succeed in this she must step out of the bound-
ary where women are kept; she must subtract herself from the male grip
and must deny and renounce her sexuality. If woman's identity is deter-
mined by male sexual desire, which has created a male-dominated society
where women's roles are clearly defined, the only escape from this deter-
minism is the woman's renunciation of her sexuality-the attribute to which
she has been reduced and by which her value has been measured. What is,
in fact, a woman who renounces her sexuality and therefore forsakes her
traditional-they have been called natural-roles of mother or whore?55
She is a being who cannot be grasped, controlled, and programmed. Marta
is the "untouched and intangible," as Venzi calls her (MN II, 129). She is,
in fact, the controller, the programmer of the lives of others, precisely in
order to uncover man's eternal power game. And in doing this, she will
expose something more profound and ingrained in the male's nature: the
fundamental sense of inferiority that man constantly camouflages with his
arrogance and abuse of power. This is the only way we can explain such a
far-fetched plot and such an unreal character as Marta.
Already in the short story all the male characters act and behave in the
same silly way. Why, in fact, would they all choose inferior, incapable indi-
viduals as wives, if they did not have their own feelings of inferiority to
cope with? From the start all these men appear to belong to the trite and
sad stereotype of the domineering man who scorns marriage, but-who

53 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

knows why?-ends up married so that he can continue to scorn it after-
wards. In spite of their good looks and affluence, at least in the case of
Francesco Viani, they all marry women who besides having weak person-
alities are not even particularly physically attractive. The reason is that
they are afraid. In order to maintain their own identity-which is the so-
cially established identity of dominance and power-they must place them-
selves next to "a weak other" against whom to define themselves as domi-
nant and powerful. Although they were all in love with Marta even when
they still were single, "no one dared to step forward!" and propose to her
(MN II, 111).
Marta is the wives' friend, the priestess of marriage. She arranges their
houses with taste and elegance, corrects the tone of their voices or the style
of their hair, and gives them advice on everything domestic and feminine.
In short, she teaches them how to play the role of wife for which they have
been chosen by their husbands. The fact that they do not succeed-in fact,
they become unbearable to their husbands-in spite of their total obe-
dience to Marta's knowledgeable teachings, exposes the absurdity of the
males' request and of their own weak egos. They all become enamored of
Marta-in fact, may even have been so before they married-and their
legitimate wives fall progressively in their esteem as Marta continues to
rise. Marta is loved and desired precisely because she is the intangible and
the unobtainable and because she refuses to play the game she teaches the
others. She is the virgin whom no one will possess; thus she can continue
to be eternally desired. Marta well knows this psychological mechanism;
she is aware of the nature of desire, that stays alive only insofar as it is not
satisfied and fulfilled. But she is also aware of men's fear of women that
manifests itself in their constant need to control, debase, and mortify them.
She is aware of the value placed by the male, and by extension society and
religion, on virginity-the tangible prize placed on female as commodity.
Venzi's cruel plot, as we will see, is nothing but a desperate attempt to
control the unattainable, hence uncontrollable, Marta. He cannot admit
defeat; and in order not to succumb to a superior woman he will resort to
slander, psychological abuse, and finally, to murder.
The last of the male friends to get married is the attractive, successful
lawyer Fausto Viani. He surprises his friends, who are all thinking he will
propose to Marta, by bringing back from his hometown the young bride
his family has chosen for him-another possible autobiographical element
(in the short story). He brings his bride Elena to that very beautiful home,
arranged and furnished according to Marta's taste, that we saw at the
beginning of the play. Elena, however, has a rebellious personality and is

54 Chapter i

well aware of and upset by the display her husband wants to make of her
with his old friends. She seems to be also aware of her identity as a com-
modity that must pass inspection under the others' examining eyes. She
wants no part in it and demands to be left alone as she enters Marta's
kingdom, feigning illness and fatigue. To her husband's reproachful re-
mark-the type you make to children who forget their manners- "But at
least first thank these ladies and gentlemen ..." she poignantly replies: "I
have already thanked them! It's enough! I am feeling ill! You have reduced
me like this and now you want me to perform as a trained animal at a
country fair?" (MN II, 114).
Elena's remark opens up a series of speculations. Knowing Pirandello's
own scruples about sex and his awareness -also autobiographical -of the
naivete and lack of preparation with which Sicilian girls arrived at mar-
riage, it is possible that he conceived Elena's illness as the result of her
husband's excessive sexual demands. If this comment can be only the re-
sult of speculation, Elena's remark, however, reveals with certainty her
awareness of being a commodity, an item to be displayed to the present
audience. The audience, consisting of friends and acquaintances waiting
there for the arrival of the newlyweds, is disappointed by Elena's behavior
and accuses her of being rude. Their comments, which echo the cruel in-
trusion of the townspeople in Cosi e (se vi pare), are nothing but a confir-
mation of the rightness of Elena's feeling.
Elena's illness is the sign of her fight against being treated as a commod-
ity. Her death will be her only possible answer to this state of affairs. But
more specifically her death will sanction her victory against her most dread-
ful opponent: Francesco Venzi, the villain, the lago, of the story.
Venzi, who is unhappily married to Anna and madly in love with the
unattainable Marta, is afraid that at Elena's death, Marta will marry Fausto
and enter with full rights the home she had so tastefully put together. Elena,
therefore, must live, and Venzi is particularly careful that she gets the proper
treatment and rest. Meanwhile he injects in Elena's mind the poison of his
own fear and nightmare, in the cruel hope that she might hang onto life
just to keep that marriage from happening. Venzi's technique is demonic
and very effective. He does not lie, neither does he invent any facts. With
the same clear logic that killed Luca Leuci in the story "Il marito di mia
moglie" (My Wife's Husband), he underlines and calls attention to the
simple facts of her life, such as the home Marta prepared according to her
taste without even knowing Elena, the total freedom Fausto had given
Marta to do so, his approval of her doings, the admiration that Marta has
elicited in everyone .. and then he draws a natural yet cruel conclusion.

55 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

He uses, therefore, the old powerful and dangerous weapon the male has
used for centuries: logic. A rigorous logic that, however, does not take into
consideration the variety and nuances of people's feelings. Although it will
be Marta who exposes Venzi's cruel deed in all its infamy, Elena is already
aware of it.
In the short story "Il marito di mia moglie" Luca Leuci is dying of can-
cer- possibly leukemia, if we believe in the relevance of the names of Piran-
dello's characters. His beautiful and faithful wife Eufemia (another self-
explanatory name-is she perhaps the cause of the disease?) is taking care
of him with a spirit of sacrifice and complete self-abnegation. In it she is
assisted by a family friend, Florestano, who shows to Luca the same abne-
gation as his wife. The story is Luca's internal monologue that attempts to
rationalize the irrational; namely his obsessive jealousy for Florestano, who,
he knows for certain, will take his place next to his wife once he has gone.
Rather than calming him down, such an operation makes him angrier and
angrier precisely because he has no reason to doubt either his wife's fidel-
ity or his friend's honesty. Luca is furious because he cannot justify with
any concrete fact the absurd jealousy he feels for what will happen after
his death-and for which, therefore, he has no reason to be angry, since it
will be perfectly legitimate. He almost wishes that Eufemia and Florestano
were betraying him now; he would then feel justified in his obsessive an-
ger. His analysis goes so far as to see Eufemia's spirit of abnegation as a
way to ease her future feelings of guilt and "to gain, before her conscience,
the right to enjoy life afterward, with no remorse. A rightful and honest
compensation," Luca concludes, "that neither life nor her conscience can
deny her, and that I cannot get upset about" (N II: 325).
In this story, Pirandello is a real master of psychology and succeeds in
entering the innermost secret places of the psyche. But Luca Leuci is, after
all, a positive character. He hides his thoughts from those who had pro-
voked them, sparing them great suffering. Venzi, instead, brings his thoughts
out into the light and uses them mercilessly against Elena and everyone
else. His cruel logic has poisoned Elena's life and causes her death-which
is precisely what he wanted to prevent. "Do you understand that now you
have even poisoned all the attention, care and kindness they have for me?"
She cries out at him. "Now I must each time force myself to hide the loath-
ing I feel-unjust, unjust, but irrepressible-I think that with such atten-
tion, kindness and care they acquire more and more the right to be happy
afterwards, as a compensation that neither life nor their conscience will be
able to deny to them"-the same words Luca Leuci had said to himself
(MNII, I2 5).

56 Chapter i

Examining this play, Alonge points out the ambiguity of the character of
Marta, who is both generous with her help and self-giving to her women
friends but who also enjoys her power of command and control. He ex-
plains this characteristic with "her secret and unconfessed will of revenge,
with her desire to punish the men who went elsewhere to look for wives so
much less desirable than she.""6 Marta's actions, therefore, are not only
determined by her spirit of abnegation and altruism but also by a certain
selfishness that wants to prove to the men their mistakes for not having
chosen her. If there is some truth in a similar interpretation, it is, however,
not sufficient to understand this strange character and her even stranger
behavior. Alonge concentrates his analysis on the exchange between Marta
and Venzi and on Marta's long monologue, which in my view is the weak-
est part of the play. In it Pirandello's own bourgeois limitations and tradi-
tional ideas about woman's role are transparent, confirming the estab-
lished interpretation of him as a conservative and traditional male chauvinist.
Yet, in Marta's character, there is a destabilizing force that undermines
from its foundations male-defined woman's roles. It is Venzi's long speech
to Fausto that exposes this force; at the climatic moment when Venzi-Iago
performs his final deed to prove to his friend Fausto Marta's diabolic plan
and Fausto's potential betrayal. He will speak, Pirandello writes in his
stage directions, with progressively increasing ardor. "We have brought
our wives to her, happy for the way she has received them, and for every-
thing she has done for us, for the house she had prepared, for all the cares
she had taken: out of pure friendship, kindness of soul-who could ever
doubt that?-You felt horror at the thought that your wife could be jeal-
ous! How could one be jealous of her who is the friend, our wives' true
friend; who prepares, guides, trains them for us, and makes them good and
obedient to us?" (129)
The Italian word choice is here much more effective. The verbs aggiusta
and ammaestra and the adjectives buone and mansuete emphasize the abase-
ment of woman, who is here treated like a circus animal to be tamed and
trained, just as Elena had rightly remarked when she first appeared. Fur-
thermore, the repeated use of double pronouns- "ce le aggiusta, ce le guida,
ce le ammaestra, ce le riduce buone e mansuete accanto"-heavily under-
lines the reduction of the women to puppets, to the status of commodity
for their husbands' comfort. If this reduction was prompted by Marta's
desire for revenge, as Alonge claims, it is necessary, however, to examine
such revenge more deeply. Marta is here not only avenging the personal
pride of a woman who has been passed over for others; she is revenging
woman as gender. She is showing to men and women alike what men have

57 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

done for centuries with women and, more importantly, why. By placing
Marta-the woman who does not yield to man's objectification and keeps
her freedom and autonomy at the expense of self-sacrifice-next to the
woman as commodity-the woman whose identity is determined by the
male's desire-Pirandello brings to light the male's fear (and probably his
own as well) of woman and therefore his obsession with controlling her
and making her harmless.5
Marta's freedom and independence are a condition sine qua non for the
success of her operation. She thus succeeds in revealing the falsity and the
selfishness of the male power game by cleverly exposing the poison of
Venzi's words. She discloses the danger that lies in the verbal expression of
thoughts that a logical mind has coldly devised but that should have re-
mained hidden inside the soul. Venzi's behavior follows the strict logic of
a syllogism. Fausto has a very ill wife, Elena (first premise). Fausto ad-
mires and is probably infatuated with Marta, this ideal being, angel woman
who gives herself for the good of others, and she was, in the past, perhaps
fond of Fausto (second premise). It follows that at Elena's death Fausto
and Marta will marry (conclusion). The logic is perfect; it is, though, also
cruel and devastating. And Marta will show this to Venzi: the danger of a
perfect logic that runs over feelings, sweeps away human emotions, and
plants seeds of evil in the souls of others. After Venzi's subtle and evil
work of planting suspicion in the weak soul of Elena, Marta denounces
his action. "You have injected in her, like a viper, the poison of such a
thought!" (MN II, 135). And by the slow action of that poison Elena will,
in fact, die, as she herself realizes when she begs Marta to marry her suitor
Guido Migliori. "Not for me, you know. I believe you, I believe you! It is
to remove from the mind of such a vile individual the thought that he has
driven, in here, like a nail, and that is driving me insane! that is making me
die, die! ... To show him that it isn't true! that it is an infamy, an infamy
what he thinks of you! Because you are good, you are good, as I believe
you my Marta! Good, good ..." (MN II, 145).
The open duel between Venzi and Marta takes place in the middle of
act z. Elena's illness is worsening; besides Marta, who never abandons her,
Venzi and his wife Anna are at her side. Marta, as usual, is giving orders to
the others. Fausto must run to fetch a doctor or a medical nurse; Anna is
to go to Marta's home to tell her mother that she has been detained by
Elena's worsening health. Her bossy attitude is certainly overpowering,
and the obedient reactions of the others somewhat excessive. Here she is
in the Viani residence telling everyone-host included-what to do. As
Fausto and Anna obediently leave, she is alone with her antagonist-a

58 Chapter i

situation she must have created on purpose. It is Venzi who openly pro-
vokes her, accusing her of being the cause of Elena's suffering. He discloses
to her the atrocious thought that he had injected in Elena's mind and the
ensuing pain that it provoked-a pain that had become unbearable be-
cause she cannot hold either Marta or her husband responsible for any-
thing. It is precisely Marta's enormous goodness that makes Elena's re-
morse become a disease: "all this immaculate goodness of yours," shouts
Venzi, "that you are showing us as a constant miracle" and with which
"you are torturing us" (MN II, 136). Venzi repeats the expression "im-
maculate goodness" twice and calls it a miracle to underline sarcastically
Marta's ethereal, Madonna-like status. She plays the role of the Virgin
Mary, the loving mother of mankind. Marta's following long speech, in
fact, will confirm this interpretation and bring forth also Pirandello's own
sexual taboos.
Marta explains her immaculate goodness as a rebellion against the male
objectification of woman. She makes absolutely clear, in fact, that her choice
of life was not prompted by her innate sanctity but by a clear knowledge
of the male's desires. She had openly refused to conform to the male will
by denying, repressing, or renouncing her sexuality. Of course, what she
denounces is the male reduction of women to sex objects, and Alonge is in
part correct when he claims that Marta does not succeed in liberating her-
self from the "prototype of the bourgeois female" still acting in function
of the male. The image of the ideal woman that is drawn by her final
speech is in fact nothing but the typical Mediterranean image of the moth-
ering wife--an image, we know, on which Pirandello himself felt very de-
pendent. The picture is somewhat shocking. The ideal image of woman is
not only that of the lover but also of the mother who protects and nour-
ishes her man-son and even forgives him for his sins, placing herself above
the law of man and beyond good and evil. However, even in this very
conservative portrait of the ideal woman, she still comes out as the winner,
the male being reduced to the status of an impotent child.58
Although we might not like Pirandello's view, what must be underlined
is his belief in the power of woman as a superior being. In Marta's speech
man comes out very poorly, as a naughty child who must be guided and at
times scolded. In the first part of her long monologue, certainly the most
powerful, Marta is the spokesperson for all the women who have accepted
their objectification by males. "They used to have a face, God, that could
express anything, joy if they felt it, pain if they suffered it, the wonder of
being alive: they made a mask of it where only one thing is painted, the
most indecent: vice, obscenity!" (MN II, 137-38) There is no doubt that

59 Woman, the Platonic Ideal: Tuda and "Marta"

the passionate tone of Marta's invective betrays Pirandello's personal sexual
repression; yet her message is clear. Woman's great potential, her multifac-
eted essence that would allow her to make of herself what she wants, has
been coerced, stifled, and reduced to one horrid mask by man's desire.
Although the sexual element is here clearly predominant, Marta's speech
should not in my view be reduced only to an attack against the sexual
woman, but it should be read as an attempt to make women rebel against
their reduction to commodities. Having such a rich and variform nature,
women should learn to be their own masters. Marta's monologue presents
itself, even stylistically, as a counter-discourse. Totally devoid of subordi-
nate clauses, it is filled with incomplete phrases, ellipses, suspensions; it
does not claim logical rigor, yet the intensity and sincerity of the message
imposes itself on us.
After Venzi's cruel reasoning, Marta openly admits her uncertainty. She
does not know what to do, since she realizes in terror that her actions will
be misunderstood. Her humility is again conveyed by what she says as
well as by her style of speaking. "My God! My God!--And I don't know
anymore, now, for sure, I don't know what to do here ... how to act, if my
presence, my trying to be helpful with all my care and affection, caused
them to think ... I am not speaking for myself, no; I wasn't offended, no,
no,-but if even without doing any evil, that evil was born in the heart of
that poor woman ... Ah God, How awful! ... How awful! God... -Just
go away, for God's sake ... It is almost night just let me think ..."
(MN II, 139).
The third act is dark, short, and intense. The death of Elena, which
takes place on stage, behind a curtain that hides Fausto's and Elena's bed-
room, is the central event. Pirandello has placed it in the background to let
life go on in the fore. Yet the presence of death and its power are so over-
whelming that they dictate and inform all the action in the foreground and
in the end will affect tragically that very life. Death will, in fact, propagate
itself to the front of the stage. Pirandello obtains this powerful effect by
keeping all the actors on stage, even those behind the curtain. "The actress
who plays Elena must really stay on the bed, and all the other actors and
actresses behind the curtain must move and act as if the public could see
them." Pirandello well knows the magic of the theater, its being more real
than life, its power to give birth to the creatures of his imagination. A
Cotrone ante litteram, he is the magician performing this miracle.
"The entire act-extremely short-made of few words and of many
slow and lugubrious pauses, will consist of what can be imagined and
sensed of Elena's death in the other room" (MN II, 148). There is no logic

6o0 Chapter i

or words that can explain death, so natural and yet so absurd. It must be
evoked with the power of silence and long pauses. At Elena's death Venzi
will shoot Fausto to keep Marta away from him. "What matters to me is
that you, after this, will not belong to anyone." And it is at this point that
Marta's pride, independence, and autonomy are openly stated. In his stage
direction Pirandello wants to make sure that she conveys the right mes-
sage to the audience and writes: "MARTA (accepting this fate as some-
thing that will raise her above herself). And do you think it is a punish-
ment for me?" (MN II, 157). She knows that her freedom has been paid
with the price of her solitude. But she is not going to give it up. After
telling everybody to leave, she replies to Venzi's attempt to stay with her:
"You will leave with your wife!- [. .] Leave me alone, all of you! I want
to be alone! Alone, alone, alone! (1 58). And alone will she remain,
with only the companionship of her creator as the curtain falls.

SChapter 2

Woman, the Earth Mother

La Spera and Sara

Woman's-and Marta Abba's -apotheosis will take place in the theater of
myths. In the same period that he wrote L'amica delle mogli, Pirandello
also composed for Marta his first myth, La nuova colonia (The New
Colony). He who had no faith in human progress, who denounced the
"crisis of reason" and believed in the fictional essence of all creeds, prin-
ciples, and faiths, could find truth and value only in the power of the femi-
nine, revisited in the form of myth. The revival of myth was a cultural
trend of the time, not only in Italy, where D'Annunzio was the leading
promoter, but in Europe in general, where there were both political crises
difficult to solve and problematical social questions. Resorting to myth
gave the illusion of finding answers for the present by referring to univer-
sal human traits and by projecting the individual into an eternal past seen
as archetypal of the present. Unable to deal with the problems of the present,
man could find refuge in an atemporal, universal past and delude himself
by answering, or pretending to answer, essential questions about human
Artists as different as Cocteau, Kokoshka, Benn, O'Neill, and Brecht-
to name only a few-resorted in various ways to the use of Greek myths
for their modern tragedies. For all these writers, plunging into the mytho-
logical world meant finding the archetypes of human nature and the hu-
man condition, the never-changing traits of the human essence, and using
them to answer questions about the present. Resorting to myth clearly
revealed a profound mistrust of history and the possibility for change, as
Silvana Monti says.' The optimism of nineteenth-century positivism was
long gone. Returning to an archetypal past was a clear form of escapism.
Of course, not all the artists who revived myth in their works were
reactionary and nostalgic for a nonexistent past. Some, like Bertolt Brecht,

62 Chapter 2

were able to use it in a revolutionary fashion; yet the trend by its very
characteristics lent itself to the forces of tradition and reaction, as was the
case in Italy not only with D'Annunzio, who openly aligned himself with
those forces, but even with Pirandello. A play like La nuova colonia, in
fact, by a writer who had recently paid tribute to Mussolini-and right
after the assassination of Matteotti on June 6, 1924-could easily be used
by propagandists to further the fascist myth of maternity, procreation, and
virility.2 But the fascist myth was far from Pirandello's philosophy.
In her recent, thorough study, Anna Meda agrees with other critics that
Pirandello's resorting to myth is evidence not of his change from the past
but of "a widening of the poetical horizon through the recuperation and
emphasizing of elements that although always present, had been previ-
ously relegated to rare epiphanic moments or repressed."3 After all his
efforts the great male raisonneur protagonist of Pirandello's early theater
can only admit defeat. At the end of all his investigations, the destruction
of so many falsehoods (like Leopardi's progress of reason), all the ques-
tions still stand unanswered and the needs that prompted them are still
intensely felt. This intellectual operation had been the prerogative of the
male raisonneur who has used and abused the infamous little machine,
logic. After destroying everything, "the necessity of the absolute, of the
sacred," Meda argues, could not but result in the recuperation of "the
myth, understood as the rescue of primeval and most sacred values of life,
through the material of the unconscious that before had been repressed in
various ways."4
Pirandello, furthermore, had just recently presented "the strangest, most
complicated and difficult of his plays: Ciascuno a suo modo, which had
appeared as the quintessence of his cerebral style."' Critics and public had
been confused; and a lot had been written in the attempt to make some
sense out if it. Now he was giving to the public a totally different story, of
basic passions and archetypal values. But the myth of La nuova colonia
was also born, as Virgilio Marchi recalled, "out of the volcanic and Medi-
terranean land where we were, from the carnality of a creature warmed by
youth and success [Marta], from a visit made to the penitentiary, and from
the insularity of the [writer's] Sicilian soul."6
Without questioning the European cultural influence of the time on Pir-
andello's theatrical production, I believe that his resorting to myth mainly
revealed his interest in the feminine as the propelling force of life and, as I
hope to show later, of art. The first two myths he wrote for Marta, in fact,
are both a celebration of the feminine. With Marta's help, Pirandello plunges
now into a world that had fascinated him from the start in an attempt to

63 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

arrive at its essence, which is that of life itself. He will continue to search
for the various forms in which the feminine manifests itself and in the end
discover what he had sensed all along, that it is through the feminine that
the coincidence of life and art can take place. The mystery of artistic cre-
ation is the same as the mystery of life creation, Pirandello had said in the
introduction to Six Characters ("il mistero della creazione artistic e il
mistero stesso della nascita naturale", and the feminine is its propelling
force. The paradoxical union of the two opposites, in fact, will find its
final realization at the end of Pirandello's life in the unique character of
Ilse (I giganti della montagna), who is an actress playing the role of a mother
and is herself mother of the work of art.
The positive force in both La nuova colonia and Lazzaro is the femi-
nine, in the persons of La Spera and Sara, respectively. Sara is nothing but
the development of La Spera, the Earth Mother who has become Demeter,
principle of life, fertility, and nourishment. With these myths Pirandello
brings together the religion of his time, Christianity, and in particular Ca-
tholicism, with the primitive religion of his ancestors and of Greek Sicily.
La nuova colonia, in particular, is a perfect realization of this syncretism
between natural religion and Christianity-a Christianity that has been
taken back to its origin, when God was female.

The New Colony: The History
La nuova colonia premiered in Rome at the Teatro Argentina on March
24, 1928. Pirandello had been thinking about and writing the play for
several years. His most intense writing period was during the two weeks at
the beginning of January 1928 that he spent at the beautiful San Domenico
hotel in Taormina. His company took a break from the performing season
at the beginning of the year, and Pirandello wrote continuously in the hope
of finishing the work. Instead he was still writing and revising it when the
company started to perform again in Naples and then in Florence in Feb-
ruary. There was great expectation among the critics and the public, since
the newspapers had announced it as a new and daring work, especially for
the scenography. Virgilio Marchi, who was responsible for the stage de-
sign, has a detailed account of that period and of the anxiety and worries
that regisseur, scenographer, and technicians shared about the last scene.
The story depicts a group of petty criminals who, encouraged by a re-
deemed prostitute and the old wise man Tobba, decides to leave the city
and start a new life on a small island. They are aware that their life in the
city is doomed, since they are by now "patentati" (labeled) as criminals
and no rescue is possible. The volcanic island where they go had been used

1" T -atiro
S Compagnia del "Teatro Argentina,,
diratta da

MFPrologo e atti di

Prima Rappresentazione in Italia
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Carra Laraberto P icas Badhi R anI l r n M RaIn
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Prima Rdappresentazr ione in Italia

Burraer Palno Ferra Nuo Mr'Alona o Emanue nl Santini

TCurra Frn Lmbrro Picasna a R 3cch Mario rio Anossi
Crcco oann Solieari Fila ionao Pmando Annuolsn
obbao Armando oramrtaen 2 Paatof arlizo orearriar
Uandron Ndela COr F rmae Gaerdl d G Margn
ArhI Ttinra acenica dor VRGIO MARCH i

Palch plata e ordlb Lartni 300 Palohi in. ri Rang200
Palchminudu i.ovanni Acquarone 100 Pac inv. o lon L 5
Scenea del Prof. ETTORE POUDOR

Palhl Ill. ardini L. 100 Pilchl 'V- 0di0
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Log a R !. FW ri antt i *$t
Fi lo Qte!3Be ppiii~ Za Paiot Qism'e opg

Theater bill of the
premiere of The
New Colony,
Rome, March 24,
1928, with Abba
in the role of La
Spera. Courtesy
of the Biblioteca e
Raccolta Teatrale
del Burcardo,
S.I.A.E. (Rome).

65 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

in the past as a penal colony and subsequently abandoned under the threat
of earthquakes. At their arrival the group begins to build and farm, trying
to live in accord. La Spera, who after the birth of her child had ceased to
be a prostitute, lives with Currao, the man she loves (possibly the child's
father), and cooks for and takes care of everybody. Crocco, one of the
group, jealous of Currao's possession of the woman, leaves the island and
returns some time later bringing women, wine, and other men. At the ar-
rival of the women, La Spera is treated again as a whore and is insulted.
Dissension arises for the possession of women and for the position of leader.
Crocco plots to usurp power from Currao, who is easily convinced to aban-
don La Spera and marry the respectable daughter of a rich boat owner.
Currao, however, also wants his child and tries to take him away from his
mother. La Spera shouts out a curse; the tremor of the mother is transmit-
ted to the earth, which begins to shake. The sea rises and swallows up
everybody. On one rock only mother and child are saved.
The difficulties of preparing the scenery, especially for the last scene,
were enormous, and the preparation was so complex that the Teatro Ar-
gentina stayed closed for four days before the premiere-a unique case in
the history of that theater. The premiere was postponed, and the prices for
tickets skyrocketed. The publicity created around the preparation of Pir-
andello's new play filled the newspapers and contributed to an increasing
nervous tension within the company. Marta Abba was exhausted and over-
excited by the part-totally new for her-and worried. She collapsed after
the premiere, and the next performance had to be postponed. In recalling
those days Marchi speaks about Marta's difficult temperament and at-
tributes it to her being totally involved in her part, which made her overly
intense and emotional, especially when acting La Spera. It took the com-
pany various performances to arrive at a perfect execution and fusion of
all the elements, acting as well as technical. The premiere, in fact, was
criticized by the press as confused, and even Marta Abba's acting was judged
inadequate. Many of her words could not be heard by the audience in the
Although the story was not new-Pirandello had attributed the writing
of the same play to Silvia Roncella, the protagonist of his 1911 novel Suo
marito-this myth of maternity undergoes a very significant transforma-
tion when it appears as Pirandello's play, and woman acquires a higher
status than in the novel's version. After the novel was originally published
it was not reprinted because of the protest made by Grazia Deledda, who
had recognized herself in the protagonist. Only much later, just before his
death, Pirandello decided to rewrite the whole story and publish it again

66 Chapter2

with the title Giustino Roncella nato Boggiolo. He was able to complete
only the first four chapters. In them he gives the detailed summary of Silvia
Roncella's first theatrical masterpiece-the play that had its premiere the
night in which Silvia was giving birth to her son. In this second version,
however, Pirandello changes the name of the play. Maybe because he him-
self had written and staged his own La nuova colonia, he decides to call
Silvia's play L'isola nuova. The story and the characters are the same, but
not the end.
In Silvia's play La Spera kills her child by suffocating him in order to
punish Currao, the child's father, who wants to abandon her for the young
and bourgeois Mita. Although the apparent reason for this murderous act
is Currao's attempt to take the child away from his mother, the real reason
is La Spera's revenge for having being abandoned. The play was in fact
ironically defined by one critic as "la Medea tradotta in tarentino" ("Medea
in Tarentine dialect," TiR I, 685). With her play Silvia openly stated the
opposition of art and life, confessed her choice of art, thus her metaphori-
cal infanticide. Choosing artistic creation meant renouncing procreation.
Nico, a weak and sickly child, is born the night of the premiere of L'isola
nuova. His birth is traumatic; mother and child risk their lives. Simulta-
neously on stage the play-a play that ends with a mother killing her child-
is coming to light, strong and magnificent, and Pirandello describes it us-
ing profusely the vocabulary of childbirth and delivery. Very few words,
by contrast, are spent on Nico's birth. The newborn baby has none of the
strength and power of his twin brother-the play-and he soon dies. At
that time, though, Silvia is absent. She is on stage witnessing the birth of
her real creation, another magnificent play.8
Silvia Roncella was also the author of another noteworthy play, Se non
cosi (If Not So), that is nothing else but Pirandello's own La ragione degli
altri (As Others See It)- another work in which the central theme is ma-
ternity. In this play a child is fought over by two women, the natural and
the adoptive mother. In the end the winner is the adoptive mother, who
lives with the father of the child and therefore can give her a real family,
economic security, and comfort. Society wins and nature loses. But in La
nuova colonia, Pirandello practices intertextuality in a very clever fashion,
reversing the outcome: Nature wins over society. The novel Suo marito
sanctions the incompatibility of art and life, of procreation and artistic
creation. Silvia's artistic creation-the victory of her art-coincides with
the failure and the defeat of her maternity. In L'isola nuova the mother
kills her own child, and in Se non cosi she agrees to be separated from her
child-in short, she abandons it. Artistic creation thus surpasses procre-

67 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

ation, and the artist appears as the mother par excellence, endowed with
immortal power.
A digression into Pirandello's dense world of short stories will serve to
prove even more emphatically his appropriation of the metaphor of pro-
creation and his identification with the mother figure. The two stories in
question--"La tragedia di un personaggio" (1911) and "Colloqui coi per-
sonaggi" (1915)-should be read together, the latter as a continuation of
the former. In "The Tragedy of a Character," Pirandello tells us about his
Sunday morning habit of giving audience to the characters of his future
stories. Author and characters often engage in heated discussions, and some-
times they part in anger. In this particular story, one privileged character,
Dr. Fileno, acts as Pirandello's alias and states the superiority of art over
life. The character created by the author in the world of the spirit corre-
sponds in the world of matter to the child born of a woman. "No one can
know better than you," Dr. Fileno tells Pirandello the author, that we [char-
acters] are alive, more alive than those who breathe and put on clothes,
perhaps, less real, but certainly truer!" The reality, namely the flesh and
blood of a human being, consists only in the elements that constitute his
form, that is, his "trap," his death. The truth of the character, instead, lies
in his spirit. The superiority of artistic creation to procreation is clearly
stated in what follows. "One can be born in many ways, my dear sir ...
and he who is born thanks to this creative activity that is situated in the
human spirit, is ordained to a life far superior to that of him who is born
from woman's mortal womb."9 He who is born a character does not fear
death. "Man will die, the writer will, the natural instrument of creation:
the creature will never die!" The artist's fantasy is a womb that gives im-
mortality. "Sancho Panza, Don Abbondio ... will live forever because-
as living seeds-they had the fortune to find a fertile womb, a fantasy that
was able to nurture and raise them for eternity" (N I:i, 821).
If "The Tragedy of a Character" is the conclusive act of Pirandello's
drama on creation, the complete assimilation of procreation to artistic cre-
ation takes place in "Colloqui coi personaggi." Because of the outbreak of
the war, Pirandello has suspended all audiences. Only one character-we
can easily recognize him as the Dr. Fileno of the earlier story-is able to
push his way in and wants to persuade the author to continue writing
fiction. When the character-offspring of the writer-finally leaves the
study, his place is taken by Fausto, the son of Pirandello the man. The
equation of character with son is suggested by the author himself, who,
after having let his character-the child of his art, already endowed with
independent life-speak, places next to him his flesh- and blood-son in all

68 Chapter 2

his frailty. He, too, is a shadow among the shadows that populate the
writer's dark study on oppressive summer evenings. His existence, how-
ever, is certainly more precarious than that of the character that preceded
him. Fausto, in fact, has no voice; his image remains silent and provokes
in the father a chain of intense emotions. Through those emotions Piran-
dello goes back to thoughts of his mother. The same emotional experience
unites them-the intense bond of love for their child.
By introducing the image of his mother Pirandello is challenging her on
her very ground. He places his paternal feelings next to and on the same
level with maternal feelings. Only a mother, in fact, can understand the
suffering of a parent who sees her child leave for war. The two givers of
life face each other in a final confrontation in which the mother loses the
advantage that nature had granted her. Caterina, who had just recently
died, appears to Luigi as a shadow, but now her presence is far more im-
posing and powerful than when she was alive. Pirandello is no longer the
son but the artist who transforms Caterina into the character of the mother,
giving her a universal life and voice.
She who in life had always kept silent now speaks with the wisdom and
the passion infused in her by the artist. While Fausto, who is still alive,
was silent, Caterina, by now dead to life, lives as a grand tragic character.
And in this role of authority she will give a moral lesson. "And you know,
my son, we give life to our children so that they can live it, and we are
satisfied if even a small reflection of it comes back to us; but this life does
no longer seem to be ours; ours for us, inside us, is only the life that we
gave and that, in turn, was given to us" (N III:z, 1147). The mother char-
acter does not only speak of procreation, but also of artistic creation. The
procedure by which the mother speaks through her son's art of her mater-
nal suffering realizes concretely the assimilation of the mother to the art-
ist, hence of procreation to artistic creation, establishing the victory of the
latter. In a play in which he is author and character at the same time,
Pirandello announces to his public that it is he, the artist, who gives life to
the mother's feelings, rendering them universal and eternal. He is the true
mother, mother of his own mother, mother of all mothers, to which only
his art can give life and voice.'1

The New Colony: The Play
"Silvia Roncella sono io," Pirandello seems to tell us, echoing Flaubert.
The novel, in fact, had helped him analyze the mystery of artistic creation,
and he can now write La nuova colonial. He creates a myth, that is, a
utopian and unreal condition in which maternity is sanctioned as the sum-

69 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

mum bonum. The mother wins by virtue of her real maternal spirit. Not
only will the contended child remain with his mother, but the abusive par-
ent and all those who took part with him in the revolt against the mother
will be punished and killed by the mother of mothers, the earth. La Spera
is the epitome of maternity and in the end becomes one with the Earth
Mother. Her language is from the beginning the language of the body, of
gesture. She embodies the violence perpetrated on her by a patriarchal
society. Alonge had rightly argued that this play is the realization of the
conflict between patriarchy and matriarchy." After all, Western society is
nothing but an extension of the patriarchal family, which is constructed
on the exploitation of women, in which the father is the owner as well as
the commander (padre-padrone). In placing the male exploiter, greedy and
corrupt, in opposition to the feminine principle of genuine life, procre-
ation, and maternity, represented by La Spera and her child, Pirandello
creates a myth where the principle of life triumphs in the end. Shaken by
the powerful words of La Spera -by now one with the Earth Mother -the
earth opens up, swallowing and drowning rebellious man, who finally finds
rest in his primeval place, maternal womb.12
The play, especially the prologue, is filled with biblical elements. The
twelve men who will follow Currao and La Spera appear to be fishermen
like the apostles. Currao, almost a Christ figure, arrives suddenly with an
enormous basket of fish, as if by miracle. It is a gift from some fishermen
in gratitude for helping rescue their boat. Crocco, one of the twelve, be-
trays Currao three times, and Currao turns the other cheek to him as a
sign of forgiveness. Like baptismal water, the sea where the group makes
its dangerous journey to the island performs the spiritual cleansing that
will prepare them for their new life on the island. Finally, La Spera can be
seen as both the harlot of the Apocalypse and, better yet, as a Maria Mag-
dalen figure. At the end of the prologue, however, a change takes place-
a change that will transfer the Christian myth back into a pagan world
and Christ's power to a female goddess.
Since the play has been amply examined in various studies, the follow-
ing analysis will concentrate on the language of La Spera, to underline its
corporeality, its authenticity vis-a-vis the abusive, artificial, and false lan-
guage employed by the male characters, and finally its power to create.13
At the end of the play the transformation of the Christian god into the
female pagan divinity will be complete. La Spera's verbum will become
The play opens with Padron Nocio's insults and threats. He owns many
boats and gives work to a lot of men, and his wealth gives him the right to

70 Chapter 2

insult and threaten them. After entering Nuccio d'Alagna's tavern, he turns
to him with the following expressions: "Get off, you stink! [...] What a
great owl-like nose! [...] You watch out that my son Doro won't get his
shoes dirty coming in this den [. ..] of thieves and bums" (MN II, 1065-
66). Already at her first appearance La Spera opposes the language of power.
The sentence she utters to defend herself as she is chased out of the tav-
ern- "I did not come here by myself. I was dragged in here" (MN II, 1070)-
is a metaphor for the prostitution to which the dominating class has forced
her. Her words are immediately juxtaposed to male language, which is
from the beginning a language of power and exploitation. Her redemp-
tion, therefore, will have to come precisely from within that body that men
have reduced to an object of use and ownership.
Her challenge to man begins with a gesture: she spits on Nuccio's hand,
the hand symbolizing possession and exploitation. The language of ges-
ture is much more powerful in its expressiveness than any word. La Spera
does not only spit on the hand of the man who offers her bread, she spits
on his words as well: "and on everything you say. From now on, whoever
wants to talk to me--out! Away from here--where I have never been!"
She knows her redemption from man can take place only in a land that
has not yet been conquered and exploited by him. Here she becomes vi-
sionary, a sibyl, as Pirandello explains in the stage directions: "with wan-
dering eyes, as if she were seeing herself over the sea, at night, on a boat";
in a place where words, too, will be redeemed, "Where words-you don't
know how-you utter them-you listen to them-they become new" (MN
II, 1071). It is the language of pauses, of suspensions, a language that does
not explain, that does not claim understanding, but that only through such
humility will hope to rescue itself from rhetorical and false degeneration
by men.
Even in Currao, the man loved by La Spera and the alleged father of her
son, language has degenerated. He does not even realize his hypocrisy when
he openly despises La Spera's dirty money, forgetting not only the dirty
money he made as a smuggler but also forgetting, or pretending to forget,
that he himself had placed some of that dirty money in her hands. To the
simple truth expressed by La Spera, he replies as a typical tyrant whose
inequity has just been discovered-with an offense. The dirt of a whore is
dirtier than a thief's. It is not with the language of words that La Spera can
win against her antagonist -a language that will deceive her once more on
the island, when she believes Crocco's lies. It is with the language of the
body that she will redeem herself-a language characterized by the accu-
mulation of facts ("a language of things," not "of words") without the

71 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

pretense of any order or logic, one whose meaning and value will become
apparent by virtue of such genuine corporeity. Parataxis, empty spaces,
ellipses, lack of syntactical connection, free flow of words, imprecisions
that are left without any attempt at clarification-this is her language. The
beginning of the following passage is emblematic: La Spera addresses her
male audience with an open admission of ignorance and humility and makes
no pretense to explain.
I don't know! I told him I was going to get [my child] from the wet
nurse; I said it, in a way, as if something, I don't know what, inside
me were moving ... a warmth, an ardor that went to my head and
was flowing out of my breasts I ran like a mad woman, a fire, a
flame ... and while running-here, in the next alley-the first door-
climbing the stairs, I fell, I tumbled down, I didn't feel any pain;
touching myself, my breasts were soaked; milk was flowing out, by
itself, by itself, all of the sudden, for my creature! (MN II, o187)

Thus ends the prologue. The miracle of the milk, more powerful than
the miracle of the fish, will convince the men in the tavern -smugglers and
thieves-to follow La Spera and Tobba the old wise man, to abandon the
city-place of corruption and power-and to venture in the open sea on a
biblical journey to a new land-a place of rebirth and beginning. Christ
has been supplanted by the Earth Goddess.14 This feminine takeover is
openly stated when La Spera replies to those who are afraid that the volca-
nic island might be shaken by an earthquake and sink. "And here, where
you are now, haven't you already sunk? There is no way you could sink
any lower than this! But there at least it will be God who has done it to
you! Not men who are more wicked than you! much more wicked if they
don't even let you take a breath for a moment!" (1083). La Spera's words,
foreshadowing what will happen at the end, acquire their full meaning
only at that point, when we discover that she is the goddess of doom and
final destruction.
Pirandello's attempts to deal with sexuality, especially female sexuality,
which for him was essentially connected with darkness, danger, and evil,
had long occupied him. Sexuality is a basic component of procreation,
and maternity for Pirandello is the highest value. As Gioanola has amply
shown, Pirandello's fear of sex is manifested in his writings by the many
examples of paternity without women and especially of maternity without
men. For example, in the story "Felicita," which epitomizes the value of
maternity, Pirandello reduces to a minimum the presence of the "ignoble"
act. The sexual intercourse to which Elisabetta must resign herself ("lower

72 Chapter 2

herself, give herself, abandon herself") in order to reach her aim is a high
price to pay for a high goal: "to be a mother." The final disappearance of
her husband, a mere instrument to her purpose, is in fact welcomed with
joy: "So he will not see it [the child]! he will not know it... and it will be
more mine, entirely mine, all mine!" (N III:i, 315). Sex, then, though in-
dispensable to procreation, undermines its value from its roots. The lover
cannot coexist with the mother, as Baldovino explains to Agata in II piacere
dell'onesti (The Pleasure of Honesty); and with the arrival of maternity
the former must die (MN I, 644). The little girl who witnesses her parents'
sexual intercourse in the story "Uno di piu" (One Too Many) dies in the
end, for she feels superfluous in a relation where her parents' attraction to
and dependence on each other is only sexual. Her death is an act of indict-
ment against her mother, who is not a mother but an erotic female. Mater-
nity and eroticism seem therefore incapable of coexisting, and Pirandello
sanctions their absolute opposition, condemning to death the fruit of the
erotic passion.15
In his first myth play Pirandello attempted to go deep into the mystery
of sexuality and maternity. He already knew that no rational explanation
could be found-therein, in fact, the danger of its power lies. Camille Paglia,
in her Sexual Personae, has powerfully shown this. "Sex is a far darker
power than feminism has admitted," she claims. It "is the point of contact
between man and nature, where morality and good intentions fall to primi-
tive urges." Paglia calls this point of contact "an intersection. This inter-
section is the uncanny crossroads of Hecate, where all things return in the
night. Eroticism is a realm stalked by ghosts."'6 Pirandello knew this. By
writing this myth, he tried to exorcise these ghosts and face the power of
the feminine in all its force. For the first time he placed at the center of his
artistic creation a female who represents both eroticism and maternity. Of
course, La Spera ceases to be a whore or even a sexual female when she
becomes a mother, thus confirming the incompatibility of eroticism and
maternity. She becomes a mother not only to her child but to all the men
to whom she had been first a lover. "Enough with my job! I will [. ..] serve
you, cook for you, take care of your things and nurse you when you are
sick, and work, work with you" (MN II, 1084). As Marta had said to
Venzi, she will be the lover who becomes mother-something Marta was
never allowed to do. The opposition between sexuality and maternity is
undoubtedly present, and reveals Pirandello's own sexual complexes, yet
there is a great deal of ambiguity surrounding this issue-an ambiguity, as
Paglia remarks, much more easily tolerated by women than by men. The
murky field of procreation with its darkness and mystery cannot be ana-

73 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

lyzed and explained by the male's indomitable effort. In the kingdom of
Dionysos, Apollo is necessarily defeated. "Women accept limited knowl-
edge as their natural condition, a great human truth that a man may take
a lifetime to reach.""17 This might be the reason why Pirandello needed to
move the delicate subject far back into a mythical past, away from his life.
There he could find the courage and the linguistic means to deal with it.
Although La Spera, the whore, is redeemed by her maternity, she still
represents the power of sexuality that drives men to her and the power of
maternity that binds her to her child-two powers so closely intertwined
that they cannot be rescinded. The power of her maternal love seems to be
proportional, in fact, to the intensity of her sexuality. Although I would
not go as far as Gioanola in asserting with absolute certainty that La Spera
ignores the father of her child-a reading that helps Gioanola's thesis of
hypostatizationn of the horror of sex"-I do not feel so sure either about
Currao's paternity, as most of the critics do.18 In no place in the play, in
fact, is the paternity of La Spera's child disclosed. And it could not possi-
bly be, except with an act of presumption. There are only hints to the
possibility that it is Currao's. The most obvious clue is that she loves him
and considers him her man.
When La Spera first comes on stage and enters the tavern, Nuccio and
Tobba seem to know that she is looking "for the father of her child." An
ambiguous phrase, indeed, that could have been made clear by just men-
tioning Currao's name. But Pirandello chooses not to do so. Certainly the
child's father can be found only in that tavern, where all the men who used
her generally go. Any of them could be the child's father, and in a way they
all are. The ambiguity created by Tobba's phrase is not accidental. Nuccio's
following comment, in fact, is a confirmation of this ambiguity. "If you try
to foist on him the child that you have just had, you can forget it!" (o170).
Even the people who know her well naturally have doubts about the child's
paternity. And how could it be otherwise if she has been going with all
those men? Pirandello remains purposefully vague on the subject. We do
not know when La Spera had stopped prostituting herself. We can there-
fore only assume she did when she discovered her pregnancy; already too
late for knowing with whom the child was conceived. Her later behavior
as Currao's woman does not prove anything else but her love for him and
her desire to have him as a husband.
Currao's acceptance of the role of father, in my view, is only a way of
asserting his ownership of the child as well as of the woman. This fact
places him above everyone else and gives him power in the community
because of the uniqueness of his position. This interpretation is confirmed

74 Chapter 2

by the scene in which La Spera tells Currao that she did not mind the
insults received by the other men; she is certain she will always be able to
shield her child from them. "CURRAO. Have they done this? LA SPERA.
Yes, but don't worry ... CURRAO. While you were holding my child? LA
SPERA. The child, I was protecting him. CURRAO. They had the nerve to
spit on you, while you were holding my child? When was it? Who did it?
LA SPERA. When you were down there arguing. .. CURRAO. Cowards!
Cowards! While you were holding my child!" (emphasis added, 1126). It
is not the offense perpetrated against La Spera that causes Currao's anger.
It is the offense committed against him in the person of the child.
Currao's aggressive language is the language of power. The ownership
of the child he so strongly asserts is his way of holding on to his power in
the community. The child must be his; there can be no doubts; it is in
reality more his than La Spera's, as the hammering repetition of "my child"
proves. And the aggressive hammering does not stop as Currao continues
to give vent to his anger. Four other times, in fact, he exclaims "my son"
who must be respected precisely as such. His paternity counts more than
her maternity. He is the father who can give identity and dignity, in the
form of a family name, to his son, and by doing so, he assesses and asserts
his right of ownership over him. La Spera returns to being even for him
only "uno straccio di femmina" (a rag of a woman [1127]).
That Pirandello had a personal obsession with the subject of paternity
is confirmed by the many recurrences of the theme in his work. Stories like
"La tartaruga" (The Turtle) and "In silenzio" (In Silence) and plays like
L'innesto (The Grafting) and O di uno o di nessuno (Belonging to One or
to No-One) are only a few of the many examples. The male vulnerability
and the enormous power of the female on this basic issue were very upset-
ting to him, and they also help to explain his obsession with sex, mater-
nity, and virginity (or is it the other way round?). "The male contribution
to procreation is momentary and transient. Conception is a pinpoint of
time, another of our phallic peaks of action, from which the male slides
back uselessly." With these provocative words Camille Paglia well sum-
marizes the male's discomfort with paternity. "The pregnant woman," she
continues, "as an ontological entity [... ] needs nothing and no one." In
her nine months of pregnancy she is a self-contained entity: in Sicilian
dialect, the name of La Spera, "the sphere," evokes this image of self-
containment, autonomous and self-sufficient in her symbiotic relation with
her child-an image of parthenogenesis.19 Man has no part in it. Excluded
from this fundamental phase of creation, men cluster together. "Male bond-
ing and patriarchy were the recourse to which man was forced by his ter-

75 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

rible sense of woman's power, her imperviousness, her archetypal confed-
eracy with chtonian nature. Woman's body is a labyrinth in which man is
lost," and its mystery "is the main reason for the imprisonment [he] has
imposed on women."20 Whether or not one agrees with Paglia's interpre-
tation of woman's nature, it is safe to say that Pirandello probably would
have. La Spera is the principle of life and death, chthonic nature capable
of nursing and destroying, bringing forth new lives and swallowing them
back again in the darkness of her womb.
La Spera challenges the male society founded on violence and exploita-
tion in the very person of the man she loves. Her son, whose possession
Currao claims in the name of that paternal logos, ruler of everything, is
instead taken away from him by the mother. She performs this act by avail-
ing herself of the language of the body, that by the force of its authenticity
will coincide with the language of the earth. The words shouted by La
Spera at the end of the play will acquire corporeality and the power to
affect reality. The quiver that in the prologue had shaken her body is in
this final scene transmitted to the earth. "The earth trembles! The earth!
The earth!" Three times the curse is repeated. "And the earth truly, as if
the tremor of the mother's frantic, desperate embrace were propagating
from her,-earth, truly, begins to tremble" (MN II, 1157, I158). And the
Word becomes flesh.21
The play was read by some critics as Fascist propaganda. The mythol-
ogy of maternity was after all one of Mussolini's creeds; the nobility of the
mother who gives her sons (they had, of course, to be males) to the father-
land to fight a war that would bring about a rebirth of human society was
typical Fascist propaganda. Pirandello's plot, undoubtedly, lent itself to
such an easy-but false-interpretation. In the first place, the tragic end of
the story leaves no hope for a reconstruction of a better society. Maternity
is a fundamental value of humanity, mother and child form the perfect,
genuine, uncorrupted unity, but only potentially. That moment of perfect
unity, in fact, exists precisely and only as a moment. The full realization of
that relationship is the formation and codification of the family and even-
tually of society. It means, therefore, a fall back to the social, the institu-
tional, to all those false, artificial roles, that the earthquake destroys. No
hope exists for the social animal.
There is a moment in the play in which Pirandello seems even to make
fun of the Fascist institutions and to treat with sarcasm the Fascist militia
and the plotting, ambushing techniques of the regime. To usurp Currao's
power, Crocco wants to draw Padron Nocio -the rich owner of the boats-
to his side. He offers him protection against Currao, who Crocco claims is

76 Chapter 2

a traitor. He thus accuses Currao of being guilty of his own sin, without
having the courage to do it openly. He would provide "bodyguards," bet-
ter yet "sbirri" (policemen and spies), "for his defense and for the defense
of the new government." There is even a uniform that goes with it and a
hat-"un kepi," although the kepii" is not the fez-a basic feature of the
Fascist uniform. Crocco has a plot in mind to get rid of Doro-son of
Padron Nocio and protector of La Spera -but he will make it appear as if
conceived by Currao in order to come off in the end as the savior of the
new government. This devious and cowardly plot that must be carried out
behind a screen has too much resemblance to the despicable techniques
used by the Fascists to be accidental. One cannot help thinking of the kid-
napping and murder of Giacomo Matteotti -the event after which Piran-
dello shocked a large section of the intellectual world with his poorly timed
adherence to the Fascist Party. A few years later, aware of what the regime
had become, Pirandello might have felt the need to exorcise the ghost of
the socialist victim.
Before beginning the discussion of the second myth, I would like briefly
to follow Pirandello in his reflection on the theme of maternity and of his
denunciation of male envy and resentment of it that manifests itself in his
attempt to take possession of the child by means of legalized paternity. In
the period when he was writing new plays for Marta, perhaps because this
theme was constantly on his mind, Pirandello adapted for the stage a short
story he had written many years earlier: "O di uno o di nessuno" (Belong-
ing Either to One or No One). The play, which follows the story faithfully,
is about two male friends, Carlino and Tito, who never became mature
adults, hold simple state jobs, and share a rented room. Unable to grow
into independent adults, they also stay together because of their fear of
marriage. In describing them, Pirandello insists on their immaturity. Even
their lawyer friend-an addition in the play-to whom they run for advice
calls them "two children" (MN, II, 761).
Having decided not to marry, the two agree to take care of their sexual
needs by sharing a woman who, in their years as students, had given her
affection to many young males. They invite Melina to move to their city
and rent two rooms for her in a different building. They take turns visiting
her and continue their life together. Supported by Carlino and Tito, Melina
quits her miserable job and lives only for them. Suddenly the routine the
two friends had established and in which they felt comfortable is shaken
up by a traumatic event: Melina is expecting a child.
If maternity had rescued and saved La Spera, here Melina becomes preg-
nant only when she stops living the life of the prostitute. Pirandello makes

77 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

it very clear that her life in sin was the cause of her sterility, thus underlin-
ing the sacredness of motherhood. Changing lifestyle makes her whole
again, and the pregnancy will complete the purification process. Melina
becomes the symbol of maternal love, sacrifice, and goodness.
What actually interests us here more, however, is Pirandello's treatment
of the two potential fathers of the child to come. They are driven insane by
the impossibility of knowing which is the father. There is no doubt that
Pirandello's aim is to expose the male power game. Melina fights at the
cost of her life for autonomy and independence, and her death exposes the
violence and the brutality of the male power game.
Melina wants to keep the child. She understands how her two friends
may feel uncomfortable with this new presence since there is no way to
ascertain the paternity. She therefore offers to raise the child on her own.
In the meantime she has learned a trade and can support herself. The fol-
lowing exchange between her and Carlino brings into the open the power
game that men have been playing with women for centuries. Carlino does
not want Melina to became independent. How could they control her if
she became capable of supporting herself? In the free time she has had
lately Melina has taught herself to read and write. "Look, Carlino-now I
will leave this job and find another one-CARLINO. You? And why?
- MELINA.- Something I can do at home -CARLINO.- For someone
else? MELINA. For some ladies, ladies! working with linen -mending
clothes. .-CARLINO.-But no! Why do you have to do this?-
MELINA. -For my pleasure! for my pleasure, Carlino! I will be happy,
believe me! believe me! -CARLINO.--But we do not want to .-
MELINA. And why shouldn't you want to?" Carlino does not know how
to answer, because he cannot speak the truth; and maybe he cannot even
comprehend it. Their power is suddenly being undermined; their slave,
whose possession permits them to be masters, is claiming independence.
"CARLINO. -Because we cannot allow .-MELINA.-But I will be the
same as before for you two. Carlino, always the same. CARLINO. -We
don't think we have failed to take care of you ..." The man continues to
fail to understand -how could he see clearly in his weak nature?-and the
woman must explain. It is not for the money. "No! No! It is because I
want to do it by myself! Only I! Without making you responsible at all! -
I!-to be able to hold my pride, can you understand?" Carlino's reply
reaches to the core of the issue. The child belongs to one or the other:
"And we? How can we allow you [. ..] because of the responsibility [. .]
of a life that would be born in these conditions [. .] of a life that we
cannot know who it belongs to?" (MN II, 787).

78 Chapter 2

The power game has been exposed. The male cannot assert his posses-
sion over the woman and over the child if his paternity is called into ques-
tion. Where does his power go without the legitimization of paternity?
And how can he legitimize his paternity if the mother of the child acquires
independence? Melina has at the end her moment of triumph; she is alone
on a metaphorical rock, just as La Spera-she with her child. "It certainly
belongs to me! It is certainly mine, even if I cannot say whether it is yours
or the other's!-Mine!-It belongs to me who will deliver it! And the re-
sponsibility-why should you take it? I will take it-all of it" (MN II,
787). The connection between possession and financial independence is
obvious. Melina wants to be not only the legitimate mother of her child,
but also the father. She will have the child and support it. The role of the
man has been completely wiped out.
Woman's financial dependency has allowed man to buy his paternal
rights. Paternity is therefore acquired through legalized prostitution. It is
not by chance, in fact, that Pirandello once more connects the problem of
paternity with prostitution. As Shaw's Mrs. Warren says, bourgeois mar-
riage is just a more refined and less dreadful form of prostitution. But
prostitution can be maintained only by keeping women ignorant and de-
pendent. Hegel taught us, in fact, that the slave must be protected in order
that the master remain alive.22 Melina dies at the end of the story, but her
death makes her victory more complete. The two friends will never know
the only thing they wanted to know. In her last moments, distraught by
the fury of the two men fighting over the child, Melina delivers her final
sentence: "No, Tito, No, Carlino! He is not yours! he is not yours! You
must no longer think of it! [. ..] he is mine! mine! mine! only mine! think
that it is I in him, only I in him ... I who gave him my life, mine! (MN II,
812-13). Neither Carlino nor Tito will have Melina's child. He will be
given for adoption to a wealthy couple whose first child had died immedi-
ately after birth only a few days earlier.

Lazarus: The History
La Spera is born again in Sara in the myth of Lazarus, in which, as Anna
Meda pointed out, her identification with the Mother Earth archetype is
fully realized.23 The two myth-plays are, in fact, connected and were writ-
ten one after the other. From a letter written to Marta on July 4, 1928, we
learn that Lazzaro is almost finished and that he plans to complete it within
a few days. It is the beginning of a difficult phase in Pirandello's life that
will have no end. The company in which he had placed so much hope and
energy is about to be dissolved. Despite the successes obtained in Italy and

79 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

abroad, there were serious financial losses, and the withdrawal of govern-
ment support in the summer of 1928 forced Pirandello to disband his com-
pany. After giving help to the company and having promised continuous
support, Mussolini suddenly dropped it. He had not been pleased with
what he considered Pirandello's anti-Fascist behavior abroad.24 From then
on Pirandello's life in Italy was to become harder and harder, and his
thoughts of leaving more serious. Pirandello's disappointment with Musso-
lini must have been even more upsetting to him in view of the trust and
hope that the playwright had previously placed in him. He realized the
dictator's true nature and was aware that he could not be trusted. After
withdrawing financial support from Pirandello's company, Mussolini gave
lots of money to the Compagnia dei Dieci, whose purpose was to repre-
sent Fascist literature. (Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was a member of this
group, as was Antonio Beltramelli, who had been one of the founders of
Teatro d'Arte.)25
Pirandello wrote to Marta every day, and every day he bemoaned the
deteriorating political and cultural situation in Italy. Terrible things were
happening that he could not even write to her (was he afraid of the mail
being opened?)- "incredible things, dear Marta, that have increased the
horror I feel for my country together with the conviction that life here for
me is no longer possible, at least for the time being" (Lettere, 47). Musso-
lini's bluff had been discovered. "By now his tactic has become clear. As
soon as someone pretends to conquer a preeminent position in any field-
no matter how cautious and careful he may be in defending himself [. ..]
things are done in such a way as to isolate and expose him, to make him
feel uneasy." Pirandello had finally understood that like all dictators, Musso-
lini could not stand anyone who might eclipse him with a brighter light.
"What he wants is that no one stand out or raise his head. Around him a
level of heads reaching barely to his knees, not even an inch higher. This
way everything remains low and confused, and nothing else exists, but
mediocrity and confusion" (49-50). Away then from Italy; away with La-
zarus, which premiered not on Italian soil but in London.
In the month of July, Marta was in Salsomaggiore at the spa, trying to
rest and recover her strength. Pirandello went back and forth from Rome,
where "the heat is suffocating," to Nettuno, where his son Stefano was
vacationing with his family. He rented a room in a hotel with a spectacular
view of a pine grove on the one side and of the sea on the other. He was
finishing Lazzaro and writing to Marta every day. Marta was very upset
in this period. Her father had challenged to a duel a certain Mr. Zopegni
who had offended Marta with the insinuation that she was Pirandello's

8o Chapter 2

protegee. In asking her Maestro's advice and help in this matter, she seems
almost to hold him responsible for the delicate situation that their rela-
tionship and collaboration had created. The duel was never fought, but
this episode can help us to understand Marta's position at the time and the
difficulty she incurred as the young prima attrice of Pirandello's company.
More than for Pirandello's sensible advice on this matter, the letters writ-
ten to Marta in this period are interesting because they help to confirm his
complex and ambiguous feelings about sexuality.
Marta had gone to see Henry Bernstein's recent work Melo and had
probably commented favorably to Pirandello in a letter that unfortunately
is lost. Pirandello's reply is very telling. "You tell me that you went to hear
Bernstein's last work. Listen, if you liked it, it is certain that it has been cut
and censored in the translation as to make it bearable, removing from it
all the indecency and brutal obscenities that I read in the text-especially
in the second act, that was just sheer dreadful lewdness." It is the intimi-
datory tone displayed by Pirandello that is of interest here. He cannot
admit to himself that Marta might enjoy scenes of that sort and launches
his violent attack in order to block her from any further enthusiasm.
"I have too much respect for you, for your exquisite and highly noble
feminine sensitivity, to give you even a remote hint at what was happening
in the scene between the two lovers in the second act." He has no mercy;
his pursuit continues even more implacably. "Now it is impossible, if you
could like this second act, that such horrors were present in the transla-
tion. It is impossible that you would have even thought of agreeing to
perform a part like the one of the lover who accepted to commit such
horrors on stage. Obviously in the translation she no longer commits them."
Yet, Pirandello continues, even with a heavy censorship the play still re-
mains "a revolting brutality. And I confess that it is hard for me to under-
stand how you could have received a good impression. I felt almost a physi-
cal horror" (Lettere, 39, 40). The Maestro is too excited by the topic to
stop. He continues in a crescendo of obsession that borders on the patho-
logical. Marta evidently must have found some "beauty" and "humanity"
in the character of the protagonist of the play, which prompted Pirandello
to jump up in a rage, contesting her opinion. "Beauty and humanity in
that woman who is nothing but a lascivious and shameless beast [...]?
No, no, Marta: it is obvious, it is obvious that everything has been sup-
pressed and canceled. And the proof is that no prima donna has accepted
to represent the play as it was" (Lettere, 39, 40).
While the man struggled with his sexual obsessions, the writer was ex-
orcising them by creating a character whose sexuality was celebrated as a

81 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

positive force of nature. On July 9, he writes: "I worked all morning and
part of the afternoon on the third act of Lazzaro, and I think I have worked
well. Then I went down to the beach. What a display of flesh! Some women.
. The beach is small [.. .]-men and women-all pressed together, on
that little bit of dirty sand [. .] Some scenes! some exposures! I came back
up to my terrace, disgusted" (Lettere, 42). Pirandello's disgust reveals his
own fear of the body and of sexuality, and his reaction is one of flight. He
flies away from life with all its physical impulses and dreadful temptations
and exorcises them on the white page. Sara's husband, Diego, also belongs
to that race of men who constantly repress the call of the flesh in favor of
self-mortification. His religious bigotry, his violent reaction against Sara's
openness and love for life and nature, and his fear of her are clear symp-
toms of his own sexual phobias. But it is Sara who triumphs in the end,
and through her true faith in nature she saves Diego from despair and
As Anna Meda has eloquently shown, the story of Lazarus had found
its place in a number of works by Pirandello's contemporaries-the closest
to Pirandello being Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, whose own Lazzaro Piran-
dello had planned to produce with his company in the 1927 season. The
play was never produced, but the relevance of the theme of resurrection in
those times was certainly shared abroad and as far as the United States,
where Eugene O'Neill wrote his Lazarus Laughed.26 Even in a play like
Oscar Wilde's Salome we can sense the fascination with this theme. After
all, Salome's outrage is provoked not only by Jokannan's resistance against
her physical beauty but by his fearlessness in facing the death of the flesh.
Jokannan does not feel the temptation of the flesh because his body has no
value to him. Its death means the eternal life of his spirit. But what is
resurrection? How must a modern individual interpret the Bible's story?
For most of these writers man must seek his rebirth in this life. He can
choose to deny the flesh and live for his spirit alone, waiting for the king-
dom of God, or he can, as Pirandello's play suggests, see God in this life
and live it to the full, in flesh and spirit.

Lazarus: The Play
The play's theme is the opposition between the artificial and the natural in
their various manifestations: city versus country, institutionalized love ver-
sus natural love, formal religion versus natural religion, masculine versus
feminine. The first term of the opposition is represented by the characters
of Diego Spina and Monsignor Lelli, the second by Sara. Because of his
strict and severe religious principles that led him to force his daughter to

82 Chapter 2

enter a religious institution and his son to join the seminary, Diego, the
"padre padrone," had been abandoned by his wife Sara. Devoid of any
power even in the rearing of her own children, Sara leaves the city and
chooses to live in the country. She then unites her life to that of Arcadipane,
a strong, hard-working farmer. Together they cultivate a farm and give
birth to two children. Meanwhile, Lucio, the son sent to the seminary,
decides to abandon the religious life, and Lia, the daughter, having become
a cripple, goes back to live with her father. Upon hearing that Lucio has left
the religious order, Diego loses his mind and runs out of the house in a rage,
to be run over by a car and killed. Moved by Lia's prayers, Dr. Gionni gives
him an injection of adrenaline to the heart and brings him back to life. The
awakening is shocking to Diego, who realizes that nothing exists beyond
death and that all the sacrifices and mortification he had endured to con-
quer his prize in the other life had been in vain. At the end of the play Lucio
is brought back to his faith by his mother, who makes him feel the presence
of the divine in nature and in man and teaches him the value of life. And
Lucio will teach this lesson to his own father, who finally understands his
mistakes and asks for forgiveness. Sara's divine power is at the end trans-
mitted to Lia, who starts to walk again. The masculine as the builder of
artifices, as the destroyer of the natural, succumbs to the feminine power of
the mother and of nature.27
If in La Spera the erotic and the maternal aspects of woman's essence
were still opposed-Pirandello needed in fact to attribute the former to a
whore and the second to a redeemed whore-in Sara they are fused in a
harmonious whole. This does not mean that Pirandello had overcome his
own taboos, as we have seen from the letters he wrote to Marta; it is only
a sign that he was attempting to cope with them. By removing to a mytho-
logical past the image of the erotic female whose sexual drive coincides
with fertility and procreation, Pirandello can distance himself from female
nature and look at it with wide-open eyes.
Even before her appearance, Sara is referred to as "a miracle." "Beauti-
ful, yes, beautiful: she seems to be still twenty years old! When she walks
by everyone turns around to look at her. She seems the sun! A miracle." By
borrowing Dante's words of praise to Beatrice in "Tanto gentile," Piran-
dello is here replacing the God of Dante with his own. The feminine is no
longer a means to reach the divine. The feminine now coincides with the
divine. From her first appearance Sara is described as a powerful force
coming out of the union of sun and earth. "Against the background of the
fiery sky, [Sara], all dressed in red and with a black mantel, seems an un-
real apparition of ineffable beauty: new, healthy and powerful" (MN, II,

83 Woman, the Earth Mother: La Spera and Sara

II1179). She brings the red of the sun and of life together with the darkness
of the night to come. She is day and night, origin and end, life and death.28
No one can cope with her power; least of all Diego, whose religious spirit
is represented by death alone: "a big black cross with the squalid figure of
a bloody Christ painted on it" (1164). The same colors as those worn by
Sara, but on her they shine brilliantly with a joyous splendor; in Diego's
Christ, by contrast, they have the gloom of eternal darkness.
Already in this opening description, we can feel that there can be no
resurrection for Diego, because he cannot find life in this world. Even the
black that Sara wears represents the splendid darkness of night-a mantel
enveloping the earth-and of death, too, but only insofar as it is a neces-
sary phase of nature's cycle of production and destruction. Diego's Christ
is a symbol of death, and Sara cannot accept it. In front of the cross she
shouts, "That Christ up there is there to give life, not death!" Christ can-
not want the mortification of the flesh that Diego professes. "You have
forgotten," he replies to his wife, "that the true life is beyond! When the
flesh is no more... SARA. I know that he has also given us this life of flesh
so that we could live it here in health and joy. And nobody can know this
better than a mother! I wanted joy, joy and health for my children!" (I 181 ).
Sara celebrates the life of the body as a woman and as a mother, and this
she wanted to teach her children.
Out of fear of her power, Diego took the children away from Sara, for-
bidding her to raise or influence them in any way. The echo of the father in
Strindberg's homonymous play can be discerned in his similar battle to
subtract from his wife that which is clearly hers and only possibly his. He
makes it his own through a paternal law that has been established by men
alone. The same rule that bound Laura to the Captain now binds Sara to
Diego-the rule whereby "she sold her birthrights in a legal exchange,
relinquishing her rights in return for her husband's support of her and her
children."29 Is this not the objection raised by Shaw's Mrs. Warren?30 What
is the difference between the whore who makes money selling her body
and gains her independence and the wife who sells herself (and often is
sold by her father) to a husband in exchange for material support? The
difference is that the wife acquires social respectability by renouncing her
freedom and independence completely. The whore who maintains control
of her body and person and saves her freedom must pay the dear price of
social stigma.
There is no way out of this dilemma for women if they care to remain
part of a male-ruled society. They must remain prisoners, men's posses-
sions. But Sara does not accept that. She is perfectly aware that she cannot

84 Chapter 2

fight by men's rules. She abandons the patriarchal home, the city, and so-
ciety. There is a very telling moment between mother and son that brings
to the surface Sara's clear awareness of woman's powerless and hopeless
condition in a man-made society. When Lucio expresses his desire to fol-
low her to the country and work the earth with his hands, Sara replies:
"You mustn't, no; in this you must not follow my example: I could do it
because only this way could I liberate and save myself. But not you, you
have so many paths before you" (o205).
Devoid of power, because she has been kept in ignorance for centuries,
woman cannot fight back in the complicated and artificial world of man.
She lacks the weapons-weapons that man has forbidden her to use for
too long. Only outside the male-dominated world she can find herself and
gain back her integrity. She must cease to be a wife, a socially made-up
category, and be only a mother, a natural entity. In society, in fact, the wife
belongs to the male; and since the mother must coincide with the wife, the
mother, too, belongs to the male. This appears clearly in the following
brief exchange between Diego and Sara. "SARA. You no longer wanted
me to be the mother to my children, even at the cost of giving up the wife!
DIEGO. Yes, because I wanted the wife to be the mother to my children,
raising them my own way" (MN II, 1181). Just as was the case with Currao's
language with La Spera, the language Diego uses with Sara is that of power
and possession. The woman is his, and not only as a wife; even as a mother
Sara belongs to him. The children are his, and it is he who determines their
education and their life. As the Captain says in Strindberg's play, "It isn't
enough for me just to have given life to a child; I also want to give it my
mind and soul."31 Obsessed with the doubt that he might not have given
life to the child after all, man must make the child his own by means of
power, repression, and violence. And for this he needs the support of the
social establishment and of the law. It is, in fact, the social establishment
that condemns Sara when she turns to the court to regain the right of her
children, as she tells Lucio: "They decided I was guilty [. ..] They told me
I had to stay with him and our daughter and that the pretense to take you
away from the seminary was wrong; in short, that it was I and not he who
wanted the end of the family" (MN II, 1198). Sara knows that there is no
point in fighting against the law of the father, established by the father and
for the benefit of the father. So she turns away from everything that is
Sara's language is characterized from the beginning by a corporeity that
shows, by contrast, the hypocrisy, falsity, and artificiality of the language
of male power, here personified by Diego and Monsignor Lelli. Anna Meda

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