The noblest traditions in psychology have always allied themselves closely with the humanities, indeed recognizing that writers “were psychologists,” as Eugene O’Neill once said, long “before psychology was invented.” The present article considers an early novel out of the work of Luigi Pirandello, Nobel laureate and uncanny explorer of existence and of humankind’s uneasy place in the cosmos. As subtle investigator of the ambiguities of identity and the pretenses of distraction Pirandello is unsurpassed, leading the amazingly erudite Harold Bloom to cite him (along with Proust, Joyce, Kafka, Beckett, “and a handful of others”) as one of the central writers of the twentieth century (this in contrast to Freud who, for Bloom, is a “period piece”—one who nonetheless retains his admiration). Pirandello views the entirety of our earthly sojourn with a quizzical eye, but especially so the vagaries of human endeavor and the “inconsistent being” which we call self. Here the reader is guided through the weird adventures of one Mattia Pascal (librarian, itinerant, philosopher, indeed everyperson) and thus at once introduced to and entertained by a literary master whose gift was a fundamentally psychological genius.
Pirandello's "Late Mattia Pascal"
Inconsistent Being and the Enigmatic Self
For the moment (and God knows how much it pains me), I have died already twice, but the first time was a mistake, and the second—well, you may read for yourself . . .
Luigi Pirandello, Forward to The Late Mattia Pascal
So, then, man is but a disguise, a lie and hypocrisy, both in himself and in regard to others. He will not have the truth told him, he avoids telling it to others, and all this disposition, so far removed from justice and reason, is rooted by nature in his heart.
Blaise Pascal, Pensees
Here first an assurance respecting my own humble person. I shall be as willing as the next man to fall down in worship before the System, if only I can manage to set eyes on it. Hitherto I have had no success; and though I have young legs, I am almost weary from running back and forth between Herod and Pilate.
Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript
I have never in my life been on my way anywhere, but simply on my way.
“Faith,” wrote Maestro Alberto Florentine, “is the substance of things to be hoped, the argumentation and proof of things that are not visible.”
Don Eligio’s unobtrusive note
What else? Nothing. Just read it with passion!
Rossella de Ninno
Given the monotony of the present-day practice of psychology and very lack of dimension among the vast preponderance of its practitioners, I do not suppose that I am entirely alone in harboring at times a wish to quit it all in exchange for some peace and quiet, a bit of respite from an everyday routine with its attendant noise, repetition, and leveling reductions. It is with no small sympathy, then, that I recently returned to the novel that first brought attention to the Italian writer Luigi Pirandello. Originally published in 1904, The Late Mattia Pascal tells the story of a disaffected young man for whom circumstances conspire so as to effect just such an opportunity. Imagine, if you please, the offer: an exit from labyrinth and routine, from the endless samsara of cause and effect, habit and fatigue, death and rebirth. In a word, freedom, for surely this is how our protagonist assesses his situation in dismissal of the weight of history and circumstance and embrace of the lightness of possibility. A curiously modern character, one in which we are inclined to take more than academic interest. Join me, then, as we consider the strange case of the late Mattia Pascal.
Pascal, on the surface of things, is a young church librarian, trapped in an unhappy marriage to the woman of his now faraway dreams in a provincial existence without import or prospect prior to escape. He is, however, an uncanny observer of human nature and folly as can be observed in conversation with his “reverend friend,” Don Eligio, where the latter expresses childlike enthusiasm before the explosion of knowledge which typifies the age, for example in books which “become more and more detailed, filled with the most intimate particulars.” Mattia himself is not easily impressed with the bulwark of progress set against the far more awe-inspiring backdrop of the dark mysteries and vast empty spaces of the cosmos which surrounds him and with the impossibility of ultimate human transcendence. He responds quizzically:
For heaven’s sake! What do I care about any of that? Are we or are we not on a kind of invisible top, spun by a ray of sunshine, on a maddened grain of sand, which spins and spins, without knowing why, never reaching an end, as if it enjoyed spinning like this, making us feel first a bit of heat and then cold, making us die—often in awareness that we have committed only a series of foolish acts—after fifty or sixty spins. Copernicus, my dear Don Eligio, Copernicus has ruined humanity forever.1
Don Eligio counters, relevantly, with the consoling assertion that humankind will fortunately never uproot the illusions about itself which Nature has beneficently provided. “Luckily,” he concludes, “man is easily distracted.”
The awareness of the triviality of everyday pursuits against the backdrop of the unknown is a central aspect of Pirandello’s psychology, a point driven home by his ironical reflections on the former librarian Mattia has replaced at the church. Old Romitelli is aged, doddering, and too taken up with his microscopic studies to discern, even remotely, the larger picture, indeed even to notice that he is retired and no longer required to be at the library at all! The old man (hard of hearing though he is) immerses himself pedantically in the study of music as he repeats to himself the names and dates he finds in a weighty tome, Historical Dictionary of Musicians, Artists and Amateurs, Living and Dead—a tedious compendium from the 18th century upon which his thoughts and consciousness have settled but which can be no more irrelevant than much that we psychologists are obliged to endure. Mattia Pascal watches and observes:
He would go on repeating names and dates as if to memorize them. Why he read in such a loud voice I do not know: he couldn’t have heard a cannonade. I watched in amazement. Why should a man in his condition, on the brink of the grave, care what Birnbaum Gianvanni Abramo had printed in Leipzig in 1738 in octavo? Apparently he was unable to do without those dates and pieces of information about musicians (and he himself so deaf!) and artists and amateurs, living and dead, before the year 1758. Or did he perhaps think that, since a library is made for reading and since no other living soul ever turned up there, the librarian himself was obliged to read? Perhaps he had picked that book up at random and might as easily have chosen another. He was so senile that this supposition is possible, indeed more probable than the first.2
Our protagonist, however, is not so foolish as this. When old Romitelli passes on and Mattia himself turns to the books over which he now has charge, it is philosophy into which he especially delves, those imposing volumes which “weigh a great deal” and make his “brain—already confused—even more distracted.” In such a state, Mattia would wander at times to the nearby beach wherein the sea would induce “a kind of dazed horror” as he pondered “the immobility of [his] existence.” The man who is fed on philosophy, Mattia concludes, lives among the clouds and asks too many questions. “Go back to your library,” the sea seems to admonish, “but avoid those books on philosophy. You too should start reading how Birnbaum Giovanni Abramo had printed in Leipzig in 1738 a pamphlet in octavo. Such reading will be far more profitable for you.”3
For a while Mattia is able to find solace in his infant daughter “with all the passion of a father who, having nothing else, makes his child the reason for his existence,” but when his beloved daughter dies at almost the same hour as his mother, Mattia is bereft. He receives a gift of 500 lire in order to provide for mother’s funeral expense but the fees have apparently been already covered, and so he slips the money quietly between the pages of an old book in the library before deciding to spend it on sabbatical of sorts. There is no clear agenda but rather harrowing discontent that presses Mattia to wanderlust. He leaves home one day on foot, takes a train unthinkingly to Nice, stumbles upon a storefront sign which reads “DEPOT DE ROULETTES DE PRECISION,” and suddenly seizes upon the idea of proceeding to Monte Carlo in order to squander his money in a spree of cathartic abandon at the casinos before returning to the dreary life which is surely his destiny and cross. Once inside the gambling dens, Pascal considers the wretched souls who live in a world not of philosopher’s clouds but rather mathematical longing, men and women who would find logic even in chance and wait endlessly for fortune and Godot. But the gods are somehow with Mattia as an “unconscious guess work” leads him to win round after round at the wheel. Thus does Pascal board a train for home with 82,000 lire stuffed in the pockets of his clothes!
On his way back Mattia Pascal ponders the debts he can now be done with no less than the purchases and changes he might make but is suddenly jarred by a newspaper account of a body that has been discovered in his little village, an apparent suicide identified—despite the corpse’s state of decay—as belonging to none other than the church librarian, Mattia himself! Mattia is aghast. His first impulse is to hasten home straightaway to set matters right. But the train ride is long and filled with eerie contemplation and there gradually emerges in Mattia’s mind the feint glimmer of possibility. He is now, after all, a man of some means and the thought of returning to a wife and mother-in-law who have been only too eager to pronounce him dead affords scant satisfaction. And so Mattia Pascal, “filled and uplifted by a fresh, infantile happiness,” changes direction and train determined to create for himself a new life.
For a time Pascal wanders without constraint, works out in his head the details of a newly- constructed identity. Milan, Venice, Florence. Wherever he roams, Mattia experiences the blissful joy of “boundless freedom”:
Alone! Alone! My own master! Having to account for nothing, to no one! I could go where I pleased. To Venice? Yes to Venice! Florence? Florence! I felt so drunk with freedom that I was afraid I would almost go mad, that I couldn’t bear it for long.
And, indeed, he cannot, for freedom, as every seasoned student of human nature comprehends, is a burden, something no one of us can embrace in the absolute. This our itinerant contemplative Mattia Pascal comes gradually to learn when even the purchase of a dog for companionship is thwarted by the requirement of a tax and his lack of proper documentation! Freedom, he muses, is “no doubt beautiful” but “something of a tyrant” as well. “‘Free!’ I said again, but I was already beginning to perceive the meaning of this freedom of mine and to measure its boundaries.”
Yet how astutely does Pascal apprehend the misguided mental landscape of modern man, one that identifies personal freedom with the imagined comforts of technological advance:
Oh why, I asked myself, does mankind toil so to make the apparatus of living so complicated? And why this clatter of machines? What will man do when machines do everything for him? Will he then realize that what we call progress has nothing to do with happiness? Even if we admire all the inventions that science sincerely believes will enrich our lives (instead they make them poorer because their price is so high), what joy do they bring us, after all?
It is the outsider’s perspicacity, one which calls to mind the insights of Tolstoy and Thoreau and so many others.
Thus does Mattia Pascal wrestle along his way with those existential koans on which it is humankind’s eternal destiny to meditate: freedom and destiny, love and loneliness, humankind’s capacity for surpassing virtue no less than its speedier propensity to abject debasement, its spiritual impulse, the sublime and absurd, and—have I forgotten to mention it?—even death. Notwithstanding a fictitious past cobbled out of imagination and void, Mattia eventually settles into a furnished room in Rome, la citta eternal, where he comes to meet a theosophist, fall in love, attend a seance, and nearly be discovered as the impostor he is, all in the most hilarious manner. Let us spend a few moments in particular consideration of Mattia’s winding conversations with the theosophist Anselmo who seeks guarantee of an afterlife with the fanaticism of the most ardent New Age adherent. First the theosophist stakes out his ground:
From worms to human being let’s say there are eight—no, seven—no, five steps.4 Nature has toiled thousands of centuries to climb up those five steps, from the worm to man; has had to evolve to reach the form and substance of that final step, to create this animal that steals and kills and lies and yet is capable of writing the Divine Comedy. Does it all, then, of a sudden return to zero? Is that logical? My nose, my foot may become worms but my soul, even though it’s also matter (who’s saying it isn’t?), my soul isn’t the same as my nose or my foot. Isn’t it logical?
Mattia, an unabashed skeptic, replies directly:
I beg your pardon, Signor. Suppose a great man goes out for a walk, falls, strikes his head, and becomes an idiot. What about his soul? You—or I, who am certainly not a great man, but, well, a rational man—I walk, fall, strike my head and become an idiot. What about my soul?
The theosophist is caught off guard by Pascal’s agile transition from theoretical abstraction to concrete example but makes clear in due course his ulterior intent: the escape from chaos and final dissolution through a sort of metaphysical acrobatics: “The motive, the direction of our actions, the thread to lead us out of the maze, the light must come from beyond—from death.” Mattia responds like a trooper: “From all that darkness?”
The theosophist argues essentially for a transpersonal overcoming of horror and death with the aid of an abstruse philosophical construct, which Mattia wryly dubs “lanternosophy.” Here is lanternosophy’s take on humankind’s supreme existential predicament, that each of us constitutes at least at times—as no less an empiricist than Freud once confessed—“a small island of pain floating on a [vast] ocean of Indifferenz.” Listen:
Anselmo went on to declare that, alas, human beings are not like the tree which lives without feeling. We are born with a sad privilege—that of feeling ourselves alive. And from this a fine illusion results: we insistently mistake for external reality our inner feeling of life which varies and changes according to the time or chance or circumstance. And for Anselmo this sense of life acts like a little lantern that each carries within, a lantern that makes us see how lost we are and reveals good and evil. This lantern casts a circle of light around us beyond which there is only black shadow. When at the end the light is blown out, will the perpetual night receive us after the brief day of illusion? Or won’t we remain at the disposal of Existence which will merely have shattered our trivial modes of reasoning?
The theosophist fears he may be tiring Mattia Pascal with his theological speculations about the encompassing darkness and narrow circles of light, but Mattia is a courteous guest who is entertained if nonetheless not fully convinced. “Continue, continue,” he assures Anselmo, “I can almost see it, this lantern of yours.”
And, indeed, the theosophist is impelled in his quest by the same observations about human suffering and striving which have inclined Mattia toward a position of what we might call “skeptical bemusement.” Yes, Anselmo knows all about the misery, which underlies the blind obedience of the laity and the common fuel of religion:
But what if our lamp were lacking the holy oil that fed the poet’s? Many people still go to church to find proper fuel for their lanterns. Most of them are poor old people to whom life has lied. They go forward in the darkness of our existence with their feelings glowing like votive lights which they carefully protect against the cold breath of the last disillusionments, the flame kept burning to the fatal brink. They hurry towards it, their eyes on the flame, thinking always, ‘God sees me!’ so as not to hear the din of life around them which rings in their ears like a string of blasphemous curses. ‘God sees me!’ because they see him, not only in himself but in everything, even in their poverty and sufferings which will be rewarded in the end.
There is, of course, no reason to suppose that the rarified holy oil of Anselmo’s theosophy is any more reasonable or less desperate a ploy than the common fuel of everyday religion with which the uninitiated light their way. Such metaphysical abstractions amount, says Ortega y Gasset, to “defenses of existence,” “scarecrows against reality.” And it is here that we find Don Eligio’s Zen-like5 (for it is a fundamental tenet of Pirandello’s psychology) message indicated inconspicuously by a miniscule footnote at the very bottom of the page:
"Faith,” wrote Maestro Alberto Fiorentino, “is the substance of things to be hoped, the argumentation and proof of things that are not visible.”6
Don Eligio Pellegrinotto’s note
And indeed, the theosophist’s pontifications about Mental Planes, Astral Planes and the like comprise a sort of esoterica for the elite (platitudes for the intelligentsia) which have their deepest origins in the unknown and unknowable and life’s resultant uncanniness.7 The seance meant as proof of Anselmo’s grand speculations constitutes, at last, a burlesque both of science and the sacred, surpassing even the psychologist’s pretensions to objectivity in its overwrought clumsiness and hubris. You may read all about it in the chapter otherwise known as “Max and his Exploits.”
When all is said and done Mattia Pascal is left, like each of us, with his human dilemma, a concrete reality that can be exorcised by systematizing neither world nor beyond. Even his hopes in love are dashed by a borderland existence at the interstices of a social order that occludes inexorably human connection. Freedom, he has learned, is not so easy as he once imagined:
I had already seen how my freedom, which at the beginning seemed without limitation, was indeed limited. I realized that it could better have been called solitude and boredom, and that it sentenced me to a terrible punishment—my own company. What sort of man was I then? And what kind of life was mine? As long as I was content to remain shut up in myself and watch others live, I could prolong the illusion that I myself was alive. But I had come so close to life that I had managed to pluck a kiss from a beloved pair of lips, and now I had to draw back in horror. The life which seemed to stretch ahead of me, free, free, free was only a mirage and could never become real except superficially. I was more than ever enslaved—bound by the fictions I was forced to employ, by the fear of being discovered though I had committed no crime.
And so, driven by the despair of failed possibility, Mattia Pascal cleverly contrives yet another mock-suicide, this time of the fictional self he himself has created, so as to be done once and for all with his God-forsaken freedom. The irony of having to kill off a self which sprang up only with the original slaying of his former self by wife and townspeople is not lost on Pascal: “And now, after two years of roaming about like a shadow in that illusion of life beyond death, I saw myself being forced bodily to carry out the sentence others had pronounced.” Mattia stages a suicide by drowning in order to dispense with an identity of his own contrivance and quietly boards a train for home.
Pascal’s “reincarnation” is, of course, as ironical as everything else in Pirandello’s world. If Mattia is discomfited to find his wife remarried to his best friend and starting a family of their own, it is only momentarily for, surely, his distaste for his former matrimonial state has not disappeared. He valiantly reassures all: “All I want is for everyone to see me and to know that, in fact, I am alive, so that I can escape from this death—which is real death, believe me!” With these words, Pascal takes up residence with his aunt, an old woman hitherto unfavorably disposed toward her nephew, for whom “my mad adventure suddenly raised me in her esteem.” Mattia now sleeps in the same bed in which his poor mother had died and spends the better part of his days at the library with his reverend friend Don Eligio (“who is still far from having put the dusty old books in any kind of order”). Friendship, books, time, Italy. The enigma of existence as philosophical cud. Perhaps life, which eludes all explication, needs none in the end after all.8
Pirandello, it seems, was sublime enough a psychologist to incur the misapprehension and scorn of the critics. His novel, they maintained, was not realistic, the events depicted bearing no relationship to those of real life. The author defended himself against these charges flawlessly in a brief essay entitled Note on the Scruples Involved in Controlling the Imagination, though we may assume with some confidence that this afterpiece was likewise misunderstood. In this meditation, Pirandello calls attention to the “universal, human” (italics in the original) meaning of his characters and stories, a meaning which inheres precisely in the gap between reality and illusion, self and persona, and, above all, “in the meaning ascribed to that primary contrast which, thanks to one of life’s most consistent jokes, always reveals us as inconsistent beings, since of necessity, unfortunately, everything that strikes us as reality today is destined to be revealed as illusion tomorrow, but necessary illusion, since—and, once again, unfortunately—beyond this illusion there exists nothing else.”9
With these supremely perceptive investigations into “inconsistent being” and “necessary illusion,” Pirandello exhibits a psychological acumen that holds its own with the very best. (Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky, Melville and James, Kafka and Kundera come quickly to mind.) We are in the end a “clumsy, uncertain metaphor of ourselves,” the insubstantiality of which is expressed with the poet’s insight and eloquence:
It is a mask for a performance, a game of roles: what we would like to be or what we should be, what we appear to others. What we really are even we ourselves don’t know beyond a certain point. The clumsy, inadequate metaphor of ourselves; the product, often badly put together, that we make ourselves or that others make for us. Yes, there is a mechanism in which each person is, purposely, the marionette of himself—and then at the end comes the kick that knocks the whole theatre apart.10
R.D. Laing, step aside for only a moment: we must pay your spiritual forbear proper homage!
Just for good measure, Pirandello concludes his essay with a recounting of an actual sequence of events occurring some twelve years after the original publication of his novel and conforming to the purportedly unreal imaginings therein portrayed (even down to smallest details) in a fashion which is as weird as it is startling. Pirandello takes his victory in stride:
And now, remembering the old accusation of incredibility, imagination takes pleasure in proving how incredible life can be, even in such novels that, without meaning to, she copies from art.
Finally the author is vindicated!
Mattia Pascal is in the habit sometimes of visiting the village cemetery where he reads this inscription over the grave of a man whose true identity—in a sense, like that of each of us—remains obscure:
Generous Heart—Noble Soul
By His own Desire
His Grieving Fellow Citizens
Place This Stone Here
In His Memory
“And every now and then I go out there to see myself dead and buried. Occasionally a curious passer-by follows me for a while at a distance, then walks back with me and smiles, considering my situation, when he asks:
‘Who are you, after all?’
I shrug, shut my eyes for a moment, and answer: ‘Ah, my dear friend—I am the late Mattia Pascal.’”
1. Such sentiments sound curiously reminiscent of those of the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, for whom Mattia is apparent namesake and whose words every student of existence will instantly recognize:
When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the small space which I fill, or even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me, I am terrified and wonder why I am here rather than there, for there is no reason why here rather than there or now rather than then.
2. I have written elsewhere about the inherent futility and ultimate vanity of the obsessive-compulsive quest as a response to the dilemma of life and am reminded yet again of the parable of the ridiculous psychologist related by our own reverend friend, Rollo May. In May’s story, the anti-hero is an eager and egoistic psychologist who has lived a lifetime of would-be virtue. He has written and published, decorated himself with innumerable honors and awards and, so, cannot apprehend the difficulty, upon crossing the threshold of that final boundary, in gaining speedy admittance into Eternity and the Kingdom. His APA stamp of approval (not to mention his own fine opinion of himself) is of no apparent avail in the other world as he tries, as it were, to take heaven by (decidedly academic) force: the gods seem unimpressed with his terrestrial achievements. It is not sloth of which our man stands accused, St. Peter informs, but rather a far more serious crime—nimis simplicandum, the crude blunder of oversimplification. “You have spent your life making molehills out of mountains,” he is told now on his Day of Judgment. “We sent you to earth for seventy-two years to a Dantean circus, and you spend your days and nights at sideshows! Nimus simpiicando!” It is a sobering tale, one psychologists who still reside on this side of eternity would do well to consider and contemplate.
3. Very much the sort of thing psychologists “hear” these days and, unfortunately, believe.
4. The theosophist appears uncertain regarding the fine points of his System but then again hasn’t had the chronological advantage of having read, say, Albert Camus (1955) who writes:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.
Still, there is really no excuse for not having taken into account Kierkegaard, for example.
5. We mean this quite literally. Hindu gurus have a phrase that is continually repeated to seekers of divinity: “netti, netti.” It means “not this, not this,” for the mystic understands that existence can be apprehended neither by word, system, nor construct. In other words, the ancients seem somehow to know their Kierkegaard—and their Pascal as well!
6. We believe that the words may in fact derive from the New Testament and that, further, the author may be Paul. The message is the thing, however, not the messenger, lest we succumb to the same micro-pursuits and mental acrobatics (the sorts of diversions so enthusiastically embraced by scholars and specialists) which overtake old Romitelli in the end.
7. “This calls,” writes Abraham Maslow, “for a careful distinction among idealists; the responsible ones (practical, realistic, constructive) and the irresponsible ones (perfectionists, destructivists, nihilists), the ones who could never conceivably be satisfied by anything actual because it can never live up to the perfect fantasies in their heads.”—K’s unobtrusive note.
8. I am reminded here of a well-known Zen saying: “Before you study Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; when you are study Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers; but once you have attained enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and river again rivers.” I think of my compatriot Mattia Pascal, returned from diaspora to the simple consciousness of everyday life, and am reminded of yet another Zen line: “If you do not get it from yourself, where will you go to find it?”
9. No time will be lost if the reader reads this line twice.
10. La morte! Death is never covered over in Pirandello’s world and awareness. It is the ultimate limitation and horror with which the individual is obliged to live and, indeed, die. In the summer of 1935, the year after the writer had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he wrote:
Death doesn’t frighten me because I’ve been ready for it for a long time, just as I’ve been ready for everything in life. It’s a very bitter serenity, a conquest achieved at the cost of having accepted everything. And I no longer see liberation [anywhere], not even in death.
Theists may protest but they are merely denying nothingness, the other half of the equation. It is the “worm at the core,” as William James admonishes, and perpetual ebullience “is sure to end in sadness.” Pirandello himself died in Rome on December 10th, 1936. Against the pomp and circumstance that might have attended the final ceremony, he requested a funeral procession of austere simplicity: “The hearse, the horse, the drive—nothing more.” It is doubtful that the old sage encountered either theosophist or gilded (guilded?) psychologist on the other side, an omission that we hope may have afforded some modicum of solace. Liberation, we understand, would have been asking simply too much.
Camus, A. (1955). The myth of Sisyphus and other essays (J. O’Brien, trans.). New York: Vintage Books.
International Study Project, Inc. (1972). Abraham H. Maslow: a memorial volume. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.
James, W. (1902). The varieties of religious experience: a study in human nature. New York: Longman, Green & Co.
Pascal, B. (1901). Thoughts of Pascal (C.S. Jerram, trans.). Methuen & Co.
Pirandello, L. (1964). The late Mattia Pascal (W. Weaver, trans.) London: Andre Deutsch.
Pirandello, L. (1965). Short stories (F. May, trans. And ed.). London: Oxford University Press.
Pirandello, L. (1987) The late Mattia Pascal (N. Simborowski, trans.). London: Dedalus/Hippocrene.
Schneider, K. and May, R. (1995). The psychology of existence. New York: McGraw-Hill.
For this essay, I have worked from the two translations of Pirandello’s novel indicated above but have, in quoting, instituted several quite minor changes in wording, order, and punctuation in the interests of economy, flow, comprehensibility. An author who accepted the universe on its own terms and believed in few, if any, of our earthly shibboleths would have had only contempt for our pretentious professional publishing guidelines (again we conjure up images of old Romitelli studiously pondering names and dates of artists and amateurs, living and dead) and would hardly have opposed me in my efforts to go my own way.
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. We are thankful of their contributions and encourage you to make your own.
The title character is a young Italian whose story is one of attempted escape from personae that society forces him to wear in order to conform. This journey of escape leads to his living out two very different lives. Adriano Meis is created by the fortunate mistake of his wife identifying a dead body as him. While chance has allowed him to take on this new identity, Mattia soon learns that it is merely as mask as well as much of the novel focuses upon his inability to turn existence as Adriano into an identity as Adriano.
Batty is the unethical executor of the estate left to Mattia’s mother during her widowhood. His machinations are greatly responsible for Mattia having entered into the marriage which has left him so empty and unhappy.
Mattia’s mother-in-law. Her shrewish behavior toward him is another reason he desperately wants to shrug off the persona of happily married man. When he later seems to return from the dead, the Signora is particularly shocked to her system.
Mattia’s wife who married his best friend after his “death.” Her beauty on the outside is matched by the ugliness of her inner core.
Mattia’s best friend who married his wife following his supposed demise.
A kindly old priest to whom Mattia relates his unusual adventure as a dead man living out another life. As a librarian, the old man recognizes the value of this tale and encourages Mattia to write it down.
Spiritualist and Mattia’s new landlord. In his capacity as both, he conducts a series of séances which ultimately bring the life of Adriano Meis to a devastating end for Mattia.
Claims to be a relatie of "Adriano Meis" and this assertion brings on a feeling of dread and terror over Mattia.