We The Italians | Italian books: The Late Mattia Pascal

Italian books: The Late Mattia Pascal

Italian books: The Late Mattia Pascal

  • WTI Magazine #152 Jun 25, 2022
  • 189

“Imparerai a tue spese che nel lungo tragitto della vita incontrerai tante maschere e pochi volti.” This month’s book is an interesting and fascinating story, from a brilliant author who created yet another masterpiece for the Italian literature. 

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936) was an author, narrator, and playwright who reached his fame in the theatre. He did emerge from the verism of the Sicilian school, but his work has been characterized by a profoundly painful relativistic perception of life and the world in general that dealt with modern issues.   

Pirandello’s most famous work – the Late Mattia Pascal – has been defined as the “definitive abandon of the traditional narrative schemes and the origin of the modern novel of introspection”; this is precisely reflected in the fact that the story of this book carries with itself the existential discomfort that was characterizing the change of the century. Mattia Pascal was trying to escape from the insincerity and deceitfulness of social and family relations that was suffocating him, and faith presents him with an unexpected opportunity – a chance to reinvent himself, create a new identity and live a new life. But he ended up being stuck in the very same fantasy he had created for himself. 

The book came out – in instalments on the magazine Nuova Antologia – in 1904, in a time of personal crisis and misfortune for the author who decided to tell the story of a man that, while trying to run away from his own heavy reality, clashes with the reality that no one can escape from himself.  

Mattia Pascal lives in an imaginary town in Liguria. His father has left him a comfortable heritage which is soon dissipated by some dishonest activity of an administrator; Mattia Pascal gets married, but his mother-in-law despises him. His family life is unbearable, his job humiliating. He then decides to leave and seek a better life. Coincidentally, he wins a considerable sum of money at the Montecarlo casino and – while on his way back home on a train - reads on a newspaper the news of his death – by suicide. He sees a great opportunity in all of this and decides to take it. He changes his name in Adriano Meis, starts travelling and eventually settles in Rome. Once he falls in love, he soon realizes that his new false identity prevents him from getting married as Adriano Meis does not officially exists. At this point, Mattia Pascal decides to stage a fake suicide to get his true identity back. He goes back to Liguria, but two years have gone by, and no one recognizes him - his wife has re-married and has a child. As there isn’t anything else left to do, he closes himself into a library where he starts writing his story and occasionally takes flowers to his own grave.   

The protagonist of this story desperately tried to escape from a life he deemed as unfulfilling, sad, and unhappy only to find himself yet again in very similar circumstances; with its great ability to study and scrutinize human identity, Pirandello showed us how the mask of Adriano Meis miserably failed, leaving Mattia Pascal to lead a life for which he has officially been declared dead, a ghost of the man he once was. 

Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934 and with another of his great work, Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1921), he created the “theatre within the theatre” technique, making him a great innovator in modern drama. And even though the fact that the obstacle the protagonist face in the Late Mattia Pascal come from external circumstances – therefore distancing themselves a bit from the style and theme of Pirandello – the work “already shows the acute psychological observation that was later to be directed toward the exploration of his characters’ subconscious”. 

An ingenious and creative story, which speaks to all kinds of audience and to which everyone can easily relate to; whether it is for a school assignment or for personal entertainment, the Late Mattia Pascal remains a timeless classic. 

The president of the Istituto di Studi pirandelliani has claimed that “the late Mattia Pascal is a novel that speaks a lot to young people. In addition to being extremely enjoyable, it deals with a theme close to them which is that of masks, of closure in stereotypes, in languages that are too narrow. The late Mattia Pascal allows us to see these masks that are built on our faces”. And it is precisely so, as this great masterpiece from Pirandello forces us to see through the masks we encounter in other people and to question the ones we put on ourselves.