Pirandello Proto-Modernist

A new reading of «L’esclusa»

by Bradford Masoni (Author)
©2019 Monographs XII, 158 Pages


Luigi Pirandello’s first novel L’esclusa, completed in its earliest form in 1893, straddles two literary worlds. On the one hand, it is clearly rooted in the late nineteenth-century realist mode, especially that of Italian verismo. On the other, Pirandello employs a style and an approach to narrative that anticipate both the theory of writing he would later lay out in his long essay L’umorismo [On Humour] (1908), and the kinds of experimental writing that one associates with the author’s later work and with early twentieth-century modernism in general. Examining the novel in light of its relationship to these two worlds not only gives readers insight into the trajectory of Pirandello’s work as he developed as a writer, but also marks it as an example of the broader shift towards modernism that was already beginning to be made manifest in the works of novelists across Europe.
This book provides a new critical evaluation of L’esclusa, linking it explicitly to the theoretical principles aligned with Pirandello’s later output and with early twentieth-century literary modernism in general. L’esclusa and Pirandello’s other early works of fiction have too long been overlooked, particularly by scholars working in English. The aim of this book is not only to connect L’esclusa to Pirandello’s later, better-known writing, and to literary modernism, but also to bring this forward-looking novel to the attention of readers in the English-speaking world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 An Introduction to the Novel
  • Chapter 2 Literary Modernism and the Death of Certainty
  • Chapter 3 L’esclusa ‘Proto-Modernist’
  • Appendix 1 Pirandello’s Dedicatory Letter to Luigi Capuana
  • Appendix 2 The Poem ‘A lei’ [To You]
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Any book-length project, it seems to me, is a joint effort, and Pirandello Proto-Modernist would not have been possible without the support of many, many people. Philip Dunshea, Natasha Collin and Christabel Scaife at Peter Lang Oxford were tireless in their efforts on my behalf, and responded to the many fatuous questions of a first-time author promptly and patiently. Paolo Fasoli consulted throughout the process of writing this book, and from its earliest embodiment as a small part of my doctoral dissertation many years ago, was exceedingly generous both with his time and with his scholarly advice. Without his wisdom, encouragement and enthusiasm, this project would never have gotten off the ground, much less have been completed. I am likewise indebted to Giancarlo Lombardi and William and Edvige Coleman, who provided countless hours of help early on. I will be forever grateful not only for their academic and professional advice, but for their pastoral care as they helped me ease my way back into the world of scholarly writing and publishing after many years of absence.

In terms of the project itself, first and foremost I’d like to thank Elizabeth Masoni, my mother, who has served throughout as my first reader and copyeditor, and who has been an unflagging supporter and a fan of this project. Indeed, I cannot thank my parents, Daniel and Elizabeth, enough; had they not opted to raise me surrounded by books and so keenly aware of all of the joy that words and stories can bring, my own story would be the poorer for it. It has been a pleasure and a gift to have shared this project with you. I would also like to thank my late grandfather, Otto Felix Masoni, for inspiring my first studies in Italian. I wish he could have seen this project come to its fruition.

The majority of this work was written while living and working in the Netherlands, and my Italian reader there, the unflappable Chiara Beltrami Gottmer, always found time for coffee and conversation, especially when I needed help translating a particularly thorny passage. I relied heavily on the collections at the main branch of the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam ← xi | xii → (OBA) and at the P. C. Hoofthuis library at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UvA); the members of staff at both were incredibly helpful and supportive, especially during the handful of times when technology failed me.

There are a number of people whose friendship and professional and academic advice have been invaluable. These include Michael Cuthbert, Michael Debrauw and Paul Stasi, who gave practical advice as well as encouragement over the course of this project, and always exactly when I needed it; Frank Duba, who gave me some of the best advice I have ever received about how to finish a book; Burton Pike, who introduced me to the field of Comparative Literature and who consulted on this project very early on; Albert Ascoli, who always made time for me; and finally, the late Robert Dombroski, my advisor and friend, whose work this project very much aims to extend.

In addition to those mentioned above, there are many people who have supported, inspired, and encouraged me over the years, including André Aciman, Marga Akerboom, Scott and Melinda Berry, Adam Bradford, Shanda Davis, Conrad Del Villar, Mary Dinangen Codimo, Michael Donohue, Wayne Ferrebee, Angus Fletcher, Jonathan Grund, Ian Kilbride, David Kleinbard, Jennifer Kooy, Alison Lipp, Kimon Louvaris, Neil MacDonald, Joanna Mansbridge, Mark Masoni, Ashley Masoni-Huber, Kenneth Muller, Carol Pierce, Barbara Pospisil and Jon Whitney. I am humbled by you, and thank you.

I would also like to thank our two dogs, Tina Turner and Betty White, without whose attention and companionship during this process I would have withered, chained to my desk, and who, with a wag of their respective tails at the prospect of our morning walk, always managed to put whatever academic or scholarly issue I was wrestling with at the moment into the background.

Finally, there would not be any project without the support of my wife Kelly Marie Webber, who encouraged me to take time off to complete this project, even though it meant innumerable sacrifices on her part, including having me around the house all the time. Kelly, without your patience, support, humour, inspiration and love, my life would be a much less precious and splendid thing.

Hong Kong, February 2019

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The writing of Luigi Pirandello feels, in a word, modern. Indeed, Pirandello’s later work is so often aligned with literary modernism that it is not ground-breaking to identify it as such. However, readers and spectators of his work sometimes forget how late in his career Pirandello came to playwriting, and that even though his mature and most highly regarded works were published or performed at approximately the same time as those of other modernist authors like Eliot, Joyce, Woolf, Mann, Kafka, Proust and Gide, Pirandello was older than most of them by a considerable margin and had been at it for much longer. He begins writing and publishing in the mid-1880s, when most of the authors who were part of the high modernist boom of the 1920s were still children or had not yet been born. As Gaspare Giudice points out in the opening to his definitive biography of the author,

Pirandello nacque nel cuore dell’Ottocento. […] Egli è sempre, dai critici, proiettato in avanti, nel Novecento. Ma sono stati dimenticati i trentatré anni di radici ottocentesche, quasi la metà esatta della sua vita, che sono gli anni di cui fanno parte le circostanze-destino dell’infanzia e quelli della formazione culturale.1

[Luigi Pirandello was born in the heart of the nineteenth century. […] His critics have always projected him forwards, into the twentieth. However, they have overlooked the thirty-three years of nineteenth-century roots, almost exactly half of his life, which were the years of the most decisive events of his childhood and of his cultural development.]2

Pirandello is in something of a unique position in that he is a transitional author; his works can be seen as charting the transition from the realism, verismo and decadentismo of the late nineteenth century, to the full-blown modernism of the early twentieth. Little work has been done, however, on ← 1 | 2 → this transition itself with regard to Pirandello, and in fact, almost no work at all has been done on Pirandello’s early writing outside of Italy. This is unfortunate in the obvious sense that a great percentage of a universally acclaimed author’s work has been largely ignored outside of his home country, but it is also a very real critical oversight as Pirandello’s rich and varied oeuvre, which spans so many decades as well as genres, can be seen as an invaluable tool in understanding the larger shift toward literary modernism that would be realized after the First World War. This bridging of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and particularly this transition into literary modernism, is also the key to understanding Pirandello’s early work, and it is the aim of this project to clarify and explore these connections. More specifically, in the work that follows we will examine Pirandello’s first piece of long-form prose, the novel L’esclusa [The Outcast], and execute a critical re-evaluation connecting the work to Pirandello’s later, more thoroughly realized writing.


XII, 158
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (June)
Literary modernism Luigi Pirandello 19th-century European novel
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2019. XII, 158 pp.

Biographical notes

Bradford Masoni (Author)

Bradford Masoni is an educator, author and translator who specializes in literary modernism, with an emphasis on the transition from the many schools of 19th-century literary realism into modernism. He has published and presented on numerous authors, including Giovanni Verga, Ernst Mach, Emile Zola, Luigi Pirandello, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eugene Ionesco and Vincenzo Consolo, as well on literary modernism at large. He holds a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the Graduate Center, City University of New York.


Title: Pirandello Proto-Modernist
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172 pages