Luigi Pirandello: Il fu Mattia Pascal (The Late Mattia Pascal)
This is the novel that brought Pirandello his first fame in Italy. The story now does not seem particularly original but at the time it certainly was. He wrote the novel very quickly, at a time of great stress. His wife was ill and he and his family were having considerable financial difficulties. He may even have been contemplating suicide. However, the success of his novel, both in Italy and abroad, clearly improved matters for him.
Mattia Pascal lives in a small village in Italy. He makes a not particularly happy marriage and has a job in the local library which he does not particularly like. One of the side benefits of working in the library is that he has managed to teach himself French from a book and, when he finds a book in French on how to win money in a casino, he takes advantage of it. He has some money from his wedding that his wife does not know about and goes off to Monte Carlo, unbeknown to his family. There he wins and keeps on winning, eventually winning a large sum of money. He returns home by train, thinking of how he will pay off his debts and exult over his family. However, on the train, he finds a copy of the local newspaper which describes how a body has been found in the local canal and that it has been identified as his. He decides to leave his family and start a new life elsewhere.
At first he travels a bit but then realises he must be careful if he is to live off the money for the rest of his life, as he cannot get a job without papers. So he takes rooms in Rome with a family. Eventually, he falls in love with the daughter of the family. Further complications ensue and he realises he has to leave and he decides to return home. However, his wife has remarried…
What Pascal finds out is that no man is an island. He cannot live unattached – whether it is with romantic attachments or mere social attachments. When money is stolen from him, he finds he cannot report it to the police as they might try and investigate him. He is constantly afraid of being recognised by someone from his past life. But once you have cut the strings, it is difficult to retie them.
First published 1904 by La Nuova Antologia, Rome
First published in English by E P Dutton in 1923