One of the twentieth century’s greatest literary artists and winner of the Nobel prize in 1934, Luigi Pirandello wrote the novel Her Husband in 1911, before he produced any of the well-known plays with which his name is most often associated today. Her Husband—translated here for the first time into English—is a profoundly entertaining work, by turns funny, bitingly satirical, and tinged with anguish. As important as any of the other works in Pirandello’s oeuvre, it portrays the complexities of male/female relations in the context of a newly emerging, small but vocal Italian feminist movement.
Evoking in vivid detail the literary world in Rome at the turn of the century, Her Husband tells the story of Silvia Roncella, a talented young female writer, and her husband Giustino Boggiolo. The novel opens with their arrival in Rome after having left their provincial southern Italian hometown following the success of Silvia’s first novel, the rather humorously titled House of Dwarves. As his wife’s self-appointed (and self-important) promoter, protector, counselor, and manager, Giustino becomes the primary target of Pirandello’s satire. But the couple’s relationship—and their dual career—is also complicated by a lively supporting cast of characters, including literary bohemians with avant-garde pretensions and would-be aristocratic esthetes who are all too aware of the newly acquired power of journalists and the publishing establishment to make or break their careers. Having based many of the characters—including Silvia and Giustino—on actual literary acquaintances of his, Pirandello reacted to the novel’s controversial reception by not allowing it to be reprinted after the first printing sold out. Not until after his death were copies again made available in Italy.
Readers will find Her Husband eerily evocative of the present in myriad ways—not the least of which is contemporary society’s ongoing transformation wrought by the changing roles of men and women, wives and husbands.
The Italian writer Grazia Deledda and her husband, Palmiro Madesani, were apparently the original models for the couple Pirandello rather spitefully anatomizes in this tale, the last of the Nobel-winning playwright's seven novels to appear in English translation. Deledda is largely unknown in this country, but she won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1924 for her novels about her native Sardinia. Her equivalent in Pirandello's novel is Silvia Roncella, who comes from Taranto, exuding provincialism but a certain rural authenticity, too. She is a divided womanDon the one hand, her impulses are deeply conservative and family oriented, but she is also the purest kind of artist, writing out of an organic compulsion. Her husband, Boggiolo, a philistine notary, understands neither side of her character. It is he who persuades her to move to Rome, which is where we first glimpse the couple, at a banquet held in Roncella's honor. Boggiolo is characterized by his innate woolly-headedness and vanity as he sets himself up as his wife's impresario. He tries to entangle Roncella in Rome's literary salon culture, depicted by Pirandello as a series of encounters with egomaniacal hostesses and actresses publicized by effeminate journalists. Pirandello's ironic underscoring is that it is just these efforts that aggravate Roncella's alienation, until finally, acting against her own convictions, she runs away from Boggiolo. Boggiolo's self-blindness has comic possibilities, but Pirandello's sour disapproval of the character eventually diminishes the novel's artistry. Pirandello himself seems to have realized this. After the book was published, in 1911, he did not allow it to be republished in his lifetime. This first English translation will be of most interest to Pirandello specialists.